As I noted in my recent review of Penhaligon’s Portraits Much Ado About The Duke the brand is undergoing another of its metamorphoses. The current version of the brand wants to make perfume inspired by an absurdist version of Downton Abbey. The perfumes are gathered under an umbrella called Penhaligon’s Portraits. Based on the first four releases each is meant to stand for a particular character in this perfumed serial.
No good story of the classes is complete without the patriarch of the family fathering an illegitimate heir which is what the two latest releases are meant to portray. Both Clandestine Clara and Roaring Radcliff represent the mistress and the bastard child. Clandestine Clara was composed by Sophie Labbe. It is an interesting mixture of rum, vanilla, cinnamon, and amber. This is one of those perfumes that I kept feeling I should have liked more but never connected with. I guess unlike Lord George I was unmoved by Clara’s charms. Radcliff was another matter, though.
Roaring Radcliffe was composed by Daphne Bugey and she captures the reckless nature of the son who will never be recognized but secretly indulged by the father who shall not be named. Mme Bugey captures the scent of an eccentric ne’er do well living fast.
The scented thread which runs through Lord George, Clara and Radcliff is rum. Each perfume has a part of that note. In Roaring Radcliff it is the core upon which the entire fragrance is built. The top accord is an over spiced gingerbread as Mme Bugey uses a bit of cinnamon to amplify the warmer facets. It adds a nice twist to an otherwise normal gingerbread accord. Honey sweetens the mix and sets the stage for the silver flask of rum to make its appearance. The rum accord here is made quite rich, a well-aged version carrying a veil of smoke. That smoke deepens into a full-on tobacco. Early on the narcotic qualities of tobacco are well-balanced with the rum. Then vanilla repeats the use of sweetness to ameliorate the boozy narcotic mixture. It all settles down as the night of cake, cigars, and rum comes to an end.
Roaring Radcliff has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
I will give Penhaligon’s some credit here at least through these first six Portraits releases they seem to have as firm an idea, and how to execute upon that, that they have ever had. Mme Bugey does a nice job here. She has evoked the case of the ne’er do well and his devil may care attitude quite capably.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Penhaligon’s.
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.