For shoppers, London was traditionally a sober, masculine preserve in contrast to the feminine paradise of Paris. But a radical shift in style and diversity has occurred over the past few decades, and the new flagship store for Penhaligon’s, a perfume company founded in England in 1870, is as exuberant and sybaritic as anything one could find in the City of Light.
Christopher Jenner, a designer who moved from his native South Africa to London, drew on his experience staging events and designing twelve other retail stores, including Diptyque (Contract, November 2012) and a Singapore outlet for Penhaligon’s. “The challenge was to create magic in a super-small space and to evoke the spirit of a place and an era,” Jenner explains.
The place is a fashionable stretch of Regent Street on the western boundary of the Mayfair district that was rebuilt a century ago in the extravagant Edwardian era, when Great Britain indulged in a brief flurry of peacock fashions and bombastic ornament. Jenner found a rather gloomy, 540-square-foot storefront sandwiched between two large emporiums and turned it into a jewel case that draws in shoppers from the sidewalk. The façade is historically listed and couldn’t be altered, but the curved glass windows that flank the narrow entry provide an ideal proscenium for the interior.
“In retail, we are moving towards a theatrical representation of brands,” says Jenner, who researched the heritage and aspirations of the venerable company. Penhaligon’s holds two of the coveted royal warrants, supplying fragrances to the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales, and their coats of arms are proudly displayed. The design had to embody that tradition of quality, and was also shaped by the fact that the clientele is equally composed of men and women.
Every surface is richly ornamented and impeccably crafted.
The entry is paved in checkerboard tile, and a tiled border outlines the walnut floor. Tiny vitrines for the fragrance vials are attached to padded walls of purple vinyl, and these are juxtaposed to an expanse of sandblasted antique mirror and white oak marquetry set four ways to create an illusion of depth. Fabric is printed with labels of the company’s 50 fragrances and applied as a wall covering in the back of the store, and on side walls near the ceiling.
The glass ceiling, inspired by Tudor moldings and studded with brass roses, is modeled on those in the chapel of Henry VIII in Westminster Abbey. Chandeliers were inspired by the Royal Pavilionin Brighton, a Regency-era extravaganza created for an earlier Prince of Wales by John Nash, the original architect of Regent Street. The bow that ornaments Penhaligon’s scent bottles is implemented as a recurring motif in the interior.
No such thing as sensory overload
Scent is an invitation to seduction, and the interior of Penhaligon’s is a feast for all the senses. Every surface is tactile and reflective of light. Each element enhances its neighbors, and the aesthetic draws on an English tradition of eccentricity and playfulness. “Color, shape, and texture are all important to me,” Jenner says, “and fine craftsmanship is the foundation of everything we do.”
Products from England and around the world
For this interior, Jenner sourced glass from China, ceramics from India, and laser-cut metalwork from the U.S. But many of the other materials were produced in Great Britain, including cabinetry constructed by artisans in the western county of Devon and custom furnishings. The project began with sketches and 3D computer simulations, evolving into a portrait of the company and the designer. Some might consider it over the top, but Jenner would probably agree with Mae West, who famously declared, “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.”
- Designer: Christopher Jenner
- Client: Penhaligon's
- Where: London
- What: 540 square feet on one floor
- Cost/sf: Withheld at client’s request
Key Design Highlights
- An attention-getting interior draws in shoppers from busy Regent Street.
- The ornate design reflects the company's heritage and royal connections while appealing to a modern clientele.
- A color palette of bold fuchsia and cool mint green is balanced by warm walnut floors and white oak millwork.
- Wall-mounted, chamfered boxes display individual bottles of perfume, echoing the pattern of the padded walls and glass ceiling.