Penhaligon's big fall launch is a quartet of fragrances called Portraits: Chapter 1. Two of them are feminine scents, two are masculine, and they've been given names and characters that evoke British mystery novels and period soap operas like "Upstairs, Downstairs." Penhaligon's tells us that the Portraits collection captures the brand's "ultimately British, slightly eccentric, traditional, adventurous and aristocratic character."
Yesterday Kevin reviewed the two "men" of the group, The Tragedy of Lord George and Much Ado About the Duke, and in another "his-and-hers" follow-up, I'm here to cover the women. First I "met" Lord George's wife, Lady Blanche, who is described as "a picture of devotion, charm – and criminal intentions. A social butterfly with a dangerous bite, one might say." The Revenge of Lady Blanche is a "green floral" developed by perfumer Daphné Bugey, with notes of narcissus, angelica, ginger flower, hyacinth and iris.
I didn't find Lady Blanche dangerous at all; it's a green floral, but it's shampoo-fresh rather than a sharp or narcotic. I get lots of soapy lilac and honeyed hyacinth, and maybe a whisper of rose, but the overall effect is really more "haircare" than "perfume." The dry down is a greenish iris. The base has hints of sandalwood and vanilla, and it's still slightly soapy. I suppose "Blanche" — meaning "white" — is the right name for this Lady.
The second woman of the Portraits quartet is the Lady Blanche's daughter, the Coveted Duchess Rose, trapped in an unsatisfying marriage to Duke Nelson (of Much Ado about the Duke): "Her bosom is aching for release from the corsets of Victorian life. . . .When one’s husband is at the theatre every evening, one does become terribly bored. . ." Her fragrance is a "woody rose" with notes of mandarin, rose and musky wood, developed by perfumer Christophe Raynaud.
I was glad to find that Duchess Rose's floral heart is a "red"-smelling rose, not one of the watery "pink" rose flankers that appear at mainstream fragrance counters every spring. At first, the rose smells almost wine-y, and it's complemented for a while by a dusting of black pepper. Then it evolves into a more straightforward floral accord; still rose, but softer and more jammy, and nestled into sheer woods and very sheer musk.
The Coveted Duchess Rose makes me echo Kevin's thoughts about The Tragedy of Lord George: "I like it. But then there's the 'luxury' price..." The prices for the Portraits did make me blink. These are pleasant fragrances, and I like the concept and the visuals; but for less money, you could pick up the classic green floral Guerlain Chamade or a beautiful thorny-rose scent like Serge Lutens La Fille de Berlin. For this price, I need to smell something I've never smelled before. The Portraits are charming but familiar-feeling, like the plot of a British murder mystery.
Suggested reading: Luca Turin's recent blog post on niche perfumery's rising prices.
Penhaligon's Portraits Chapter 1 The Revenge of Lady Blanche and The Coveted Duchess Rose are available in 75 ml Eau de Parfum, £178. For buying information, see the listing for Penhaligon’s under Perfume Houses.