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. Continue reading Perfume Review: Penhaligon’s Malabah