Penhaligon's Elisabethan Rose (2018) {Perfume Review & Musings}


This spring of 2018, Penhaligon's released a new version of its 1984 release, Elisabethan Rose eau de parfum. The new fragrance composition showcases a dual rose accord and decides to twist conventions; this is not your usual rose perfume. It is in fact one of the most discreetly original ones you'll be able to smell and wear, mark our word...

The opening of Elisabethan Rose is a comingling of roses, citruses and a faint echo of cedarwood - later just a conceptual "wood" - in the background soon spiced up by green cardamom, it seems (unlisted), while everything resolves after a short period of time into a seemingly giant languor of musk. This musk is prominent in that it is all that you can smell for a good while in perfume-development terms, meaning that it is more than a mere nuance and really a set mood. It evokes the natural scent of human musk mixing saliva, evanid perspiration and the smell of unclean-yet-clean skin - humors atop a clean base.

Past this reckoning of the strangely dominant musk character of the perfume - so soon in the top and so affirmed, so naturalistic - you see something else surface from the musky depths of the bottle. It is tart, fruity, lightly sweet, green and cutting-fresh like a blade of grass - and definitely original and unexpected.

A closer look at the official list of notes yields the information that the top of the scent was built around hazelnut leaves, almond essence and cinnamon. The effect is that of an unusual synthesis rather than the sensation of a succession of familiar notes chasing each others like clouds in the sky. It smells fruity, but not really; it smells sweet, but never gourmand; it smells like your idea of stinging nettles jam.

There is good, sustained power in the blend, which offers the particularity of taking the citrusy floral fragrance genre away from its habitual expression of lack of constraint and ease into an expression of something more complex, passionate - and even dramatic. Citrusy florals are usually thought of as one of those families of perfumes which were made for people who are not necessarily ravished by perfume. They are more into functional scents - and the citrusy-floral is a good compromise for this tribe. But here, Elisabethan Rose surprises you with its intrinsic intensity. It is not a showy fragrance; it does not slap you in the face with drama; but you could call it gently and obviously relentless.

One version for the background story for the composition is that it was inspired by the daughter of one of the perfumers (of the 1984 version) called Elisabeth - not Elizabeth with a "z" - and perhaps you could pinpoint in it the sometimes relentless quality of children; if Elisabeth was no more a child at the time of composition, then a memory of that unstoppable taste for life is present.


Plucking the Red and White Roses in the Old Temple Gardens,
Henry Arthur Payne, 1908-1910 - Palace of Westminster, London

But Elisabethan Rose wishes also to be an olfactive illustration of the Wars of the Roses, which pitted the house of the red roses, Lancaster, against the house of the white roses, York (1455-1485). You could then interpret this curiously unbudgeable quality of the fragrance as an expression of the unremitting wars which lasted for 30 years. There is perhaps something of the medieval soul as one could envision it in our times in there too. The resolution of the Wars of the Roses was attained thanks to marriage and Penhaligon's likes to stress that the musk note is there for that reason.

The house calls this symbolic composition "a soliflore with a double sphere" featuring two rose ingredients, rose centifolia essence and an absolute of rose, with plays on the colors red and white, red being for love and white for doves; red is suggested with a note of red lily too in the heart of the scent.

Perfumer Aliénor Massenet of Symrise signs a very unusual rose composition - and one of the very best you'll be able to procure at Penhaligon's - and elsewhere. It is at once an all-out rose and a more complex and deeply woven tapestry of the classical idea of a rose perfume. You really have to experience it to see how it subtly and invisibly breaks conventions beneath the surface classicism of the name and idea. The perfume defies categorization not through elusiveness, but remarkable qualities, of how shall we call them, "unmoving progression" and perhaps "impavid intensity"?

Perfumery is the ultimate art of the seemingly contradictory, of dreamy oxymorons, and of reputedly impossible sensations when at peak creativity. You can always take an inhale and learn an aesthetic and moral lesson, which on top of that smells great from top to bottom offering, last but not least, a sillage to die for.

Fragrance notes

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