penhaligon’s endymion

“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.