Habit Rouge, in my humble view, is one of the most unique and troubling scents of all time. It is one I own but find essentially unwearable – I use it instead to scent red velvet curtains and the like, once basing a whole party in Tokyo on this theme: all the scarlet velours banquettes sprayed copiously with this decadent and headily enigmatic smell, the guests all clad in dress code red…
A curiously ghostly creation, despite its supposedly manly credentials, this perfume, for me, is rather more like a melancholy, powdered octogenarian traipsing confusedly and crimsonly about his old mansion, down whispering, cobwebbed corridors; in long silk dressing gown and softly pressing pantouffles; in the cold, and spine -tingling, dead of night.
This house is probably haunted. A headspinning, olfactive evocation of long, wintery passages; old, stuffed, armoires; and crisp, freshly laundered sheets. But still: : : the shadows; over there…….in the corner……
Later, once this astounding and inimitable mirage (a brilliantly creative synergy formed of anti-intuitively oppositional forces of opoponax and benzoin, of orange blossom, carnation, cinnamon, versus a deliciously fresh accord of bergamot, lavender, pimento and lemon) has begun to slowly dissipate, there is then, finally, the musky, leathery, patchouli/vanilla heart finally more in keeping with the image the name of the scent was originally supposed to evoke: a confident, and elegantly attired monsieur and his red riding habit, galloping across the French countryside, off down the avenue of trees of lime, over fields and meadows and into the distance…..
It is all strangely beautiful. But as I say, I have always found this perfume very difficult to wear. On me, for whatever reason, it smells far too feminine; too ‘old queen in powdered wig‘ somehow: sad, plumped up and poudré (let there be no doubt that certain perfumes are slimming, while others are quite definitely fattening), even though Vol De Nuit and Shalimar are, conversely and ironically, quite the contrary: warm and enveloping, replete…..
Having said this, there will always be something about Habit Rouge that fascinates me. In my view, Jean Paul Guerlain has always been criminally underrated as a perfumer, seen as being inferior to his illustrious, Parisian forbearers. But though different in the style to the great Grand Dames perfumes of Jacques Guerlain :Mitsouko, L’Heure Bleue, Apres L’Ondee and all the rest of those museum-ready masterpieces, the brilliantly innovative and always perfectly executed perfumes of the sixties and seventies, such as Vetiver, Habit Rouge, Parure, Chamade, Chant d’Aromes and Nahema are, in my view, quite their equals: complex, full of stories: inspired and inspiring, ambiguously intricate webs of (candle) light; of love, and darkness, and the sensuous, invisible lines of sweet, untraceable mysteries.