Each of the fragrances of Rania J. Parfumeur showcases a different raw material, and it is the turn of tobacco in T. Habanero. It seeks to give the dark, black note the spicy fire of hot Cuban nights and the aroma of Havana’s famous cigars, but it is more complicated than that for me. Honeyed sweetness, black frankincense, Middle Eastern oud, synthetic sandalwood, and leather all play a part in T. Habanero’s dance, resulting in scent which took me to some surprising places. There is a stage where T. Habanero is a drier, deeper Killianesque Back to Black tobacco that is more suited to an aristocratic, private club in London frequented by Prince Charles and captains of industry than to a wild tango in Cuba. At other times, the scent is like Cuban cigars by way of bedouins in the Sahara, thanks to the barnyard funk of authentic, Middle Eastern oud. And, in the very end, it is a simple trip to overly smoky, arid, blackened woods. It is the last stage which is my problem.
T. Habanero is an eau de parfum that was released in 2014. The Rania J. website describes the scent and its notes as follows:
Tobacco Habanero is a spicy, dark & fresh black Tobacco with the Rhythm of Cuban nights… A dance on the hot and mysterious notes which combine grace and love of life. High energy and deep emotions.
Top note : Pink & Black pepper, Cardamom
Middle Note : Black tobacco
Base Note : Sandalwood, Agarwood/Oud, Incense, Myrrh, Leather.
T. Habanero opens on my skin with a thick haze of chocolate-y and green cardamom that hangs over a tobacco, leather, and oud trio that has been fused together with thin strands of black frankincense.
The oud smells beefy, meaty and, for 15 minutes, genuinely fungal like some sort of twist on a ripe black truffle. Underlying it are small whiffs of the barnyard, though it’s never actually fecal on my skin. It never once evokes thoughts of goats or camels like the oud in La Via del Profumo‘s Oud Caravan No. 3. It also doesn’t smell of blue cheese, like the oud in Xerjoff‘s Zafar. And, unlike the agarwood in Rania J.’s own Oud Assam, it’s not soft and creamy with cheese the way Indian soufy oud can be. This feels drier, smokier, earthier, and muskier, more akin to Cambodian or Laotian oud, though it’s never quite so smoky, tarry, or leathery as those woods are in SHL 777‘s Oud 777. If it helps you to pinpoint the exact sort of aroma profile going on here, it’s like a very filtered, diffused, milder mix of the (Laotian) aroma of LM Parfums‘ Hard Leather and the intensely smoky (more Cambodian) sort in Oud 777. For me, the oud in T. Habanero is actually a subtler, less prominent note than that in Oud Assam, and tamer as a result.
On my skin, it’s not at all fecal, but how it manifests itself on you will depend strongly on your skin chemistry and how your nose interprets proper, real Middle Eastern oud. As I wrote in my review of Oud Assam, if you’re not used to this sort of oud, even the lesser amounts in T. Habanero may come as a shock to your system, as it did for my friend, The Scented Hound. He found T. Habanero’s opening to be redolent of “cow dung.” It was “thick, fecal and a huge slap in the face,” one of the “strangest openings” he had come across in a while. If you’re used to the Westernized fake “ouds,” you’re likely to feel the same way, and T. Habanero probably won’t be for you, even if the oud’s barnyard phase is short-lived.
In any event, the oud is hardly a major, let alone the primary, focus of T. Habanero’s opening on my skin. That role is taken up by the spices and tobacco, with the leather trailing in third. The tobacco feels black, sweet, resinous, and smoky, unlike the pure pipe tobacco found in so many scents today with their trappings of fruit and vanilla. Here, it is more of a mix: the sweetness of (non-fruited) pipe tobacco married with the more aromatic dryness of tobacco leaves in a Cuban cigar, with just a pinch of something grittier, rawer, and harsher, like an absolute or raw tobacco juice. There is a ghostly whisper of honeyed sweetness in the background, resonating around the heavy echo chamber of cardamom spice, earthy woods, black incense, and leather that is resinous and blackened with birch tar. The tobacco sits at the center of the cavern, towering above them all. Pink and black pepper flies around like black specks; the oud wafts fungal, meaty, smoky muskiness; and the incense wraps everything up like a bow.
