Havana (Estée Lauder)

This fragrance is frequently discussed in wetshaver circles, and retains its popularity with users of all stripes, despite at least one reformulation in its 24 year run. It is not to be confused with its revered blue-bongo flanker, Havana Reserva, a "higher concentration" of the scent, released in 1996.*

Much is said on the internet about its busy structure, but I'll limit this review to my interpretation. Havana is essentially a 1990s "fougèriental" with a subtle bay rum lurking under a tropical storm of spices and aromatics. It is the bay rum element that appeals to wetshavers, and understandably so, but this isn't the main attraction for me. I smell Havana as one of the most complex fragrances of the last thirty years. There are so many things happening that it becomes necessary for me to detach from intellectual analysis of it, just so I can enjoy it.

Havana interests me because it is the best surviving example of early 1990s orientals. It is still in production. It is still made with good raw materials. It still smells very dynamic and "old-school." It is still quite loud, and still employs a particular fruity, high-pitched, and very animalic musk, now nearly extinct, which was emblematic of its era. If you are familiar with Vermeil for Men, Rémy Latour's Cigarillo, Balenciaga Pour Homme, Witness, and Aubusson Pour Homme, and any dollar store bay rum, just imagine these fragrances being chopped apart, and then sutured together into a massive hulking Frankenscent. This is what Havana smells like.

It has also been called a "tobacco scent," and it does feature a very clear pipe tobacco note that pervades the drydown. This, in tandem with a rich melange of woody and herbal accords, lends Havana a shimmer that is both pleasurable to wear and eternally fresh; Havana never feels boring or commonplace. An overture of lavender, anise, and tonka imparts the basic idea of an aromatic fougère, which then segues into the softer bay rum in the mid, before the whole brew coalesces into a woodsy-musky amber, similar to those found in Witness, Balenciaga, and Aubusson. No accord smells overtly synthetic, note separation is measured and beautifully balanced, and when it seems the whole thing will collapse on itself, an airy cedar cigar box element spaces everything out and saves the day.

Despite all of this, I find Havana difficult to wear, at least regularly. When I reach for a fragrance after a shave, I'm reaching for a focus. I want a fougère, or an oriental, or a bay rum, but rarely do I want all three, all at once. Another issue is its volume; Havana is a foghorn. One spray fills a room. This it shares with Joop! Homme, and thus is almost impossible to wear to work, for fear that I'll offend half the building. I can't even imagine what Reserva was like, although some claim that fragrance was actually softer.

I highly recommend this scent, not to tobacco lovers (you're better off with Vermeil), or bay rum lovers (just wear bay rum), but to those who remember the early 1990s orientals, with their rich resins, fresh spices, and apple-pie musks. If you enjoy Balenciaga PH and Witness, you'll love Havana.

*According to a response from Lauder to a basenotes member in this thread.


An Update On English Leather

A picture is worth a thousand words, so I took a screenshot of an exchange I had with another member of Badger & Blade. The member wrote to Dana and asked what their plan was for English Leather, and they said they were no longer making the cologne, but were selling aftershave through their website and Walmart only.

Upon visiting Dana's site, I found that the 8 ounce bottles were once again available for $30. What gives? Apparently they are dumping the remaining stock into the large bottles only, which actually makes sense if they're looking to end cologne sales ASAP. From now on the aftershave will be the only thing available. This also explains why they're not selling EL in regular 3.4 oz bottles. Those aren't being made anymore.

This is a sad day for EL fans, but I still wonder if Dana will sell the brand to another concern. At this point Dana has all but destroyed English Leather. Its packaging has gone downhill (they didn't even bother with a new logo for it), its formula has been reduced to bare bones, and they aren't even attempting to advertise for it. With any luck, a conscientious bidder will snatch it up and reformulate it back to its former glory, and give it a proper package. It would be nice to see a return to the vintage sticker, with its hand-drawn saddle and riding cap imagery.


Lustray Spice (Lustray/Clubman): Plastic Shave

Hello 1968.

I went to great lengths to get my hands on a bottle of this. Connecticut is in a retail dead zone, a place where no independent wholesaler outlets exist, where chains like Rite Aid and CVS sell the same three things, and if you want to acquire something different and experience some variety, a trip to New York City is your only ticket.

So on a frigid December afternoon, I drove to Queens to visit a wholesale outlet that had the Lustray line in stock. You may be wondering why I didn't just order them from Amazon. Well, Amazon is convenient, but they're asking over twice as much as the wholesaler is per bottle, and given that it's only a little over an hour drive, I figured it would be worth spending a couple extra dollars on gas if I could get the entire line for half of what Amazon is charging. Plus, why wait?

Lustray Spice is probably the most popular in the line, and from its name I expected a cheap, watered-down version of Old Spice. Oh, how naive I was! There were a few things I needed to learn about the difference between figurative "barbershop" and literal barbershop. Knowing Lustray isn't like knowing Skin Bracer and Brut. This is something physically and economically different.

Figuratively speaking, "barbershop fragrances" are conveyed by popular aftershaves, like the aforementioned lotions. This is the stuff sold to individuals in stores. They last for months, or even years. Their fragrances are soft, powdery, dry, and simple, at least compared to contemporary EDTs. When the average guy off the street considers a "barbershop" scent, it's likely a cheap fougere, or a minty thing like Aqua Velva.

