A hint of revolution spices up Cuban colognes

Brands Hugo and Ernesto, in honour of Cuban heroes. Picture: AP
Brands Hugo and Ernesto, in honour of Cuban heroes. Picture: AP
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CUBA’S biggest producer of natural products has come up with a pair of colognes for the discerning supporter of international socialism who wants something more than just the iconic Che T-shirt.

A woody and refreshing citric scent with notes of talcum powder called Ernesto honours guerrilla leader Ernesto Che Guevara.

For those seeking something softer and fruitier, there’s a blend with hints of mango and papaya called Hugo, for the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

“They will be very attractive colognes, but the names also mean a lot to us,” said Isbel Gonzalez, vice-president for research and development for Labiofam, which produces homeopathic medicines, cleaning products and dietary supplements.

Formulated by a French company and produced in Cuba, the colognes are being presented this weekend at a Labiofam convention in Havana.

The two scents so far have generic bottles and simple printed labels. But Labiofam is developing more attractive bottles and labels with hopes of putting the colognes on sale in Cuba and internationally, Ms Gonzalez said.

Labiofam officials said they and French firm Robertet worked for more than 18 months to produce the colognes.

“It was a great challenge,” said Cuban biochemist Mario Valdes, who led the scent design team.

Labiofam is also producing a pair of women’s perfumes called Amalia and Alba. While Alba is the Spanish acronym for the leftist Latin America regional alliance founded by Mr Chavez, Ms Gonzalez did not provide details about whether the perfumes’ names also had political connotations.

Celebrity endorsements are a vital part of the perfume and cologne business, but scents inspired by political figures are rarer.

One example is that associated with ousted Philippines president Joseph Estrada, a former action film star who was forced out in a 2001 revolution. Mr Estrada, now mayor of Manila, was known for using a distinctively scented body powder, and at one point during his presidency packages described as Estrada’s body powder were put on sale for his followers.

Che Guevara’s image has long been appropriated for products as diverse as clothing and cars, often running into objections from the descendants of the Argentine-born revolutionary who helped Fidel and Raul Castro’s rebels overthrow Cuban president Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

Mr Chavez became the Castros’ great ally, frequently visiting and supplying Cuba discounted oil that provided vital support for the island’s struggling economy.

Labiofam’s director is a nephew of the Castros, and Mr Valdes said the families of Guevara and Chavez had been consulted and approved the use of the names.

At the Labiofam convention, visitors’ reactions to the revolutionary scents were largely positive.

“I’d probably be more likely to buy Ernesto because the scent is a little more striking,” said Reymundo Miranda, an expert in traditional medicine.

Mr Valdes said the colognes had no intention of trivialising the two men’s legacies.