First appearing in 1965, Habit Rouge is a testament to the skill of Jean-Paul Guerlain, one of the most revered perfumers of his generation. Six years on from his debut masculine Vetiver, Habit Rouge is for men what the house’s Shalimar is for women. In an interview Jean-Paul referred to Habit Rouge as the company’s “bread rolls”. An accomplished equestrian rider, he created an equestrian scent inspired by the foxhunter’s red jacket. Hunting etiquette requires riders to wear black jackets with tone on tone buttons until the Hunt Master awards a hunt button. After this award the rider is permitted to wear a red jacket with brass buttons when hunting. Guerlain’s red jacket (habit rouge) is instantly recognizable. Few perfumers can rival this masterfully balanced creation, considered by many as the world’s first oriental for men. It is a classic men’s fragrance that in recent years has found new legs with a number of flankers launched including the new, carefully reworked Habit Rouge L’Eau by Thierry Wasser, the house’s current nose. Reformulations have been unavoidable and this version of eau de cologne was unfortunately put to rest some years ago. Many fans of the fragrance concur that the eau de cologne formula is the most outstanding example of Habit Rouge.
I am often memorized by Jean-Paul Guerlain’s ability to string together volumes of seemingly disparate notes in one formula. The current trend is for pared back fragrances, short formulas that contain a singular thought of the perfumer. The trend emerged following a decade of highly complex fragrances and I wonder if this is a result of a generation of perfumers who have an inability to create such complexities with the skills demonstrated in Habit Rouge. The eau de cologne has a softer entrance, as one would expect in comparison to its heavier siblings, eau de toilette and parfum. Top notes of citrus are tempered with rosewood, removing any chance of a highly acidic start. In comparison with today’s reformulation, I find vintage Habit Rouge has ever so slightly more in common with Mitsouko. This is more apparent as the fragrance progresses and the resin, spice and floral accord begin to flirt with your senses. Floral notes of rose and carnation and enhanced with cinnamon, patchouli and resins. It is this blend that creates my association with Mitsouko. From here you have an addition of powdery leather, oakmoss and woods. As one of the world’s truly great masculine perfumes I do it no justice to say, “first there is this note, and then this happens and so on”. It is best appreciated by one’s own nose. Enjoy each note as they bounce back and forward in dialogue with each other, the oriental spice, the sweet gourmand vanilla and resin, fresh cut wood, animalic leather and moss. This would be enough content to create a whole line of fragrances for your average perfumer. Guerlain have expertly gathered all these raw materials together in harmony with Habit Rouge.
Collectors of vintage perfumes should be encouraged to locate a bottle of the now extinct eau de cologne. This lighter, more resinous version could also be worn my women. For men, it serves as a beautiful reminder of a fragrant world that once was. Habit Rouge is elegant, polite and always a gentleman.
Perfumer: Jean-Paul Guerlain
Bottle designer: Centdegres
Release date: 1965
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Oriental