Tag Archives: Penhaligons

A Golden Reverie- Penhaligons Orange Blossom




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.



When perfume doesn’t solve everything.


For someone who is supposed to be writing a blog about fragrance, I have found myself doing something a little different recently. I am in awe of those who are constantly seeking out new perfumes to review because of late I have not felt inclined to go on ‘scented journeys’ in quite the same way.

I’m not entirely sure what has caused this shift. my fundamental love of perfume still remains. I still get emotionally transported by wonderful scents and I’m still constantly chattering away about perfume to anyone who will listen. But when the time comes for me to actually sit down and write about it, I encounter a rather large question mark.

Maybe this is what they call writer’s block; my style has always aired on the side of fiction, even with a very real product as the focus. Up until this point I’d always found that a huge bonus, I didn’t have to try and conjure a story from thin air; it was already filled with the scent of the characters. At the moment it’s like those performers won’t quite step into the imagined spotlight, instead remaining grounded in the shadow of reality. A bunch of molecules encased in a glass bottle with some excellent (or not so excellent) branding. It’s all feeling a little too controlled and contrived to bend to the will of my imagination.

I am at a point in my life where I am very much living in real time. My daughter is growing up so quickly, she’s definitely not a baby anymore and I can’t quite believe how fleeting the last 18 months now seem. As a family we are gradually shifting our lives to bring in more of what we hope will lead to lasting happiness and job satisfaction. It’s exciting and tough going so buying perfume samples has had to go right to the bottom of the shopping list. If it wasn’t for those people in perfume land who occasionally send me things I’d be pretty ignorant of what smells new and interesting right now.

I never intended for this to be a place where I just reviewed fragrances in a straight forward way, there is already a wonderful selection of blogs to go to for that. Truth be told, at the moment a lot of fragrances just aren’t doing it for me, with the exception of one or two that I hope to write about when I can find words for them. I think that when life gets stressful and change is shaking the foundations, it’s the everyday scents that I find the most soothing and comforting.

I’ve been craving vanilla to extreme levels. Not the complex, smokey, boozy vanillas available on the niche market, and not the creamy candy fluff from the designers and celebrities. I want real vanilla; ice cream, patisserie, a jar full of pods to bury my nose in. I want simple food; granary bread, salted butter, tomato soup. Cucumber in chunks with slices of strong cheddar. Asparagus with a little salt, lemon and olive oil. Food that smells wholesome and uncomplicated. I’ve cooked the same fish pie about five times in the last two weeks because the combination of smoked fish and fluffy mash is the ultimate comfort.

I would cover every surface in my home with flowers if I could. Summer is coming and the parks and roadsides are vibrant with colour and scent. I have been seriously tempted to pull onto the hard shoulder of the motorway and gather huge armfuls of the big white daisies that grow in abundance there. The simplicity of their smiley faces brings me untold joy. I would fill every vessel with fluttery sweetpeas and voluptuous lilacs, great sheaves of pink and purple scented stocks, cornflowers for their dazzling blue starbursts and peonies with their tumble of petticoat petals. I’d line up pots of lavender along the sunny garden wall for the bees to feast upon.

I’ve also been changing the bed sheets with unnecessary regularity, just so I can sink into that fresh scent every evening. Linen sprays don’t cut it. The smell has to be crisp and line dried. There is a flowering palm tree in our garden that smells incredible at the moment, it’s white flower scent lingers in the cloth and reminds me of sunshine.

There are only two perfumes that I’ve felt even half comfortable wearing over recent weeks. The first is Penhaligons Orange Blossom. It is smooth, full of golden light and it makes me feel pretty, with just enough projection to be complimentary. The other is Papillon Angelique, a quiet, almost savoury blend of iris with a comforting fennel note that I just adore. Everything else has seemed wrong. Either it’s too strong or too complex or too strange for my pared down mood. Most days I have been content to smell of the products I use on my skin; a cheap and cheerful gardenia shower cream and raw coconut oil. My husband wears The Voice of Reason from Gorilla and I find that scent deeply comforting. Sandalwood, coffee and tobacco blended into a smooth, smoky perfume that will eternally remind me of him.

