Penhaligon’s is the most British of perfumeries. They take tradition and eccentricity and smush them both together in a cocktail that is undeniably British in every way, shape and form. Over recent years, Penhaligon’s have moved away from the stuffy, the prim and the proper to celebrate the quirkier sides of British life, launching eccentric scents inspired by gin (Juniper Sling), furs (Tralala), lady thighs (Amaranthine) and most recently, a fictitious aristocratic family (Portraits). They are a brand that manages to have fun with fragrance whilst making it a serious business at the same time. It’s fair to say that I’m a fan.
I like to think I’m relatively familiar with the offerings at Penhaligon’s but I must admit that I’m not too in touch with their many recent fragrances (they are busy bees it must be said) and i’ve admittedly spent hardly any time with their classic, earlier creations. What’s more, I’ve never really had a formal introduction to the line so I snapped up the opportunity to pop in to Penhaligon’s for a Fragrance Profiling session. I wondered what they would pick for me. Would it be something I love already, or would it be something new and exciting – or maybe it would be an undiscovered classic? My curiosity got the better of me, so off to Penhaligon’s I went…
I traversed the red-carpeted stairs in Penhaligon’s Burlington Arcade store to a plush room filled with bright furniture, wooden cases filled with perfume and old costumes hanging on hooks. The space was traditional yet quirky, paying homage to the brand’s historic roots as well as its undeniable penchant for the bizarre, whimsical and eccentric. The sales assistant and I sat down on regal pink chairs (I like to think I was in the hot seat, or ‘hot pink seat’) over a pot of Russian Caravan Tea and got to work.
“Tell me about yourself”, she asked, and what followed was a really easy conversation that led us through the Penhaligon’s collection to a curated selection of scents that were picked out especially for me. We didn’t discuss notes or any marketing spiel, instead I was asked about my favourite foods, drinks, colours, destinations and fabrics, all of which built a picture of my character and tastes, allowing for a selection to be tailored to my preferences. Only once did we actually speak about my olfactory preferences, touching on the fragrance families I enjoy, which meant that overall, it was the stories, emotions, textures and colours of the fragrances that led me to them, not the notes.
We sniffed Penhaligon’s earliest fragrances, Hammam Bouquet (instant love – I’m going to need me a bottle) and Blenheim Bouquet as a starting point to accompany the story of the brand, which was relayed with passion and pride. We then moved on to the scents picked for me, which were; Halfeti, an oriental rose fragrance inspired by a village in Turkey famous for its black roses; Vaara, a jubilant and vibrant rose picked for me due to my love of all things colourful; Equinox Bloom, a tropical gourmand with toasted sugar and frangipani; and Much Ado About the Duke, an instalment in the new Portraits Collection that is inspired by a charismatic Duke who may, or may not be in a sham-marriage (who are we to gossip?!).
So what did I end up picking? Well out of all of the fragrances picked for me, I found myself most drawn to Much Ado About the Duke, one of the four stories within the Portraits Collection, which sees resplendent brass animal heads placed atop bottles containing fragrances that depict the tale of aristocratic secrets, misdeeds and hidden vices, oh my. Unsuprisingly, this scent is created to represent the flamboyant character of the fictional Duke, which fits my personality quite well, despite my lineage, and even if the scent is a little bit more subdued than the story would suggest. What I find really interesting about the result of the session, is that I enjoyed this scent much more than I did during a previous Fume Chat testing (on paper in an upcoming episode, FYI) and I’ve really found something new in the line to wear that has taken me by surprise. Result.
I really enjoyed my Fragrance Profiling experience. The whole thing was comfortable and conversational (taking no more than 30 minutes), making for a very natural process that led me to picking something that fit perfectly for me. The service is free and can be booked in advance or arranged in store, and I think it would make the perfect Christmas gift for someone. You could arrange an appointment for your loved one a few weeks before Christmas (make a day of it and go for tea after, because why not) and then gift them their chosen fragrance on the big day. Now, wouldn’t that be nice?
As an alternative option, Penhaligon’s also offer a fantastic online profiling service that is as visually beautiful (really, it’s stunning) as it is accurate at picking out a perfect scent. You can order two samples of the six fragrances selected for you, the cost of which would be reimbursed against the purchase of a 100ml bottle. Click here to use the service and find out which Penhaligon’s fragrances are best suited to you.
Sample of Much Ado About the Duke via Penhaligon’s. Images are my own.