Smells Like Brit Spirit
When Penhaligon’s launched Portraits — a collection of four fragrances — last year, we were slightly bemused, but thoroughly entertained. The English perfumer told a story so melodramatic it made us see and smell fragrances in a new way.
A tribute to the English spirit; between establishment, humour, and provocation, Portraits attempts to personify characteristics perfumes. Embodied in (fictional) historical characters from the aristocracy of 19th century victorian London, we learned about a Lord George, a “deceptively traditional” man who has a penchant for muttering “the flesh is weak” over the breakfast kippers. ‘He’ smells like woody amber fougere with rum, tonka bean and ambrox; then there’s Duchess Rose, recently married and “aching for release from the corsets of Victorian life”, her aroma is one of woody rose with mandarin, rose, and ambrox.
With waggish storytelling evocative of a period soap opera, Penhaligon’s is introducing us to four more characters in its latest chapter.
The Ruthless Countess Dorothea
A ferocious matriarch, known for her sharp mind, wit, and a secret fondness for the company of young men. Her fragrance is one that’s refined and reassuring. A spicy oriental with bergamot, sherry, cinnamon and red ginger, beeswax, clary sage, vanilla and cashmere wood ( the latter two which express her love of soft furnishings).
His lingering gaze lets you know he’ll take things into his own hands. He’s said to be beautiful and apparently involved in a scandal with Lady Dorothea. His fragrance is one that’s suave, confident, and simply irresistible. The spicy woody oriental features lemon and pink pepper (as he lights up any room he enters), orris and benzoin (a nod to his charming boldness), cinnamon, tonka bean, sandalwood and patchouli (for that touch of mystery).
The Uncompromising Sohan
Sohan has worked diligently and with flair to establish himself in the world of troublesome affairs. A visionary, hard worker, and venturer with Egyptian roots, his business relationships have most naturally turned into amicable ties. Apparently also a very welcome guest of Lord George. His fragrance is highly exotic, rugged, and heated with passion. A woody chypre with pepper rose, vetiver and oud says it all.
The Bewitching Yasmine
Quietly charming, the sister of Sohan holds herself with rare beauty. En route to London, her itinerary is resolutely one-way. She has decided to find herself an established man whom she can marry. Her fragrance is equally exotic, and both hot and cold — like women of bewitching allure. The unique sharpness of rich, strong coffee is set off against a creamy spice, along with fresh cardamon to remind of hot Egyptian skies. Floral with jasmine, incense, vanilla and oud.
Although it seems Penhaligon’s has somehow, somewhere, lost the plot along the way, we can’t help but appreciate some good old British schtick, along with a whole new manner of relating to our fragrances. One day, when I turn the corner and get hit by a waft of Countess Dorothea, I’d no doubt imagine the pitiless but elegant dame of my dreams.