Penhaligon’s Amaranthine

A sheer tropical floral with a hidden wee beastie.

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


  1. Yes, fun trumps truth (LOL). I have not been a huge fan of Penhaligon's English primness, but Amaranthine is beautiful, and puts the blush on that prim rose.

  2. yay, you like it, too!

    on my skin- the heart has a lot of steamy tuberose and the way-drydown seems to be a steady cedar-ish hum and reminds me of shiseido's feminite du bois.

    i love how it lasts a long time.

    ps. the girl in the pic looks like model, lily cole.

  3. I keep seeing mentions of Amaranthine & love the idea of a "corrupted floral oriental." That sounds way better than "pissy granny knickers," a description I will never be able to get out of my head, mostly because it's so dead on.

  4. Love the scent, love the bottle and I really love the way it seems to seduce its way onto people's favorites lists. I don't think I've ever ordered a bottle so quickly after sampling a fragrance. Creamy, corrupted, fleshy, overripe, tropical, sweaty, fruity, dirty..what a dream!

  5. Scott, next time Penhaligon's debuts something, I'm paying attention! Let's hope Amaranthine is the beginning of a trend for them.

    Dea, duh, goofy me! That is indeed Lily Cole, and I've now corrected the caption. (I'd started off with a Teller shot of Devon Aoki in that tropical setting, put when I saw fresh green Lily with milky moo cows, I new that was the image I wanted!)

    And now I want to explore your Féminité du Bois connection. That's a long time fave of mine.

  6. Haha, occhineri, glad to lumber you with the "PGK" image.

    melisand61 - thank you thank you thank you for turning me on to this - as well as everyone else who chimed in. It's gorgeous, and there's nothing really like it out there.

  7. This is my new fave scent too and I had the great good fortune to be sniffed by the great man himself while wearing it, when he visited a Penhaligon's store in East London for a launch party. He said the EDP smelt just fine on me and I nearly swooned clean away... This is by far my most requested bottle for swaps at the moment (eclipsing Roja Dove's Scandal), if that is any indication of its popularity, and I am kicking myself for not buying the 100ml!

  8. flittersniffer! You're just the person I need to consult! What did the Amaranthine parfum smell like? How did it compare to the EdP?

  9. One of my readers, the Italian fumehead Aldo, sends me entertaining feedback after my articles, and I always urge him to post in the comments section. Sadly, he can't seem to hack his way through the set-up procedure, according to this message I just received:

    "I tried to get into the blog.
    But there were so many questions, passwords, passwords of passwords, signs, smoke signs, crosswords, and finally a questionnaire, a quiz with questions like:
    - when Cleopatra lost her virginity, date, day, position, was it cloudy, etc...??

    - what Napoleon said when he felt himself lost at Trafalgar battle ?

    - what is the name of the 6th girl you brought to the movies, did she ask for popcorn or chocolate?

    They do not want me to talk to you, simply that.....SO DIFFICULT THEY SHOULD MAKE THE THINGS SIMPLE MOSTLY WITH PEOPLE WE LIKE TOO MUCH.


    I don't know how to help Aldo. Technology is keeping his stimulating remarks off the comments section where they belong!

  10. I am afraid I don't know how to help Aldo either, which is a shame as he sounds like a real scream!

    Katie, I have very limited experience of parfums, and have only ever smelt Joy 1000 in parfum form before. I was expecting the Amaranthine parfum to smell a lot denser and more concentrated, and in fairness it was somewhat richer and less green and sheer than the edp, but it didn't blow me away. Nor could I make out any dirty notes on my skin as I was expecting/hoping! Put it this way, Bertrand smelt both my arms repeatedly - I had one sort on each - and told me not to bother with the parfum, as in his view the edp was perfectly nice enough! Though that is just based on how it performed on my skin - I wouldn't wish to discourage anyone else from trying it. Oh and the bottle was cute. I have a bit of a thing for butterflies and purple...
    PS It seems so weird writing to you in a perfume-related capacity, having watched you on The Word nearly 20 years ago now!

  11. flittersniffer - God, "The Word" was almost 20 years ago, wasn't it? Shocking. My signature scent then was Ultima II Sheer Scent, now sadly discontinued. It was actually similar to the original Dior Fahrenheit.

    Nice of Bertie to save you dough by steering you away from the parfum. I would have expected it to be decidedly more animalic than the EdP, but there ya go.

    Haha, yes, Aldo is indeed a "real scream". C'mon Aldo - get a techy nerd to help you!

