Penhaligon’s: Amaranthine, Limes, Gardenia

Gardenia thunbergia

The first time I entered a Penhaligon’s store several years ago, it confirmed the vague suspicions in my head – upscale Caswell-Massey-type old fashioned scents, with names like Elisabethan Rose and Victorian Posy.  It wasn’t love at first sniff.  Some of their fragrances are strongly aromatic/fougere, which wasn’t my thing, and about Bluebell the less said the better.   Who shopped there?  Perhaps they’re a good travel souvenir for Aunt Joan, only when I visited the exchange rate was one measly pound for two American dollars, so Aunt Joan, if she existed, would have gotten a box of tea from Fortnum’s instead.  Eventually I was gifted with Malabah, which I like, and I haven’t crossed paths with the rest of the line since.

And then came Amaranthine.  Notes from their website: green tea, freesia, banana leaf, coriander, cardamom, rose, carnation, clove, orange blossom, ylang ylang, Egyptian jasmine, musk, vanilla, sandalwood, condensed milk, tonka bean.

Immediately and humorously nicknamed Amaranthigh by perfumistas, Amaranthine was a shot across the bow in terms of our expectations from staid Penhaligon’s.  Bertrand Duchaufour’s bizarre, refulgent twist on a boudoir scent would have been about the last thing I expected from the house, and I wasn’t alone there.  From its peculiar, discordant wet/green top notes right through the sweaty, heady florals and on to a drydown someone on Basenotes described (not lovingly) as burnt milk, Amaranthine is a head-scratcher.  The Penhaligon’s website says “Amaranthine is a corrupted floral oriental for those private moments when everything is anticipation,” and certainly the cumin-like presence throughout (which signifies sweat for many of us) indicates something corrupt and perhaps private is going on.   The word amaranthine indicates both eternal, unfading beauty and (as related to the flower) a deep purple-red, and at least on me, Amaranthine is close to eternal – I get a good 24 to 36 hours of fun, and I wouldn’t want to overspray.  I am not BD’s number-one fangirl but I found this both extraordinary and (once you know that offputting wet-tin-fork top is going to fade) quite beautiful.

Playing with it more, particularly in our recent spate of 90-degree days, I’ve also decided Duchaufour’s having us on a bit.  Once Amaranthine’s finished with the lap dance, it flops down next to me on the couch, shifts the wool afghan over a bit, wraps its arms around me, and settles in for a nap.  Yes, it’s true.  Amaranthine is in fact a comfort scent in the drydown, full of lightly spiced, milky-woody deliciousness in spite of those sweet, dirty whispers in my ear.

There are several new reissues from the house, including Extract of Limes and Gardenia, both from their back catalog (1963 and 1976 respectively) and now part of their Anthology Collection.  I’m still a little unclear on how much Duchaufour’s hand is in which scents in the Anthology – Orange Blossom appears to be the only Anthology scent on the site that’s characterized as reformulated (“transformed”), and directly attributed to him.  (Orange Blossom I tried once in Paris and am ashamed to say I can’t remember anything about it other than it smelled like orange blossom.)

Extract of Limes is described on their site as “shattered sherbet and blossom honey. A classic citrus, penetrating and pure, with straight up West Indian lime, lemon oil and neroli. High, clear and instantly uplifting.”  Notes are lime oil, lemon oil, petitgrain oil and neroli.

I wanted to love this.  I did.  I really did.  I love limes, and lime fragrances, and I’m still kicking myself for not buying Floris Summer Limes when it was stocked locally a year or three ago for all of 30 seconds, because I had no idea it would then disappear from the face of the earth.  Extract of Limes isn’t lacking the effort – it’s a bright, effervescent scent, trying to please, and if it smells a bit too sweet on me at first (like a green sourball hard candy rather than the fruit), the sweetness fades and then it’s nicely tart, which any self-respecting lime scent should be.  However, and I’m wondering whether this is just me and maybe allergy issues, I can’t escape from the faint, offputting waft of something sickly-sweet like mildew, which pops up periodically in this scent on my skin. If there’s a short list of things I don’t want to smell like, mildew’s on it.  Along with skunk.  And Angel.  Anyway, then it’s back to the lime-y love.  I have no idea what that’s about.  Has anyone else tried this?  Lasting power is decent for a citrus.

