When it comes to flankers I am usually the first person to ask “Why?” Why can’t you let these talented perfumers work on something new? Why do you have to mine the same ground over and over? Why, why, why do you need to make me regret enjoying the original? Most of the time flankers are wan replicas or inappropriate additions to the originals. The numerous summer flankers arriving on department store counters are Exhibit A to whatever as to the cynical nature of the perfume business and flankers. As with all things there are exceptions and until a few years ago there was only one set of flankers I thought was worth the effort. That set was designed by Jean-Claude Ellena around Cartier Declaration. Each of the three flankers he designed played around with the basic composition of Declaration and in doing so M Ellena created a cohesive set of fragrances which explored a central theme. It is what can be accomplished when a single perfumer is allowed to re-imagine a true original and it is being repeated currently with Jacques Huclier’s set of flankers around Thierry Mugler A*Men.
A*Men is one of those breakthrough fragrances which truly exposed gourmand fragrances to the masses. It is still one of those love it/hate it fragrances with few thinking it just OK. A*Men stood on its own until three years ago when the first flanker was released A*Men Pure Coffee. A year later A*Men Pure Malt was released. Both fragrances were composed by the creator of A*Men Jacques Huclier, with the assistance of Christine Nagel for Pure Coffee, and both took the titular note and allowed it to accentuate a facet of the original A*Men. Pure Coffee pulls the chocolate to the forefront and Pure Malt does the same for the caramel. In both of these cases M Huclier creates something uniquely different but still containing all of the best parts of its inspiration. These are what flankers can be if enough inspiration and creativity is allowed to flow into them.
Because of the success of both Pure Coffee and Pure Malt I eagerly awaited the next release in this series and A*Men Pure Havane has arrived and continues the winning streak for this series. When one thinks of Havana, Cuba there are probably two olfactive notes one would bring to mind; rum and tobacco. M Huclier takes the latter note as the new accent for this version of A*Men. Tobacco dominates the early going before settling down to the A*Men base of patchouli and chocolate.
The opening stage of Pure Havane would have you hard pressed to believe this is an A*Men flanker as it is the smell of dried tobacco leaves. It reminds me of the time I visited a tobacco curing shed and smelled the sweet narcotic odor of the drying leaves. It is this accord which dominates the first third of Pure Havane on my skin. Very slowly honey arrives to accentuate the sweeter aspects of the tobacco and M Huclier makes sure the sweet is on top by adding some vanilla. It is here that Pure Havane becomes more recognizably a member of the A*Men family. Some who have smelled this have compared it to Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille and I don’t think this reaches the depth of that fragrance and Tobacco Vanille does not turn as gourmand as Pure Havane does as the A*Men base takes it in a different direction. I like both of them and would wear both on different occasions, Pure Havane is more of an amiable every day fragrance and Tobacco Vanille feels more formal, to me. The end of Pure Havane is pure A*Men patchouli and chocolate basenotes. I had all four fragrances on and after about 4 hours it is very difficult to tell any significant difference. I like that M Huclier has, so far, chosen to always return these flankers of A*Men back to that distinctive base as it ties them together nicely. Of course, if you are in the “hate it” category of A*Men because of the patchouli and chocolate then none of these flankers will help improve your opinion of A*Men.
A*Men Pure Havane has way above average longevity and way above average sillage.
M Huclier, like M Ellena before, is taking a classic baseline fragrance and re-exploring and re-interpreting it, throughout every iteration. Would that other perfumers would take the time to do this, the department store counter would be so much more interesting for the effort.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle of A*Men Pure Havane I purchased.
–Mark Behnke, Managing Editor