Quintessentially British fragrance house, Penhaligon’s have been busy this year. Not only they have release Bayolea, an entire male grooming collection complete with accompanying Eau de Toilette, they’ve even teamed up with quirky fashion house Meadham Kirchoff to launch Tralala, an unsettling and whimsical fragrance that certainly lives up to it singsongy name. That’s not to mention the fact that they’re already gearing up for next year’s launch, Ostara! Not content with all of that, they’ve launched the Trade Routes Collection, which consists of three new fragrances inspired by London’s rich maritime history.
The Trade Routes collection takes the “luxurious and decadent commodities which were traded through London’s historic docks at the turn of the 19th century” and turns them into three contemporary fragrances that are decidedly modern in their style. Consisting of Empressa (Mike Parrot), Levantium (Christian de Provenzano) and Lothair (Bertrand Duchaufour), this collection is a perfect example of Penhaligon’s knack for taking the historic and bringing it bang up to date, making for something subversive, and a little bit different.
“Piled high on the quaysides and arriving daily from the farthest flung corners of the globe in a burst of exoticism; the rarest treasures in dizzying abundance; London was the Warehouse of the World.”
“Empressa is inspired by the beauty and nacrescence of pearls, precious silks and fine fabrics transported through London to adorn women of power and influence. Shimmering with bright pink pepper, succulent blood orange, dewberry and peach. Empressa’s floral heart is lustrous with the dusky pinks and soft whites of rose and neroli. The sensuous drydown of patchouli and vanilla is sweetened by a blend of cocoa, amber and maltol, with warming cedarwood and rich sandalwood providing depth and sensuality.”
Top: Blood Orange, Bergamot and Mandarin
Heart: Peach, Cassis, Dewberry, Rose, Neroli, Geranium, Cardamom, Pink Pepper and Black Pepper
Base: Vanilla Pod, Cocoa, Frankincense, Amber, Musk,
How Does it Smell?
Empressa is a perfume made via the Coco Mademoiselle school of thinking. It pairs the brightness and sweetness of sticky fruit pulp with much denser and sharp base materials, such as amber, patchouli and vanilla. It’s a multi-faceted creation that opens sweet and sticky, but becomes decidedly more powdery and floral with time. At the heart, a fruity and almost-candied rose acts as a transitionary material from the fruit up top, to the plush materials of the base, joining the oriental with the French.
It’s easy to see that Empressa is a well composed composition made with high-quality materials, as with all things Penhaligon’s, but it isn’t anything that we’ve not seen before, in fact it is very close to the Chanel, even if it does have more brightness up top along with a hint of something clear and clean in the heart. Still, Empressa smells good and I find it a satisfying wear. This is a comforting floral oriental with a surprising amount of radiance, something that Coco Mademoiselle doesn’t offer.
“Lavish mounds of rum and spices, flowers, woods and resins all found their way to London, stacked high in the warehouses and around the wharves. Levantium opens with a shot of rum-like davana and absinthe, and the glittering warmth of saffron. The opulent floral heart of rose, jasmine and ylang ylang is given a piquant kick by clove and cardamom, whilst a luxurious and resinous base of oud, amber, myrrh and vanilla is buoyed by smoky guaiac, sandalwood and musk.”
Top: Bergamot, Davana, Saffron and Absinthe
Heart: Rose, Jasmine, Violet, Clove, Cardamom, Ylang Ylang and Peach
Base: Amber, Myrrh, Guaiacwood, Cedarwood, Sandalwood, Oud, Patchouli, Musk, Maltol and Vanilla
How Does it Smell?
That’s right, your eyes are not deceiving you, there is indeed the word “oud” up there in that notes list – a notes list that belongs to a Penhaligon’s fragrance. But fear ye not, this is not really an oud in the traditional sense, instead it is a warm woody composition with a touch of oud smoke for good measure. Levantium, as it’s called, gives the impression of an old room with walls made of rich red and brown wooden panels. Much like Empressa, this is an incredibly nuanced composition that could, on the surface, simply read ‘wood’, but instead provides sweetness, smokiness and subtle nuttiness all hidden within the knots and grains of oud, guaiacwood, cedarwood and sandalwood.
Levantium represents the shipping crates, the ship decks and the masts that are so evocative of the trade routes. It’s an olfactory ode to wood and the grand British buildings that goods would have been taken to. In my head, Levantium conjures up the image of the 4 storey atrium of London department store, Liberty – a beautiful wooden building that was made from the timber of two ships (HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan). Just like the impression one gets when stepping into Liberty, Levantium is a whole heap of wood just begging to be breathed in and enjoyed.
“Inspired by the famous Tea Clipper Ships that navigated the globe to bring exotic wares to British shores, Lothair opens with the salty tang of grapefruit and juniper, and a brilliant green sensation from fig leaf. The smoky heart of black tea is softened by fig milk and magnolia, sailing into an ambergris, cedar and wenge woods base, reminiscent of the varnished decks of these elegant ships.”
Top: Red Berries, Juniper Berry, Cardamom, Bergamot, Grapefruit and Fig Leaf
Heart: Fig Milk, Lavender, Magnolia, Geranium and Black Tea
Base: Vanilla, Musks, Cedarwood, Ambergris, Wenge and Oakmoss
How Does it Smell?
Lothair is most definitely the oddball of the collection. Where Empressa treads familiar territory and Levantium presents a much-loved style in an unusual way, Lothair doesn’t really smell much like anything else out there at all. This is a strange milky-gin thing that is incredibly intriguing to the nose. Lothair opens with with a blast of fresh juniper berries and cardamom. It quickly becomes much smoother, creamier and milkier with fig and lavender, to create a quintessentially British cocktail that could only be found in one of the city’s swanky molecular mixology bars.
There’s a strong mineral feel throughout Lothair’s development that, with the fig milk accord, pushes the fragrance in line with the captivating, yet jarring milk/metal facet in Etat Libre d’Orange’s infamous Sécrétions Magnifiques, albeit in a much less shocking and more palatable manner. Vanilla provides comfort in the base, but ambergris and oakmoss add saline and sour nuances that ensure that Lothair keeps one’s nose on its metaphorical toes. This is one unique and unusual fragrance that makes for a worthwhile sniff for anyone looking for something subversive that doesn’t draw too much attention.
All three fragrances in Penhaligon’s Trade Routes Collection are available in 50ml eau de toilette for £120.
Sample, notes, quotes, and images; 2, 3 and 4 via Penhaligon’s. Image 1 via shadowhunters.com.