Penhaligon's Portraits: A Scented Story

The century-old brand returns to its aristocratic roots, with intrigue.

by Nora Maloney

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Combine the tension of Murder on the Orient Express with the regal nobility of Downton Abbey and you get something like the enthralling story of Penhaligon’s Portraits. In the first two chapters of this narrative (the third is on the way), we are introduced to six characters in the thick of British aristocracy—each with their own unique story to tell.

In Chapter 1, we meet Lady Blanche, the wife of Lord George and a socialite with a flair for the dramatic. You will frequently find her scheming, which, as of late, includes seeking revenge for her husband's, er, discrepancies.

Their daughter, Duchess Rose, was recently wed (or was she?) to Duke Nelson, though they now find themselves increasingly unhappy in their young marriage. Perhaps they should have had reservations when they found their only commonality was a love of roses. Ironic? We think not.

Secrets are spilled in Chapter 2, when we’re introduced to Clara, Lord George’s unconventional and enticing mistress. Together they have a (illegitimate) son, Radcliff, who is best known around London's social circles as a provocative party animal who continually smells of rum and tobacco (in all the best ways).

So, what is the connecting thread between these high-society Brits? Well, this isn't your typical saga. Portraits is a collection of perfumes and colognes, and all of the complicated characters are the fragrances that help to build the scented story.

Every fragrance embodies the personality of its character. Lord George, the controversial patriarch of the family, is masculine and rich, with notes of brandy, shaving soap, and tonka bean, whereas his lover Clara, the intoxicating temptress without a title, is a bold blend of vanilla, musk, and patchouli. The Duke and Duchess, as alluded to earlier, are each their own unique blend of roses: the Duke is spicy; the Duchess, woody.

Penhaligon's, the London-based brand of nearly 150 years, tapped local artist Kristjana Williams to bring the collection to life with her romanticized illustrations. Williams's magical landscapes vary based on every character, also represented by an exotic animal cast in gold as the fragrance bottlecaps.

Four different perfumers—Alberto Morillas, Daphné Bugey, Christophe Raynaud, and Alienor Massenet—are behind the enchanting Portraits collection, making every fragrance entirely unique to the nose of its maker.

This is just the beginning for this fictitious family, with four new fragrant characters launching this September. In Chapter 3, we’ll be introduced to family friends of Lord George and Lady Blanche, all of whom come with a whole mess of baggage—some literal, most figurative. Stay tuned, for the plot line will surely thicken.

Nora MaloneyComment