Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Penhaligon's Amaranthine: fragrance review

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


  1. I was happy to see it on your spring list since it is also on mine (well, it's on a lot of people's lists). :)
    Considering how much I like this, I'm a bit upset with myself for not trying other recent Duchafour creations because they also seem to be on a lot of lists. :)

  2. D*MN IT. I still don't get anything naughty out of Amaranthine at all, even after trying it in our recent 80F heat.

    It is beautiful, and warm and relaxed, but not naughty. I could have wished for a bit more thigh about it, a la Climat gone tropical. I was hoping for Climat in a sarong, with a hibiscus behind her ear and a sheen of sweat in her cleavage. Sadly, no, although Amaranthine is lovely withough any carnality.

    (Bluebell is a heinous insult to noses all over the world, I say. Truly dreadful, one of the few things I had to scrub off.)

  3. Ines,

    I remember! I think you should try more of his compositions, especially the latest few. The previous ones are more intellectual (nothing wrong with that, just pointing it out).

  4. M,

    oh dear...That would be a great picture you have there and there is that elusive scent detail that hasn't been got down pat yet. But you'll find it.

    BTW, did you see you won the raw materials draw??? I'm waiting for your mail so I can send you a sampler. :D

  5. I'm with M -- so far it's just a big, lovely green floral on me. will have to try it AGAIN.

  6. NO, seriously??? HOW TOTALLY COOL.

    How did I miss that? Will get into to you very soon. And thanks so much!

  7. SS,

    hmmm...ladies, isn't your mind in the gutter? Why haven't I managed to get it there yet, eh? :P

    I'd be interested in your impressions after trying this one again. It's rather out there, even though done with a lot of taste. (it's not vulgar, "look at me, look at me!")

  8. M,

    yup! Isn't that nice? :-)
    I bet you will get a kick out of them, they're quite interesting! And you're very welcome, it's been an utter pleasure offering this to perfumistas, I know it hasn't been done before.

  9. I love it when you go all naughty and pick those dirty ones. Hanging from every word! I got to try this.

  10. I have yet to rub Amaranthigh on me.

    But I shall.


    (Glad, as always, to hear your impressions...)

  11. Anonymous22:20

    Is it true that Amaranthine reminds Manoumalia from LesNez ?

  12. Fun review E. although sadly, I doubt I'll even try this as anything with carnation in the notes always give me whelps. Yikes! Most likely the clove though that's always used to bolster said note.


    LOL - my "word" was precioussss! Ha!

  13. I've got a sample of Amaranthine on the way right now, and your review has me very excited to try it! And hooray - I'm not alone in my dislike of Bluebell. The only Penhaligon's I've really liked is Castile, and it's only good on a day when I want to smell like a bar of soap, which isn't too often. I think Malmaison was by Floris, unless Penhaligon's made one also.

  14. How eerie... that Bettina Rheims photograph has been my wallpaper for a few months now, it's absolutely gorgeous.
    I feel a bit lonely in not sensing any human flesh in Amaranthine (I want some thigh, too! ;p) - but it is a spectacular scent for sure. You make me want to revisit it, as always!

  15. Anonymous15:43


    Check out this article, you will find it of interest. Sorry to post here in comments but I couldn't see anywhere to just e-mail you.


  16. To answer the Manoumalia question -- NO. I just ordered a bottle of Manoumalia because I am completely besotted with its big, creamy, rubbery, take-no-prisoners tropicality. Manoumalia DOES smell like sex to me -- lots & lots of sex. I'd be interested to hear what anyone else thinks about this.

  17. S,

    you should!! It's quite something even if you don't (end up) getting the naughty side.

  18. Anon,

    I wouldn't put them on the same level although they have some common ground. Manoumalia is rawer, greener and built around fragrea. Amaranthine is jasmine-rich and full of ylang-ylang with a floriental instead of green/vetiver background. They're both stellar fragrances anyway!

  19. Donna,

    that was you? Hilarious!!!! Thanks for the laughs!

    No, it doesn't really smell of carnation, don't worry. It's more milky and caramel-creamy than carnation-y.

  20. Amy,

    you're absolutely right: it's by Floris! Where is my mind these days.
    I like Castile, so I will end up substituting the wrong one with Castile, after all.

    Interested in your impressions when you try it out!

  21. S, darling,

    what do they say about great minds etc etc? :P I'm not surprised we share some ESP.

    Yes, it's spectacularly good and not at all what one would expect from the brand, which is doubly interesting. Definitely revisit, I want to hear what you think!!

  22. Calypso,

    thanks a lot. My email is in the profile or the About page btw.

    I have tackled this topic a while ago. I believe the post you reference is using the same sources? Seems like it. It's an interesting issue to be sure!

  23. SS,

    a girl after my own heart. It's glorious and very "raw" and edgy. Love it! (had reviewed it at the very end of 2008) Glad you do too!!

  24. Style Spy-
    Can't argue w/ that ;-D
    I think Manoumalia is fantastic !

    Donna love- don't be afraid !
    Amaranthine is utterly addictive.
    I am mad about it, and wore it for an entire week, before I pinched myself ;-0

    So far, it is my favorite Duchaufour.
    I could wear it until my skin falls off !

    BTW, E-
    How great is that photo ?
    Those girls look comfy and pleased w/ themselves...

    I LIKE this, all right.
    Vive la salete !

  25. I couldn't comment the other day- think it my silly internets. I love Duchafour and Penhaligon's work together- and completely agree the combination of French and English works very well for both- in all of life I think! The chicest British ladies are always the ones that move to France- they out chic the French ladies because there is a certain shrug to the way they do it- Birkin, Gainsbourg, Scott Thomas. We're not as buttoned up as people think you know ;-)

  26. Ida,

    it's a great photo, isn't it. So 60s, natural, without a care in the world and at the same time, nothing vulgar about it.

    Vive la salete could be the motto of a lot of us! I think this is my favourite Duchaufour as well (I also love his Timbuktu, which is quite different)

  27. K,

    don't worry honey, I know Blogger acts up sometimes.
    You made a perfect point: I do think the British thrive in warmer climates and more sensuous civilizations. I long held the view that it's a very romantic people who has been brought up to contain that emotion. But give them a little leeway and...


  28. And thanks for the link! I have now eaten up my sample of Amaranthine and moved onto a decant, and if that goes ... well, it's going to be a bottle. By the way, I'm surprised at how well it works in the heat. I thought it would be awful, with that milky-creamy base.

  29. M,

    you're most welcome.
    I think a bottle of this one is very worthwhile. I'm thinking of it and thinking of it, trying to justify the expense of YET ANOTHER FREAKING PERFUME, but it's so gorgeous...
    Yeah, there is a nice element to it reacting well in the warmth. Not all florientals do that.

    Hugs (laughed a lot with your whisky posts!) :-)

  30. Anonymous12:24

    Impressive! I bought a sample because it sounded so intriguing and I'm not disappointed. Definite animal, but it doesn't quite mimic my own body odour so I'm not sure I'd wear it.

    I really get the 'faecal' -jasmine-ylang ylang note, and a touch of underarm. I get slightly sour milk, rounded and quite comforting and I definitely get carnation.

    I find it really impressive that 'noses' can so convincingly recreate these notes in perfume.

    I find it pleasant in the dry down - like the smell of skin at the end of a long hot day in the sun. Maybe I'd wear it in summer


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