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.

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