For nearly 150 years, British company Penhaligon’s has told the stories of its heritage through exquisite scents. But deep historical roots don’t exclude a brand from having a bit of fun.
Today, it is difficult to imagine not having the choice of a seemingly endless supply of fragrance options. But in the late 19th century, when British fragrance company Penhaligon’s was founded, it was one of very few. “In the 1870s, when a brand like ours was around, there weren’t a lot of established perfume houses. It was very much a new thing to be opening up a perfume shop,” says Lance Patterson, CEO of Penhaligon’s.
After moving to London from Cornwall with his family in 1869, William Penhaligon began working as a barber in the Turkish Baths on Jermyn Street. The baths were known as some of the finest of the communal relaxation spots in Europe, and inspired Penhaligon to create his first scent—Hammam Bouquet, an oriental eau de toilette with notes of jasmine, Turkish rose, and powdery orris. By 1874, Penhaligon had taken over the salon in the baths, implementing an elegant aesthetic, and offering more perfumes.
Word spread of Penhaligon’s high-quality ingredients and advanced creation process; for instance, there were no sprays in perfumery at the time, so he tied a tasteful bow at the top of each stopper to keep it in place (a detail that remains today). By the end of Queen Victoria’s reign, Penhaligon had been appointed perfumer and barber to the royal court. As one might imagine, “I think that began opening doors for him,” says Patterson. In 1903, a year after Penhaligon’s death, the brand was granted a Royal Warrant by Queen Alexandra. The prestigious honor is a “a mark of recognition of those who have supplied goods or services to the Households of HM The Queen, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, or HRH The Prince of Wales for at least five years.”
Today, 147 years since its establishment, Penhaligon’s holds two long-standing Royal Warrants: one granted from HRH the Duke of Edinburgh in 1956, and more recently, another from HRH The Prince of Wales in 1988. Patterson stays mum on specifics but notes the royals’ fragrances of choice “are definitely two products, one of which is almost the founding of the brand that we make in a special size for them. The other has a link to Winston Churchill and is made specifically for one of them that no one else has in the world.”
Wynn Beauty Collection boutique.
It has also been said that Princess Diana was fond of Bluebell, an earthy blend of sweet hyacinth, citrus, jasmine, and spicy clove. Other rumored fans include Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, and supermodel Kate Moss. “We’re able to make perfumes that are very much within our niche. You’re not going to go into a drugstore and see something like this or smell something like this,” says Patterson of the fragrances still held in William’s original bottle design.
It is not simply exclusivity that makes Penhaligon’s so exceptional. “Customers are looking for more than just a great product. They want a history and the story behind it,” explains Patterson. “Storytelling is at the heart of what we do.” Take Blenheim Bouquet, released in 1902: The eau de toilette was inspired by the Duke of Marlborough (whose descendants include Sir Winston Churchill) and his iconic Oxfordshire estate, Blenheim Palace. With notes of fresh lemon, pine, and black pepper, it interestingly lacks heart notes—or the middle notes of a fragrance, which round out the head (or top notes) of the scent. Described by the company as a citrus cologne, more crisp and aristocratic than a white shirt, as Patterson puts it, Blenheim is discreet and timeless.
Penhaligon’s tells the story of its 19th-century position as the so-called Warehouse of the World through Trade Routes, a line of seven fragrances launched in the fall of 2014. Nostalgic and worldly, As Sawira (inspired by the Moroccan port of Essaouira) layers rare scents—saffron and bergamot, with rose, jasmine, cardamom, amber, and myrrh among them—that travelers will instantly recall wafting through a souk. Lothair summons the travels of the East India Clippers, bearing teas for the Earl of Grey back from Darjeeling and Assam. Unmistakably, you’ll catch top notes of juniper and grapefruit (such as might be found in a sea captain’s bracing drink) that settle comfortingly into black tea, fig, and vanilla.
The company works with master perfumers from all over the world, usually specialists in certain categories, Patterson explains. For Equinox Bloom, the brand’s first “gourmand” fragrance (think vanilla cupcakes, orange blossom, and brown sugar), Olivier Cresp was selected as the nose. Cresp also created Angel by Thierry Mugler, considered the first gourmand to hit the market.
As Penhaligon’s—now carried in the Wynn Beauty Collection boutique, which reopened in December— enters its 13th year at Wynn Las Vegas, Maurice Wooden, President of Wynn Las Vegas, points to its exclusivity and innovation, qualities that mirror Wynn’s own philosophy. “For our guests that discover Penhaligon’s at Wynn—and those who know to seek it out each time they come here—the history and the stories behind the brand have become a real attraction, as well as the sheer fun of trying them all. It’s rare to find a brand with this kind of history that is also modern and energetic.”
Some of that energy comes from the 2015 sale of the company from private equity firm Fox Paine & Company to Barcelona-based business Puig, owner of fragrance houses Prada and Jean Paul Gaultier. “Looking at the brand, we knew that it was successful and selling, but it was a bit all over the place and wasn’t being modernized,” Patterson says. “The idea was we needed to renovate the brand and keep our loyal customer, but also bring in a new audience.”
Portraits, released last year, does just that. The line is a cheeky tribute to a fictional aristocratic family. Each of the six scents—like the brandy and Tonka bean-infused Lord George (in The Tragedy of Lord George eau de parfum) and his mistress, the scandalous Clandestine Clara, an intoxicating amber oriental—tells an amusing story while paying homage to the brand’s royal ties. A mix, as the company describes, of “establishment, humor, and provocation,” fragrance “characters” such as the not-so-innocent Coveted Duchess Rose, the vengeful Lady Blanche (whose fragrance is, appropriately, a green floral narcotic), and the eccentric, floral, and flamboyant Much Ado About the Duke carry the historic perfume house headily into the future. Penhaligon’s founder, working from his original spot in the Jermyn Street hammam, would have approved.