One Thousand Scents

Friday, March 20, 2009

Moonstruck: Endymion by Penhaligons

Who doesn't love a twist? In a movie, a play, a book, a TV show, it's a pleasure to be surprised, to have our expectations subverted, to look at something we thought we knew and see it in a completely different light.

Sometimes fragrances have twists, too, things that you didn't see coming. Rocabar still has the power to surprise: the ending to an outdoorsy, rough-and-tumble scent is soft vanilla. And Endymion by Penhaligons is a surprise, too, though this one is a little closer to the surface: not a twist ending, but an unexpected second-act revelation.

The first time I put it on, the very first thought in my head was "fresh oriental": there's a zippy citrus note that's gone in a flicker, and the whole structure announces that it's an oriental scent--there's a hint of sandalwood at the start, and you know you're going to be smelling more of it, and maybe more hard-core orientalisms like amber and vanilla, later on. The opening has a barber-shop quality, like shaving lather (it resembles Rive Gauche Pour Homme in no small measure), that soapy-lavender smell that's so comforting. It's a rather old-fashioned kind of scent, not boring or grandfathery but solid and classic, like an old building in the middle of a refurbished downtown neighbourhood.

And then something comes sidling up underneath, a very modern-day perfumery note (Endymion was created in 2003) that completely undermines what went before it. When I first smelled it, all I could think was, "Is that coffee?"

Yes, it is. There's a lot of it; the heart of the scent is hardly anything but, a creamy latte.

At the base is a resurgence of that opening sandalwood, and it is an oriental scent, but instead of amber or vanilla there's a little cloud of spicy incense. It's not as long-lasting as I think an oriental should be, but eight hours later you can still smell it faintly--a ghost of sandalwood and a trace of bitter spice, mostly, dreamy and cozy.

Penhaligons is an old British company: they've been around for almost a hundred and forty years, and their packaging is still suggestive of that legacy. It's what I expected from Endymion, which has the look and the name (from Greek mythology, a shepherd adored by the moon goddess Selene) of something from the Victorian era. What's in the bottle is something else altogether: a novel collision of old and new.


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