Perfume Reviews

Reviews of Racquets Formula by Penhaligon's

Total Reviews: 29
This is such a pleasant barbershoppy wear with good legs, I deeply regret having bought only a 50ml bottle back in 2010.

While it does conjure comparisons to Brut, Clubman, etc, it definitely has some notes that stake out its own disintinct territory.

I love how this one wafts up periodically throughout the day- always leaving me with that "oh my, someone smells really good....oh wait, that's ME!"

Pity it has totally disappeared.
11th April, 2020
Penhaligon's Racquets Formula (1989) was an early men's revival scent attempt from one of the house's many owners during the "hot potato" period from when Sheila Pickles - who had resurrected the brand - divested herself of the operation, until it was later picked up by Puig to be taken upmarket as a niche luxury brand. Unlike competitor Geo F Trumper, who kept Penhaligon's on life support throughout the mid 20th century just so they could make and sell the ever-popular Blenheim Bouquet (1902), Sheila Pickles was interested in using the house as a vehicle for her own dabbling in perfume, which resulted in mostly new feminine-market creations throughout the 70's outside of reissued barbershop classics and once-bespoke original formulas. However, once she handed the reigns to Laura Ashley, it was decided to make an entirely new masculine for the house but to also keep it in line with the traditional aesthetic of their masculine barbershop vibe. Francis Pickthall, founder and CEO of CPL Aromas, was a business partner to Laura Ashley and huge fan of Penhaligon's, so he composed Racquet's Formula in a rare turn as perfumer (and his only documented one). The theme of the scent is Racquetball, a popular upper middle-class sport at the time in the UK, and the style is squarely in the dry traditional Victoria barbershop genre but with a mossy mid-century fougère foundation more typical of the American barbershop, since racquetball was invented by the American Joseph Sobek in 1950. The powdery and classic "sport" vibe of Racquets Formula is entirely intentional, albeit very anachronistic being released at the very tail end of the powerhouse era, but since this is Penhaligon's, nobody was really surprised and the scent enjoyed some moderate popularity with gents who still dug the aesthetic of wet shaving.

The opening of Racquets Formula is pure American neighborhood barber-on-the-corner with a bright bergamot, lemon, smooth lavender, and the surprise addition of linden blossom. Linden is the "x factor" that really keeps Racquets Formula from being too much of a Fabergé Brut (1964) clone despite in those opening phases, and a healthy dose of geraniol courtesy of a rose/geranium blend awaits in the heart to further that separation when the ylang-ylang which also recalls Brut starts to appear. Clove enters the fray after a few more minutes, adding that spicy "brown" tone American bay rums and the evergreen Shulton Old Spice (1937) are known to have, but Racquet's Formula leaves America behind by the time the base comes on to stop by France on its way back to the UK. The use of vanilla and oakmoss to establish that proper French fougère accord a la vintage Dana Canoe (1936) or Caron Pour Un Homme (1934) is to blame for this. There isn't very much tonka here like one might expect - because again - the final destination of Racquets Formula is in the sharp dry down typical of a UK barbershop fragrance but dry amber and olibanum help achieve an incense-like warmth in the partial absence of tonka. Touches of vetiver add that green element which helps keep Racquets Formula in its fougère lane, and that's a wrap. Wear time is the typical Penhaligon's standard 8 or so hours with mild to moderate sillage. Warm weather is actually a friend to this in spite of the vanilla thanks to the sharp incense accord in the base, but overall I'd call Racquets Formula something better enjoyed indoors, much like the sport after which it is named. This could be a good daily office scent or casual use affair after a good shave, but there is a slight problem with frequent use for Racquets Formula, and that problem is a total lack of availability. This scent is very, very, very discontinued, and nobody even talks about it anymore, much like the sport of racquetball itself, so perhaps there is a bit of irony present.

