For as long as I have been following perfume one of the most confounding brands has been Penhaligon’s. I learned of them early on in my perfume exploration days. My first impression was they were a heritage British brand with perfumes like Hammam Bouquet and Belnheim Bouquet. Then in the late 1990’s they seemed to be going for fun and sassy with LP No. 9. They shifted gears again in 2008-2013 as they collaborated with some of the best perfumers working to make some of the best perfumes of those years. Releases like Elixir by Olivia Giacobetti, Amaranthine, Sartorial and Vaara by Bertrand Duchaufour and Iris Prima by Alberto Morillas. They made a truly tragic foray into hipster fashion with Tralala working with fashion designers Meadham Kirchoff. I adore many perfumes with the name Penhaligon’s on the bottle but this is a brand which hits the reset button early and often. And so, we are again entering a new evolution of the brand this time embracing its heritage of the past as shown on television.
The latest releases are a four-fragrance collection known as Penhaligon’s Portraits. Each of the perfumes represents a character in an interlocking story. Starting with the patriarch in The Tragedy of Lord George perfumer Alberto Morillas composes a boozy homage to the wood paneled drawing room. The scheming matriarch is represented by The Revenge of Lady Blanche composed by Daphne Bugey as a very green floral. Their daughter is the Coveted Duchess Rose composed by Christophe Reynaud who is a woody rose. For these three perfumes, they hearken back to the heritage of the brand while each of them has a contemporary twist worthy of Downton Abbey. They are straightforward representations of what they are meant to do. There was only one which I felt took a bit of a different tack and that one was the one which represented the ambiguously sexual husband of the Duchess called Much Ado About the Duke also composed by Mme Bugey.
What set this apart was Mme Bugey captures the foppish nature of the Duke and his apparently loveless marriage. What this kind of parlor room literature usually imparts is a man who drinks too much while hiding his secret. All the while the flower in his lapel and the slightly off-kilter mannerisms make it no secret at all. What this means in a perfume is a rich floral married to an alcoholic heart all twisted up in an unexpected spice.
Much Ado About the Duke opens with that rose in his lapel which he brings to his nose to smell. Except while doing that the strong smell of his sweaty underarms also comes forward. For that Mme Bugey uses cumin. Because she is using a Turkish rose the cumin slides over the top of the inherent spicy core of the rose itself. I like Much Ado About the Duke because Mme Bugey pulls off this difficult duet so nicely. The cumin gives way and the rose becomes fresher in nature before a chilly juniper and coriander form the gin accord of the drink in the Duke’s hand. This goes with the rose extremely well and much later the cumin makes a faint return like an echo.
Much Ado About the Duke has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
It is my understanding that these first four perfumes are but Episode 1 in the Portraits story. Like all good serials, I tend to have a favorite character and at the end of the first stanza it is the Duke I want to spend the most time with.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Penhaligon’s.