I feel a little guilty admitting that I’m not loving perfume right now, after all, that’s supposed to be ‘what I do’. But life is full of scent and during times when I need my wits about me, perfume almost seems to mask the reality of my situation. I feel more at ease just appreciating the scent that I encounter all around me. I find it grounding, it makes me stop and wonder at this most powerful of senses. It brings me back to myself somehow. I have no doubt that in another few weeks I’ll be spritzing away with the best of them again. Something incredible will waft in my direction and my imagination will spark into excited flames. For today though, I’m going to go and climb the highest tor on Dartmoor with my little family, breathe in the fresh air and try to see what’s coming next. I can smell excitement on the breeze.

What’s your ultimate comfort when life gets crazy? Do you disappear in a cloud of your favourite perfume or do you feel the need to pare it back like me? I’d love to hear from you…



Penhaligons ‘Iris Prima’

Iris Prima

It’s no secret that I love Penhaligons. I love the quintessential englishness of the brand, I love the packaging, I love the refined and highly crafted finesse of the fragrances. I may not wear them all but one has to appreciate how well Penhaligons have preserved themselves as a perfume house of impeccable taste.

Penhaligons is my go to house for when I’m in need of ultra feminine fragrances. My two favourite floral bouquets are from Penhaligons and I think it is the old fashioned elegance of these perfumes that most satisfies me. I wear ‘Gardenia’ and ‘Lily of the Valley’, the latter being one of the most creamy and authentic lily of the valley fragrances around. I feel transported in these scents, like I’ve slipped through the mists of time into another life. They bring with them very clear imagery. Wearing ‘Iris Prima’ I experienced a very personal journey, both into my past and also a peek at a future that never happened…..

When I was a very little girl my mother took me along to a ballet class on the recommendation of a friend, who said I had potential. I don’t remember that first class, I was only three, but from that point onwards dancing was such an integral part of my life that it was like breathing. I loved to dance, ballet in particular, and I was very good at it too.

When I was about ten or eleven I went to audition for the Royal Ballet School. I think my mother was a little unsure about how I would handle it, I’d been used to going to dance festivals and winning gold medals in every category. Being young I couldn’t see what she could, that from the moment you are accepted into that world of professional dance your life becomes all about hard physical work, knock backs and triumphs and competition. I did the summer school but wasn’t given a permanent place. I was distraught but I think my mother was relieved and looking back, so am I.

For me, up until that moment dance had been all about release and the joy of movement. The thrill of dressing up and the excitement of competitions, the pride I felt in my drawer of gold medals. I realised at that audition that sometimes it doesn’t matter how good you are at something, there will always be someone else just as good and perhaps more suitable. There was a physical exam where I was taken into a side room and measured, weighed, stretched and inspected. I didn’t see what could possibly be wrong with me physically, so I didn’t worry. As it turned out, I had one leg fractionally longer than the other. Also they predicted that I would be tall and perhaps a little heavy to ever make it as a professional dancer. Aged thirty I can marvel at how accurate a prediction that was. Aged ten I thought that was very, very unfair.

It is a relief to me that I didn’t have a pushy mother, because I might have gone on to audition again for another school, gotten in and then struggled throughout my teenage years with the fact that I was growing too tall and weighing ever so slightly too much. Dancers have feather light frames and whilst I would never have been considered anything but slim, I have always had the frustrating predisposition of heavy bones. It is no wonder that eating disorders are rife among dancers.