Finally, there’s Gardenia, “a translucent watercolour in soft washes of tuberose, jasmine, gardenia, ylang-ylang, spice and vanilla. A radiant magnolia-tinted portrait of one of nature´s most sensual blooms…” (from their website.)  Notes are violet, rhubarb, bergamot, hyacinth, magnolia, green leaves, gardenia, rose, ylang, orange blossom, tuberose, jasmine, clove, cinnamon, lily of the valley, benzoin, sandalwood, musk, vanilla.

Gardenia is as multifaceted as that list of notes suggests, although it’s perhaps not so translucent as to make it breezy and delicate.  It´s got the full-on swagger of white flowers from the first spritz, and spends maybe a minute a bit on the soapy side.  Then the note that signifies gardenia, which smells a bit cheesy to some and mushroomy to others, makes its welcome appearance, so the scent isn’t too clean.  Magnolia is shaping up to be the new pink pepper of perfumery, and I’m not sure there’s a perfect magnolia fragrance, but this feels wet without being aquatic, and woody without being too obvious about it.  And it’s more naturalistic than the spiced gardenia of, say, Jo Malone Vintage Gardenia.

I put on the Van Cleef & Arpels Gardenia Petale on the other arm for comparison.  Both scents contain a breath of other white flowers, including gardenia’s near-constant companion, the rubbery tuberose, along with jasmine and ylang, and certainly VCA more closely approximates the impression of gardenia, the way it would smell if you stuck your nose in the flower.  I take nothing away from the Penhaligon’s by saying it’s more diffuse.  While it’s less ripe than the VCA, it doesn’t smell like Glade, either, and the musky gardenia drydown, slightly smoky and tinged with vanilla, is rich without being too sweet.

Gardenia, like tuberose, is traditionally a love-it-or-hate-it among perfume fans; personally I’m fascinated by how many folks like one but not the other, considering how often they’re mated in perfumery.  For some people, a single gardenia fragrance is one too many.  Others can’t get enough.  I can’t say, smelling this, that it is so similar to anything else I have that I could cross it off my list.  It doesn’t pack the wallop that VCA has, although it’s still pretty heady.  If I could only have one, I’d take the Van Cleef.  But I’d cheerfully take both.

I imagine I’d appreciate the Penhaligon’s store more these days.  I was still very much on my new/strange bender, and had no time for things like Blenheim Bouquet.  If you have a favorite Penhaligon’s, or you’ve tried any of these newish Anthology ones, please say so in comments.

Sample sources: Amaranthine and Extract of Limes, courtesy of LuckyScent; Gardenia, private source.

drawing of Gardenia thunbergia from Curtis Botanical Magazine

99 Comments
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HemlockSillage May 6, 2010

:(( I must be anosmic to something! I don't get sweaty, or skanky at all from Amarinthine. I ran home after work to retry it after all the comments here, and I still don't get it. I must be *really* blowing others away with my skank if I don't notice this. I'm very afraid. Amarinthine is lovely. I tried it first in Hawaii, and thought, what a great tropical themed perfume! I get an herbaceous note up top (banana leaf?) along with a salty note, then a weird but fascinating mix of tiare and some fruit I can't put a finger on, then the cuddly dry down. It never hit me as overtly sexual. I'd actually ordered a second sample to try, in consideration of a FB purchase. I was thinking of buying a perfume to remind me of my trip, and I'd tried and loved Montale's Intense Tiare, Les Nez Manoumalia and this one. I still may purchase Amarinthine, but I'm a bit unnerved by the Amarinthigh moniker. BTW, I do get the skank in MKK, Rien, Bal a Versailles, Party in Manhattan, but hmmm. . . What aromachemical am I missing, I wonder? Any ideas?

monkeytoe May 5, 2010

I can never disassociate Penhaligon's from an article in Esquire (or some such) that suggested to embark on a career in high-class gigolo-ing to use Penhaligon's toiletries. But, I do love Duchaufour (and his fraternal nasal twin Buxton), so I need to give amaranthine a sniff.

dleep May 5, 2010

There is something about Amaranthine that grabbed me at first sniff. I bought in in December and cannot wait to try it in the heat. It does last forever on my skin and my clothes. I think it is beautiful and find it somewhat addicting. This is the first Penhaligon's scent that I have ever tried and I was surprised to find something so different from a company that I had viewed as very conservative and old fashioned in their scents.

