July 28, 2012
Peoneve by Penhaligon
This was the year I first experienced a naturally fragrant peony at its peak. It instantly transported me into peaceful calm. Fragrance rose up from the cupped blush pink petals, a live thing that imprinted on me something like a cross between a rosebud, a barely ripe peach, and violets living within a green coolness, in combination with something indefinable and therefore distinctively Peony.
This is a floral that can’t be extracted or grasped in a physical way, it is a fleeting ephemeral, dainty and legendarily beautiful inhabitant of a skillfully cultivated garden. You must be there yourself when the flower is in bloom if you want to experience it.
Peoneve edP by Penhaligon has that naturalistic dimensional quality, though it's all done with skill and mixed perfume media. It opens with a hit of beautifully fresh bright peony that after a few minutes goes a little deeper into rose and then eventually the earthy tang of smooth vetiver, that dark dry hay, as centered and smoothed by ambrox, to be the deepest base note in this perfume.
The perfumer Oliver Cresp has said that he used a headspace technology derived peony that captured the flower’s live fragrance and the air around it for the focus of the perfume. This is all balanced and turned into a perfume rather than a simply realistic representation of a peony, with ambrox and a natural vetiver, and some other fewer notes than are usual in a composition, deliberately keeping the formula relatively spare and controlled.*
It must be the highly naturalistic quality of the peony flower set beside the earthiness of the vetiver and the smooth musk of ambrox that carries this perfume out of the ordinary floral into something special. The vetiver and ambrox, representing the earthy and the abstract, hold enough of our modern aesthetic sensibility to carry all this over the line from prettiness into thoughtful elegance and adult sophistication.
This is a perfect example of something that is harmonious yet emotionally resonant. It could go both ways in its softness, inclining toward either easy happiness or voluptuous sadness, or move across both in turn, like certain pieces of music.**
It rests on the skin as a veil of subtle ornamentation. The floral softens down and joins the ambrox to warm itself up, lightly stepping over the threshold into its moist human/amber creaminess. This makes it impossible to divide the perfume’s effects from your own skin’s living heat.
What makes this a brilliant perfume is the sense it gives you that the flower and your skin are blooming together as one. It will eventually come to your attention that your warmth and the perfume’s warmth and floral air have joined into a liveliness and grace that is sensitively balanced; both understated yet still most definitely there. It has a subtle mood elevating quality that I find especially rewarding in a perfume.
The reference to the ultra refinement of the scented English ladies of yore is deliberate, since Penhaligon is an old British firm that wants to bring its reputation and British-ness into the modern perfume world without leaving anything of such resonance and value behind.
My free sample came through MiN New York, a niche perfume dealer on Crosby Street in Soho, at my last visit there. I believe it suddenly appeared before me because Mindy Yang discerned my tastes from general conversation about other perfumes. My first try was one of immediate refreshment while in the midst of an intense NYC heat wave, having spent a couple of hours walking through the blazing streets on my errands that day.
They carry the perfume in two sizes, 50 ml for $120 and 100 ml for $155.
MiN has become something of a welcoming social center for perfumistas in NYC. They often conduct workshops and events to bring perfumers in to meet the public and for the local perfumisti to meet each other.
* as noted from the Basenotes interview by Persolaise
**Eric Satie - Gymnopedie No. 1 - music to listen to perfume by
As always, my opinions are my own and I am not compensated in any way. These images are not my own, credits are linked above. If they belong to you and you want them to be removed, please let me know. All rights reserved, copyright Lucy Raubertas 2012.