Something about the overall bouquet smells a little harsh to me, but it is a subtle thing at first and the source is hard to pinpoint. Initially, I thought it might be due to the smoke of the tarry birch that undoubtedly constitutes one of the main accords making up the leather. Later on, in the problematic drydown phase, it seems as though the “sandalwood” might be the real culprit. I can’t figure it out, because “sandalwood” never shows up in a concrete, clearly delineated way on my skin, and never once smells like the actual wood to me — not Mysore, not the generically beige or green Australian variety, and not even the synthetic sort like Ebanol or Javanol. Instead, what shows up on my skin smells identical to cypriol or nagarmotha, a woody, smoky, leather, tobacco-nuanced material that is so often the base oil for alleged “ouds” in Western perfumery. I loathe cypriol, and its overly desiccated, woody smokiness that rasps away like Brillo pads. It may not be listed in T. Habanero’s notes, and the real problem may stem from the typically arid, smoky Javanol aromachemical instead, but whatever the actual source material, the harshness is a problem for me.
The overall end result of all these notes is a fragrance that is feels very different from the tobacco-centric bouquet of Rania J.’s gorgeous Ambre Loup. The note in Ambre Loup felt like a purring pussy cat that was coated with ambered sweetness. This tobacco is rawer, drier, blacker, and dirtier, wholly suffused with tarry leather, musky barnyard-ish oud, spices, and arid smoke. It growls like a Bengal tiger, striped with thick streaks of grittier things, thereby skewing more butch and masculine.
It’s a short phase and only lasts about 30 minutes before T. Habanero starts to shift. The scent turns smokier but simultaneously sweeter, as ripples of honey start to lap over the main accords. The latter are fully fused together now, so seamlessly blended that they form a solid core. And, yet, most of their individual layers are still distinct and clearly delineated, making it easy to pull apart the various types of tobacco, the leather, and spices. That said, the incense and leather have become one, joined together by that unknown raspy note, as well as by smoky birch tar. At the same time, the oud starts its slow retreat to the sidelines.
At the end of the first hour and the start of the second, T. Habanero changes sharply and enters a new phase. A wave of smoothness descends on the notes, softening them and fully taming the oud’s earthy funk. For a few hours, it even softens the smoky, tarry, and leather accords as well, though small puffs of synthetic raspiness still pop up in the background. The spices melt into everything, no longer separable as cardamom or pepper, while a sweet warmth coats everything. It’s richly honeyed, a beautiful complement to the dark tobacco and the smoky, leather mix. The end results reminds me a little of Back to Black, but with big differences. T. Habanero is not only deeper, richer, and chewier but, more importantly, it is significantly woodier, more incense-laden, and leathery in nature. Plus, the tobacco continues to feel dark and dry, closer to cigars than to Kilian’s fruity tobacco, and there is nary a whiff of powder or vanilla around.
T. Habanero continues to smoothen out, and takes on new nuances. At the start of the 3rd hour, the honey is joined by beeswax and hints of something papery or papyrus-like that calls to mind the smell of newspapers. The leather becomes refined, turning deep, smooth, and almost plush. In the base, a new creaminess stirs, and starts to seep upwards. The combined effect is to completely transform T. Habanero, moving it away from the growling Bengal tiger of the first 30 minutes into something evocative of an aristocratic, private members club in London, filled with dark leather couches, the best Cuban cigars, and men in double-breasted suits reading the morning paper. Actually, at times, it evokes both my father, some senior partners of my old law firm, and Prince Charles. It’s hard to explain why and the scent isn’t really stuffy per se, but there is a new conservatism to the bouquet, a very refined quality to the notes that skews more traditional. The weakening of the oud is a small reason why, but the deepness of the scent and the more traditional quality of very honeyed, supple, smooth tobacco probably play a greater part.
