Houbigant Essence Rare 2018 ~ New Perfume Review

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Originally Plublished On http://www.cafleurebon.com   28 November, 2018

Just in time for the gift-giving season comes the much-anticipated re-re-release of Houbigant Essence Rare. When word reached me of the release of Houbigant’s new interpretation of their iconic and much-missed Essence Rare, I was thrilled to hear that this one-of-a-kind floral beauty would be making a comeback. And when I heard the perfumer for the 2018 release was none other than the legendary Jean-Claude Ellena, I damn near fainted.

Houbigant advertisment Alphonse Mucha

Originally created in 1928 as competition for Chanel’s new and groundbreaking No 5, Houbigant Essence Rare was lauded for its beauty, and sold well until being discontinued in the late 1940’s. When Houbigant (one of the oldest and most illustrious French Perfume Houses) decided to recreate and re-release Essence Rare in 1973, they hired a newly trained and then-unknown perfumer named Jean-Claude Ellena to create a floral masterpiece along the lines of Paco Rabanne’s Calandre and Yves St. Laurent’s Rive Gauche, and the 2nd iteration of Essence Rare was created. Essence Rare 1973 was a very popular “powerhouse” floral/chypre/aldehydic atom bomb and was produced until its discontinuation in the late 1980’s.

Jean-Claude Ellena in Cabris  courtesy of M. Ellena

In 1973, as a young perfumer, just arriving in New York, my first assignment was to create a fragrance for the House of Houbigant with the help of an American colleague. The House wanted a classic perfume “à la française”, the name would be unveiled later. At the time, Houbigant was a popular House endowed with a beautiful distribution. The classics in the 70s were Caleche, Madame Rochas, No. 5, Arpege,  Shalimar and l’Heure Bleue. These perfumes have survived over the years and defied the ravages of time with their imperious presence….”Jean-Claude Ellena 2018

Fast forward 30 years or so, and a chance meeting at a conference seminar around the historical importance of Maison Houbigant. Attending that conference were both Jean-Claude Ellena and members of The Perris Group (Houbigant’s parent company since 2005), and the rest as they say, is history.

Diana Ross the Diva of Divas via LAtimes.com

This latest re-imagined Houbigant Essence Rare is a rare creature indeed and a stunner at that. For his first perfume work since leaving Hermes in 2016, M. Ellena has gone all in to create a classic French perfume with a modern twist. Abandoning his trademark style of fragrant watercolors and spacious scents, Houbigant Essence Rare 2018 is a ravishing masterpiece of olfactive work for the 21st century, full of unplumbable depth and riches; reminiscent of the original Arpege, My Sin, or Joy Perfume but with the animalic base dialed back.  What we are left with is a breathtaking bouquet of Rose, Jasmine, and Lily Of The Valley all resting on a subtle woody base of the finest Sandalwood. From the first spray to the last wisps of the drydown, the new Houbigant Essence Rare  2018 smells rich and luxe; perfect for spraying on a cashmere topcoat or black-tie tux.

1970s photo of Diana Ross via Essence.com

The opening of the perfume drops you face first into the heavenly arms of the floral holy trinity; the Lily Of The Valley takes center stage like a Diana Ross Diva, with Rose and Jasmine as her back-up duo. The mandarin keeps things bright and snappy adding an appropriate uplift to the florals. The oakmoss is present as well, just a whisper to begin with, a nod to the growl of Essence Rare’s forebears, now reduced to a gentle and glorious purr.

Diana Ross via  globeandmail.ca

The bright and beautiful florals last for a very long time maintaining their sumptuousness, and the introduction of the sandalwood and amber create the perfect pillows for the diva trifecta, with the vanilla powder adding just a soupçon of sweet gourmand delight.

Essence Rare is presented in a bottle that is as undulating and tactile as a Frank Gehry designed building, all curves  and angles; the perfect nod to the modern while honoring the past. What else can I say except that the name says it all; Houbigant Essence Rare is a rare and perfect perfume, and owning it is in fact “Essential.” Bravo!

Notes: Mandarin, Jasmine, Rose, Lily of the Valley, Sandalwood, Oakmoss, Amber and Vanilla Powder

Disclosure: Thanks so much to Houbigant Paris for the perfume. The opinions are my own.

-Robert Herrmann, Senior Editor

-Art Direction: Michelyn Camen, Editor-in-Chief

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