“A Thing of Beauty Is a Joy For Ever”: An Ode to Penhaligon’s Endymion

There is not one,/ No, no, not one/ But thee.

Endymion (1818)  by John Keats

Have you ever experienced haunting sensory memories? There’s something (a special event or a peculiar period) which gets the mechanism started and there’s no way to stop it. I usually find that music and smells are perfect for this function. I’ve often spoken about the meaning that perfumes have for me – personal and subjective, as it should be. There’s no way to express exactly what feelings a perfume evokes; at the same time, I think it’s very hard to describe a perfume: besides the fragrance pyramid and the perfume notes (which are pretty objective), there’s a whole sensory world which can’t simply be put down in words.

Some weeks ago I had a very weird experience, which probably is even stranger than what happened with Chanel Coco NoirI was exhausted after a long day at school and went to sleep early; for some reason, I woke up in the middle of the night, unable to fall asleep again. I hate lying in bed when I’m awake at night, so I got up and went to my bathroom. I don’t know why but I started smelling perfume vials from my Penhaligon’s scent library. The first perfume I happened to smell was Endymion. I unscrewed the tiny cap of the vial and a wave of memories and sensations carried me away.

The name of the perfume would have been enough to make me fall in love with it: the mythological figure of the shepherd Endymion gives the title to one of my favourite poems by John Keats. Critics have often seen it a “minor” composition by the English poet, but I firmly believe it has a unique fascination because it tells a romantic love story through an equally romantic and idyllic imagery. Endymion falls in love with Cynthia (the Moon) in his sleep; he goes on a fantastic journey in the underworld while sleeping, and will eventually reunite with his lover, who admits she can’t live without him. The union of heavenly and human is the central element of many myths (Venus and Adonis, or Zeus and Leda), but this is special thanks to its night setting. Events take place at night, a parallel world which reveals itself only when the sun goes down and the moon rises in the sky.

selene_and_endymion_by_ubaldo_gandolfiMany have been the artists who have found inspiration in this legend: not only Steve de Mercado (the creator of the Penhaligon’s perfume), but also manga writers [1] and painters. My favourite is Diana e Endimione by the Italian painter of the late-Baroque period Ubaldo Gandolfi: the dramatic composition and the night setting emphasize the spell that Zeus cast on the shepherd (under the Moon’s request), doomed to sleep forever so he can meet his lover in dreams. The Moon is sitting on clouds and her light reveals the sleeping boy; Cupid stands by her side, pointing Endymion out to the goddess.

foto (1)Such a romantic painting is echoed in the cologne that Penhaligon’s launched in 2003: the dark blue label includes richly draped curtains and a crescent moon, a reference to the myth it’s inspired to. After smelling it during that sleepless night, I read many reviews which labelled it as a men’s perfume, but I knew they were wrong. I could totally see myself wearing it [2], and the day after I went to my favourite perfume shop to buy it.

Now the technical part: Penhaligon’s describes it as a “sensual fusion of citrus, spices and leather”, the men’s companion of Artemisia (another perfume I love). The head notes include bergamot, mandarin, lavender and sage; coffee absolute and geranium are heart notes, while base notes are vetiver, nutmeg, black pepper, cardamom, musk, leather, sandalwood, incense, frankincense and myrrh. No doubt I was meant to fall in love with it: it combines fresh citrusy notes with one of my passions – incense. Even if there’s a very faint floral component (lavender and geranium), it immediately reminded me of Versace Dreamer, whose notes include lavender, geranium and sage. One of my best friends wore the Versace scent during our university years and that was the memory that made me immediately love Endymion. That combination of notes has a very different outcome but I don’t think it’s a case that both perfumes have the night as source of inspiration. To me it brings those intense years back, a time of my life I find myself going back to when I’m really stressed or tired. Isn’t it beautiful that exciting memories and a modern perfume are so strongly connected, along with a complex imagery which speaks of mystery and romanticism? This is a form of personal poetry to me.

[1] Did you know that Prince Endymion is the true love of Princess Serenity, the pre-incarnation of Usagi Tsukino (Sailor Moon)? Furthermore, the heroine’s friend is Luna, a beautiful black cat with a crescent moon on her forehead.

[2] After buying it, I found out other women have it as their signature scent; among them, Jessica Brown Findlay, who told Tatler: “I’ve worn it forever”. “It’s supposed to be for men but it’s totally delicious”, she added. “The bottle is beautiful, too”, and I couldn’t agree more.




    1. I’ve tried Bluebell many times. It’s the classic example of a perfume you want to love but you can’t because it’s just not right for you. I can’t explain why but it really smells odd on me.
      I’ve never tried Gardenia, but I don’t like white flower perfumes much. Is it a soliflore?

  1. I didn’t know this parfume’s label, I will look for it.
    You’re right when you say that some perfume recollect to you memories, the same thing happens to me. For example, I fell in love again in these last days with Calyx by Prescriptives. I adored it during the late ’80 but I never bought it because it was very expensive on that time. When I smelled it , immediately, that indulging and sweet period so rich of promises was my late teenage back to me again and I can’t resist so I bought it.

    1. That’s funny: you’re the second person I know who tells me this about Calyx. A Twitter friend bought it again after many years and she had the same late teenage memories. The power of memory related to scents/smells/perfumes is incredible, isn’t it?

  2. This can be worn by women as well? I just ordered a bottle, it means a lot to me because of a bittersweet memory that I want to keep in my heart forever.

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