Monday 1 July 2024

"Saddle up the mare of dreams": Papillon Perfumery Epona review

Last week marked the 10th anniversary of Papillon Perfumery, the artisanal brand founded by elegant epicurean earth mother Liz Moores - whose birthday is today in fact! In that time she has released eight perfumes, and the rectangular 3 x 3 display on her website is clearly crying out to fill the bottom right hand corner with No 9. So when she announced the latest addition to the Papillon stable, Epona, set to be launched on 1st August, I was delighted by the news, not least for reasons of geometrical equilibrium. Equine equilibrium indeed, as Liz explains:

"Epona embodies the cherished memories of my bond with my beloved horse amidst the beautiful English countryside. Inspired by our intimate connection, it captures the essence of long summer days, a warm leather saddle, and the sweet meadow breath of my horse."

When I heard the name of the new perfume, I must admit that I didn't immediately twig to the connection with Liz's horse: it was rather the Spanish town of Estepona that popped into my head, which has the name "Epona" nested within it. For any grammar or maths nerds, I believe this is an example of the somewhat abstruse phenomenon known as "recursion".

Screenshot of the Papillon website!

Further searches of the word quickly revealed that Epona is a Celtic goddess, patron of mares and foals, as well as a character in the Legend of Zelda Nintendo game, and a highly engineered type of horseshoe. ;) So all in all, a very apt choice of name for the new fragrance.


Leather, Violet, "Saddle Soap Accord", Labdanum, Vetiver, Oakmoss, Petitgrain, "Horse Skin Accord"

Right off the bat you can tell that this is a perfume best appreciated by horse lovers, who will be familiar with "the rich scent of a well-worn saddle", and the saddle soap that is part of the tack cleaning ritual.

I should come right out and say that I am not a horsey person, and if anything am a little afraid of them, along with cows, sheep, and dogs - or for that matter creatures of any size that are capable of launching a surprise attack. Why, even Truffle has become alarmingly bitey of late and I have had to dial back my petting intensity after she narrowly missed a big vein. My diffidence around dobbins, as you might say, goes back to the summer of 1974, when I went pony trekking in Wales on a Scripture Union holiday (of all unlikely auspices!). Within minutes of setting off, my feisty mount cantered down a steep field and promply threw me off. Luckily I was unharmed, but I have never had the urge since to "get back in the saddle".

Source ~ WorthPoint: a plate featuring a JohnTickner drawing (1968)

Now I may not be the ideal person to relate to Epona, but I do have surprising horsey connections. My first cousin-once removed-in-law(!), John Tickner, was the cartoonist for Horse & Hound for some 20 years, and also wrote many books on the themes of country life. In a surprising twist, it turns out that Liz remembers his cartoons from when she was growing up and already a hippophile.

Then there was the old flame who held senior marketing roles in food companies, before turning his back on the gravy train and taking up painting - of race horses. He eventually became a noted equine artist. I'd never have placed a bet on that career change! And there is also the ex-girlfriend of my actual first cousin, who is a sports coach and psychologist teaching NLP techniques to riders.

But despite my own lack of affinity with horses, I was most curious to try Epona, and jumped on the sample Liz sent me as soon as it arrived.

A black pen leaked in my handbag, sorry!

On first application I get a blast of freshly mown grass mixed with a strong leather scent - of the kind you find on the more rugged end of the Spanish handbag spectrum. A friend who sniffed it on me described the smell as "rubbery", which may have been his way of describing the leather note. The arresting opening soon becomes more attenuated: the bracing dart of green disappears, giving way to a softer leather scent mixed with soap. We are definitely in Camay territory now. I found a note to myself that reads: "creamy glowing soft leather and soap". Very beautiful it is too. In the same register as Cuir de Russie, though with more soap.

I must explain that the two other people I have tried Epona on so far - an actively horsey female friend and a chap who has sat on donkeys and elephants in India, which I figured might do as well - were quite different canvases for the scent: on both of them the bright green facet was more noticeable, with longer staying power. They both liked Epona a lot, and in the case of my female friend, it was an absolute epiphany for her. She had previously avoided ALL perfume, dismissing it as "chemically" and allergy-provoking, but the second Epona landed on her skin she knew she was in the presence of luxurious and benign greatness, and was won over. Her partner is now under instructions to buy her a bottle for her birthday - a volte-face the like of which I never thought I'd see. ;)

I did!

As for me, I have continued to bury my nose in my wrist in the hope of detecting the "summer meadows" salvo again, but it seems that my version of the horse has gone back into its stable, where the fresh sappy greenery has been supplanted by straw, and a sort of animalic woodiness that might be the oakmoss or the muddy tones of vetiver. Maybe that is the "horse skin accord" kicking in, which I am obviously not in a position to confirm, but I could well believe it is exactly that. Which reminds me that another waggish friend said he was surprised there was no dung in Epona, prompting me to point him in the direction of L'Artisan's Dzing!. That said, in the drydown there is an alluring stables-cum-barnyard vibe going on - no really, I mean that - which could encompass straw at least. In the far drydown the perfume recedes to a gently soapy whisper, though I thought I could smell a faint trace of vetiver on one wrist. Basically, I think Epona may prove to be another shapeshifter, and you may get a different combination of the leather / soap / fresh greenery / muddy greenery & animalic hints compared to me - or the same combination in a different order. However it reads on your skin, I am confident you will also enjoy the ride! 

In summary - and notwithstanding the fleeting nature of the juicy greenness on me - Epona has leapt to the top of my favourites list, nudging Bengale Rouge and Hera into second and third place on the winners' podium, though I still like them both as much as ever. Hera didn't go quietly as you might imagine, poking Epona's flank with her pomegranate-topped sceptre as she stepped down. As for Bengale Rouge, I guess if this were an actual race, a horse could outrun a cat after all. (Yep, 40mph to her 30mph, I have established, though Truffle may just beat her "species best" when she sees me coming at her with a worming tablet.)

Editor's note: "Saddle up the mare of dreams" is the opening line of a song by Scarlet's Well called "Mid-morning Lily Songs" (video here). I don't expect a single reader to have placed it. ;)


Alityke said...

I’m gagging to get my mitts on Epona. I’ve even got the release date in my diary

Vanessa said...

Hi Alityke,

If you like those accords, I am sure it will be a hit with you too!

Anonymous said...

Hi V

I wonder if this is one of those fragrances that plays out differently on different people then. I enjoyed reading your tests out in the field and especially the Damascene conversion!

Interesrting you mention Cuir de Russia as I thought this one had a whiff of Chanel about it. Particulataly loved the beautiful violet note which was prominant on me.


Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

Really interesting to get your take on Epona. which does bear out the fact that this seems to be very individual on different people; the brighter greenness may indeed come from the violet note rather than vetiver in the opening, but I couldn't quite trust my nose to come right out and say so, and it was fleeting on me anyway. "A whiff of Chanel" is about right!

Anonymous said...

The local store stocking Papillon is a couple of releases behind, but with luck I can have a sniff sometime. -AnnieA

Vanessa said...

Hi AnnieA,

I hope so, and let me know if you manage to catch up with it!

Portia said...

WOW! Sounds gorgeous.
Now I know a horse can outrun a Bengal cat but maybe if it was a Bengal Tiger it might take the lead, the horse and the rider?
What a shame about your unloved of so many animals. Good stories though,
Portia xx

Vanessa said...

Hi Portia,

You may be right at that about the Bengal Tiger! I think you would like Epona, and it might be greener on you too?