On its 150th birthday, the fine British perfume house rose to occasion with new scents and services

With its power to lift spirits and transport you to a different place or time, fragrance is an inviting haven for the escapist – and never more relevant than in 2020. As people turned to social media to distract themselves from the reality of two successive lockdowns, British fragrance house Penhaligon’s fired up its creativity and ended the year with a raft of new stories to add to its 150-year-old library.

It’s more challenging to sell fragrance online than fashion, say. But during lockdown people’s attention refocused on their homes and Penhaligon’s candles, soaps and handwashes raced out the door. The brand did not miss the opportunity to engage with customers lingering on its website and social media channels.

A captive audience discovered content about the history of the brand and its fragrances that was colourful, charming and heart-warming, its quirky Britishness providing a stabilising anchor in an unsettling time. Instagram live events and interviews helped create a buzz. Penhaligon’s famous fragrance profiling service was transformed into a fun online quiz to determine what suited an individual’s personality. They could then book an online consultation (with a human), receive a set of five samples and choose a signature scent.

‘We’re coming on leaps and bounds towards making it easier to smell scent figuratively through a screen’

‘We had to revisit how we entertain customers,’ says CEO, Lance Patterson. ‘Even though we inevitably saw a decline in sales through stores, we saw much more traffic on our website and Instagram. I’m immensely proud of how agile we’ve all been through disruptive times, shifting our focus to enhanced digital and virtual experiences. It’s even led to sighting a few new opportunities on the brand’s horizon. We’re coming on leaps and bounds towards making it easier to smell scent figuratively through a screen.’

Last year also saw the arrival of the new Personalise Your Penhaligon’s service – based on the premise that if scent is part of one’s identity, its packaging should be too. Customers can choose a beautiful grained leather bottle sleeve from an array of colours, add a three-initial monogram and a delightfully eccentric Penhaligon’s icon – like a pigeon with a top hat or a handlebar moustache – and top it off with a brass charm, such as a teacup, hot-air balloon or butterfly, designed by Kristjana Williams. Result: a piece for your dressing table or drawing room that’s uniquely yours.

Despite the travails of 2020, Penhaligon’s has not allowed its 150 years of dreams, magical places, distinctive characters and the world’s most extraordinary scents to go uncelebrated. It has retold favourite stories of how the founder William Penhaligon, resident barber at Mayfair’s Turkish baths in the 1870s, trimmed the Shah of Persia’s beard, and how his son, Walter, blended Blenheim Bouquet for the ninth Duke of Marlborough and received a first Royal Warrant in 1903.

In 2020 Penhaligon’s added The Favourite: a new concoction of mandarin, mimosa and jasmine inspired by Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough (1660-1744), the manipulative courtier and favourite of Queen Anne. After all, when you have 150 years of history behind you, it’s not unreasonable to align yourself with one of the world’s greatest ever influencers.