Hammam Bouquet by Penhaligon's is a beautiful, intense rose perfume for men, which offers a primitivist charm, mainly due to the sheer energy unleashed by the otto of rose used in the scent, while being undeniably elegant at the same time.
As the rose blooms and then lightens, freshening up with the lavender - and some other aromatic herbs - the composition starts feeling like an unusual rose fougère.
The perfume retains a somewhat ancient, exotic-in-time cachet; it was, in 1872, the first fragrance created by the founder of Penhaligon's (Est. 1870) William Henry Penhaligon, a barber to the chic London establishment, who debuted his career by working at the fashionable Turkish Baths on Jermyn Street, after which the scent is named.
Another story which circulates is that it was created for, or inspired by a Turkish sultan. The scent is said to have been inspired by the characteristic smells of "sweat and sulphur of the Hammam". It was to remain W.H. Penhaligon's favorite perfume.
Hammam Bouquet was more recently re-released in 2003 as the masculine counterpart to a then newly launched feminine perfume, Malabah...
This perfume, from an age when florals were considered manly, reveals why. The composition opens on a powerful, pungent, almost violent alcoholic rose with nuances of plum, and the moiré sensation of a deep color purple, like the light reflected on the skins of dark grapes and plums; there is also a certain natural rawness.
The scent is soon warmed up by some powdery ambergris and "tenderized" with some soft orris, while the bergamot in the top notes stresses a brisk, almost aggressive personality together with balsamic lavender and aromatic herbs.
The base which is perceptible in the background feels woodsy being reminiscent of vintage bases in those perfumes of the 20th century that still contained oakmoss; the sandalwood in the dry-down feels sensual, exotic, precious - in other words, gentlemanly. The long dry-down is all roses, musk and civet - just lovely and even addictive; we'll accept the word "haunting" that Penhaligon's suggest. The "sweat" mentioned above is represented by musk and civet, the "sulphur" reference (from hot water heaters) explains a slightly strange, discordant, difficult to place sensation in the beginning of the development, based in part on an accord which includes an airy lavender.
Hammam Bouquet exudes charm. The monolithic aspect of the otto or attar of roses used in it signs a strong presence.
It behaves like a biological man born in the 21st century, but betraying the temperament of a primitive. Women can wear it of course, but it lets out a definite masculine aura. And if it seems to allude to potential feminine wearers they would have to have to be of the ilk that would have been able to wield a sword in order to defend their homes in the middle ages.
This is a virile, sensuous and dry rose perfume, if ever there was one, and a beautiful homage paid to the rose. And, yes, this rose vibrates (see post on Comme Des Garçons Rose).
Head notes: lavender, bergamot; heart notes: rose otto, cedarwood, orris, jasmine; base notes: amber, musk, sandalwood.
Available for $70 and $90. It is included as a sample in the Scent Library, $20 (10 scents to sample from).