British perfumer Penhaligon’s has that rare pedigree most fragrance houses dream of – a stamp of royal approval. Received from the British Royal Family – more than once – it’s the kind of cultural and august clout that actually defines something as “fit for a King”. Or a Queen.
“In 1956, the late HRH Duke of Edinburgh awarded a Royal warrant to Penhaligon’s in recognition of its contribution to British manufacturing and the fact that the Duke himself used the products exclusively,” explains Michael Marzano, the Penhaligon’s educator at Libertine Parfumerie.
“In 1988, it was followed by another, awarded by HRH The Prince of Wales.”
Founded by Cornish barber William Henry Penhaligon on Jermyn Street in London just nearby the infamous Turkish steam baths, he was inspired by the aromas that drifted come out of the bathhouses – steamy scents of rose, lavender, jasmine and rich cedarwoods – and created his first fragrance in 1872, Hammam Bouquet.
(Legend has it that at one point, William was the court barber and official perfumer for Queen Victoria herself – a story that has cemented the association of the Penhaligon’s name with the peak of luxury in perfumery and an array of fragrant products.)
When William’s son Walter eventually took over the business he continued his father’s legacy, creating the brilliant Blenheim Bouquet, scent of choice for the Duke of Marlborough.
Of course, accolades are one thing. The reason Penhaligon’s remains one of the most recognisable names of British perfumery is because their fragrances – which now include everything from bath gels, skincare and candles – take you on an exquisite olfactive journey that begins in 1870 and captures the mythology of the British sensibility and the cultures that have influenced it throughout time.
In many ways, it’s an olfactive time machine.
“It’s all very distinguished and stylish,” says Marzano.
And British, one must add.
So British in fact that one of their most popular lines, The Portrait Collections, is directly inspired by the fascination surrounding England’s aristocracy. A series of personas portrayed via perfume that offers a brilliant marketing opportunity (“Oh you’re a Cousin Matthew? I’m more of a Duke myself”) as much as it does a deep dive into how we associate certain smells with personality traits.
“[It’s a] Downton Abbey-esque story of love, passion, and secrets with a dark twist, plotting murder, scurrilous gossip, intrigue, sexual exploits,” says Marzano.
“Each character [in the Portraits] is represented by a fragrance that perfectly matches their role in the plot. There are also whisperings that it is a thinly veiled story, based on the sagas of the Royal family itself!”
With more than a century under its belt, Penhaligon’s ability to create commercially viable perfumery with creative experimentation is a rare talent not all major players in the field have managed to master.
Their Trade Routes series, for example. A journey over Britain’s historical empire via scent. One whiff of Lothair, created by the brilliant Brilliant Bertrand Duchaufour, and suddenly you’re in the bowels of a boat carrying black tea, cardamom and other spices into the briny docks of London, an illusion achieved by a raunchy fig and magnolia accord.
Their most recent release, Racquets, is in fact a resurrection of an original fragrance and part of their British Tales collection.
A summer scent that combines citrus and leather – think lemon water and the leather tape used on traditional wooden tennis rackets – that practically zings when you wear it, Racquets combines the innovation Penhaligon’s has become known for with the heritage their beloved for.
“The reintroduction of Racquets is really a nod to all things we adore about the game of tennis,” explains Marzano.
“Celebrating the unusual match up of bright citrus and rich leather notes – a meeting of champions on the court of scent. It celebrates tennis as the iconic British sport, from its inception to the modern era. Next year, we will see another old classic that highlights the story of vintage racing cars!”