Penhaligon’s Bluebell and Jo Malone Wild Bluebell ~ fragrance reviews

Penhaligons Bluebelljo malone wild bluebell

Some floral notes have appeared so often and for so long in perfumery that they feel like building blocks of scent: jasmine, rose, orange blossom. Other florals are known for being showcased in a classic fragrance, but have also been featured in many more recent compositions: the association between tuberose and Fracas, followed by any number of later tuberose-inspired creations, is a famous example. And a few flowers are recreated so infrequently that they remain linked with just one scent in our collective perfume memory. You can guess where I'm going with this: yes, bluebell.

Penhaligon's Bluebell has been the best-known bluebell fragrance since its launch in 1978, as well as a longtime best-seller for this British perfume house. Developed by perfumer Michael Pickthall, and described as "the pure and unadulterated distillation of the scent of bluebell woods," Bluebell includes notes of citrus, hyacinth, lily of the valley, cyclamen, jasmine, rose, galbanum, clove, and cinnamon. It has reportedly been worn by women as varied as Princess Diana, Margaret Thatcher, and Kate Moss.

Bluebell opens with spiky green notes of galbanum; its initial phase is almost androgynous, but it becomes more traditionally feminine as it develops. A warmer accord of clove and cinnamon emerges, followed by Bluebell's floral heart. This involves a slightly soapy lily of the valley note, as well as muted (and somewhat synthetic-smelling) touches of rose and jasmine. Bluebell gradually softens a bit, but it never turns sweet, and a hint of its galbanum note persists to the end. Overall, Bluebell is a dry, crisp floral that telegraphs something along the lines of "look, but don't touch." It seems designed as a daytime fragrance, and it could easily be worn to the office. It also feels somewhat dated to the 1970s, but then again, so many 1970s styles have become new classics. (Think of Diane von Furstenberg's wrap dresses, for example!)

So, what has Jo Malone brought to its own interpretation of this quintessential English flower? Wild Bluebell is described as "an imaginative scent, drenched in the delicate sweetness of sapphire blooms...decidedly naughty...but nice." It was developed by perfumer Christine Nagel, and its notes include bluebell, lily of valley, persimmon, and eglantine (according to the Jo Malone website), as well as clove, jasmine, white amber and musk (via Moodie Report). (To help preserve the actual English bluebell in its native habitat, Jo Malone has made a donation to the Woodland Trust as part of this launch.) 

Wild Bluebell has been assigned to Jo Malone's "light floral" category, and I agree with that label. It's quite different from Penhaligon's Bluebell: no galbanum, no noticeable spice, no sharp edges. It's sheer and contemporary and quite linear: if you like Wild Bluebell when it's freshly spritzed, you'll still like it a few hours later. It's primarily a blend of youthful, airy floral notes. Yes, there's something that does smell like lily of the valley, but you could probably also convince me that it's snowdrops, freesia, or another dewy white floral. The heart of the fragrance contains a subtle fruity aspect, like a sliced apple, and the base is a thin layer of very soft, clean musk. The overall fragrance is pretty and straightforward, and it will probably appeal to Jo Malone fans who have already enjoyed the brand's other light florals, such as Sakura Cherry Blossom or White Jasmine and Mint. I have a feeling that I'd prefer Wild Bluebell in its Body Crème or Body & Hand Wash formulations, so it's a typical Jo Malone experience for me.

Jo Malone Wild Bluebell advert

Jo Malone's spokespeople have been touting Wild Bluebell as marking "a radical change of direction for the brand." So far, the main change seems to be the style of the advertisements. Instead of using Jo Malone's customary still-life formula of a perfume bottle surrounded by flowers, fruits, and other "ingredients" specific to the scent, the Wild Bluebell ad personifies the fragrance with a female model. (In other words, what most other brands do.) A pale and somewhat sickly-looking young woman wearing vaguely eighteenth-century costume reclines amidst piles of bluebell flowers and a few bunny rabbits; this is meant to be quirky and eccentric. Unfortunately, the overall look of the ads recalls Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette more than anything else, and it's a reference that has already been used in so many other contexts over the past few years (including a Juicy Couture perfume ad) that it doesn't feel fresh anymore.

For me, the most interesting thing about Jo Malone Wild Bluebell is that it releases this particular floral concept from its Penhaligon's pigeonhole. Now I'm looking forward to further interpretations from other houses. I'd really like something that reminds me of the Bluebell Wood at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens: shady and lush, simple but all-enveloping. I don't think the bluebell will ever rise to the same perfume prominence as jasmine or tuberose, but I'm hoping it will someday catch up with carnation or lily. It has such potential.