When I say discontinued, I don't mean "search eBay for a moderatly-plentiful number of overly price-gouged listings and bite the bullet to own it" kind of discontinued, but rather the "this scent is so far gone from circulation that you'll have to know a friend who hoarded it when it got cleared out and beg them for a bottle" kind of discontinued. You won't see this stuff on eBay, Etsy, or any backwater seller site that stumbles upon unsold stock of perfume, and if by chance you do, it's gone in 60 seconds worse than Nicholas Cage's acting career after he remade The Wicker Man. Seriously, this is one of those few scents that I classify as "extinct in the wild", and my review comes from a OEM sample given to me by a kind friend who wanted me to experience and write about it, but be not sad. Racquets Formula is nice as a neat little "bridging of the barbershops" kind of shindig, but a 1990's (or newer) bottle of the re-orchestrated Dana Canoe has about the same vibe, since the tweaks to the formula involved mainly sharpening up the top, and drying down the base, removing the blob-like qualities of the richer original Canoe formula. So if you miss Racquets Formula, just plunk down a few peanuts on modern Canoe, and I know it's not the same (nothing ever is), but it will scratch the same itch this once did. Penhaligon's Sartorial (2010) as composed by Bertrand Duchaufour seems to use much the same formula as this, but with some of the top notes smashed down into heart to make room for his aldehydes and synthetics to create that "hot ironed fabric" effect; Racquets Formula was in essence the same scent minus all that wizardry. Thumbs up, and hats off to this long-gone love affair with classic gentleman's grooming.
08th February, 2019
Great Fragance

European Barbershop meets USA Barbershop. wonderful cologne

Cons: Incense Touch"

19th September, 2013
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One of the best Penhaligon's, classy, sporty and finally musky/powdery with a feel of vetiver and spicy/laundry rose.The initial citrus/lavender is dry, natural and more than vaguely barber-shop type. I soon detect a fresh orangy/cedary feel with airy lavender and lemon. The powder starts rising up by the central interaction of cedarwood, geranium and ylang-ylang and it is a daring type of feel, airy, sharp and yes, exotic (i mean a bit colonial style with a rose/ylang-ylang accord conjuring far colonial memories). The rosey and yet powdery feel is the prelude to a virile boise dry down with a sort of faint mossy vibe and a dustiness coming from the link of aqueous vetiver/cedarwood/ambergris/incense. White clothed players of Cricket and gentlemen engaged in Polo's matches come to mind. Serious, sporty and masculine, with a more than good sillage and longevity.
21st January, 2013
cello Show all reviews
United States
Racquets Formula is possibly the perfect "sport" fragrance out there, as it holds it's head high and keeps the standards up front and honest.

This one is all soapy, slightly powdery and is somewhat formal smelling. But it retains a freshness throughout. The citrus opening is dusted with lavender, and smells clean and cool. There is a spiciness from the geranium that adds a punch to this. It is wonderful and refreshing.

The transition to midnotes is smooth, as a powdery aspect comes in, but it is not feminine powdery, just something to add interest. A green mustiness creeps in, mossy but still spicy. This is the wonderful vetiver and incense combo that blends all of this together. Fantastic drydown!

Classic, Penhaligon in nature (meaning it will not punch you in the face - this is not boxing sport!). A great sport fragrance that adds interest all the way through.

Unisex, leaning masculine. But I would wear this and not blink an eye :)
09th August, 2012
I like this one from first sniff. Doesn't smell likes a "man's" fragrance to me like some other Penhaligon's fragrances do. Like the powdery dry down and the oriental feel to it.
29th April, 2012
Marais Show all reviews
United Kingdom
An unusual brew, this; dense rather than ethereal, yet very clean and refreshing. A semi-sweet powdery citrus (lime)/floral with a barbershop flavour. One of my favourites from Penhaligon's.
14th March, 2012
Powdery floral openings where I detect no real citrus at all despite what is listed in the top notes. Continues to get thicker and the powderiness remains throughout. Somewhat of a musky dry down, but I can't get past the overwhelming powdery scent. Really feminine to me and overall not to my liking.
27th March, 2011
Sweet spiced sandalwood and florals, some rose. Not too bad at first, but it very quickly starts to get sweeter and heavier with a thick perfuminess...along the lines of Hammam Bouquet but not as stifling. I think this is because RF relies more on leather, and HB more on smoke, to thicken it up. They have in common the sort of florals that sometimes trick me into thinking they're something totally different...a cloying tropical fruit, or maybe cherry. Or anise with extra powderiness added. I'd think this would be too heavy to use while playing a sport like racquets. It might even get to be too much in hot weather in general. Even within one sniff, I find that the beginning brings the nice light flowers, but by then end they're wilting and someone has dumped baby powder over them. Still, intriguingly enough, if you only sniff it in passing and not directly, it's fresher, like Geir.
19th February, 2011
I have been using this one since the mid-90s, finding it at Bergdorf's in NYC. This cologne has a blend of vetiver and citrus, compounded with a powdery aspect infused with musk that I have never experienced before. It all combines to produce a men's fragrance that is light, yet which has the olfactory strength to stand up and project itself, without being overwhelming or--gasp--cloying.

