One Thousand Scents

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Playing the Field: Penhaligons Lavandula

The other day I was wearing the springlike combination of Demeter Vetiver and Lavender. I'm not usually in the habit of mixing commercial scents, but Demeters lend themselves to this treatment because they're so single-mindedly one-note (in a good way, obviously); you hardly ever have to worry about elements of the scents clashing with one another. As it turned out, Vetiver overpowers Lavender by a considerable margin: equals amounts of the two produced hardly anything except a wall of vetiver, which is extremely nice but not what I had planned, so I had to up the dose of Lavender until it could stand its ground.

This got me to thinking about just how interesting lavender actually is. Although it's unquestionably floral, its brisk character, like roughly toweling yourself off after a shower, is what makes it such a cornerstone of men's perfumery. While Demeter's Lavender is extremely camphoraceous--it has a certain mothball quality that I find pleasant--others are not quite so assertive: you'll often find a soapy, toned-down lavender as the top note in men's scents, meant to remind us of the barber shop. (The panic over the current outbreak of swine flu also calls to mind lavender in another way: during the Black Death in Europe, smack in the middle of the fourteenth century, people would carry around little bouquets of herbs and flowers to sniff, under the impression that it was bad air that was causing the sickness, and lavender was a favourite flower for this purpose because of its strong, sharp aroma.)

At any rate, when I was wearing my Demeter concoction the other day, I remembered that I had a sample of a Penhaligons scent, Lavandula, that I'd never even tried. The name, which is the Latin word for the plant, suggests it's positioned as a women's scent (it has some company, including Guerlain's Lavande Velours and Yardley's English Lavender), as does the company's website, and I was interested to see what they'd do to it to move it from the standard men's-toiletry category into the women's.

Nothing, as it turns out. It's a men's lavender scent, and a very good one, too. It opens sharply, with a big sprig of lavender joined to a scrub-brush of cinnamon and pepper. The greenness that always seems to be a part of fresh lavender is there, too, along with a bright, almost lemony quality that together give the opening a cheerful zing. It's a real eye-opener. The scent soon calms down to a vast field of slightly soapy and rather camphory lavender (not as much camphor as the Demeter, but enough) underlaid with a hint of warmth, a ray of sunshine that slowly deepens into a creamy pool of musky vanilla and amber.

The lovely thing about Lavandula is that it never lets you forget for even a second that you're smelling a lavender scent. From the very first breath to the final trace of it on your skin, it's lavender in a perfect crescendo-decrescendo.


  • Lavandula + Labdanum = ?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:36 AM  

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