T. Habanero stays in this phase for about three hours, from the start of the 3rd hour to the beginning of the 6th. It’s primarily a honeyed tobacco fused with various forms of woodiness, lightly spiced, streaked with a smooth (but still slightly tarry) leather, then wrapped up with smoke and placed upon a resinous, dark base. The smoke at this point is wholly abrasive and scratchy, smelling to me like extreme amounts of cypriol, though it is probably Javanol, a sandalwood aromachemical which has previously given me a similar sense of needles going up my nose. (See, Tom Ford‘s Santal Blush.)
Things only worsen for me from here. The notes realign themselves 6.25 hours in, with the scratchy, smoky woods taking the lead, followed by a renewed sense of tarry blackness and smoke, and continued streaks of spice and sweetness. The tobacco falls to edges, no longer the star of the show but a mere supporting player in the chorus. T. Habanero is primarily spicy, smoky, warm, lightly sweetened wood blanketed by a thick coating of abrasively synthetic, raspy, scratchy smokiness, along with tarry leather and incense, and only small touches of honeyed tobacco. With every passing hour, the raspy, smoky wood mix grows stronger, the individual notes become blurrier, and the fragrance grows drier. By the start of the 9th hour, all that’s really left is dark, scratchy, smoky woodiness with a lingering sense of something tarry smudging the edges. It remains that way until the perfume finally dies away.
Like all the Rania J. fragrances that I’ve covered thus far, T. Habanero has very good longevity, and good to moderate projection. Using 3 smears equal to 2 sprays from an actual bottle, the perfume opened in a strong cloud that radiated 5 inches with sillage that was about 6-7 inches. After 1 hour, the projection was 2.5 inches, the scent trail about 4 to 5 inches. The perfume hovered just barely above the skin after 5 hours, but didn’t turn into a true skin scent on me until the start of the 7th hour, though it was still easy to detect up close for a while and without much effort. It lasted over 14 hours with the equivalent of 2 sprays before I got so fed up with the synthetic harshness that I scrubbed it off in revulsion. It was the same story when I originally tested the perfume with the equivalent of 1 spray; I gave up after 12 hours, so I don’t know how long it would have lasted. T. Habanero is simply too aggressively abrasive and synthetically unpleasant in its final drydown for my tastes.
Reviews are mixed for T. Habanero. For my friend, The Scented Hound, the scent was masculine, suffused with funk, and reminiscent of a “back room poker game full of smoke, sweat and grit.” I’ve already referenced his distaste at the opening which he describes as “a discordant spiced shoe leather that’s covered in dung.” That only lasted 5 minutes for him before “a lightly woody and nutty cardamom” came to the forefront. Yet, T. Habanero continued to have a dark and “dangerous edge” for him:
The oud, smoke and a dirty leather make this feel like a perfume that you should wear to a back room poker game. There is nothing feminine about T. Habanero…it’s all man. After around 20 minutes, the perfume hits its’ sweet spot when it gets to its dry, woody, smoky and slightly nutty conclusion that seems to rise off of the skin like the smoke at the end of a lit cigar.
On Fragrantica, however, there is praise for T. Habanero, including its opening. “Cereza” found it “Purely unisex and very, very good!” She writes, in part:
What an experience for the first few hours!!![¶] Rich, deep, complex and utterly amazing oud + tobacco combination, full of spices and blasts of animalic sexiness. Loud and clear leather with a sweet, intoxicating myrrh and resins!
You’ve got to try this for the opening at least. Purely unisex and very, very good!