I often reach for this one when I can't decide one way (light and citrusy) or the other (heavy, spicy, woody). This fits the bill nicely in between those worlds to produce a scent that turns heads and results in violent pulls back into the hug from appreciative women who have never experienced it before.


15th October, 2010
BayKAT Show all reviews
United States
So up front, thank you Penhaligons for treating your users with respect and calling this a men's fragrance instead of unisex. (I hate the marketing term unisex)

That said this is probably one of the more enjoyable men's scents I"ve sampled, although I didn't care for the opening. I've now confirmed that I don't care for Lavender, as it opens too 'low and grating' on me. Geranium too is hard on the nose, but the base is something you can really sink into.

I put htis on before heading out for my weekend 9 mile hike. When I was done, (and sweaty and dusty), I was left with a floral, earthy base that I enjoyed very much. Everything came together perfectly in the drydown, and it does not slip into a 'manly stink' (sometimes basenotes in men's fragrances can get too heavy)

Here the base includes incense and oakmoss, which are a hard duo to ruin.

If my significant other owned this I would be 'sampling' it for myself when he wsan't looking, just for the drydown.
06th August, 2010
What a hidden gem of a fragrance. The whole thing seems to play on a contrast between cooling and refreshing floral, citrus, and light spice notes and warming and lasting notes of musk, oakmoss, incense, and light, powdery amber. The bergamot and spice accord of the opening is downright old-school and sort of crinkles the nose and wakes you up. As it enters the heart notes, it becomes warmer and smoother, powdery verging on soapy, but still with a refreshing "lift" from something - citrus, floral, or spice, I cannot say. In this middle stage it reminds me of Etiquette Bleue a bit in that they both have this crisp, lightweight chypre character, with an almost balsam-like softness to the base. Later, the incense in Racquets becomes more apparent, making this even smoother, and a bit "glossy" in the feel of the powderiness (if that makes any sense at all). The whole is so well-blended that the changes are subtle, especially from the mid-notes on, and the effect is to essentially give it one overall Racquets accord rather than a mixing and re-mixing of individual notes. As noted in other reviews, it projects well and lasts a decent amount of time. Overall, it feels weightier and smells more contemporary than Etiquette Bleue.

