One Thousand Scents

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sweet Nothings: Penhaligons Artemisia


With a single exception--LP No. 9, which stands for Love Potion Number 9 and announces its hyper-modernity with minimalist packaging and, in the women's case, an insanely hot-pink juice--the entire aura of Penhaligons is of a discreet Victoriana. It's not undeserved: the company has been around since 1872 with the creation of their first scent, Hammam Bouquet. But it's a bit jarring when you sample a scent from a bottle and a box that could have come from your great-grandparents' attic and instead smell something that could have been created yesterday.

Artemisia is the companion scent to Endymion: they have nothing in common, but you can think of them as any other paired women's and men's scent. Where Endymion starts out old-fashioned and then thrillingly injects a thoroughly modern note into the mix, Artemisia is up-to-date from the very first breath. It's basically a fruity floral with an oriental undertone, the sort of thing that has been done many, many times in recent years. It isn't bad, but it isn't especially groundbreaking, either, and it definitely doesn't fit its packaging.

The opening is supposedly "nectarine and green foliage", and if you can identify nectarine in there, I will give you a thousand dollars. Yvresse actually does have nectarine in it, and it does smell like nectarines (or at least a peachy-apricot facsimile). Artemisia smells more like some generic fruit cocktail in a sugar syrup: it's not hateful, but there's nothing special or compelling about it, either.

After a while, a sugared bouquet of flowers makes an appearance, and as with the generic fruit, it's not any specific flowers, although there seems to be a dose of violet in there. But whatever the flowers are, they're sweet, and the sweetness just keeps increasing in amplitude; if you didn't put this on with a judicious hand, you'd be suffocating in the vanilla-sugar fumes. Because it's an oriental, there's a goodly dose of vanilla, plus amber and sandalwood. (There's supposedly oakmoss, too, but like the nectarine, I don't get it.) It's not gourmand: it doesn't suggest food. But it most definitely does suggest a sugar refinery.

I can see people liking this, because it's likable in small doses. You'd have to have a certain tolerance for sweetness, but if you like any of the myriad of gourmand, sweet oriental, and fruity-floral scents that have landed on the shelves in the last decade and a half, then you'll probably like Artemisia, too. The only thing is the price: £60 for a 50-mL spray at the Penhaligons website, $125 at Luckyscent. Unless you need to have that undeniably pretty bottle on your dresser, I just don't see how it's worth the price when that kind of money would buy you two or even three similar scents.

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