Review: Bond No. 9 New Haarlem
New Haarlem has long been one of Bond No. 9′s mainstays – it’s a fan favorite and a big sales draw as a result. From the notes in the composition, it’s easy to see the appeal aside from the marketing hype. This is simply a very mellow, warm, woody scent of vanilla-infused coffee, livened with patchouli and bergamot, and capped with just a bit of sharpness from lavender in the mix. In a few words, I’ve summarized just about all you need to know about the fragrance, other than the fabled popularity.
And for me, the reasoning is a bit odd. At first glancing sniff, this seems to be a coffeehouse vibe, offset by some woody notes and a constant sharpness that you don’t really notice until you’ve let the scent play on warm skin for a bit. Where initially New Haarlem might have seemed simply an experiment in gourmand coffee, it’s a little more clear that a dichotomy is at play as this is a fragrance with a split identity.
Bond No. 9 New Haarlem (2003): This was one of Maurice Roucel’s first commissions for Bond No. 9, and his fans have described it best. “Gourmand”, “versatile”, “balanced”, “delicious”, “sultry”, “sweet and creamy”, “divine”…the list of effusive adjectives goes on for as long as you’d care to read, and its fans are a cult-like following of both Bond No.9 supporters and detractors alike.
After wearing a number of times on my own skin, a few things have become clear. First, your experience with new Haarlem will be highly dependent on your own chemistry. There are some people who will react to the notes of patchouli, bergamot and lavender and feel as if they’ve been sprayed by celery. That undertone can exist and even linger. Second, you need to be a lover of a very gourmand and sweet blend of a creamy coffee with a very smooth and delectable vanillic note. It’s sweet, bordering just outside of being syrupy and cloying.
But it’s how Roucel has interwoven the notes that is interesting. The bergamot and lavender lend a very subtly sweet edge to the fragrance, and the patchouli is simply enough to remind you that it’s there without going wild or transporting the wearer back to Woodstock. Patchouli can be a polarizing note for many people, and in Roucel’s creation, it manages to make itself available without overbearing or antagonizing a wearer. It’s temepered well.
What one might believe — as I originally did — is that New Haarlem’s composition would lend itself to being only a Fall/Winter scent rather than a year-round daily wearer. That isn’t entirely true either. Again, New Haarlem is all about the balance of elements, and this is just as easily worn agnostically of season as it would be on a cool evening.
It’s also very easy to overdo. Longevity is astounding, sillage and projection are just as good. And no fan of food scents am I, so my review comes down to the subjective aspects. “Why did I feel as I did about New Haarlem?”
If it was simply a coffee/vanilla/gourmand scent, it wouldn’t have held as much appeal. Bond No. 9 has So New York for that. If it was a lavender/woody/citrusy/patchouli scent, that wouldn’t have struck me as original or interesting. I would have lost interest quickly and probably not have shared the views of so many others. So what was it?
Somehow, the combination of those two dichotomies becomes interesting, unique, and enjoyable…if not downright fun. This is tasty. Literally. It begs you to — almost — want to lick your arm to enjoy the flavor of it, and there aren’t too many aromas about which I could say that. While it feels as if you’ve walked into a bakery and become surrounded by a captivating smell — one that plays with you, making you buy every eclair and sticky pastry in sight — it’s just enough removed that you can recognize that this is truly wearable without someone following you and murmuring that you “smell like cookies”.
Rating: 4.25/5. Recommended. There is another reason I arrived at this conclusion. Each time I sample Bond’s collection, I often walk away with an unintended decision. When I first considered New Haarlem, I compared it (perhaps unfairly, but nonetheless) against Andy Warhol Silver Factory. I still enjoy Silver Factory, despite it’s somewhat more generic feel and development. But side-by-side, New Haarlem was much more compelling and drew my curiosity far more.
And I suppose those who’ve also discovered it somehow came away as the converted as well.
Bottom-line: Bond No. 9, as a house, has a number of great fragrances as well as a few duds. As for which are which, your mileage may vary. However, Maurice Roucel clearly demonstrated his talent by creating an enduring masterpiece for the house. There’s no need to tinker with success.