I had included Amaranthine by Penhaligon's in my Top 10 Scents that Sing Spring for 2010 a while ago with the following words: "Its name denotes the eternally beautiful and unfading. The perfume, just like the name (from the Greek αμάραντος), evokes a deep purple red, a "corrupted" floral oriental with plenty of "dirty" aspects combining spiced (clovey) ylang-ylang and jasmine on a milky sandalwood and musky base. Fetish-phobics should better shy away, but those worth their salt in immersing themselves head-long into intimate scents (ooops!) will rejoice that the meadows and the flowers do not only smell of the sterile florist's or Alpine tops. As shocking ~coming from such an upper-stiff-lip British brand~ as discovering that our favourite nanny, Julie Andrews, has a va jay jay ~and a wee hole~ after all!"
So why am I back reviewing this? Probably because I have been pondering these past few weeks on how it came as an utter shock into the Miss Charm school of the Penhaligon's line-up, smiling like characters out of a Jane Austen novel with no success in hiding this Edna Pontellier amongst them! Like other outspoken feminine florals, like Passion or Grand Amour by Annick Goutal, DelRae's Amoureuse and Vero Profumo Rubj, this is a case of not being afraid to shout off the rooftops its deliciously carnal intent. An intent that is rendered like it's the most natural thing in the world!
Penhaligon’s website says “Amaranthine [part of the new Anthology series] is a corrupted floral oriental for those private moments when everything is anticipation” and by that line alone one would surmiss they're up to no good: Which they're not, in the best possible sense. Yet it was March at Perfume Posse who put the apocalyptical size of the shock value in proper terms: "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".
Like a modern time Léonce, a callous patriach who is unshakable in his views, I was eternally stuck on how Penhaligon's as a fragrance house amounted to instant Victoriana with doilles put under the TV-set and little floral mats on the arm-rests of the couches, in a house that smelled of crushed lavender and butter-foiled scones for tea, always a little stale. Pretty as a picture and nostalgic possibly, but would I live there? No if I had any hopes of saving my jaw muscles from overexertion from the smile that would plague my face translating its ecumenical acceptance and patience.
I had only managed to be interested in Malabah, Hammam Bouquet and Castile from the house's classics previously and in Lily & Spice from the newer range; my itinerary (stopping at the outskirts of Coventry and never intending to go all the way up to Leeds) was cut short: The train was abtruptly stopped at junction "Eyes Glazing Over Victorian Posy" with a disastrous detour via "Bluebell" which had nothing to do with blue and plenty to do with Bells of Hell going ting-a-ling-a-ling.
Perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour has managed to shake this ~in hindsight~ passé notion and thrust it out of the window of that very same train. (Actually he also did a complete redecoration of that English cottage above, ushering a little French deco amidst all that plaid and floral. One can have too much of a picturtesque thing, after all). Amaranthine is travelling from station to station between fruity-ladden vines that sprout banana-bubblegum tones of quality jasmine (and lush ylang ylang) and a gently green but spicy blend of cardamom and coriander recalling not yet fully fermented tea aromatized the Middle Eastern way. And when it stops, it takes you to someplace where proper good buttery English toffee is still made (creamy sandalwood, warm musk, milky caramel tones), so not everything British is lost. Two beauties, one English, one French, are having a tryst. Simply spectacular!
Notes for Penhaligon's Amaranthine: green tea, freesia, banana leaf, coriander, cardamom, rose, carnation, clove, orange blossom, ylang ylang, Egyptian jasmine, musk, vanilla, sandalwood, condensed milk, tonka bean.
Availability and Limited editions on this link.
A special thanks to Joe for introducing me to this gem.
Photo of a nude Brigitte Bardot and an equally nude Jane Birkin via The Moly Doily blog. Claudya photo by Bettina Rheims from the Female Troubles Series