The Perfume of the New World
SOIL, WEATHER, GOODQUALITY TOBACCO LEAVES, AND CENTURIES-OLD WISDOM TO GROWING TOBACCO AND ROLLING CIGARS HAVE MADE THIS ISLAND — LONG AND NARROW AS HABANO ITSELF — THE FAMILY CREST OF CIGAR SMOKERS AROUND THE WORLD. NONETHELESS, THE AROMA OF THE PLANT ALSO ENTHRALLS OTHER HUMAN BEINGS FROM A DIFFERENT APPROACH: PERFUMES
Perhaps if exhaustion, stress after a long journey, bedazzlement before such lushness and natural mistrust would have allowed him, Christopher Columbus would have realized, when he landed in Cuba in 1492, that the Tainos who welcomed him not only used to light up bundles of “Cohiba” leaves, but their bodies also smelled of tobacco scent.
More intuitive, Padre Bartolome de las Casas described later how Cuban natives “puff on or slurp, or sniff that smoke, with which the flesh dozes off to the point of getting drunk, and so they soothe their weariness,” but it seems the good Dominican Father did not notice the “fixative” of a leaf whose scent has endured for over 500 years.
The Admiral of the Ocean Sea — who immortalized in history a phrase all Cubans love — might well have stated that he had arrived in “the most fragrant land human noses have ever smelled,” as fortune, so elusive at first, made him land in the birthplace of tobacco.
In fact, soil, weather, good-quality tobacco leaves, and centuriesold wisdom to growing tobacco and rolling cigars have made this island — long and narrow as Habano itself — the family crest of cigar smokers around the world. Nonetheless, the aroma of the plant also enthralls other human beings from a different approach: perfumes.
Top cosmetics companies betted immediately on the gold mine provided by this Solanaceae. The Belle d'Opium and Cuero Noble, by Yves Saint Laurent; Gucci by Gucci pour homme, as well as Lueur d'Issey homme, by Issey Miyake —all prepared from the blending of tobacco and herbs, fragrance and spice, which combined, seduce men and women alike—, are good cases in point of perfumes designed with tobacco notes for very sensitive skins.
Even though every Habano is regarded as “one of a kind”, from the furrows to the cigar factory, each and every one demands hundreds of handmade procedures. The perfumes inspired by its leaves are certainly top as they urge —to later reward those who buy them— a very particular “loving care.”
A Wonder City, as it was declared, the city of Havana also showers you with those attentions. In the oldest side of its historic center, right on the corner of Mercaderes and Obrapia Streets, a small business house dedicated to local handcrafted perfume production enhances its catalog with the fragrance of tobacco.
The house — Habana 1791 — has been producing a classic cologne named Tabaco. However, aimed at celebrating the 500th anniversary of the city on November 16th, they began making the perfume Maravilla, bearing the crest of Pinar del Rio tobacco plantations.
Specialist Yanelda Mendoza Lopez tells Excelencias how they choose the best leaves to grind them in an old mortar, and pestle and macerate them for two months with alcohol and distilled water. Afterwards, they only have to trail the scent until the perfumes and colognes base is ready.
She worked as chemical analyst at the renowned cosmetics and perfume company Suchel. Yanelda combines academic and natural knowledge, which led her to commencing this line of tobacco perfume at Habana 1791. “The fragrance of the Cuban tobacco was always a sort of hallmark in colonial Havana. That's why I'm bringing it back up,” the specialist pointed out.
After a study carried out on the fragrance of colonial Havana, Habana 1791 showcases a dozen main products that recreate those days when Cuba and Spain were the talk of the town. Later on, perfumes with local names such as Noche Habanera, Dulce Habana, Caballero de Paris, and Habana Colonial — making reference to Havana's places and celebrities — came to light.
Habana 1791 makes and sells other perfumes, such as Flor de amor, La mariposa cubana, and Habana blues, but — like Excelencias — these two tobacco fragrances have captivated many. Tourists hover around, smell the samples and handpick the ones of their likes: violet, chocolate…
They usually say: “Oh, tobacco…!” and pick one bottle to take back home. As customers are attended personally, many choose something stronger to enhance the aroma of the Cuban product that “has kissed” more lips in the world. There are so many that no one knows for sure how many countries this magical liquid has reached out to.
On that corner of the Old, Wonderful Havana, small tobaccoinfused soaps are equally made. And for prestigious events like the Habano Festival, the staff prepare potpourri bags with perfumed leaves.
The popularity of this leaf, from the large plantations to the small factory in the city, can be understood with one smell as it is delighted by both men and women. It was so long ago that, if the Admiral of the Ocean Sea would have taken a closer look to those new human beings, he would have certainly noticed that this natural aroma was one of the many attributes discovered in the New World: tobacco.