karin May 5, 2010

With all the love for Duchaufour, I ordered a bunch of BD scent samples from Luckyscent (including Amaranthine), determined to find one that I could love. Frustrating, but if a scent has cumin in it, it's all I can smell! I WISH I could smell the green tea, banana leaf, freesia, etc., in Amaranthine. It all sounds so wonderful and intoxicating! Nope. Can't smell it at all. Just cumin. And I SO wanted to like this one. Throw it into the same pile as CDG 2, Timbuktu, Fleurs d'Oranger, Maharanih, and all the other cumin-tinged scents. I don't hate them, just disappointed by them, cause that cumin dominates and ruins it for me. I do have a bottle of Havana Vanille, though. (No cumin!) Sometimes fragrances are one-note for me, and I don't really get it. HV is vanilla extract. No tobacco, no leather. Is it a matter of training? Being able to detect those subtle nuances? Or is my nose handicapped??? Ha. Some fragrances are "one-note" and linear to me, while others explode in all sorts of different directions. Curious how we all seem to detect different things in different scents. Makes me jealous sometimes when I can't smell what others smell...and happy when I actually CAN smell what others smell. Blah, blah, blah. ;-)

mals86 May 5, 2010

Liked Amaranthine in December, and put it away "for warmer weather" but have yet to get it back out, being consumed with green florals lately. Must remedy that soonest. Love Violetta's violets-and-greens. Hate Bluebell - after five minutes of hyacinth, it turned into a chemical spill. Elixir smells like potpourri to me. Lily & Spice was pleasant but unexciting (and I usually like lily). Night-Scented Stock I found dull, dull, dull, and nothing like as heady/fresh as the real thing. Disappointing.

Shelley May 5, 2010

Sometimes, there is a big tear in the Force. And Big Time Yammered Abouts get through without investigation. Amaranthine is one. On radar...but has never hit land... Okay, so building off your Amaranthigh experience, what *I'd* like to hear coming around the bend is a scent that piques my intellectual interest, has a sense of humor, tickles things animalic, shows beauty, is tantric, and then cuddles. How many stages of development is that? Can it be done? Do I ask too much of one perfume??

k-scott May 5, 2010

I've been wearing Amaranthine on and off since December, and you are so right about the spicy condensed milk drydown making it a comfort scent- I found that it wears just as well in winter weather as it does in spring (well, more like summer here in Florida now). I am really eager to try Orange Blossom too, I've heard good reviews. Though I'm a gardenia lover, I'm with you on the VCA Gardenia Petale. How could anything top it! It's damn near perfect in my book. Though I guess that shouldn't stop me from at least giving the Penhaligon's a chance... :-?

Musette May 5, 2010

I am going to try VC&A gardenia again today - it's been awhile. Jo's Vintage G makes me sneeze. Hard. So no joy there. And it's a shame because I do love a spicy gardenia. Lime? Never could get around to lime. You know I love a lemon, though. And right now Cumin is NOT my friend! [-( I'm really pissed (heh) about that Ald 44 throwing all that cumin all over the place.... xo >-)

Nava May 5, 2010

Wow, that sounds like a real doozy,especially coming from Penhaligons. Has the Queen revoked her seal of patronage, or whatever it's called, like when Mohammed al Fayed put in that creepy Diana/Dodi memorial in Harrods? There used to be a Penhaligons "nook" in Saks' flagship and I remember going there, sniffing and hating everything; except for Quercus - which I believe was their answer to CK One at the time. There is a Penhaligons store in Caesars Palace in Vegas of all places, so maybe they're not so staid after all.

DinaC May 5, 2010

March, Like you and Joe, above, I want to sniff Penhaligon's Night-scented Stock. I love the scent of the real flower and am curious to see how the scent compares. When I smell lime notes they remind me of my grandfather's Lime Foamy shave cream. 8-| Haven't gotten past that memory and association yet. As a kid, there was a time when we lived in Texas and had a gardenia bush right near our front door. Those flowers smelled so good. Lush and a bit lemon-y. Real magnolia flowers smell a bit like that, too. But those big white flower scents overwhelm me, for the most part. Haven't found one that I want to buy yet.

donanicola May 5, 2010

I used to like Penhaligon's Lily of the Valley candles in Spring and once I bought a little tester kit of the male scents. This was when my south african ex was living with me and when one of his big Bok mates was over to visit. The sight of two big macho men debating which Penhaligon scent they were going to wear was totally worth the price I paid for the kit. I can't remember which was the favourite now. Anyway, then I was annoyed because Penhaligons replaced L'Artisan Parfumeur at the Royal Exchange and that didn't seem fair but then Amaranthine was released and all, as far as I am concerned, is forgiven. Love the sexy weirdness of Amaranthine and then its cuddly drydown. The Orange Blossom is lovely too - not nearly so soapy as other OBs with a skin element. Must try the Gardenia.

