One of the rewards of writing about perfume is that I learn stuff. Useful stuff. In my last post, for instance, I was answering a query from a fellow who wanted to “create the façade of an active sex life” to make his ex jealous. He needed to know if there was such a thing as a “sex scented perfume”.
I obligingly created a list of coital scents, including trampy tropicals (Vivienne Westwood Boudoir, LesNez Manoumalia) and ripe creamies (Etat Libre d’Orange Putain de Palaces, Guerlain Attrape-Coeur).
I also solicited input from sensory psychologist Dr. Avery Gilbert, and he told me about something called “competitive mating scenario”. It boils down to Jilted John spraying around the perfume of his ex’s best friend to make the ex jealous.
Basically, there’s actual science to back up childish game playing. Useful, right?
I learned more good stuff from my reader Patty. She told me that the woman who created Bandit for Piguet, Germaine Cellier, was apparently inspired to do so by sniffing the knickers of models hot off the catwalk. That just sounds ludicrous, but I’m going to blindly accept it as the truth, cuz it’s a fun fact. And fun trumps truth.
But the best thing I learned from the whole “skank fragrance” discussion was that my newest favorite perfume was out there waiting for me, and I didn’t even know it. My newest favorite perfume turns out to be Penhaligon’s Amaranthine. The funk-freaks assured me that any knicker-sniffer worth her salt would crave it -- and they were right.
I’ve always had a fondness for Penhaligon’s: their cute Victorian hole-in-the-wall shop off London’s Bond Street, their olden-days-y bottles with stoppers, their prim soliflores -- like Bluebell, which forever links Margaret Thatcher, Princess Di and Kate Moss in an unholy trinity of fandom.
But “sexy” is not part of the Penhaligon’s equation, so I was bemused by the official description of Amaranthine as a “corrupted floral oriental" “reminiscent of the scent of the inside of a woman’s thigh”. Bemused enough to hustle myself a sample the very day I learned of its existence.
At first sniff, it occurred to me that it’s a grown-up version of all the creamy, fruity-floral, teen-friendly musks out there in Perfume Land. Thick, sweet, milkshake scents like Christian Dior Miss Dior Chérie L'eau, Gap Close, and The Body Shop Love Etc.
But I said “grown-up”. As in “adults-only”. Amaranthine is indeed milky, but it’s not a milkshake. Any sweetness here stems from flowers, not calories. And even with the presence of ylang-ylang, a fleshy tropical bloom, along with rose, and jasmine on the verge of decay, it’s not thick. This baby is sheer. Green, even.
And yet, there’s a wee beastie in Amaranthine, a sweet/sour twang that evokes the hum of an unwashed nook or indeed, cranny. The friction of this eau de parfum’s spices, including cardamom and clove, creates the borderline sweatiness.
The sweat seasons the sandalwood and vanilla woven through the greenness, keeping you guessing as to whether Amaranthine will eventually land on the side of “fresh” or “not-so-fresh”.
Bertrand Duchaufour is the maestro behind this, Penhaligon’s most risqué scent. And nobody puts Bertie in a corner, because none of his other creations -- woods and incenses like L’Artisan Parfumeur Timbuktu, Comme Des Garcons Kyoto, Amouage Jubilation XXV -- prepared me for this femme, elegantly sultry number.
Despite the seal of approval from the Skank Brigade, Amaranthine is no “gusset gourmand”. The dissonance between naughty and nice creates a luscious tension, but it never slides into wholesale ho territory. Penhaligon’s has a Royal Warrant, after all. And the Queen ain’t no hollaback girl.
Lily Cole and Dominican Cows by Juergen Teller