Penhaligon's website refers to this as a vetiver fragrance. While there is likely vetiver in the blend, it does not, as an individual note, stand out to my nose, and anyone looking for a "vetiver" fragrance would be wise to ignore Penhaligon's classification. Michael Edwards calls this a Mossy Woods fragrance, which I think is a very good description. I believe it's his classing for what the rest of us call "chypres." So, I think this is best classed as a chypre - a lightweight, crisp, refreshing, uplifting, and yet, somehow, a somewhat rich chypre. I think it's this richness that leads some folks to read it as an oriental fragrance. Still, with bergamot, oakmoss, and amber as notes, and the old-school, powdery, soapy vibe, it seems more like a chypre to me.
14th July, 2010
JonB Show all reviews
United States
After buying and wearing this for a few years now, I've got to say that Racquets still holds up. I am so disappointed that it's been discontinued. This fresh, powdery scent is just so refreshing.
17th April, 2010 (last edited: 23rd August, 2015)
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This is a fairly linear production that creates a simple accord, similar in feel to the dry down of a classic aromatic fougere. The opening is fairly lightweight and innocuous, and it is in the middle notes and dry down that the true beauty comes to the fore. The early citric notes create a dull, twisted accord that feels uninspired, even a little sour. The powdery sensation begins to be felt with the introduction of the heart notes, and these are light, contained ingredients - but perfect for changing the emphasis. The dry down feels dry, mossy and refreshing, and even in the latter stages; it continues to mature in very subtle ways. My overriding impression of Racquets Formula is of a clean, refreshing but restrained fragrance, which feels every inch the gentleman's companion.
17th December, 2009
It is pleasant and just, well, nice. But that's it. Racquets is a somewhat boring offering, there's nothing wrong with the scent yet it just seems to fade into the background with not much to say about it really. Like Quercus and Blenheim, it for those who want to wear something easy and non-descript. It is a little more interesting though, having a grassy, almost fruity quality to it. There is a woody note in there too, and it does however have some of that old heritage charm that the brand should convey in its fragrances.
19th November, 2009
Racquets opens with a beautiful soapy/barbershop accord of lime notes which is almost smoky in nature as it's supported by a brittle musk note. such an amazing mix. the first 15-30 minutes, lime accords just play on skin with different citrus elements coming back and forth every minute...a beautiful interplay of notes. Accords so lively and fresh that the mere thought to apply this after a tough game under the sun is well, just refreshing.
Somewhere in the midnotes, this fragrance morphs into a powdery floral scent with hints of clove. again, smells refreshingly cool. The base is where i got a bit of surprise element, a sort of revelation - dusty frankincense?? i never expected incense!!! such a beautiful accord(of incense) which had actually controlled the whole scent..a note which gave it the "white" "smoky" & "powdery" feel thruout.
One just has to picture this, a scent with citrus top notes, a very english floral touch on a musky, incense based basenotes!! unique combination it is and a one which works so well. The incense notes acts as some sort for coolant for the summer. a very well thought of composition which works like a charm when the temparature is soaring high. so, get your racquets and wear your lacoste white classics!!...its time for a game!!
06th February, 2009
Kaern Show all reviews
United Kingdom
Fresh, clean, soapy and spicy with a beautiful musky finish. This is the best fragrance in the range imo. The sillage is good and the longevity excellent. I can't really imagine anyone not liking it. I love it -- it just makes you feel good.
26th January, 2009
Very underrated, maybe because the name. Racquets is a semi oriental with a delicious top of citrus, and a floral/spicy heart. Amazing texture: fresh but powdery at the same time. So well blended that its astonishing!! Very versatile, and great longevity. To me, one of the best Penhaligons, period.
09th January, 2009

Penhaligon’s Racquets opens largely herbal with a slightly less emphasis on geranium: It’s retro… there’s something rustic, something charmingly clumsy, about that opening accord – I love it; it has character; and it is just as refreshing as those numberless citruses that are used for sports versions. The middle keeps up the fresh greenness with cedar. There are supposed to be ylang-ylang, rose, and leather in these heart notes but I don’t get them as more than a whisper in the background. Then there’s the traditional drydown that screams the good old days in a wonderfully good and clean way. Soapy is right! Racquets is considerably soapy, but in a delightful and charming way; it has good sillage and its longevity is pretty good.

22nd November, 2008
I thought this would but like a Lacoste, Polo or some other "sporty" scent for golfers, tennis players or other gentlemen style sports. I'm surprised that this is more of a huge citrus powder with a quince tartness to it (the clove I suppose). Lasts a good while. It smells "barbershop"-ish to me. Actually, I imagine this is what those big ol' powdered wigs that the judges wore back in the 1700's.
12th June, 2008
HDS1963 Show all reviews
United Kingdom
I'm surprised nobody thus far has picked up Racquets Formula being so similar to Heritage.

