Would it be too cruel to say that Penhaligon's Anthology series of re-issues comes to a close not with a bang, but a whimper? Eau Sans Pareil is pleasant enough, but there really isn't anything to distinguish it from the endless stream of washed-out florals that seem designed specifically to serve as gifts for those characterless nieces you see only once a year. The official notes call it a chypre and perhaps there is a drop of oakmoss somewhere in the deepest recesses of its construction, but I can't see any Mitsouko-lovers clamouring to get their hands on this one.
Bertrand Duchaufour's Esprit Du Roi revisits the fougère territory of last year's Sartorial, but with less cleverness and a diminished sense of fun. The intention seems to have been to build a masculine around the idea of sourness: there's a feisty grapefruit at the beginning, followed by a tangy, not entirely appealing herbaceous edge which probably comes from the raspberry leaf absolute (all rasp; no berry). This in turn causes the hay aspect of the coumarin to come out in goosebumps, which ultimately causes the temperature of the whole to plunge to sub-zero depths. If you get up close - and I mean really close - you can detect the faintest growl of an animalic base, but otherwise wearing this feels like being on the receiving end of a chilly glare from a boss with a distressing love of performance management.
Penhaligon's sole 'main range' release of the year is Juniper Sling, the much-hyped creation from Olivier Cresp. As its name suggests, it's based around a gin accord and sure enough, its opening does reveal a skilful blend of some of Mr Gordon's favourite ingredients: pepper (enough to make an Italian waiter weep), nutmeg, bitter citrus, cinnamon, coriander and, of course, juniper berries all come together to create a clean, likeable evocation of masculinity. Its heart doesn't last very long - which isn't surprising for a structure based heavily on the fleeting nature of pepper (see last year's Bang) - and it quickly gives way to an interminable, synthetic musk drydown. But my main criticism is that it's far too safe. I'm sure Penhaligon's have a certain customer in mind for this release, but I just wish they'd decided to take him by the hand and pull him out of his comfort zone a tiny bit. He's impeccably groomed. The creases in his blue shirts are always in the right places. He wears sensible boxers which he always buys from the same shop. But last Christmas, he was given an iridescent silk tie and he hasn't worn it yet. Every now and then, he takes it out of his drawer, admires it and wonders whether he ought to choose it over his usual monochrome numbers, but he always puts it back, convinced he wouldn't be able to pull it off. If Juniper Sling had been just a touch more daring, it would have encouraged him to wear the tie with confidence. As it stands, monochrome wins.
[Reviews based on samples of eau de toilette provided by Penhaligon's in 2011; fragrances tested on skin.]