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.


  1. Accurate review. I find Montana Parfum D'Homme very similar to Havana and even more complex and well done.

    1. I've heard Montana is pretty much the twin, if not identical. You're the first to tell me it's more complex, though. Very interesting! Will have to see if I can find it.

    2. There's a lot of them at the very reasonable prices on Ebay.uk. Even sealed box 125ml you can buy there for less than 20£.

  2. I bought a coffret set of 5 mens' minis of Estee Lauder fragrances about 10 yrs ago that had Havana in it for Dear Husband's birthday gift.
    Oh my. Foghorn is an understatement. We are talking nuclear sillage for light years.
    On top of that there's some musk that EL uses in all their fragrance products that smells absolutely rank to my nose. As in retchingly bad mouldy breath/body odor ketotic/indolic nasty BLECHHH!
    Anywho, those minis got "disappeared" shall we say.

    1. I wonder if it's just the size of the bottles? One thing about minis is they go off faster (and way worse) than regular 30 - 100ml bottles. I have a couple that haven't fared well over the course of 8 years. I also have several samples that have turned, including my 10ml sample of B*Men.

    2. Every EL fragrance I've tried - be it samples at the counter, minis, or the full bottle of Pleasures I was gifted starts out fine then degrades to this nauseating stench. I don't think it's anything degrading or going off.
      A perfumer friend of mine thinks it is the synthetic musk shangralide or tonquitone - both are skanky & said to smell like everything from soiled underwear/poop/urine/ narcissus. (narcissus makes me puke too.) Yardley uses the same musks too. They don't bother most people. I have met a few other people whom are bothered by the skank in EL perfumes so it's not just me. I guess that's just the way our olfactory bulbs are wired.
      An interesting overview of synthetic musk profiles:

    3. I bought a 100 ml bottle of Havana last year and it was so weak that I had to return it. After an hour, the scent was barely discernible. My bottle date was May, 2013. I'm not the only one who had that problem. Read a few posts here (including my responses): https://www.fragrantica.com/board/viewtopic.php?pid=4544104#p4544104

      My guess is that the bottle was either tampered with or was stored poorly in the 4 years prior to being sent to me. This was suppsoed to be a new bottle. I can't see how a bottle that isn't sealed can possibly not be used during a 4 year period where it's been in the hands of a few sellers before reaching a major online discounter.

      Reviews I've read of 2015 bottles indicate a stronger fragrance was present.

    4. Lauder is an odd brand, and the Aramis line is the weirdest of them. Their prices, their quality, their age(s), and their formulations are all subjects of some confusion online. My 2011 bottle of Tuscany started out weak, then got a bit stronger for a year or two, and now smells like its strength is waning. I consider it similar to how Creeds have behaved in my collection. Orange Spice started out as weak as water and wound up being stronger than my Millesimes, across the course of three years. The tail end of the bottle has diminished in strength, however.

      If I had to guess it would be that you got a bottle that was stored poorly. Anytime a designer is super weak and smells "wrong" right out of the gate (even if the gate wasn't opened until four years after the starting gun), you're looking at poor warehouse conditions. Hope you get a good bottle. I passed on Havana because honestly, it's too strong for me, and for what it is to my nose. Woody/spicy tobacco scents are best off smelling somewhat potent, but not "powerhouse" IMO.


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