Perfume Review: Penhaligon’s Malabah

The name “Malabah” appears to be a variant of “Malabar,” which is the name of a region in India, the northern districts of Kerala state. It’s also the name of the horse in “The Rocking-Horse Winner,” D.H. Lawrence’s eerie little story about a fashionable family in debt, and a son that rides his rocking horse until he’s sure which horse to bet on in the big races. I have a manufacturer’s sample vial in packaging of hot-pink paisley and gold filigree, and I gather that the whole thing is meant to evoke India. Malabah was released in 2003, one of the few feminine-aimed Orientals in the floral-heavy Penhaligon’s line.

The scent opens with a big hit of citrus and tea, not quite the green-tea note I had expected but more a smoky black tea. This is followed by spices (cardamom, ginger) of the sprightlier sort, not the warmth of clove and cinnamon. A lovely rose note joins in quite quickly, and the ginger/tea/rose accord continues for some time before it’s buoyed up by a warm sandalwood and amber. The official notes list includes citruses, tea, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, rose, orris root, amber, musk, and sandalwood.

I can’t say whether Malabah really smells like India – probably not! – but it does fit my limited idea of India, with its tea and spices, rose and sandalwood. I had been classifying Malabah as a “lightweight Oriental,” of which there are fairly few, but I think perhaps the term “tea Oriental” might be more accurate.

There are several fragrances fitting that description, as a matter of fact. The ones that come immediately to mind are Bvlgari Black, Bois 1920 Sushi Imperiale, and L’Artisan Tea for Two. More recently, I tested Soivohle Ginger Chai, and it would fit the description as well. I find Black’s Lapsang Souchong-vanilla-new rubber accord delightful. Sushi Imperiale’s sparkling ginger tea opening goes flat quickly, with a dull shaving-cream amber. Tea for Two is an enjoyable spiced smoky tea scent that has very little staying power for me, and Ginger Chai is more spice vanilla than tea to my nose.

I love the sandalwood note in Malabah; it’s probably synthetic, but it’s neither heavy nor overly sweetened. The tea note seems to hang around a good long time, as well. The whole thing lasts about four hours on my skin, a little on the short side for an eau de parfum and an oriental at that, but I am dabbing it. Spraying would probably increase both its staying power and its sillage, which when dabbed is noticeable but delicate. This would probably be a wonderful scent to wear to the office in winter, since it is both warm and lightweight, or an Oriental suitable for warm evenings. Perfectly wearable by men, not girly at all.


10 thoughts on “Perfume Review: Penhaligon’s Malabah”

  1. I’ve never even heard of this before, but you had me at sprightly spices. (Also, I have a sample of Tea for Two winging its way towards me, and if it works for me, I’ll be doubly interested in this.)

  2. I must try this, black tea, ginger and rose sounds wonderful, and we have a Penhaligons in town.

    I bought 100ml Tea for Two unsniffed (yes, I know I shouldn’t but it was a major bargain) in the L’Artisan Christmas sale. Love it. On my skin it lasts and lasts and has good sillage, not major fortunately as I don’t like to leave a big trail.

    1. If you can sniff for free, that would be a great way to try it! I like this one. (I’m not a big fan of big trails either, though I like *some* sillage.)

  3. I am either anosmic to whatever material equals “tea” in perfumery, or it just doesn’t smell like tea to me. I’ve never been able to pick out a tea note in any of the perfumes you named. No big deal, as I like them anyway. Malabah was recommended to me recently. At some point I need to order some samples of this line, which I’ve never tried.

    1. Penhaligon’s is uneven in quality, if ya ask me… Bluebell is truly hideous, Ellenisia is nice but pale, Lily & Spice is fine but uninspired, and I thought Elisabethan Rose was screechy. I like Amaranthine and love Violetta.

      That tea note is never quite like real black tea to me, either. It’s usually “green tea,” which is pale and lemony, or “smoky tea,” which I prefer. This is the smoky stuff.

  4. Thanks for the review. Lovely box and bottle! It sounds as if the packaging better matches the scent than the box and bottle for Amaranthine. That prim little bow that is a signature for Penhaligon’s was never less appropriate!

    Penhaligon’s is hard to get in Australia, or was, last time I looked. There are only a few retail outlets that carry the line, and the UK website does not ship alcohol based perfumes to Australia. I could get samples from the usual sources but there are so many fragrances in the Penhaligon’s line that sound like they are just average, if that. It’s hard to know where to start. Amaranthine is the only one I own.

    Bela tells a great story here about having worked for Penhaligon’s in the 70s. She hated Bluebell too.

    1. Malabah is quite nice, and I like the packaging. (I love the packaging for Violetta, too – though it is always disconcerting to open that beautiful violet-flowered box and pull out a bottle with BLUE juice. I mean, c’MON. That blue does not occur in nature, they’re adding it. So why not a violet color?)

      Amaranthine is lovely, I think – I still have a bit in my 5ml decant that I really should get out and wear. It’s not in the least raunchy on me, though. I wear it to church. 🙂

  5. This definitely sounds like My Kind of Thing. “Lightweight tea oriental” made me think of my beloved Jacomo #8 – which is spicy chai tea to my nose (notes are cardamom, ginger, black tea, freesia, milk accord, dried fruits, cinnamon, honey and amber). There aren’t enough lightweight tea orientals, so I’ll have to get my hands on a sample of Malabah.

    Have you tried the Jacomo?

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