Castile (Penhaligon's)

Everyone knows the House of Creed is a polarizing one, capable of generating fist fights between basenoters (no mean feat, considering basenotes is an online community), tears, and even the gnashing of teeth. Some feel it's a great company; others despise it for its perceived dishonesty. Those who are bluntest about their distaste simply feel Creed fragrances don't smell very good, and are therefore not worth the sticker shock. Those guys annoy me, but I can relate, because I feel the exact same way about Penhaligon's.

This brand mystifies me. It's an old company - like Creed, claiming to go back hundreds of years - and they've produced a royal warrant or two to publicly uphold their pedigree. They're expensive: a 3 oz bottle will run you about $140. Stylistically, they're very stodgy. You can almost smell the bookshelf dust before the perfume. It's as though each fragrance were crafted with hand tools in a candlelit shop to the sound of Mendelssohn. By all rights, such a legacy should inspire fragrant beauty of unmatched proportions, works that would bring the staunchest Francophile to his knees. Penhaligon's fragrances ought to smell amazing. Why then do they smell like crap?

Allegedly derived from the Spanish soap of the Castile region, this fragrance was a true challenge for its maker, because it's to closely match a very specialized product. Quality of ingredients is essential when replicating a certain heritage toiletry; a skilled nose would gather necessary components, selecting only the highest-grade materials, and intentionally avoiding redundancy with a new accord, made of three or four original elements. A touch of Mediterranean citrus perhaps, and maybe some Spanish lavender. Only the finest naturals would do.

Mediocre, designer-grade materials were used to make Penhaligon's Castile. It smells chemical and waxy, like truck stop restroom soap. I'm unfamiliar with the smell of real Castile soap, but if it's anything like this, I'm sticking with Irish Spring.


  1. Dear Mr Ross,
    The origins of Castile soap go back to the Levant, where Aleppo soap-makers have made hard soaps based on olive and laurel oil for millennia. Following the Crusades, production of this soap extended to the whole Mediterranean area. Early soap-makers in Europe did not have easy access to laurel oil and therefore dropped it from their formulations, thereby creating an olive-oil soap now known as Castile soap. It does indeed smell waxy & much like the hand soap you'll find in a truck stop. !f you wish to experience the true fragrance try Dr. Bronner's Unscented Baby-Mild Pure Castile Soap at Whole Foods.

    1. Bibi, in the years since posting this review, I have used a few Castile soaps. I agree that it has a waxy smell, but disagree that they smell like truckstop soap. My opinion stems, of course, from many moons of using truckstop soap.

      But perhaps I was too harsh on Castile - I expected it to smell "soapy," not "waxy," and its success may hinge on the latter quality! I've decided to avoid Penhaligon's from now on, as most of their frags smell decent, but extremely overpriced.

    2. I'm kind of curious about Penhaligon's as I have an opportunity to buy any of their scents for $50 a bottle. I have only tried Penhaligon's Lavandula years ago & was unimpressed- it smelled like something Yardley did better for a lot less $. I'm particularly interested in Penhaligon's Gardenia & their Orange Blossom fragrances. You think it's worth $50 a bottle to blind buy them?

    3. For the 3 oz bottles, yes. $50 is really good for a Pens. However, I personally wouldn't blind buy it. Pens come in beautiful bottles with pretty bows and fancy labels, but the quality of the fragrances themselves are spotty. Hammam Bouquet smelled good, but the drydown was a bit plasticky and forgettable. Bluebell was OK, but nothing to write home about. Violetta was outmaneuvered by Grey Flannel, in both substance, style, and price. If you can sample, I recommend it.


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