Penhaligon's Orange Blossom (2010): Fountain of the Cooling and Peppy Spirits {Perfume Review and Musings}


Perfume Review: Penhaligon's Orange Blossom (2010) - Fountain of the Cooling and Peppy Spirits

The latest perfume creation by Penhaligon's, Orange Blossom, to be introduced on March 29th will be - spoiler alert - a wonderful addition to anyone's summer wardrobe. It will even be a weapon of sorts and of choice against the miasmas, bad air and surges of heat in the sun-beaten days ahead. If this sounds like a Victorian perfume ad written by an apothecary, this is exactly what I am hinting at.

Not a Quack's Perfume

Orange Blossom in its 2010 incarnation smells and acts like a perfume rescued from the Victorian era while being inspired by the spirit of the 20th century efficient portable (olfactory) ventilator (for the skin), a perfume feat made possible thanks to 21st perfumery technology which has secured the lasting quality of citrus notes, an olfactory phenomenon unknown until fairly recently. Less than about farniente as hinted about by the press material stating it was inspired by a dinner taken by the Mediterranean sea in the summer, it is a perfume about energy and the restorative powers of perfume.

This Eau de Toilette which defies fleetingness is like a magnified, single-minded and inspired stylized vision of Victorian characters on the verge of fainting out of their corsets and in desperate need for a remedy against murderous weather conditions, from electrically charged stormy conditions to migraine-inducing sun glare. The remedy concocted by Dr. Bertrand Duchaufour, borrowing for a moment the persona of a merchant of snake oil, both works and charms. Just keep Orange Blossom in your pharmacy cabinet - even better, in your refrigerator - or spray your linens with it too, it will make you feel deliciously peppy....


A still from Fellini 8 1/2

The Anthology collection has so far revealed deliberate and unexpected modernist aesthetic touches for a brand steeped in the tradition of polished toiletry-oriented English scents influenced by the spa culture of Bath inherited from the Romans. Amaranthine also profited from this rethink.

In the more recent output which includes a faithful re-issue of their Eau de Cologne and one pre-announced as a less faithful re-creation of the original Orange Blossom from 1976 (I can confirm that), there seems to be overall inspiration drawn from the spirit of Penhaligon's origins.

Duchaufour, in opting for a more traditionalist approach does not seem to like to do things half-way nevertheless: Orange Blossom appears to be traversed by the spirit of remedial convent perfume-making, a vein of medicinal perfumery which was explicitly tapped into for his Baume du Doge by Eau d'Italie and which meshes well with the inspiration for the debut perfume for the house, Hammam Bouquet (1872).

The new perfume is not so much a soliflore as its name might indicate as a duo of florals resting on a pairing of orange blossom with osmanthus. It could be called Orange Blossom & Osmanthus, à la Jo Malone. Although Penhaligon's Orange Blossom definitely has its own personality it appears to have been influenced by the floral work and osmanthus note found in Nuit de Cellophane by Serge Lutens and Cristalle Eau Verte by Chanel, both devised by perfumer Christopher Sheldrake.

The composition feels very much unisex in the original Victorian sense of simply being unaware that such distinctions exist. For a 20th-21st century sensibility it translates as a luminous yet fleshy feminine floral facet counterbalanced by a very brisk herbaly, Eau-de-Cologne one. The scent has both grace and punch in the spirit of Hammam Bouquet, while being rounder.

Olfactory Portrait

Notes: neroli, violet leaves, bergamot, citron, cardamom absolute, pink peppercorn, orange absolute, Egyptian jasmine absolute, tuberose absolute, rose essence, peach blossom, orchid blossom, sandalwood, Virginian cedar, white musk, vanilla.

Orange Blossom opens on fresh, citrusy and crystalline notes slowly seguing into deeper, more substantive tonalities of orange blossom.

If it starts fountain-like in its thirst-quenching and lively quality, it becomes velvetier and more pillowy-soft after some time all the while hinting at discreet confectionary nuances, a reference underlined by a subtle almondy counterpoint. I am reminded once more of those Iranian treats of orange-blossom scented crystallized slivers of pistachios. I go back in memory also to the orange blossom and almond accord that was part of L'Artisan Parfumeur Fleur d'Oranger 2007.