When I first went into one of the Penhaligon's stores to try this, the first thing I said when I put some of the EDT on the back of my hand was "I already have a fragrance that smells like this, Guerlain Heritage".

Racquets is a good fragrance if you haven't got Heritage, it shares some of the same qualities - but Heritage is the better of the two.
14th April, 2008
Racquets Formula, in my opinion, is both mis-named and mis-classified. “Racquets” suggests a summery-crisp green scent, a sporty tonic to be splashed on after a tennis match at Lords. Penhaligon classifies Racquets as a citrus scent. Having tried it, I would say it is a semi-oriental with minimal citrus. It has rich spices and an equally rich amber/powder backbone. There is only about 5 seconds worth of citrus at the beginning. Those citrus notes are immediately softened and immersed in the florals. Lovely spices and pleasant wood notes are noticeable, in particular the frankincense interacts well with the cedar. It is a complex and lovely scent, with many layers and stages. The dry-down has beautiful moments, as the vetiver mingles with musk and incense. But it still retains a powdery-amber aspect, thus it is a little too rich for my liking.
09th April, 2008
This is a most unusual scent - oceanic, powdery, with a marshmallow-like air (clove and a bit of rose). Unique, interesting, but not for constant wear. This is best as a seasonal scent.

14 notes:

Top: Geranium, Lemon, Lavender, Bergamot, Lime
Middle: Rose, Ylang Ylang, Clove, Cedarwood
Base: Musk, Amber, Oakmoss, Vetiver, Frankincense
11th January, 2008 (last edited: 13th July, 2011)
The_good_life has it pegged -- this is a lovely and expensive English soap. I'm surprised as hell that this fine, soapy chypre came out in only 1989, as it has a distinctly Edwardian feel to it.

Distinctive, crisp, pure class.

Easily the longest lasting (along with Hammam Bouquet) of the Penhaligons frags for men.
09th January, 2008
If you fashion yourself a prep-master with a Range Rover; a golden retriever; a Ralph Lauren lifestyle, or wish to have such things in the future, Racquets is a better option for a scent than the RL stuff which is too obvious. A wonderful 25-40 year old man's fragrance with all the right connections and associations. Very nice, classy, subtle. Hard to explain.

19th November, 2007
Citrus-herbacity plus clove (and vetiver?), together with the floral heart, make for a very soapy smell, whch befits the athletic associations of the name Racquets. A quality soap, what the boys shower with after a lawn tennis match at an exclusive club. But soap nonetheless, which is not among my favorites fragrance styles. In these early stages Racquets reminds me of Beene's Bowling Green, a coniferous chypre with a stronger citrus opening, but a similar herbaceous soapy freshness. However, the more pronounced clove in Racquets already announces what is to come. That is what makes this one interesting and somewhat unusual: sporty freshness being blended with spicy oriental components of cedar, moss, amber and frankincense. I would not have payed retail for this, but it is a good one, especially for the inbetween weather of April or October.
01st August, 2007
I suppose my opinion on this one is influenced by the fact that this was a blind buy( at deep discount) that smelled nothing like I expected it to. It is not at all unpleasant, but it is a bit heavy, especially for a fragrance that Penhalgion's describes as "Light,refreshing" and a fragrance that "goes marvellously with the glow and exhilaration of exercise." This would be all well and good if your exercise of choice is skiing or hiking in snow shoes across the frozen tundra, but if you are actually playing some indoor or outdoor racketed sport I would suggest you look elsewhere for your fragrance needs. Orange, geranium, clove, and musk are the predominant notes here and while fairly long lasting this scent doesn't come back at all with heat and sweat.
13th July, 2007
Unisex, spicy, sweet, warm, fairly fresh and definitely an oriental of high quality. For anytime wear. NOBOBY will smell the samel as you as its not a bestseller and is extremely unique.
17th June, 2007
I got a sample from Penhaligons shop in Windsor. Since I've never been a fonder of spicy scents, Racquets was doomed. After several consecutive days, I decided to give it up. Unlike other Penhaligons perfumes, its lasting power is quite impressive but it's too heady and oriental for me.
13th October, 2005