There is no greater endearment than the nostalgia of bygones. Sommerset Maugham would have plenty to say about this, I’m sure, in his usual fabulous style and poignant mood which would account for a frame of mind not unlike the one I had upon visiting the renovated Penhaligon’s store in London’s Wellington Street. There is also a Penhaligon's store in Oxford street, but Oxford street being quite unlike Oxford the town itself (if you have been to either, you do know what I mean), I never ventured inside.
There is an element of kitsch Sarah Key childish reminiscence in tiny pastel bows on ribbons and deep claret red hues that adorned the shop in days of yore when eager and just-out-of-bloomers so to speak (at least financially) I pressed my nose on the window pane to stare at the dark wooden luxurious displays and the bottles of perfumes and lotions stacked up in rows.
The whole setting was like that of a fairy tale set in the Victorian era, the scent of Violetta in the air like a powdery sweet candy that was sucked by Miss Havisham in an alternative universe where she does get her man after all and the spider webs on the tables and corners remain but a mere figment of an author’s imagination. It just exuded the kind of posh ambience of cognac sipped in the evening in front of a blazing fire.
Later this image was replicated (or so I thought at the time) by Browns of Melbourne which I scoured for lovingly back at home, at times when Penhaligon’s was unavailable for purchase so saccharine might as well stand for sugar. Alas the cutesy factor sometimes ruined it for me. The look of weirdly wonderful spicy Malabah was what I was searching for, you see.
The new façade is lovingly worked on, with pastels, pale colours that give a new lift, more airy, brighter certainly; but somehow lacking the deeper ends of the Victorian fairy tale, poignant Dickensian vagabonds with gratitude towards small children missing. Still, the boutique is magical and very worth a visit.
I reacquainted myself with their cherubic Lily of the Valley which rings wreath-like spring chimes in my ears and with daredevil Malmaison, a scent of carnation that is piquant yet restrained enough to make me crave it and finally put it on my to-buy list for next season. I refrained as the shop was rather expensive and the pound is still strong. However the obliging staff was making this very hard to do and I was enslaved by their lovely chat and their pleasing demeanor and had I purchased something I would have certainly opted for the promising hand and arm massage that involved the brand’s lotions and powders (that was also an option at Jo Malone, of which later on).
As it is, my hands and arms are left unPenhaligon-ed and I feel the poorer for it.
As Miss Havisham surely must have known, opportunities come once in a blue moon.
Artwork "A rubber at miss Havisham's": wood engraving by Marcus Stone, courtesy of victorianweb.org. Pic of Penhaligon's products courtesy of their site.