The heart/drydown though goes a bit downhill for me, I mostly get resins, but not the sweet kind – there is a distinct sourness on me which I’m not the greatest fan of as it seems a bit too masculine, though I do enjoy masculine scents at some times. [¶] Excellent longevity (more than 12 hours)
What struck me about some of the Fragrantica reviews is that the tobacco wasn’t a big part of some people’s experience. In fact, for “13th,” the tobacco never showed up at all. He/she added that the scent was “unwearable for my chemistry,” though they never explain how or why. For “K1,” the oud was the star, even better than it was in Oud Assam, and with additional elements that resulted a “one of a kind” scent that played with his deeply recessed memories:
very peculiar oud wood cropped from remote wonderlands with bold dirty animalic smell, highly merged with cardamom, wrapped in old yellowed slightly wet paper, reserved in a dark attic for years and the paper turned sepia. [¶] T.Habanero is making me crazy. This is so marvelous, so authentic. It plays with memory units of my brain, some smell comes to my mind but I can’t remember the perfume’s name. [¶] One of a kind by all means.
On Basenotes, tobacco wasn’t the dominant focus of the scent for “GimmeGreen” but a leather-oud duet. In fact, the very first impression that he had was of a “spiced leather” that was buffed and then infused with fresh aromatic notes to the point of evoking “refined barbershop colognes.” Later, “the leather-oud pairing in its base” became “the main proposition in the heart phase.” He calls it:
discretely handled, almost subdued, but it’s the floor upon which the herbal and resinous elements dance. To my nose the tobacco is moist, slightly bitter, but far too light to invite much attention. Eventually it’s that herbal mossiness backed by powdery wood notes that lingers.
In T Habanero Rania J has produced a well turned-out perfume, but one that is a tad too modest in expressing itself. It also seems to run its course in about 3 to 4 hours, after which all one is left with is something dried out and vaguely mossy, an odour rather than a perfume
For “Deadidol,” there was a lot of tobacco, but it was woven together with “several divergent threads,” particularly myrrh. He writes, in part:
This scent opens with a paradox of sorts: a traditional tobacco structure that’s rendered complex through the introduction of resinous, herbal, and earthy facets. There’s a stout and spicy cardamom, a plausible oud, and an expansive myrrh, all suspended over a shrewd moss, which reveals itself late into the scent’s life. The tobacco is somewhat reserved, yet pervasive, striking an impressionistic balance between spaces where cigars are prepared and the unlit cigars themselves. What’s so notable about this seemingly discordant coterie of notes, though, is that it feels as though they shouldn’t work together quite as well as they do. But that’s one of the scent’s highlights—T. Habanero is extremely well put-together.
Tobacco aside, the myrrh stands out the most, followed by the cardamom, and the merging of the two notes yields a smart interplay of sweet and acerbic characteristics. The myrrh reminds me of Armani’s Myrrh Impériale but sidesteps that scent’s overbearing sweetness by the use of herbs that clear a space for the tobacco. But for as conservative as the tobacco is (and it’s a dry tobacco, too), the impression of humidors, cigars, and smoking environments is continuously called into mind. It’s slightly less literal than other tobacco fragrances, but there’s an unmistakable sophistication about the whole affair that pushes the scent more in the direction of antiquated than contemporary. After a couple of hours, the scent drifts a tad prematurely into a moss base that isn’t quite as fetching as the opening, yet it strikes me as the most appropriate option for a scent such as this. [Emphasis to name added by me.]
If you like dark, drier, more cigar-oriented tobacco fragrances with leather, spices, the twist of an authentic Middle Eastern oud that has an occasionally barnyard, fungal funk to it, and some intensely woody smokiness, then you may want to give T. Habanero a sniff. In all honesty, though, I wouldn’t recommend the scent to the average tobacco lover, though I might suggest it to men who want an animalic leather-oud mixed with honeyed, spicy tobacco. For them — along with anyone who found Dior‘s Leather Oud to be too light on the oud or insufficiently dense in body — this might be an alternative, so long as they don’t mind a non-civet-y, more funk-laden animalic bouquet that is also suffused with great woodiness. For me personally, though, the abrasively scratchy, synthetic, woody smokiness makes T. Habanero a total pass.