The fruity-floral facet of the scent is counterbalanced by a harsher, herbal character - in a good sense for me - which feels like sharp, cutting green grass. It adds briskness to the scent and prevents the composition from being too languid.

The perfume becomes rounder again, but not just that. It also keeps its aggressive thrust, which will be a welcome reminder to keep your energies up when the heat wave really does hit.


Perfume as a scent for the vinaigrette

I see in this brusque accord a prophylactic concern on the part of the perfumer. Smelling it, I am ready to accept the interpretation of Orange Blossom in its 2010 version as a replacement for the salts that Victorian ladies would have on hand to revive their spirits. It is the perfect orange blossom perfume as vinaigrette scent. It does not just feel invigorating, it is invigorating, but perhaps the distinction is moot, to some extent, thanks to the suggestive power of perfumery. The orange blossom note is soft but never nursery-like and childish, a risk in the French context where orange blossom is a favorite in baby colognes.

A perfume note I had noticed from the cap at first, which reminded me of the osmanthus in Nuit de Cellophane, becomes more apparent after a while when the transparent, watery floral note starts moving in front of the orange blossom like a change of stage decor screens.

The composition is well-balanced throughout - it is clear that the slight roughness is intentional, like a friction done with a horsehair bath mitten. It is very pleasurable not only to smell it but to inhale more deeply, again, like a scented sponge in a vinaigrette. It is mind-clearing, or gives the illusion of being so.

The initial clarity of the scent which was succeeded by the deeper velvetier texture both seem to combine now to offer an impression of transparent yet textural velvet. There are slight incensey and clove-y carnation nuances that enshrine the orange blossom-osmanthus accord with hints of still fresher lily of the valley now but the perfume never feels heavy. It just creates a paradoxical sensation of wet incensey smoke as if it swirled around a basket full of dewy orange blossoms after the rain.

Orange Blossom is pretty much a perfect orange blossom fragrance in my eye. It is moreover a perfect orange blossom perfume for the summer. I am seduced by its near-medicinal herbaly Eau de Cologne aspect. The drydown does not belie this impression as the next day, the scent smells like Eau de Cologne on the skin eschewing also the more common obvious musky tail-end of many so-called fresh scents, smelling more like a naturally musky flower. It seems to be able to play the role of an olfactory electric fan on the skin for the longest time, diffusing waves of cooling and energizing floral waters to your nostrils and brain.

The composition thus seems to be a return to part of the wellness and toiletry heritage of Penhaligon's, their initial fascination for the scent of the hammam continuing to live on the skin under the rose note of Hammam Bouquet. To create an eau which is a two-in-one, a senteur and a roborative perfume which could be sold by nuns so caring it is of your well-being is extremely convincing in my book. I personally appreciate it so much that I am not even able to begrudge Duchaufour and the Penhaligon's artistic direction for having completely changed the original Orange Blossom, which I used to wear and which was much deeper and leathery. It was actually my first purchase from Penhaligon's when they had a boutique rue du Cherche-Midi in Paris.

People seeking absolute originality will probably think that it is more of a riff on the full-bodied yet pellucid floral accords we have seen in Nuit de Cellophane and Cristalle Eau Verte. I can only say that I see in Orange Blossom by Penhaligon's a spirit that is its very own, in line with its roots and in line also with the temperament of Duchaufour who has offered particularly clear hints of his rock 'n' roll leanings at the British perfume house, more so than at L'Artisan Parfumeur so far. The scent is traditional, worthy of a scintillating bathroom shelf, yet still streamlined, technically modern, and in tune with the Zeitgeist which favors luminous florals. It is even trendy, if you consider the two fragrances cited above. There is an effort here, as I see it, to flesh out the taste for crystalline textures (see Lolita Lempicka Eau du Désir) and find a just balance while letting out some taste for extremes. If you needed proof that perfumery allows for your contradictions to blossom by precisely taking the form of a perfume, here is one.

I don't know if London is still the rock n' roll scene par excellence today but it used to be so and it reminds me of this rebellious streak that was absent or stifled in Paris and of all this dose of anti-establishment music one could go listen to by jumping on the ferry to head to the numerous rock clubs of the time. This anti-conformist strain cohabited perfectly well with the conservative, traditionalist side of London and it continues to do so in this very English bottle of perfume.

A 100 ml bottle is priced at 110€.

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