Melissa May 5, 2010

I love both gardenia and tuberose! Something switched on in my brain a few years ago and I was a goner. And I guess I'm officially a BD fangirl too. I enjoyed Al Oudh, admired Havana Vanille, was hooked at Amaranthine and loved my one sniff of Nuit de Tubereuse. I think I've read he had a hand in the re-release/re-formulation of Gardenia, which, as you know, I also love. I'll probably buy a bottle of Orange Blossom when it gets to the US. It's one of my favorite notes and from what I've seen on the blogs, it does appear to have BD's signature.

Fiordiligi May 5, 2010

Well, as a British person who has known Penhaligon for a very long time my opinion has always been that it belongs in the "what shall we buy as a souvenir from Olde England?" category, a safe, dull, toilet water-type option. I am not at all fond. Amaranthine is certainly a departure but I still don't like it, but then I'm not a fan of Duchaufour's work either. Sorry!

Jared May 5, 2010

I am yet another who has not tried Amaranthine (great word, though). Still, I am a huge fan of corrupted flowers, loving both gardenia and tuberose. Bring it. But I wonder how Amaranthine compares to another hugely-beloved corrupted beauty, Une Fleur de Cassie? For the life of me, I get nothing stinky, just ravishing beauty. Anyway, I physically wrote a Amaranthine on a list, so it needs to happen. That, and Manoumalia.

carmencanada (Grain de Musc) May 5, 2010

Well, as you know, Amaranthine and Orange Blossom are both up there in my spring top ten. And that Amaranthine drydown? Hey, what do you think happens after the action? You flop down and cuddle... I find it blends incredibly well with my skin (lactones love me). On hot days it's the back of my neck I'll spray to get the gorgeous green-milky wafts. I think at this stage I can safely say it's one of those scents that'll be a keeper. Orange blossom is less complex but a fascinating, three-tier exploration of the note. There'll be another Duchaufour Penhaligon's coming out next fall, a new take on the masculine fougère, so the house is definitely undergoing a creative revival. I wouldn't discount classics like Blenheim Bouquet and Hammam Bouquet though: they're heirloom of Victorian perfumery.

Joe May 5, 2010

24-36 hours of fun? That sounds kind of tantric. :"> Amaranthigh doesn't give me that kind of action... but I still like it a lot. I can't wait to have the chance to try it on a hot afternoon ("skyrockets in flight," and all that...). I definitely find it a bit pornographic, not that that stops me from wearing a little to the office. I kinda like Bluebell, and Lily & Spice too. I just tried Elixir for the first time a couple days ago and it's a mighty fine incense, I must say. I've gifted a friend with Douro shower gel (great packaging and great for a Luso-phile). I like the lime and plan to get a little decant from a friend. Lime can be so much fun, and I still have the dregs of an oooooold bottle of Crabtree Extract of West Indian & Sicilian Limes. I'm curious about the Night-Scented Stock, only because I've never smelled that flower. Not sure if I'll rush to get my hands on any of the Gardenia, but I remember really liking Guerlain Cruel Gardenia (which someone will undoubtedly point out isn't gardenia at all).

Masha May 5, 2010

Great review, March! I have a lime suggestion for you. I became hooked on the scent of limes when I lived in the Caribbean as a little girl, and I recently found a lime eo I love just as much as key lime- Citrus hystrix, or kaffir lime/petigrain combava, is just heavenly mixed all on its own with perfumer's alcohol and spritzed on a hot, humid day. No off notes, just cool citrus paradise. And "Amaranthigh" is definitely the appropriate name, by the way, can't wear that one out in public, as least not for the first hour. The lap dance analogy is hysterical!

carter May 5, 2010

I have no love for Penhaligon's 'fumes, but life would not be worth living without Bluebell bath oil. I need it. I really need it. Amaranthine I have never had the pleasure of testing, so I have nothing to contribute to the conversation other than to say that I would very much like to sample it the next time I'm at New London Pharmacy. It sounds very interesting indeed.