Sunday, February 6, 2011

Penhaligon's Shenanigans

I'd love to own a suit by Norton & Sons. That's the Savile Row bespoke tailoring establishment featured in Penhaligon's campaign for their most recent release Sartorial. The choice makes sense as Norton's current owner Patrick Grant is trying to straddle the low-key conservatism and discretion that defines Savile Row houses and the contemporary branding necessary to keep an operation in the black these days. Penhaligon's, while no longer British-owned, plays on its Victorian heritage, while its fragrances have meanwhile become quite contemporary and certainly lack the exclusivity - and sadly too often the quality - of a £ 5000 suit. If I were managing this house, I'd release a nearly-all-natural, über-quality line of historical scents at £ 1000 a pop to show Creed and Clive Christian what luxury REALLY means and build some neo-Victorian upstairs-only cachet - but that's a different story. Quite. For as Octavian Coifan has argued, convincingly, I believe, Sartorial is really Marks & Sparks in bespoke drag, i.e. a very nice, middle-brow 1970s fougère with a Duchaufour update and a touch of luxury. When I "haze" Sartorial on, I can look past the modernist metallic ozonism which is supposed to represent the shears and steam of a tailor's workshop. Applied directly last week, though, this Eau de Toilette went through an uncanny evolution on my skin. It started off smelling like some cheap toilet cleaner, the likes of which is encountered in public buildings, schools etc. Just nasty no-budget functional perfumery stuff - forget all the fancy bespoke imagery. It next progressed to a poor-man's Burt Reynolds retro-macho-cheapo-deodorant product. Slowly it approached the level of haute - well, sort of - parfumerie (cheap Rive Gauche knock off?). At last (all this was taking much too long considering the price tag) the high quality beeswax note started to take over and things fell into their proper place to make a nice, allround masculine with a touch of elegance. And curiously reminiscent of Dukes of Pall Mall's Belgravia, a forgotten EdT from 1983 which is also a beeswaxy fougère, but made from far better materials. What I learned from this is firstly, that Sartorial is the kind of fragrance for me, where mode of application is a vital factor and secondly, that I will wear Belgravia with my Savile Row suit. Which is not from Norton & Sons, but a vintage (of course) piece by James&James.