Home   Fashion and Beauty   Article

Beauty: Heavenly scent with Penhaligon's


By Alice Ryan


With a pair of royal warrants and Kate Moss and Sienna Miller known fans, great British fragrance brand Penhaligon’s inspires devotion. Once sniffed, its scents are never forgotten, writes Alice Ryan

Walk up St Andrew’s Street in Cambridge and your nose will lead you to Penhaligon’s. The perfume store is small, elegantly formed and filled with the most sumptuous scents: fiercely feminine florals (Elisabethan Rose), earthy fougeres (English Fern), spirited aromatics (Juniper Sling). It invites you to close your eyes and inhale. Deeply.

Penhaligon’s has, explains brand ambassador Alexandra Cernanova, a great history. The story begins with Cornish barber William Penhaligon who, in the early 1860s, set off for London to find his fortune.

Dick Whittington-style, the story swiftly turns fairytale. Taking a lease on the now-famous Jermyn Street, then an up-and-coming address, Penhaligon was frequented by the next-door tailor’s clientele. Before long, he was trimming the Shah of Persia’s beard.

Velvet: Penhaligon's Store Shots, Penhaligon's, St Andrew's St. Pictures: Keith Heppell. (8001333)
Velvet: Penhaligon's Store Shots, Penhaligon's, St Andrew's St. Pictures: Keith Heppell. (8001333)
Velvet: Penhaligon's Store Shots, Penhaligon's, St Andrew's St. Pictures: Keith Heppell. (8001324)
Velvet: Penhaligon's Store Shots, Penhaligon's, St Andrew's St. Pictures: Keith Heppell. (8001324)
Velvet: Penhaligon's Store Shots, Penhaligon's, St Andrew's St. Pictures: Keith Heppell. (8001318)
Velvet: Penhaligon's Store Shots, Penhaligon's, St Andrew's St. Pictures: Keith Heppell. (8001318)

Both creative and ambitious, by 1874 Penhaligon had created his first fragrance, Hammam Bouquet: an olfactory tribute to Jermyn Street’s heady Turkish baths, it’s still being made today, to the same recipe and housed in the same bottle. One scent led to another, and so the Penhaligon’s brand was born.

Winston Churchill apparently had a penchant for Blenheim Bouquet which, all lemon and lime in the nose and pine and pepper in the base, was created in 1902 and remains a top seller. Kate Moss, Sienna Miller and the late Princess Diana have all named Bluebell, a distinctive blend of spring bulbs and spice, their signature scent. And, of course, the company has two seals of royal approval, too: it’s by appointment to both His Royal Highnesses The Duke of Edinburgh and Prince of Wales.

Velvet: Penhaligon's Store Shots, Penhaligon's, St Andrew's St. Pictures: Keith Heppell. (8001312)
Velvet: Penhaligon's Store Shots, Penhaligon's, St Andrew's St. Pictures: Keith Heppell. (8001312)
Velvet: Penhaligon's Store Shots, Penhaligon's, St Andrew's St. Pictures: Keith Heppell. (8001327)
Velvet: Penhaligon's Store Shots, Penhaligon's, St Andrew's St. Pictures: Keith Heppell. (8001327)
Velvet: Penhaligon's Store Shots, Penhaligon's, St Andrew's St. Pictures: Keith Heppell. (8001348)
Velvet: Penhaligon's Store Shots, Penhaligon's, St Andrew's St. Pictures: Keith Heppell. (8001348)

All this history doesn’t stop Penhaligon’s evolving, though: new fragrances are introduced every season. The gold-topped Portraits collection - each fragrance named after a character in an entirely imagined, upper-crusty yet Bohemian British family; there’s all manner of intrigue - has just added a pair of fresh-faced cousins, citrusy Flora and Matthew, which layers mandarin over petitgrain and patchouli. “Penhaligon’s as a brand has a huge amount of character; the storytelling that comes with each fragrance reflects that,” says Alexandra.

To come clean: I’ve been a fan of Penhaligon’s for the better part of a decade. I’ve worn - and loved - a whole series of scents: Lily of the Valley, The Duchess Rose, Elisabethan Rose, Bluebell, Lavandula, and, perhaps my favourite, Peoneve, described as “an English garden, bursting with flowers and foliage”. As you may gather I am a) fickle, b) adore perfume and c) put a bottle on every Christmas and birthday wishlist.

The hard part is always selecting a scent. When you’re as flighty as I am, and love them all, how do you whittle down? That’s where the Penhaligon’s profiling service comes in, explains Alexandra: book an appointment and an expert will, by asking pertinent questions, proffering scent-drenched spills and using their professional nous, identify your perfect match.

Velvet: Penhaligon's Store Shots, Penhaligon's, St Andrew's St. Pictures: Keith Heppell. (8001339)
Velvet: Penhaligon's Store Shots, Penhaligon's, St Andrew's St. Pictures: Keith Heppell. (8001339)
Velvet: Penhaligon's Store Shots, Penhaligon's, St Andrew's St. Pictures: Keith Heppell. (8001330)
Velvet: Penhaligon's Store Shots, Penhaligon's, St Andrew's St. Pictures: Keith Heppell. (8001330)
Velvet: Penhaligon's Store Shots, Penhaligon's, St Andrew's St. Pictures: Keith Heppell. (8001318)
Velvet: Penhaligon's Store Shots, Penhaligon's, St Andrew's St. Pictures: Keith Heppell. (8001318)

Today, it’s my turn in the (very comfy) chair. Serving me tea and truffles - and instantly reminding me just how much I love Penhaligon’s - Alexandra starts by asking how much I know about fragrance (answer: a geeky amount). She then asks me to list scents that evoke good memories (Floris Stephanotis, my grandma wore it; Chanel No 5, my mother doesn’t go a day without it; Penhaligon’s’ own Sartorial, my husband wears it).

We cover everything from favourite flowers to fabrics, then Alexandra starts selecting potential scents, spritzing spills and asking for my instant reaction, sneakily keeping the labels concealed so I can’t prejudge. It’s fun and fascinating, too: turns out I have a bit of a thing for patchouli (joss sticks were big in the 90s).

It takes a mere 20 minutes to shortlist two: The Duchess Rose, which I’ve worn before, and Ellenisia, an older fragrance but one that’s new to me. Trialling both on my skin, to see how the dry-down impacts, the Ellenisia proves irresistible: a full-bodied floral, girlish jasmine gives way to grown-up tuberose. Like all Penhaligon’s fragrances, it envelops the wearer without intruding on those around them. It’s delicious.

Velvet: Penhaligon's Store Shots, Penhaligon's, St Andrew's St. Pictures: Keith Heppell. (8001306)
Velvet: Penhaligon's Store Shots, Penhaligon's, St Andrew's St. Pictures: Keith Heppell. (8001306)

A lovely added extra: the Penhaligon’s team now offer a free engraving service, so your bottle - still the same shape as in 1874 - can be personalised with a name or message.

There are numerous fragrance houses of merit, but few balance past with present so beautifully. If you’ve not visited Penhaligon’s, let your nose lead you down St Andrew’s Street: tea, truffles, impeccable service and truly addictive scents await.

Penhaligon’s is at 22 St Andrew’s Street, Cambridge CB2 3BJ. To find out more about scent profiling and to book an appointment, call store manager Rachel Thompson and her team on (01223) 322664 or email cambridge@penhaligons.com.