Others may use scent to travel back in time seeking out a childhood memory such as the olfactory delight of a scented eraser from their primary school pencil case or the boozy cherry liqueur tang of Tixylix children’s cough syrup.
Penhaligon’s Douro, Eau de Portugal was created for a travelling Brit - Sir Percy Croft of the Croft Dynasty, famous for their manufacture of Port wine. Although Douro was created way back in 1911, the port wine trade still takes place today exclusively in Portugal’s Northern capital – Oporto.
I was fortunate enough to live in Oporto for 2 years, during this time I was captivated by the crumpled glamour of this historic city. It’s ancient, and by ancient I don’t mean packed with carefully maintained antiquity such as you’d find in Rome. It’s literally falling down. In fact the port wine houses are some of the last fully functional architectural icons of history. Downtown Oporto and neighbouring Gaia across the river Douro (where the port houses actually are) exist beautifully melancholy houses, where elaborately decorative facades conceal a broken building within. Basically everybody moved out to the suburbs into modern comfortable flats and nobody restored the grand houses left behind. For this reason the sense of romance is extraordinary in this seemingly ghost town.
The delight of being an expatriate in a foreign land is this very romance. You live every day within the exhilaration of an unfamiliar exotic environment where your experience is so overwhelmingly different to the safety of home. With this however, comes a little culture shock and inevitably - homesickness. A quirky manifestation of my own homesickness came in the form of stuffing my suitcase with Englishness on my return journeys. My favoured icon of England was countless packets of Bird’s Angel Delight, specifically Butterscotch flavour that I would ration carefully over the many months away. A colleague of mine replicated this behaviour with the International smuggling of Heinz Salad Cream which he peevishly forbade the consumption of by his envious flatmates.
This leads me to wonder what Percy Croft craved as a souvenir from home? It’s possible that a sensation of bodily cleanliness was paramount to a man from a cold climate experiencing the sweaty heat of a Portuguese summer. A Scottish female friend in Oporto pondered with curiosity why our ‘end of the hot day armpits’ emanated a pungent ‘oniony’ whiff in Oporto, previously undetected whilst sweating normally at home. Douro smells tremendously of soap, good old fashioned Pear’s soap, that imparts great connotations of a clean body and a well groomed individual.
Another expatriate sentiment could be Douro’s uplifting Lavender aspect. What could be more Middle England than a garden full of this aromatic delight? Unlike other flowers frequently used in perfumery such as the decadent tuberose or sultry orange blossom, lavender retains an aloof ‘stiff upper lip’ Britishness. It even smells of the upper classes, reminiscent of the lavender infused wood polishing wax to be pleasurably inhaled at a Nation Trust mansion house. Perfect for the quintessential Victorian merchant gentleman.
Penhaligon’s tell us that Douro’s fantastically leathery nuance was inspired by: “The aromatic labdanum plant growing on the famous Quinta da Roeda estate in the Douro Valley in Portugal, acquired by Croft & Co in 1875.” Perhaps Percy felt a duality, at once the English gent yet equally evolved in his adopted Portuguese home? The leathery labdanum whiff additionally makes me think of the accessories of the Victorian traveler, no doubt he was in possession of a fine set of leather luggage of the kind you find in vintage shops that open to release the dusty whiff of historic voyages.
Even the bottle itself is infused with old England. Penhaligon’s bottles have changed little over time keeping to a minimally elegant glass flacon, suitably unfussy and masculine. In Percy’s time the bottle would have featured the dab on crystal ball stopper which is reminiscent of a traditional whiskey decanter, of the type that could have been found in a gentlemen’s club. The clink of glass against glass could have commenced enduring memories of cigar smoking camaraderie with ‘the chaps at home’.
I view Douro as Penhaligon’s romantic heritage, a worldly aromatic relative of it’s cheeky young upstart - Sartorial. Although I adore Sartorial’s contemporary honeyed take on the classic fougere, Douro seems to represent a time past, a precious piece of history wrapped up as a soapy aromatic time capsule, ultimately a delightfully wearable antique.
Odiferess is a blogger who writes about perfume. She also writes about the memories and cultural phenomena that connect her to perfume such as rollerboots, Spanish business men, terrifying turkey cabins and the Queen's fear of warts. You can read her fragrant words at: Odiferess. Images courtesy of Sarah Waite.
A thrilling aspect of scent is it’s ability to aid our travels, be they a physical journey or a conjured journey of the imagination. Scent can take us far away from our ordinary residence to an exotic location, indeed for me as a city dweller, I often use intense woody notes to take me deep into the countryside as I spritz before bedtime for a forest filled sleep.