Penhaligon's Sartorial (2010): From Naked Man to Vested Gentleman {Fragrance Review}




Sartorial by Penhaligon's (see previous introductory article and the arty stop-motion video) opens on a burst of powdery gentlemanliness accented with a layer of shaving soap foam, like a woodier, sweeter, more animalic and more strongly typified Brut de Fabergé. It is an airier version of it as well thanks to its ozonic note. The eau de toilette belongs to this strange species of perfumes for men which covertly smell like coquettish damsels wearing rouge and powder high on the cheekbones and of which another classic, Canoe by Dana, reveals itself to be another quirky representative once you have forgotten about the tradition and rediscovered it impromptu. These scents easily suggest the brush of a downy houpette on a made-up feminine face, yet cater without a blink of the eye - or batting any lashes - to virile elegance...


Notes: aldehydes, ozonic notes, metallic notes, violet leaves, neroli, cardamom, black pepper and fresh ginger.

Beeswax, cyclamen, linden blossom, lavender and leather.

Gurjum balm, patchouli, myrrh, cedar wood, tonka bean, oakmoss, white musk, ancient woods notes, vanilla and amber.

Past this nod to the very powdery, slightly sluttish fougère genre for closeted womanly dandies, it seems - going by Brut and Canoe there are legions of them - Sartorial takes on a more figurative course, or better said, an atmospheric thrust as it starts smelling of the famous Savile Row tailor workroom as advertised in the perfume presentation. Present are impressions of waxed wood pannels, materials swiftly cut by cold and sharp, heavy metal scissors; there is a curious sensation of fizzy metals due to aldehydes mimicking some of the metallic tools available in the Nortons and Sons workshop. It reminds you of John Galliano's comparable thematic in which he attempted to literally translate the scent of a couture workshop into a fine fragrance for women done in collaboration with perfumer Christine Nagel. I also am inclined to think of Sartorial as smelling of clothes delineated with chalk tracers, of tape measurers, saw dust - there cannot be saw dust, but there is a speck of hay which is more part of the fougère structure than of the place itself. Generally speaking, the perfume manages to recreate the impression of a creaky tailor's workshop.

The fragrance then deepens the woody, resinous and even foresty tonalities of the composition, all the while remaining sweet. The scent starts evoking a balsamic fir tree with dark green, almost black needles or alternatively, Christmas jam made with pine honey: the workshop then seems to lose its contours fading into the original place from whence the fine carpentry work which furnishes the room originated, a forest. It is a bit surrealist, like a room opening onto a landscape which is remote and hundred of miles away from the city. In terms of the perfume story, the meaning it may carry consciously and unconsciously, it feels like it is pointing to Naked Man barely hiding in every custom-ordered tailored suits in Savile Row. It is as if the scent acted as a memento and wanted to remind us of primeval settings in the middle of a civilized urban space, of wilderness in the midst of culture. The scent seems to allude in a very fundamental manner to the archaic necessity of vesting naked man thereby paying homage to the seriousness and very long prehistoric tradition of the activity of tailoring. 

An ozonic, oxygenated sensation dynamic enough to suggest quickly circulating air - an accord which appeared in Orange Blossom already and to a different effect in Amaranthine, both signed by perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour as well - reinforces this impression of a retrospective look at the outdoors and the very conditions of weather - the slightly rough elements, like cold air and damp earth - which necessitated the creation of clothing for the human species to be able to survive.

Animalic nuances, due at least to both beeswax and musks conjure up a spectrum of images from wild animal skin used as a primitive robe, to the frankness of human effluvia under an elegant's clothes.

We find again the culture / savagery dichotomy in the fresh outdoors accord contrasted in equal measure, not to the scent of an old perfume, but the smell of an ancient place filled with old, deeply polished furniture, the "ancient woods accord," but also thanks to gurjum balsam which is a natural constituent of varnish. The longer drydown mixes a predominant note of, again, forest-y oakmoss with a sweetish (tonka bean, vanilla) and fresh impression (cyclamen, linden blossom, lavender) which feels rather feminine.

Sartorial is a more luxurious and more atmospheric version of the traditional fougère for men, the latter being an explicit, sought-out reference. It strikes me also that one finds in the fragrance themes and styles that can be said to be characteristic of the brand like a certain primitivist leaning I detected in Hammam Bouquet; also a 19th century sense of gender propriety for men, meaning a more feminine type of olfactory masculinity that we're accustomed to in general nowadays thanks to perceptible, diffusive floral accents; the toiletry orientation (different types of soapy sensations, a clean-shaven one here.) Can it be a fougère for women as well without exerting too much gender-bending pressure? Yes, thanks to the rich resins, the honeyed and vanillic sweetness and the diffusive floral quality.

It holds for me this quality, which is the mark of a very well done fragrance in my eye as I pointed out for Vanille Noire, of being able to be transformed into a more beautiful perfume once it starts surfing on air streams and playing with the breeze, surprising the wearer with its friezes of flowers and its more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts character.

Mastery of the air is essential to telegraph elegant and even beautiful olfactory signals thus carrying farther away the message of elegance of the sartorial gentleman and why not, lady. Perfume starts where clothing ends for the vested gentleman suggesting as in a full boomerang or circle effect, the naked but by now invisible, clad body.   


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