Penhaligon's Bluebell Eau de Toilette is available  in 50 ml ($80) and 100 ml ($120), as well as a solid perfume compact ($80) and matching body products; for purchasing information, see the listing for Penhaligon's under Perfume Houses. Jo Malone Wild Bluebell Cologne is available in 30 ml ($55) and 100 ml ($110), as well as matching body products; for purchasing information, see the listing for Jo Malone under Perfume Houses.

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41 Comments

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  1. hardlyworking says:

    I should know better by now but I bought an early release of this unsniffed. To my nose, the apple that you refer to smells more like melon and I’m not a big fan of that note on my skin. I was enticed by the “radical change” the company promised and was radically disappointed that it wears so much like the rest of the JM offerings. Not bad. Just meh.

    • Jessica says:

      Hardly, I’m guessing that melon/apple note is meant to be the persimmon…? I haven’t eaten a persimmon in a while, but I don’t think it tasted/smelled like that!
      I think Jo Malone does a certain kind of fragrance well — clean, transparent florals — it’s just not my own favorite type of fragrance. If I could pick one JM for myself, it would be Pomegranate Noir, which is not really typical of the brand!

      • hardlyworking says:

        Yup, you’re exactly right IMO. I’ll have to find my Pomegranate Noir samples- might be nice for fall from what I remember. Enjoy the long weekend!

      • Lavanya says:

        Pom Noir was my favorite from the brand too (From when I first started seriously sniffing) even though it doesn’t get too much love on the blogosphere..Recently when I smelled it- I realized I still like it and will probably still be my favorite..I used to love layering it with Orange Blossom and the Pom Noir body butter is yum!

  2. rodelinda says:

    Nordstrom included a free sample of Wild Bluebell with a recent order, so I wore it this morning. I can’t even smell a hint of it now, but it was a pleasant yawner of a light floral. I can think of worse things to smell on co-workers. I agree with you – I think I’d like it better as a soap.

    Penhaligon’s Bluebell is one of the most sour fragrances I’ve ever experienced on my skin. I chuckled when I saw Luca Turin’s one-word, one-star review of Bluebell: “repellent.” The bottle is so pretty, though.

    • Jessica says:

      Ha! Well, I didn’t hate it the way he must have. It does have a certain sharpness for the first hour or so. I prefer its later stages, definitely.

  3. moore says:

    Penhaligon’s bottles are so nice! Wouldn’t the fragrance fit for men or is it too feminine?

    • Jessica says:

      They really do have excellent packaging! Hm… a man who likes galbanum could try wearing this. Definitely test first, if you can get your hands on a sample!

  4. annemarie says:

    Oh I think the introduction of the rabbit into perfume advertising is a great leap forward. :)

    If Pomegranate Noir is untypical of the brand, I’ll give it a go. I tried White Jasmine and Mint the other day, and while I tried to persuade myself I liked it, in the end it just seemed a bit sour.

    • Jessica says:

      Yes… some of those recent releases left me cold. Bluebell never turned “sharp” on me, but I still prefer something a little more mysterious, like Pom Noir.

      • peter says:

        Jessica I thought you wrote Porn Noir! Now that would be a departure for the brand!

        • Jessica says:

          Jo Malone… as you’ve never seen her before! ;)

          • 50_Roses says:

            Porn Noir sounds like something from ELd’O.

  5. Linear fragrances aren’t for me, although I have a few JMs. I like the Jasmine and Mint in our summers when everything is too much. Same with the Provence one. I think I don’t like the JM base–grapefruit was great on the opening, but the sharp white-flower base for the dry down is not my thing. Same path for the Basil, Lime–the white-flower drydown is a sharp disappointment.

    • Jessica says:

      I love the Lime, Basil, Mandarin Body Creme — that was one of the first high-end body products I ever owned, come to think of it!

      • Lavanya says:

        oh- yes- I remember your review of the body creme! (you did do a review of it on NST right? or was it on MUA..it all suddenly seems so long ago)

  6. Merlin says:

    The famous pom. noir turns vile on my skin. I have no idea why, and the much-lauded lime, basil and mandarin is unpleasant on me too. Though I don’t own them, my favourites of the range are Pear & Freesia and Red Roses.

    I have to admit that I do like the advert. I think they succeeded in quirky and eccentric. The somewhat cadaverous woman is nothing like the pretty-little-things that advertisers assume will have wide-appeal. And the rabbits put me in an Alice in Wonderland frame of mind, though the woman would not be Alice herself but one of the more peculiar denizens of wonderland – maybe the Mad-Hatter’s sister?

