Balahé by Léonard (1983) {Scented Thoughts + Perfume Review & Musings}


Balahé by Léonard was created by nose Daniel Molière during the attention-craving, power-hungry 1980s showcasing, fashionwise, the big threes: Big hair, Big shoulderpads, and Big sillage. Dynasty was shown everywhere in the world and more importantly watched everywhere. Today, or at least until recently, SUVs were the new Big seeing the transformation of women dressed in armor-like dresses and helmet hairdoes into creatures more casually dressed but well protected by the shield-like accessory that the SUV came to be.

The flacon of Balahé retains some of the elemental forces at play in our lives in its design. The black glass bottle designed by Serge Mansau is like a shape half-bottle, half-rock calling us back to yet a further point in the past, probing our unconscious memories of cave dwellings and fights for survival. It is speaking, hissing to our reptilian brain. Has the story changed much? Apparently not. The global success of Angel by Thierry Mugler is a constant reminder that an important part of perfume-wearing has still to do with the art of war and impress/fear tactics. Many women wearing Angel claim that they feel protected by it. Psychologists speculate that strong perfumes might help cover up insecurities and create a strong persona where vulnerabilities lie. You are saying in other words "don't mess with me" more or less politely, with your perfume, thus expressing, thanks to the symbolism of aromas, your inner agressivity that is successfully projected outwards without having to put it in so many words. Perfume critics often use the term "projection" to speak of a perfume and to define its aromatic impact on the immediate environment...

1983, the year Balahé was born, also saw the birth of the likes of Diva by Ungaro, Jardins de Bagatelle by Guerlain, Paris by Yves Saint Laurent, and Passion by Annick Goutal. There is a controlled sense of agressivity in all these perfumes and perhaps this is one definition of civilization. But the controlled agressivity is more palpable in these fragrances than, say, in L'eau d'Issey (1992) and Happy (1998). As we know, the 1990's were, in fragrance terms, a reaction to the power perfumes of the 1980s. We were thus able to witness the advent of clean and the creations of transparent perfumes projecting an ideal of self-effacement and social transparency. But since Angel is of the 1990s and of the early 21st century we may decide that it is either a classic, that is, an intemporal perfume, or say that it presents in the open the obvious force of our contradictions. In this way, we have the phenomenon of a star perfume of the 1990s that is saying no to transparency and easy social acceptance. This assertive perfume, which is as much worshipped at the refill Angel stations by the many as it is despised by the few who are able to resist its deathly siren call, is a reminder of our longing for security and comfort (gourmand notes) in an age that is perceived as requiring many survivor's skills (strong patchouli).

Balahé comes from an era where transparency was not au goût du jour or trendy although we may interpret its very much opaque, black, and brut flacon and its smoky, dark and slightly narcotic jus as an attempted resistance at the nascent clean undercurrent. I remember from these days thinking that the Balahé flacon was curiously coarse and frustratingly opaque as the jus remained hidden and difficult to grasp. This did not disturb me regarding Habanita, also contained in a black glass flacon, and I think it is because Balahé frustrated easy identification thought its exotic name, abstract and elemental form, and to top it off, opacity. Habanita at least offered an easily recognizable Art Deco design with figurative motifs of bathing women. Balahé's characteristics made it stand apart and look singular but not necessarily attractive.

Today, Balahé is singular as ever. It is a spicy oriental with a rather strong personality, much stronger than what we are used to smelling these days on average. Opening the flacon is akin to uncorking a potion bottle containing a love philter. It smells dark and heavy thanks to very present animalic notes like musk, civet, and I think, ambergris with its metallic and fishy overtones. It has a concentrated syrupy and carameley quality about it that reminds me of immortelle without having its characteristic spiciness. It is smoky and powdery thanks to the orris, sandalwood, and vetiver combined. It is indolic and narcotic in character thanks to a definitely noticeable tuberose paired with ylang-ylang; this is to the point where one could count Balahé as a tuberose scent. Finally, it is perfect for Halloween because it has a little off smell to it, a slightly fetid accord that might be due to the civet combined with the slight dissonances of sage and anise. Balahé, despite its heavier oriental personality can surprise you by releasing fresher and juicier notes of an almost green tuberose and a juicy plum. It is also on the sweet side with vanilla mingled with orange blossom and rose. It reminds me most of Habanita by Molinard.

Top notes are bergamot, clary sage, plum, pineaple, and anise. Heart notes are orange blossom, jasmin, tuberose, and ylang-ylang. Base notes are vetiver, sandalwood, musk, and civet.

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Happy Halloween to you all!!


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5 Comments | Leave a comment

  1. You have me completely bewitched. I have never even heard of this. "Balahé's characteristics made it stand apart and look singular but not necessarily attractive." That is some beautiful writing, H.

  2. I wore it, and loved it, for many years-
    No surprise to you, I'm sure...
    I don't find it dated at all.
    Colonial has only the lighter forms, but I wore the parfum.

  3. March,

    Thank you. I loved the way the perfume let some fresh notes come through after a while in spite of all this smokiness.

  4. Chaya,

    The perfume version must be very interesting. It is true that despite its heavy, narcotic character it ends up being a rather light scent in the eau de toilette concentration.

  5. I can not find Balahe for men..I remembered I wear it for 15 years then discontinued. I need to buy few of them if you help me hunt it. Thank you

    Samir Hassan

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