At a time when the number of annual perfume releases continues to hit the 2000+ mark, it is increasingly difficult to work out which compositions influence the aesthetics of future scents. The stats are simply too overwhelming: when you're dealing with so many individual pieces of work - and inordinate pressure to emulate the success of others - many are bound to smell very similar and several will go unsniffed and unmentioned. Therefore, trying to discern the precise - or even the vague - starting point of a penchant for a certain style is challenging, to say the least. But despite this, a few perfumes somehow manage to strike a chord so decisively that their power over everything that comes after them is almost impossible to deny. One such beast is Dominique Ropion’s Portrait Of A Lady for Frederic Malle, which finds its image reflected in the new Belgravia Chypre from Penhaligon’s, much to the vexation of many people, it would seem.
I could, of course, have flipped that paragraph on its head and said that, at a time when the number of perfume releases continues to hit the 2000+ mark, it is increasingly difficult to achieve any measure of olfactory originality. The sheer weight of the numbers is a limiting force in itself: when there are so many perfumes out there, the probability increases that many will smell similar.
Where does that leave us in relation to a release like Belgravia Chypre? That it is very closely related to Portrait is not in doubt: the familiar rose-incense-patchouli combo is proudly front and centre, albeit in a cooler, less tenacious form. There’s equally little doubt about the fact that this isn’t the first Portrait smell-alike: Chypre Sublime from Floral Street and Rose Musc from Narciso Rodriguez are two that come to mind right now. But even Portrait itself shares many features with Montale’s Black Aoud, which predates the Malle by about 4 years.
So, on that foot-shooting note, I think I shall spare myself the agony of getting into tangled assertions and counter-arguments by saying two things. Number 1: originality has always been a slippery topic in perfumery. And number 2: getting angry about one brand’s seeming desire to take a short-cut gives said brand far more publicity than it deserves.
Finally, feel free to chuckle with as much wryness as you can muster when I tell you that the other two members of this so-called Hidden London range from Penhaligon’s also trace their lineage to other successful releases: Marylebone Wood is like a plunge into the hedonistic interior of Nasomatto’s Black Afgano and Kensington Amber coils its way around the sheesha pipe with a slinkiness borrowed from Hermès’ Ambre Narguilé. Make of that what you will.
[Reviews based on samples of eau de parfum provided by Penhaligon's in 2018.]