    • Jessica says:

      I like the Alice idea! Maybe I should try to think of it in those terms…

    • Marjorie Rose says:

      Denizens! An underused term, if ever there were one! :)

  7. Blithie says:

    I tried the Wild Bluebell at Nordstrom’s the other day. It’s pleasant but not memorable and a little bit soapy.

  8. Bela says:

    There are no words to express how much I dislike Bluebell. I have said several times over the years how I used to ask someone else to deal with it when I worked for Penhaligon’s and had to fill in bottles there. It is sooooo screechy. Instant migraine inducing. Really vile. I can’t even think of it without shuddering.

    • Jessica says:

      Oh no! I can imagine that an aversion to Bluebell *would* pose some difficulty for anyone working at Penhaligon’s!

      • Bela says:

        LOL! Luckily, my coworkers didn’t feel the same about it and I was always able to swap with someone. The other scent I couldn’t even get near was Night-scented Stock. Brrrr!

  9. mals86 says:

    I loved the first five minutes of Bluebell… galbanum and a spicy hyacinth note, wonderful! After which I HAD TO GO SCRUB. It was like a chemical spill. This was all the worse, after I enjoyed the first few minutes so much.

    That catatonic woman in the JM ad is sort of terrifying me. What is the image saying? Something like “Wear Wild Bluebell and be terrified”? I like the bunnies, though.

    • Jessica says:

      My reaction was the opposite, since I don’t really enjoy wearing galbanum, but I do like the floral part!

      “Catatonic” seems apt to me.

    • Jill says:

      My first take on the ad was that I liked it, but that was because of the bunnies! That woman does look a bit scary.

      • Lavanya says:

        I saw the woman and THEN the bunnies, so the bunnies scared me as well..Or maybe I was scared for them!

    • Lavanya says:

      Actually that ad scared me as well, since it didn’t at all ‘go’ with my image of the Jo Malone brand, it ended up looking scary rather than quirky..(I’m all over the comments today..sorry- can’t help myself!)

  10. Jill says:

    I like quite a few Jo Malones so I’ll try this (particularly WJ & M, my summer staple), and linear does work for me sometimes. I have yet to try the Penhaligons Bluebell, but am curious now! Thanks for the great reviews.

    • Jessica says:

      Jill, you should definitely sample it, then! Hope it works for you!

  11. YellowLantern says:

    When I was Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom a couple weeks ago the JM SAs were really keen on pushing samples of this (now if only all SAs would offer samples of things I actually wanted to try this enthusiastically) I accepted one and my impression was shampoo (it actually reminds me of Herbal Essences Tousle me Softly shampoo had to go sniff the bottle to check) or guest bathroom bar soap. So yep. Why pay $55 to smell like a $4 bottle of shampoo? Unless you dig that sort of thing I guess. :p

    • Jessica says:

      I think there are quite a few shoppers who just want to smell clean and fresh! Of course, there are some wonderful-smelling shampoos on the market, too.

  12. King_of_England says:

    If I bought a can of baked beans and it turned out to be onion soup, I would be entitled to complain, but you can get away with anything in perfumery. No ingredient in this mixture has been within 10 miles of a bluebell plant, and none of the marketers who thought bluebell sounded a nice name has ever smelt a bluebell flower, or my name’s
    not the King of England. If you like the distinctively fresh hyacinth- note of bluebells, stick with Penhaligon’s honest rendering. Avoid this unworthy piece of tomfoolery by Jo Malone, who should know better.

  13. Martitia says:

    A sample of the JM Bluebell came in the mail yesterday and you inspired me to dot it on. It’s a bar of Ivory on me – or, rather, a memory of Ivory Soap, the scent of which has surely been reformulated. I’d give this to a child as her first frag.

  14. eminere says:

    Wild Bluebell is very pretty indeed! And it smells nothing like Penhaligon’s.

  15. kate says:

    I wore Penhaligons Bluebell in the early 80.s and several male friends commented and absolutely loved it because its not too sweet. JM Wild Bluebell smells nothing like a Bluebell which I suppose doesn’t really matter as all’s fair in love and perfumery but neither does it smell of anything really definative. Apparently you cannot extract the perfume from a real bluebell so the nearest flower is going to be a narcissus to which Penhaligons is definately the nearest. I still have half a bottle in the fridge (best place to keep perfume) and very occasionally I wear it. And still every now and again someone says “what is that gorgeous smell?” Can’t wear it for long tho!

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