Penhaligon's Hammam Bouquet
There are two perfumes for men that I’ve been forced to defend for almost 20 years. Friends, and strangers, to my face, have called these two fragrances “dandyish” “old fashioned” “of another time” and (for me, the worst) “grandfatherly.” There’s nothing wrong with grandfathers; my maternal grandfather was a sweetie who spent his leisure time reading and collecting stamps; he ran a small, country general store, geared more towards small talk and checkers than merchandise, and he smelled of vanilla, pipe tobacco and beagles. What bothers me about the “grandfatherly” adjective when it comes to describing perfume is this: “grandfatherly” implies a scent is passé. What are the two perfumes I’m always ready to defend? Guerlain Mouchoir de Monsieur and today’s review subject, Penhaligon’s Hammam Bouquet. Both fragrances are wearable and interesting; it just takes a worldly, confident, quirky, youthful (in attitude above all else) and witty man to pull them off (and to tell the truth — 98 percent of the people I’ve heard disparage Mouchoir de Monsieur and Hammam Bouquet are not qualified to wear them).
Hammam Bouquet was created in London in 1872 by William Penhaligon and it contains lavender, bergamot, rose, cedar wood, iris, jasmine, amber, musk and sandalwood. I bought my first bottle of Hammam Bouquet 18 years ago this month for a trip to Paris. Hammam Bouquet scented every experience on that trip: our red, red, RED hotel room on the Place des Vosges, an early-morning visit to Sainte Chapelle, walking through the Luxembourg Gardens during a snow flurry, drooling over, not the food of Paris, but Marie Antoinette’s nécessaire in the Louvre, and my unexpected ‘meeting’ with a gorgeous, glossy black pug on the Rue de Rivoli (touching his chubby body and smelling his pug breath reminded me of my pug, Diego, back in L.A. — at the boarding kennel for the first time). I was even wearing Hammam Bouquet as I went into a perfume shop to purchase the newly released Chanel ÉGOÏSTE. Hammam Bouquet’s “work” (its lasting effect on me) was performed by Paris and the scent of Hammam Bouquet always reminds me of that city and my 1990 trip.
Hammam Bouquet is a quiet and relaxed-regal perfume. Hammam’s “bouquet” is comprised of soft rose, warm bergamot and powdery iris (lavender has never stood out on my skin). Hammam Bouquet’s dusty, barely-there cedar, and its hints of sandalwood and musk keep the flowers from becoming too feminine. Hammam Bouquet feels “dressy” to me; when I wear it I feel the least I can do is put on some beautiful, and highly polished, shoes and a sports jacket. Hammam Bouquet has a slightly melancholy air; it would be perfect for a character in Proust — a man troubled by the passing years, the appearance of a gray hair in his beard, the aging of beloved friends, the speeding up of time near…"The End”.
I love the scent of coats, sweaters, gloves and scarves I’ve worn on a “Hammam Bouquet” day; the lingering fragrance of the perfume smells like a well-appointed dressing room with the scents of fine talcum powder, classic potpourri, and fresh Eau de Cologne wafting in the air. If you don’t admire “lovely,” “quiet,” “Old World-English” fragrances…sniff elsewhere.
I used to wear Hammam Bouquet in (the now-discontinued) extrait form. This year, I was happy to smell a perfume that reminds me of Hammam Bouquet extrait — Amouage Lyric Woman. In its opening and mid-phases, Lyric Woman smells very much like Hammam Bouquet extrait but unfortunately, as the base notes come to the fore, Lyric Woman becomes too feminine for me and loses touch with Hammam Bouquet.
A modern-day homage to Hammam Bouquet, Elixir was created by perfumer Olivia Giacobetti and contains ‘eucalyptus steam’, cardamom, orange blossom absolute, white cedar, red Turkish rose absolute, Egyptian jasmine absolute, cinnamon leaves, mace, rosewood, benzoin, tonka bean, vanilla, incense, red sandalwood and guaiac.
Elixir starts with the scents of dusty spices (cardamom, mace and cinnamon-clove) stored in a cedar-rosewood box. Almost at once, the “steamy” eucalyptus note appears and keeps the spices from becoming too cozy. Eucalyptus provides a sharp aroma of sweat emanating off a clean body. Elixir’s flowers are less apparent than the floral notes in Hammam Bouquet but you will detect a ‘desiccated roses’ aroma. During Elixir’s mid-phase, the spice-sweat accord becomes almost food-y (or put another way: “sex in the steam room-y”) before becoming ashy. Elixir’s dry down produces a ‘tranquil’ benzoin incense-tonka-vanilla harmony.
Elixir is the scent of a man steaming in the hammam; Hammam Bouquet is the scent of a man leaving the hammam — well washed, fragranced and powdered, hair glittering from a dab of rosy pomade. I like both fragrances and owning one does not preclude owning the other…they are very different perfumes.
Penhaligon's Hammam Bouquet and Elixir are available in 50 ml and 100 ml and cost $80-$110. For buying information, see the listing for Penhaligon's under Perfume Houses. As of this posting date, the popularity of Elixir has made it “temporarily unavailable” at the Penhaligon's website; I for one am happy Penhaligon’s has a “hit.”