My Favorite Things: Tobacco


I’m not sure what it is about the dead of winter, dead trees, and snowstorms that makes me want to wear a tobacco perfume. Like clockwork I start wanting to wear them from January to February. I have a lot of them in my collection and the five I’ve chosen could easily be joined by another five or more. If you, like me, are craving a tobacco perfume on these midwinter days here are my favorite five.

Aramis Havana was composed in 1994 by a team of perfumers consisting of Nathalie Feisthauer, Edouard Flechier, and Xavier Renard. Havana was the last of a dying breed as in a sea of fresh perfumes it was a hairy-chested powerhouse. It is a powerhouse with a ridiculously complex tobacco-laden heart that should fall apart under its own weight. The perfumers throw in twelve ingredients to capture a night of rum and cigars in the final days of Old Havana. This was discontinued for a time before returning four years ago essentially untouched. It was one of the great perfumes of the 1990’s and it stands the test of time today.


While many turn to tobacco and rum when they think of Havana, in 1921’s Habanita de Molinard there is a reminder Cuba is a tropical island. This comes courtesy of a floral heart of jasmine, rose, and ylang-ylang. From out of the florals a tobacco accord rises and curls among the bouquet in the heart. When I also want some flowers with my tobacco I reach for Habanita.

If there is a flagship perfume for the Tom Ford Private Blend collection it very well may be 2007’s Tobacco Vanille. Perfumer Olivier Gillotin takes not only the tobacco leaves but also the tobacco flower. All of that is spiced up with ginger, clove, anise, and coriander. The promised vanilla comes along and completes this ultimate comfort scent. On a frigid night Tobacco Vanille acts as a snuggly cashmere sweater in fragrant form.

By Kilian Back to Black is one of the greatest modern perfumes. Perfumer Calice Becker, in 2009, pulled off the ultimate olfactory illusion. She created a tobacco perfume without using any tobacco. As a result this artificially constructed tobacco accord has more depth and nuance than any tobacco perfume I own. As the early notes begin to assemble on your skin until after a few minutes you are enveloped by the smell of narcotic tobacco, it is all a trick. I think this is one of the modern masterpieces of perfumery.

2012’s Diptyque Volutes by perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin has broken its way into my top tier tobacco rotation by adding in a number of my other favorite perfume notes. M. Pellegrin adds immortelle, myrrh, and hay to add different sweet components to pick apart the sweet facets of tobacco. Throughout piquant notes of pink pepper and black pepper add a roughness to all of the smooth sweet tobacco. If you think you have enough tobacco fragrances try Volutes you might want to find space for one more.

There are my five favorite tobacco perfumes, no Surgeon General warnings necessary.

Disclosure: I purchased all of the perfumes mentioned.

Mark Behnke

One thought on “My Favorite Things: Tobacco

  1. I love this series of article!  Exploring variations on a theme is so much fun!

    You convinced me to get my hands on a sample of Aramis Havana, which I had never smelled.  I havet yet spent nearly enough time with it to form an overall opinion.  So far I quite like it, but I have to say, I'm quite surprised by the amount of what smells to me like Calone (or is it some other ozonic ingredient?)  I was thrilled by your description of it as "the last of a dying breed as in a sea of fresh perfumes it was a hairy-chested powerhouse".  Where it feels to you like the one of the last examples of the glorious 70's and 80's tradition, it feels to me like the post cool water calone era finally claiming dominion over every last bit of the 70's and 80's powerhouse territory.  

    This probably speaks to the fact that I had no interest in perfume until a few years ago.  I grew up with the post cool water masculines being the only game in mainstream masculine perfume.  I never cared for any of the mainstream ozonic masculines, and it's really when I started learning about the wonderful things that preceded it, or that coexisted with it outside of the mainstream that I developed an interest in perfume.  So smelling Havana for the first time, part of me goes: "oh no, Calone chewing on this too!"  It's fascinating to think of what perspective I would have on Havana had I experienced the actual emergence of the desolate ozonic paradigm.  Would I smell it more like you do, as a beautiful example of resistance to that paradigm?  

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