The scents from Penhaligon’s have the power to transport you. One whiff, and you’re in a mossy Scottish glen, an English garden, or a Middle Eastern spice market. Such is the allure of this achingly classy shop in Covent Garden, the perfect place to kick off a day of shopping with your girlfriends.
This historic boutique supplies perfumes and toiletries to the royal family, and you don’t doubt it for an instant. All gilt mirrors and glass cabinets, it’s a world away from the noisy throngs outside. Most impressive are the dark wooden shelves lined with elegant little bottles of perfume and cologne, each with a bow tied neatly around its neck. All are exquisite concoctions, accompanied by descriptions as nuanced as a sommelier describing a fine wine.
The ladies’ fragrance Bluebell, for example, is said to have head notes of citrus, heart notes of rose, lily, and jasmine, and final notes of clove and cinnamon. Bluebell is one of the shop’s bestsellers, and when you try it, you can see — or, rather, smell — why. It’s simply exquisite.
In casting around for a gift for the man in your life, you gravitate to the Hammam Bouquet, thrilling at both the scent and its story. This was one of the original fragrances that William Penhaligon himself created 142 years ago, when he rose to become court barber and perfumer to Queen Victoria (the shop has no fewer than two royal warrants). Inspired by a visit to the Turkish hammams (baths) on Jermyn Street in Piccadilly, its notes of sandalwood, cedar, lavender, and bergamot combine to form a soft yet masculine scent.
Turn your friends loose to find the perfect scents for their individual personalities, then meet back up to compare notes. Your wanderlusting friend jives best with the exotic Malabah, which evokes an imaginary journey through the spice route in Eastern India, while your foodie pal goes for the Vaara, with its blend of coriander, carrot seeds, saffron, and quince. As for you, you prefer the popular Bluebell, giving yourself an extra spritz before checking out and heading for the exit.
As you walk back out into the crowds, a thrilling thought occurs to you: Maybe Princess Kate wears Bluebell, too?