Sunday, 18 March 2012
Penhaligon's Ormolu: A "Wormhole" Scent In A Tutu
No, it is the other two who are top of mind for me: Penhaligon's in particular, because of the interesting way it has reinvented itself in recent years, since entrusting the development of its perfumes to the ubiquitous "hot nose on the block", Bertrand Duchaufour. Recent launches such as Juniper Sling are thematically rooted in the past while appealing to modern tastes, making for a winning blend of brand heritage and contemporary flair. In fabric terms, this fusion of eras might perhaps translate as moleskin hipster trousers or a drapey, asymmetric wrap-around top made out of tweed. Bizarrely, I actually have one of those - it is Japanese and came from Spitalfields market, so go figure... It has a sort of cummerbund belt thing going on, and really does look quite nice on, in a vaguely Borg-like way. The lapels really are rather pointy...
a Perfume Studio workshop two years ago before becoming a sales associate myself for a while - gave me nine Penhaligon's samples plus a mini of Ormolu that he had come across whilst having a clear out of his flat. So how did he come by the mini of a femininine scent, you may ask, and what's with the "Wormhole" reference in the title?
Well, no actual habitats of worms are involved, though goodness knows I am well acquainted with these, after handling dozens of the beggars during a marathon lawn laying session the other weekend to help out a friend. This also meant digging up the tatty remnants of the existing lawn first, and carefully rehoming the not inconsiderable worm diaspora which were unearthed in the process. By the end of the afternoon I could pick up a worm in my gloved hand, instead of coaxing it gingerly - and to not much effect - with a floppy twig.
And though the precise name of the scent may remain lost in the mists of time, Beetmoll clocked and liked it enough to ask Rustici what it was. Rustici also mentioned that this scent was a favourite of Winston Churchill's, no less! Now I wouldn't have instantly associated a guitarist in a rock band with the stiff upper lip Britishness of distinguised Prime Ministers or the Penhaligon's brand (certainly as it was back then), but there again the perfume world is full of such surprises. Plus Beetmoll tells me that Corrado Rustici was immaculately dressed, and come to think of it Italians are famed for their keen/sharp sense of style.
You should perhaps also know that Beetmoll himself doesn't fit any of the profiles people might associate with the typical Penhaligon's customer - he is no young fogey or dapper metrosexual, for example. Rather, he dresses top to toe in black utility clothing, and sports a glorious long mane of flame-coloured hair that would make Jane Asher weep.
Then he reckons he bought the samples by mail order out of the company's catalogue, again in the early 90s - they served as a "discovery set" (as we might term it today) for his further exploration of the line. The mini of Ormolu is decked out in copious swathes of pale yellow netting, for all the world like a tutu. After some concerted memory-dredging, Beet reckons he may also have bought the mini out of the catalogue, with the idea of giving it to a girlfriend. Instead, it wound up in my possession, two decades later!
Here is the blurb inside the lid of the box:
"Ormolu is a rich perfume. Like the ground gold decoration after which it is named, Ormolu enhances what is already fine. Sophistication is not easily acquired. Equally it takes time to appreciate the complex character of this warm, floral fragrance."
Of course I had to google "ormolu" to find out a bit more about it...As ever, Wikipedia has the scoop. I was especially concerned to read about the gilders' poor life expectancy:
"Ormolu /ˈɔrməluː/ (from French or moulu, signifying ground or pounded gold) is an 18th-century English term for applying finely ground, high-carat gold in a mercury amalgam to an object of bronze. The mercury is driven off in a kiln (leaving behind a gold-colored veneer). ...Due to exposure to the harmful mercury fumes, most gilders did not survive beyond 40 years of age."
The choice of name and the sales copy both point to this being a rich, rather "ornate" perfume, and so it proves.
Top Notes - Armoise, Camomile, Bergamot
Middle Notes - Jasmine, Rose, Violet, Ylang
Base Notes - Sandalwood, Musk, Moss, Amber
The (small sample of) two reviewers on MUA are not overly enthusiastic it must be said, giving it an average rating of 3 out of 5. That's a "meh", pretty much, or slightly better. One is aged 19-24, admittedly.
Then there is a lone review of Ormolu by Foetidus on Basenotes, who confirms that the sweetness and powder don't let up for him, and he was not sorry to learn that it was discontinued.
And I must say it isn't really my thing either, but I don't dislike it. With its slightly spiky opening, Ormolu segues into a full-on powdery oriental which manages to smell oldfashioned but not in a kickass retro way, like Le Parfum de Therese or Onda. It reminds me a bit of Guerlain Mayotte or one of the many Carons with "Aimez" in the title, but it has a mossier, more herbally aspect, at least initially, which fights with the floral notes. I wouldn't call it overly sweet though - perhaps my skin amplifies the mossy note. It almost has the vibe of a Grossmith, in fact, though it errs the right side of out-and-out sneezefest, unlike most of that line to my nose. As it wears on the powderiness mutes down, but it doesn't smell distinctly of a particular flower to me at any point, and I can really take it or leave it, to be honest.
Quantum Demonology, is based (Type O Negative)!
Sadly, as this Hamman Oil continues to elude us, I cannot give you a note listing for Beetmoll's first perfume love and purchase. But here is the lowdown on Hammam Bouquet, which he went on to own, and which was created by William Penhaligon in 1872.
Top notes: lavender and bergamot
Middle notes: Bulgarian rose, orris root, jasmine and cedar
Base notes: sandalwood, amber and musk
I wouldn't say Beet is on the cusp of being afflicted with full scale fumeheadonism, but he does enjoy his Penhaligon's colognes (Opus 1870 is the current favourite!), and for my own part I am delighted to have inherited his tutu-clad Ormolu mini and its unexpected "back(stage) story"...
SINGER ZUCCHERO FORNACIARI PERFORMING AT A FESTIVAL IN DENMARK
Hold on, could that by any chance be a touch of ormolu on that chandelier?
Photo of Corrado Rustici album from lyrics.wikia.com, photo of Hammam Bouquet from lenonma.ru, photo of Zucchero Fornaciari from Jeangagnon via Wikimedia Commons, other photos my own