By a happy coincidence, this article marks the third time Penhaligon’s has appeared in our columns in barely two months. The year 2015 marks the 145thanniversary of the venerable British institution — a great excuse for Penhaligon’s to release a celebratory perfume with all the necessary pomp and circumstance.
The Parisian launch event took place two weeks ago at His Excellency The Ambassador of The United Kingdom in France, a hop and a skip from the Elysée, the seat of France’s presidential power. Quite the location indeed, and it was in the equally spectacular reception area that Penhaligon’s N°33 was available for a first approach.
After a splendid evening spent drinking, mingling and enjoying a wonderful assortment of delectable snacks, I exited with a bottle of the new perfume in tow. The name N°33 is a reference to the first Penhaligon’s store ever opened at 33 St. James Street – an address that now hosts a restaurant, in which the Londonian launch event took place almost simultaneously.
For a perfume lover, the release of a new Penhaligon’s perfume is something to look forward to. I anticipated this new release in particular, with a mix of curiosity, anticipation, and apprehension, all in equal parts. Too often have we seen “celebratory” products swallowed up by the Mighty Marketing Monster – whose job mostly consists of selling a “story”, rather than a convincing product.
If you love Penhaligon’s and the anticipation of the final verdict is building, I’ll reassure you right away : N°33 is a solid fragrance.
I wore it for a fortnight and am pleased to share my impressions :
With the lofty goal to offer a perfume as an emblem of more than 145 years of history, N°33 does not depart from Penhaligon’s canon too drastically. The same structured lavender you find in a Blenheim / Hammam Bouquet, in Endymion or more recently in the excellent Lothair is present in N°33 as well.
The opening is strongly aromatic without overpowering the senses. The citrus notes – orange, grapefruit and bergamot – are underlined by a curious accord made of coriander, sage and cypress for a surprising yet convincing result. The lavender is of course present throughout the opening, fresh, fragrant and lightly peppered.
Imagine the scent of a pot of stew, seasoned with sage, slyly escaping from the kitchen’s window, as you’re seating in your garden chair on the French Riviera, in the shadow of a cypress tree among the lavender fields – a very flowery image, I admit (with a stir of a hunger pang in reflection) but one that strangely resonates with my immediate impressions of N°33.
« Culinary » notes can be found on a deeper level at the perfume’s heart and include a peculiar touch of safron and cardamom seeping through, after the gorgeous violet / jasmine / geranium combo takes rise– a superb trifetca that proves, once again, that Penhaligon’s is practically peerless when it comes to handling flowers.
On my skin at least, N°33 is a fairly linear piece of work, ending on a base of musky vetiver / tonka accord, as the lavender bows and exits stage, leaving behind lightly peppery fumes in the shadow of the faded flowers.
A jolly good piece of work, clean and refined, but that leaves you wanting for more.
After the first hour, N°33 becomes more conventional than ambitious—more respectable than dripping in creative freedom and easier to wear, as it were : the kind of perfume that goes well with everything, but that seems content with “just” smelling nice.
A missed opportunity ?
Don’t misunderstand : N°33 is an extremely capable perfume, made to please, and it does just that very well. However, its audacious progression showed promises of an especially bombastic finale that ultimately never comes.
And hoping for a more exciting drydown after such a bold beginning was not an unrealistic expectation, I might add : the very ambitious Lothair, released last year by the same house has proved to be a superb achievement through and through, both bold and thoroughly enjoyable.
To paraphrase : if Penhaligon’s did ultimately play it safe (even if it is unusual for perfumes from the brand to give such a central role to vetiver), N°33 is still a great piece of perfumery. Pleasant, with enough twists to have its own personality, but nothing that would upset the proverbial status quo.
Maybe a twinge of my disappointment is apparent, as I egotistically expected something more groundbreaking for Penhaligon’s 145th anniversary. However, though my hopes were slightly dashed, N°33 remains a legit addition to the house’s already extensive catalogue – a perfume worthy of the Penhaligon’s bowtie.
A jovial Happy Birthday to Penhaligon’s !
— — — —
++ : A very interesting progression, that plays beautifully with unusual notes. As this is a Penhaligon’s perfume, the lavender and the flowers at large are stunningly beautiful and will not disappoint.
— : A decent longevity, with a somewhat poor projection and sillage – at least on my skin. The drydown is a little bit too conventionnal for my taste.
Pictures by : Édouard Bierry