Thursday 18 June 2020

PENDRAGON by Karen Timson

Tradition seems to be a dirty word in perfumery these days. A constant demand for innovative fragrances and ingredients has seen “classic” styles relegated to the realm of “old fashioned.” Chypres and Orientals are constantly being renamed to appeal to a modern audience, but one category that is enjoying a well-deserved resurgence is fougère. This was temporarily relabelled aromatic by many brands but the traditional name has thankfully been dusted off. One of the perfumers embracing the style is Karen Timson, and her Pendragon fragrance promises some much-needed Arthurian legend.

Karen Timson had always had a fascination with scent and, as a child, remembers “sitting in the dappled sunlight beneath the apple trees and inhaling the heady and intoxicating fragrance of the blossom as the petals rained down on me.” Her career would see her go into nursing but, always in the back of her mind, those scented memories were waiting for the right moment to reappear. It was enrolling on the Cotswold Perfumery course with John Stephen that saw the first spark of what would go on to become Karen Timson Fine Fragrance. Under John’s guidance a legend was brought back to life.

One of the parts of perfumery that I love is the idea that a fragrance can tell a story, realise an emotion, or conjure up a place. Well, with Pendragon we’ve got a little bit of everything. The actual name is said to be the surname of Uther, who was the father of King Arthur, and who was reportedly Welsh. Now, as a Welshman myself, I may have to confess to a little unconscious favouritism here. To evoke the wildness of the terrain and the mysticism that surrounds the famous story, the decision of using a fougère structure feels absolutely perfect.

So, what is a fougère? Well, the name was coined when Houbigant released Fougère Royale back in 1882. The name translates as fern and was perfumer Paul Parquet’s wonderfully abstract idea of what the plant would smell like. The real foliage doesn’t release any oils that can be used, and actually has very little scent, but a whole fragrance category was born. The classic combination of lavender, oakmoss, and coumarin is usually present in all fougères, although rules are often made to be broken. So, is Pendragon merely a run-of-the-mill aromatic or a fragrance fit for a Knight of the Round Table?

Pendragon opens with a rush of bergamot and exciting traces of galbanum, which adds a tart green quality to the fragrance. However, very quickly we start to get the anchoring aroma of lavender along with its campherous tones. It’s this that links effortlessly down to a robust combination of earthy vetiver and oakmoss, which places you firmly inside the forest. The classic ingredient of coumarin, which gives a hay-like sweetness, is paired with sandalwood and labdanum to hint at battle-weary skin but, just in the background, is there the merest touch of jasmine? Pendragon has been aimed at the male market, but it might also find its way into the clutches of chypre-loving females.

Pendragon is available from the Karen Timson website at priced at £15 for 7.5ml, £64 for 30ml, and £99 for 100ml. [Sample provided by Karen Timson]


  1. I just saw the magic word, lavender :) Excellent review Stephan. A definite case for a sample.

    1. Hello Barry, lavender and oakmoss definitely seem to be two of your favorite ingrdients. Best, Stephan