If you’d asked me before that audition what I wanted to be when I grew up I would have said ‘ballerina!’ without a moment’s pause. After the audition I began to slowly turn my attention towards different types of performance and by aged sixteen I was far more interested in acting, much to the frustration of my dance teachers, only keeping up the dance classes because I enjoyed it. By aged eighteen it was time to decide. University to do art or stage school to do dance and drama. I chose art at university and hung up my pointe shoes, partly with sadness, partly with relief. I think there was always a sense that I had walked away from something I was very talented at, but which might have really screwed me up. I’m not really a half measures kind of girl, it’s all or nothing, and I know that if I’d gone off to ballet school I would have put myself through hell, perhaps to no avail. I am grateful to my mother for subtly distracting me with other choices so that I didn’t fixate on my failure. I was able to go on to enjoy ballet with only a slight twinge of regret that it wasn’t me that was centre stage.

I approach ‘Iris Prima’ with both delight and slight trepidation. A perfume inspired by time spent in the company of the English National Ballet, with iris at it’s heart. Ballet I adore and iris I do not. So how will Alberto Morillas, the perfumer behind the scent, convince me that this is more than a simple, powdery floral?……

‘Iris Prima’ steps into the rehearsal rooms in a light haze of citrusy bergamot, reminiscent of  hairspray and lemon tea. I say rehearsal room rather than the stage because for all the nice analogies I could make between the perfume and it’s performance, it is clear from the beginning that this scent is not about the excitement of the stage. It has a very quiet resonance, this is an important rehearsal where all the development and hard work happens. There is absolutely nothing like the thrill of dancing out onto a flood lit stage, the heat, the exertion, the applause…. None of that is present in ‘Iris Prima’, but that is not a criticism. It would be too easy to make a perfume about the actual performance, I am far more impressed with this perfume because of it’s intimacy.

The bergamot eases softly into the most lovely leather, which is exactly as a stockroom full of new ballet shoes smells. I can really tell that the perfumer has been to these places and intelligently interpreted the atmosphere into perfume. That leather accord is perfect. When you have a new pair of pointe shoes you don’t just put them on and off you go, they have to be broken in so that you can actually bend your feet in them. They also have to be darned to protect the satin and have their ribbons sewn in exactly the right position to support your ankles. Dancers spend hours working and moulding their shoes to their feet, bending the leather soles until they become flexible. That is what the leather in ‘Iris Prima’ smells like. New, tan leather and powdery satin being worked and flexed until it is supple.

That iris that I was so dubious about has none of the cloying powderiness that I dislike in fragrances such as Prada ‘Infusion d’Iris’. I detect a lot of jasmine as well which, along with that gorgeous tan leather and palest pink satin, bring just the perfect amount of powder without ever becoming overwhelming. ‘Iris Prima’ flits about the mirrored studio in this manner for some time and I am charmed by the effortless grace and flow of the perfume, and encouraged to lean in closer as it becomes increasingly introverted, like a dancer disappearing into that trance like state of concentration. I don’t feel that ‘Iris Prima’ represents the bodily exertion of dance, the blood, sweat and tears are hidden beneath the grace of movement and introversion of most dancers as they are learning new steps.

Vanilla and sandalwood come later in the dry down, along with resinous benzoin. This accord too so accurately portrays the rehearsal room that I am placed firmly back in the studios of my dancing days, worn wooden floorboards and bars polished with beeswax. Lying face down, panting for breath and inhaling the smell of the wood, pulling a woolen shawl around a body so tired that the floor feels as comfortable as a feather bed. This is how ‘Iris Prima’ ends on my skin, as a warm, vanillic wood with powdered satin whispering across it.

There is no spotlight and no red curtain present in ‘Iris Prima’. No adrenaline and sweat, no rapturous applause. It is most definitely all about the ballet, but the one that is performed in front of the mirror in a echoing studio. It is private, quiet and introverted, almost melancholic in it’s feather light beauty. This is not a dramatic perfume at all, but it still has a profound impact. It is touching to the point that I felt a little tearful wearing it, although that may be because it made me feel wistful for times past. This perfume I will spray onto clothes as well as skin so that it lingers just a little longer. Penhaligons and Alberto Morillas receive a standing ovation from me for the conceptual brilliance of ‘Iris Prima’, I would love to see them make a rouge tinted, show stopping performance scent as a follow up. I shall await the curtain call with a fluttering heart….