“Could I Have a Sloe Gin Fizz, Without the Gin?”: Penhaligon’s Juniper Sling

“What’s the point of that, Miss?” the waiter said.
“Tomorrow morning,” Mabel said. 

The Diviners (2012) by Libba Bray

The anonymous waiter in Libba Bray’s novel was right: what’s the point of drinking a gin-based cocktail if there’s no gin in it? Gin, my favourite liquor, has a festive meaning to me: its juniper notes are sparkling and scorching. In particular, the union of gin and vermouth has a sacred importance, which I started appreciating in the late 1990s. At the time, drinking Martini made me feel incredibly classy (indeed), but bear with me: I was a grunge-looking university student who liked drinking à la James Bond, I guess. Nowadays I rarely drink alcohol, but you can be sure gin would definitely be on top of my drinking list, if I had one.

You can understand my excitement when, in 2011, I learnt about the creation of a gin-inspired perfume by Penhaligon’s – Juniper Sling. I just loved the idea of the peculiar notes of my favourite liquor turned into a fragrance, so Juniper Sling quickly hopped into my busy perfume wish-list. Since I first heard about it, many things have happened: I’ve bought other perfumes which I’ve fallen in love with, yet that intriguing gin scent was still there, waiting in my list. Last June I wanted to celebrate in style the end of a ghastly school year: after reading two lovely posts about gin-inspired and cocktail-inspired perfumes, I knew the time for my eager hands to grab a bottle of Juniper Sling had finally come.

penhaligons_junipersling_superqueen (1)Isn’t it beautiful? The bottle and the box would be enough to make me surrender to the charm of Juniper Sling.


“Secrets … Are the Very Root of Cool:” Penhaligon’s Tralala

I’m often asked about the perfumes I wear, but explaining in detail what draws me towards a certain scent is hard. Choosing a perfume is a very personal, intimate and subjective act, which deals with memories, echoes and dreams. Moreover, what works for you may not work for others, because perfumes adapt to their wearers with different outcomes. It’s frustrating when you want a perfume to work for you [1], but there’s nothing you can do about it (I guess it’s a chemistry matter); on the contrary, when you realize something works wonderfully on your skin, that’s pure bliss. I don’t believe in love at first sight, but with perfumes… well, that’s a different story.

Penhaligon’s Endymion struck me like thunder, and the same happened with the latest scent of the British brand. Tralala is the result of a unique combination of creativity and artistry: created by Bertrand Duchaufour in collaboration with Edward Meadham and Benjamin Kirchhoff, it will officially launch next spring [2], but I was lucky enough to get a sample from Penhaligon’s [3].

It’s taken me days to “study” it. I’m not joking: there’s so much hidden in this perfume, that whenever I wear it, I know there’s something more I can’t quite grasp. I don’t think I’m able to describe in detail, but let’s see what the official report says about the olfactory pyramid. The head notes include aldehydes, saffron, whiskey, ambrette seed butter, galbanum and violet leaf absolute; the heart notes are carnation, leather, tuberose, ylang ylang, orris and incense; the base notes include myrrh resinoid, opopanax absolute, patchouli, vetiver, cedarwood, heliotrope, musk and vanilla. It’s definitely the most complex composition I’ve ever smelt, but let me tell you I immediately connected it to two Penhaligon’s perfumes I own and love – Artemisia and Cornubia. Both perfumes have musk and vanilla as base notes, just like Tralala, but despite this similarity, the latter succeeds in standing out.

02_tralala_image-2To my nose, the perfume opens with a fresh, yet romantic, scent of violet, soon followed by a slight note of incense (which I love, and would smell it among millions of scents) and a rich tuberose. When the floral notes subside, the wooden/spicy heart of the perfume opens up with comforting and earthy notes of vanilla, patchouli and musk; on the background, a fresh hint of vetiver. Perfumes usually don’t last long on me, but this one lingers on my skin for hours – you can definitely tell it’s there for a long time. It’s a fragrance you can lose yourself in, but there’s more about it, a subtler yet deeper meaning: to me Tralala speaks of warmth and comfort, ideas I connect to Artemisia, too, but here there’s a mysterious element which I guess  is of its charm, a feature that beautifully echoes the imagery of its creators, along with the perfume bottle.


“The Amount of Perfume She Had On Was Like a Human Sacrifice on Incense Night”: An Ode to Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet

Have you ever had a signature scent, one of those perfumes you’ve been wearing for years? The idea of it is appealing – a perfume becomes you from an olfactory point of view – but I could never make it happen in real life. As a perfume lover, I’m constantly looking for perfumes which remind me of pieces of my life. I can find one which doesn’t really tell me anything, which is not connected to memories, but it rarely occurs. Just before Christmas I added another perfume to my small collection: it speaks of the past with a beautiful and serene approach. Needless to say, I’m hopelessly in love with it.

penhaligons_blenheimbouquet (2)There’s a special story behind this perfume. Some time ago I was playing with my Penhaligon’s scent library: I had my mind focused on Bluebell and Lily of the Valley, but when I smelled Blenheim Bouquet I forgot the rest. Call me crazy but my mind immediately went to one of my favourite perfumes ever, Cacharel Pour l’Homme, an iconic 1980s scent which has been spoiled by a recent reformulation. If you compare their perfume pyramids, you’ll see they are part of the same family: both of them are aromatic/fresh spicy, even if Cacharel Pour l’Homme is woody and Blenheim Bouquet citrus. The unusual thing? I can smell frankincense in both of them but that specific note is missing. I don’t know what gives me the illusion of frankincense, which is – for me – a very evocative smell: it’s probably the nutmeg in Cacharel Pour l’Homme and who knows what in Blenheim Bouquet.

“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.