More Brit Than Buckingham (And As Confusing): Penhaligon Artemisia review


     Life works in mysterious ways. Sometimes, the biggest disasters we face, the most tragic loses, are a chance for a new beginning.

     William Penhaligon founded his namesake barber shop in 1870 in London, England, back when shaving was an opportunity to relax and socialize rather than a chore. Two years later in ’72 he offered his first fragrance to the public, called Hamman Bouquet, inspired by the Turkish Bath next door. His perfume business took off, with requests flying in from high-ups such as the Duke of Marlborough (later to become the company’s best-selling Blenheim Bouquet). All was good at Penhaligon, until 1941.

     Mr. Penhaligon’s beloved Emporium was destroyed by Nazi bombing, and without a storefront interest quickly waned. It took over 30 years for a new store to be built in the Covent Gardens district, where it still stands to this day. Since reopening they’ve received no less than two Royal Warrants for the manufacturing of toiletries, considered a prestigious title in the United Kingdom. A new generation of Brits and international fans began to pay attention to what was going on in the historic company, which became known for a distinct style of British perfumery. Think of them as the Guerlain’s beyond the Channel.

     Today I’m reviewing Artemisia, a 2002 release from the house by perfumer Dominique Bouley. When I was making my monthly rounds at to pick items to review I settled on Artemisia because to the casual observer it looks like a friendly fruity floral (and hence a good place to start in an unfamiliar line, or at least for me). Notes include nectarine, green apple, violet, jasmine, Lily of the valley, tea, vanilla, amber and musk. Seems pretty common, doesn’t it? Not so.

© Gil Segev 2016

© Gil Segev 2016

     The classic Penhaligon bottle (clear glass, tied bow, as per William’s tradition) is in this case decorated with unicorns and a golden emblem that makes it look straight out of Hogwarts (it doesn’t smell far from it, either). The name is inspired not by the Ancient Greek goddess of the moon Artemis, but by Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi. There is much criticism in the blogging community that the packaging and advertising for this release was underwhelming, but I find it fitting. Sometimes, you don’t need to shout to be heard.

     So, the scent; how can I put this without sounding lazy? Artemisia doesn’t smell like anything. That’s not to say it has no aroma, because of course it is a luxury fine fragrance item. The problem is it is such a vague, mute, entirely blended juice that not one note stands out. Remember the scene in Disney’s “Hercules” where the protagonist looks in Hades’ well of souls, where the dead swim in a never ending, slimy pool? It’s kind of like that, only less gross. You can smell sweet tartness, but where does it come from? There’s some metallic dustiness, but why?

     I suppose this is the mystery and charm of Artemisia, that you do not love it for its brilliantly done notes but a general feeling it evokes. Reviewers often call it “comforting,” “fuzzy,” and “cozy.” Others prefer “boring,” “illegible,” and even “floral meh.” I found it worthy of its roots; it reminds me of a foggy, rainy day and flannel. Perfect for that odd transition period between winter and spring, when the weather can’t make up its mind more than this perfume can. The closest comparisons I have are Puredistance White (with its warm sandalwood base) and Replica’s Tea Escape. It does last very well, and those who like linear scents that change very little as you wear them may appreciate it more. For me it is a curiosity to be uncovered during the next major storm, or tucked under a castle in Scotland, accessible by train, broom, or flying car.

     You can find Artemisia on right now for only $47.24*, or 57% off retail – you’re reading that correctly, the savings are that good! also has a selection of their original shaving products, so make sure to check them out for gift ideas and to take things back to a simpler time. What are your opinions of perfumes that make no sense like Artemisia? I’m curious to know if you would spend your money on a perfume you simply can’t figure out. Sound off in the comments!

*Prices true at time of writing.

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2 responses to “More Brit Than Buckingham (And As Confusing): Penhaligon Artemisia review

  1. Your writing always makes me smile Gil, loved this piece and curious to smell a perfume that smells like nothing

    • Thanks, Negar! I hope that wasn’t too vague. LOL Honestly the packaging drew me in, and while I certainly don’t hate the scent I wouldn’t go out and buy it again. I guess it doesn’t smell like nothing as much as it smells musty – a sort of British smelling thing if that makes any sense. Anyways, hope you’re doing well!

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