  12. My hairdresser's wife's signature scent was also Ultima II Sheer Scent, and every time I go in for a cut he asks me if I have had any luck hunting down a bottle for her. On my last visit he excitedly revealed how one had just come up on Ebay and his wife had grabbed it - for silly money, admittedly - but cost didn't come into it at this point!

  13. flittersniffer, I sigh with exasperation every time I remember seeing it on eBay 5 years ago for $30 (what it originally cost in the store), and I didn't snap it up. Now it's $175 a bottle and more!

  14. Thanks for such a great review, Katie. Your opinions here helped me pick Amaranthine as a Christmas gift for a perfume fiend of a friend -- of course, you know, that means I get to blame you if she doesn't like it!

  15. My pleasure, Nathan. Sure, I'll take the blame - if I can take the credit, too!

  16. Despite my ongoing campaign to broaden her repertoire, my friend Debbie has clung resolutely to the same fragrance - Clinique's Aromatics Elixir - ever since I've known her. However, when I showed her Chandler Burr's charming but disarming review a short while ago, I think she was a little shaken by the notion of 'pretty' scents being underscored by something rather 'dirtier'.

    It's her birthday in a few days' time and I think Amaranthine may prove to be the perfect gift.

    Many thanks for the tip, Katie.

  17. Andrew, I've had that experience too, where I basically ruined a friend's enjoyment of Bal à Versailles by extolling the "horse dung & hay" accord contained within.

    I also have a friend who only wears Aromatics Elixir. "Why would I want to wear something else when I love how this smells?" Alien thinking - to me, anyway. I took it as a challenge and gave her a sample of Frédéric Malle Dans Tes Bras. She loved it. Would've bought it, if it wasn't, as she said, "costlier than gold".

  18. Finally trying out my sample of this today, after getting it last week. Wow. Quite glad I work at home, not sure how people in the office would react to this dirty, dirty scent. That "green"? Sap rising, without a doubt. Again, wow.
    I've been looking for wedding day scents, this isn't it, this is my *honeymoon* scent, without doubt.

  19. Yes, Sarah! "Sap rising", indeed. Amaranthine's probably already started the honeymoon without you!

  20. Is there a sniffer group in London I can join that gets previews of new scents? There's one in NYC (Sniffapalooza) but haven't yet found one here in central Londinium...

  21. Good question, Allyson. Basenotes is based in London - you could pose the question on a board there, or write to the editor Grant Osborne.

    Do any of my London readers (including you, flittersniffer) know of such a group?

  22. Thanks to you Kate, I just purchased this unsniffed (very bad habit to get in to!). I am delighted to find that I love Penhaligon's Amarinthine whole heartedly and for once do not regret being so easily swayed by a review.

    I can really pick up the cumin (sweaty note) but as a HUGE fan of Alexander McQueen's now discontinued Kingdom this is no bad thing. Unlike Kingdom it is nicely rounded against the creamy, milkiness and quite frankly anything that mentions condensed milk goes straight up in my estimation.

    This is a bit of a masterpiece me thinks. Not being a huge fan of scent 'blending or mixing' it actually compliments the AP Maitresse I already put on this morning. Try it and you'll see what I mean!

    Only just discovered your blog and LOVE IT!

  23. SRB - thanks for letting me know you had such a great result with Amaranthine! These "arranged marriage" perfume/people couplings are always a gamble, and it looks like you came up aces. And I'm very pleased to welcome you to KP Smells!

  24. Hey- just stumbled across this old one and took note of you talking about an oldy goldy "My signature scent then was Ultima II Sheer Scent, now sadly discontinued. It was actually similar to the original Dior Fahrenheit."- Hadn't thought about Farenheit in a while, but boy did that one make me swoon in the 90's...cant be sure if I really liked it or was just the fact that my sister's bf's roommate, who I had a terrible crush on, wore it...I don't even know if the original is still available or what the notes were- except, perhaps lavender??- haven't smelled in yrs- Katie, do you know any current fragrances that are reminiscent of Dior's Fahrenheit? Would love to bring back those lusty memories of youth with something akin...

    1. Your best bet is to just get a bottle of Fahrenheit. It's supposed to have been reformulated through the years, but it's still recognizable as Fahrenheit. The next time I pass it in a store, I'll have another sniff to see if I can think of a contemporary dupe.

  25. Hey, learned last week from @candyperfumeboy that the 50ml of Amaranthine was down to £27 on the Penhaligons website and leapt in unsniffed. So glad I did! I've only had it one afternoon and so far it has definitely lived up to all the raves :) Grab it while it's cheap folks!

    1. Faboo tip, PF! I hope this is not the bell tolling for the end of Amaranthine...

  26. A woman should only wear Amaranthine if she wants to drive her husband out of his mind and make him into her plaything.