One Thousand Scents

Friday, November 07, 2008

Evolution: Habit Rouge Légère

As I said when writing about Shalimar last year,

The vanilla in Shalimar, in fact, is very reminiscent of the vanilla in a much later Guerlain scent aimed at men, Habit Rouge, which was launched in 1965, forty years after Shalimar made its debut. You could certainly guess that they were made by the same perfume house if you didn't know.

Today I'd go farther than that, actually. I'd say that Habit Rouge is Shalimar Pour Homme. They have a similar structure, with the heaviest oriental notes of Shalimar replaced by leather, but they're both still dominated--defined by--the citric top and the vanilla. And my complaint with Habit Rouge is the same as with Shalimar, especially the parfum: too much.

I admire Habit Rouge without liking it very much, and I say that as someone who used to wear it (I used to wear Lagerfeld, too, and that's even sweeter than HR, though not by a whole lot). If only someone had reconceived it so that it was less intense, less overwhelming, less (let's be honest) noxious in quantity.

Someone did, and in 2005, Guerlain launched it as Habit Rouge Légère.

The opening of the Légère (French for "light") is bright and sharp and brittle, not as easily cowed by the onslaught of vanilla: it's slightly candied citrus fruit, lemony and vivacious. The rest of the scent proceeds just as in the original; patchouli, leather, oriental notes, and of course all that famous Guerlain vanilla. But somehow, magically, the whole thing has been dialed back: where Habit Rouge is permanently set on 11, the Légère is modulated to a comfortable 7. It's not pale or watered down: it's just restrained.

Habit Rouge Légère is hard to come by, but you can still pick it up for a reasonable price at some of the online discounters here, for example). If, like me, you sort of liked the original but just couldn't deal with the too-muchness of it, trust me: Légère is what you want.


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