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.