As I may have mentioned before, I love Penhaligons. It is that expertly curated ‘Englishness’ that draws me in, puts a blanket over my knees and hands me a big mug of tea (and god knows I feel like I need that at the moment.) The impressive collection of fragrances all project a classical style, encouraged by the boutiques dark wood interiors, elegantly understated packaging and bottles stamped with the royal crest.
The more recent releases from Penhaligons have seen the perfume house reach in a more contemporary direction. Iris Prima was a particular favourite of mine; a whispered ode to the beauty of the ballet, rendered in iris and dusted leather. Tralala, currently in the spotlight, is a collaboration with Meadham Kirchhoff which I have yet to sniff, so shall remain impartial, although looking at the note listing I can hazard a guess that I won’t like it. (I’m ready to stand corrected though, of course.)
When a perfume takes a single flower as it’s name, one might assume that the scent will be soliflore in character. For this reason I’d passed Orange Blossom by on several occasions. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the note, in fact it features in one of my all time favourite perfumes; Vero Kern’s intoxicating Rubj Extrait. Here it is heady and indolic and shimmery, supported by lustful tuberose, jasmine and musks. For some reason I’d decided that Penhaligons Orange Blossom would be too safe, too classic, not very ‘me’. What I have subsequently discovered is that safe and classic are very much ‘me’ and I’m becoming less ashamed to admit it.
I love a weird scent; something that will get my imagination all fired up for the purposes of writing. But actually wearing those perfumes sometimes leaves me feeling jangled and over exposed somehow. Uncomfortable in my own fragrant skin, particularly so when I am feeling stressed. Penhaligons Orange Blossom has been my saviour over the last few weeks, one of only two perfumes that I’ve felt happy to wear. A wonderful and ever supportive friend sent it to me a few months ago and it has been growing on me ever since. An orange blossom soliflore it is certainly not, re-worked from the original of 1976 by Bertrand Duchaufour and launched as part of the 2010 Anthology collection. The resulting perfume is a complex yet extremely gentle glow of citrus, florals and musks that has genuinely won my heart.
Penhaligons website provides an extensive note listing for Orange Blossom. They include; Neroli, Violet Leaf, Bergamot, Lemon-Cedrat, Cardamom Absolute and Pink Berries as top notes; Orange Absolute, Egyptian Jasmine Absolute, Tuberose Absolute, Rose Essence, Peach Flower, and Orchid at the heart and Sandalwood, Virginian Cedar, White Musk, Vanilla in the base.
At first spritz the fragrance is sparkling and bursting with sharp greenery. Bitter sweet orange chased by green tart bergamot, bolstered by a warm spiciness from Cardamom and pepper. The effect is crystalline and full of refracted light, the scent pinging around the nose in joyous tangy abandon. At this point one might be forgiven for thinking that Orange Blossom will be a rather citrus-heavy rendition of the petite white flower, but the magic has only just started.
Soon after the initial sharpness of the opening there develops a creaminess in only the way that white, indolic blooms can be creamy. Jasmine and tuberose billow forth to fill the gaps left by exploding citrus molecules, sweetly fragrant with fuzzy pollen. Although the tuberose is most definitely present at this stage of development, it is masterfully controlled and doesn’t create the slight skank that can be associated with it. Here it is merely a white, fleshy presence that warms the scent like sun on skin. There is also a delicious peachy glow, very like Osmanthus in it’s lactonic comfort, which must come from the peach flower. This milky sweetness combined with peach and orange and jasmine is at once uplifting and embracing. The effect is like the harmonised hum of a choir, nothing shrill or discordant, just a perfect smoothness that rolls off the skin with intricately tuned balance.
There is a slightly powdered quality to Orange Blossom that feels a little bit vintage. I have previously struggled quite a lot with cosmetic notes in fragrance, it’s an association that I cannot help but make with the lipsticks and powder compacts that my grandmother used to use. I hate the term ‘old lady scent’ but unfortunately that’s what I felt. I have worked really hard to appreciate the notes that sometimes create this effect; iris, violet, roses and musks, to try and disassociate that feeling of ‘dated fragrance’ from the perfumes themselves. Some I still can’t quite handle, (Malle Lipstick Rose I’m looking at you) but others have really won me over, Vero’s Rozy and Kiki and Huitieme Art Poudre de Riz to name a few.
There is a touch of 50’s beach babe to Orange Blossom that is actually very appealing. It’s not tropical in the least but somehow has the full bodied curves of a tanned lovely in bathing suit and blonde curls. Pretty, wholesome but a little on the naughty side. As the scent reaches the final drydown the waxen quality of those indoles becomes a little more prevalent, along with gentle sandalwood and smooth vanilla that is reminiscent of wooden surfboards, buffed with wax, lying out to dry in the beach filtered sun.
On a warm bright day there seems to be no more fitting perfume that Orange Blossom. On a flat grey day there is nothing more able to conjure sunbeams than this most cheerful of fragrances. It would be a misconception to pile it among the flotsam of ‘beachy’ perfumes available on the market. It is too elegant and complex to be classed as a simple citrus either. Penhaligons and Bertrand Duchaufour have created something that is mood lifting, glowing and gently beautiful. It should have another name, something like ‘Reverie’. A daydream. Sweet, golden and never ending.