But what happens when you actually set foot in a big city barbershop on the corner of 43rd and 9nth? A drab little place owned and run by three generations of African American guys with an hourly line of ten schlubs on a bench, all waiting for a cut and a shave? Cab drivers and delivery guys and retired neighborhood watchdogs are its loyal patrons, and amidst the street noise, the R-rated banter, and the hum of electric clippers, you wonder how such an establishment can maintain the energy to service what seems like every blue collar worker in the city. They don't make Aqua Velva bottles big enough.

How do they keep products in stock? There's really only one way to do that, and it involves stepping into the vast world of commercial products. This is where you cross the line from figurative to literal. Lustray doesn't exist to offer individuals their annual bottle of aftershave. It exists for that dirty little inner-city barbershop where twenty pounds of hair get swept per day. Lustray sells aftershave by the gallon. The gallon. Spice comes in a gallon jug alongside the rest. The 15 ounce bottle that I bought is for the struggling barber, the guy who only cuts sixty heads a day, instead of a hundred. For me, it's enough to last eight years. For him, it might last a month.

Lustray products aren't manufactured for glitz and glamour. Their labels are bland, generic. It took a graphic designer one lunch break to design them, and the printer one smoke break to print them. The juice comes in plastic, and it isn't even decent plastic. You know what comes in decent, relatively odor-free plastic? Old Spice and Brut. You know what doesn't? Any Lustray aftershave. The plastic for these is shit. It smells like burnt rubber. The plastic odor is, in fact, the one major problem with these products. It's one thing to make a cheap aftershave for thirty cents an ounce, but housing it in low-grade plastic means you're almost overpaying for it.

Almost. This brings me to the scent of Lustray Spice. When I opened the bottle for the first time, I noticed two things: the plastic around the spout was so cheap and crappy that it had little stray "hairs" of plastic flecking off it, and as I pulled them off, my nose was filled with the plastic smell, radiating like its own coherent fragrance right into the atmosphere around me. It wasn't until I buried my nose in the spout that I could get a whiff of the actual aftershave.

I shook some onto my hand. The restricter on the spout is tiny, letting literally a few drops out at a time, another conscious commercial decision. If the average barber is going to use this stuff like water, better make each application as stingy as possible, to save him time and money. It takes four good shakes to get a small pond of liquid in the palm of my hand. I rubbed it on my face, and was immediately hit with an alcohol smell, closely followed by the plastic stench of the bottle. My heart sank.

When I got home, I decanted the liquid into a clean glass bottle and let it sit for a couple of days. Then I shaved and returned to it, hoping that the solution for Clubman would be the solution for Lustray. This time I was only half as lucky. While decanting did reduce the initial plastic odor, it didn't reduce it nearly as much. However, what it did reduce (to the point of near total elimination) was the drydown odor. Instead of pervading all stages of the scent, the plastic odor now vanished in the early drydown. This appears to be the best I can hope for. The scent isn't really changing in glass.

And the scent isn't like Old Spice. To my surprise, Lustray Spice is a clove scent, with a hilariously ambitious stab at smoky lavender, a somewhat more successful stab at cinnamon and nutmeg, and a good base of powdery clove. This fragrance is an ode to saturnine masculinity, to seriousness, to "granddad-ness," and all the trappings of being a testosterone-driven male. Your hands are always dirty, you work on cars, you smoke, you run the risk of getting arrested every time you open your mouth around a pretty woman, and your barber slaps a little Lustray Spice on the back of your neck after a haircut. (This is the only perfumed product you allow your skin to touch.)

This stuff has no menthol, no glycerin, an extremely high alcohol content, and its scent is gone thirty minutes after application. Yes, you read that right. At maybe one whole percent of perfume by volume, the scent lasts thirty minutes. This is the most tenacious scent in the line, and I have all but Draggon Noir, Lilac, and Menthol at the moment. Menthol aftershave was discontinued several years ago, so I doubt I'll get my mitts on it now, and I wasn't ready to drop thirty bucks on a gallon of Lilac aftershave, nor did I feel like buying anything that riffed so badly off Drakkar Noir's name, so that'll also have to wait, and Spice will have to do. And "do" it does - I actually get projection and sillage out of this stuff.

I think its strength is in the darkness of its pyramid. A plasticky oriental lavender (with burnt vanilla) comprises its top note, and once that burns off, it sweetens into kitchen spice. By fifteen minutes, Spice is basically a fresh but austere clove, smelling one-note and medicinal in the clean, powdery way that cloves do. Shortly after that, it's just a whisper, but a stern whisper. I can't imagine this kretek effect wetting many lips. There's something "seventies Charles Bronson" about it. It's barbershop, but it's on the darker side.

How does a commercial aftershave play for the individual? Depends on the individual. If I were to get hit with some Lustray Spice on that corner barbershop in the city, it would be gone before I even walked out, simply because the barber would only use a shake or two, literally just a few drops, and some of that might not even get on my skin. He might shake a little into a hot towel and wipe down my face after a shave, but I'd wager you'd smell the talc more than the aftershave.

It's different for a private user. After a shave, I use the decanted Spice like I would any of my drugstore aftershaves. I'm using three or four times as much as the barber ever would in each application. Thus the effect is magnified, and even distorted. Is Lustray Spice meant to be used at home? Not really. And that's why it isn't available at drug stores. When I use it, I'm actually misusing it. I should only be using a few drops.

I don't love this one, but I like it. I think it's a shame that the plastic odor is baked into the scent, but I'm glad it doesn't pervade the entire drydown. The schlock lavender is bad in a good way, the fresh clove a welcome addition to my morning. This is a throwback scent; the look and smell of the whole thing is from fifty years ago, but that's just fine. I'm an old soul.