Penhaligon’s Hammam Bouquet & Elixir ~ fragrance reviews

Penhaligon's Hammam Bouquet

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.

Penhaligon's Elixir

Penhaligon's Elixir

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.”

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Haven't had the opportunity to sniff Hammam Bouquet, but Elixir was a hit with me – I ordered it immediately from Luckyscent. To me it's like a spicy version of Passage d'Enfer.

  2. Anonymous says:

    cazaubon: I think a full bottle of Elixir is in my future also….

  3. Anonymous says:

    Oh K, you know I can't resist a review mentioning Diego! And Egoiste, which I wore just yesterday would you believe! :)

    Both HB and Elixir sound beautiful from your description. Not only am I NOT one to dismiss frags as “grandfatherly”, I actually adore rose/rosewood notes, so these two are going straight on my 'to try' list. And, seeing as your words made me a little sad, it seems I'm ripe for some Proust.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Ah Dusan: yes, some Proust, a dab of Hammam Bouquet behind your and Meda's ears…looking out a frosty windowpane contemplating the New Year…. I predict you will love Hammam Bouquet.

    Hope you and yours have a great holiday season!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Hahaha! Love that visual but, you know, I'm not really sure Meda would :D

    Wishing you and yours snuggly and happy holidays too, Kevin! xo

  6. Anonymous says:

    Kevin, your reviews are always so evocative and yummy. Elixir is on my “to-try” list already but I think I may have to add Hammam. Even as a woman I don't object to smelling like a well-groomed man! And nothing wrong with grandfatherly! I have Old Spice on my shopping list for that very reason – I just have to add tobacco and beer and I'll have my gramps in a nutshell (sounds like yours smelled really good).
    Is Santa bringing you any perfume this Christmas?

  7. Anonymous says:

    Tama: HINTS have been dropped…we'll have to wait a week to see what arrives under the tree!

  8. Anonymous says:

    I recently read The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford, and as I like to imagine what scent fictional characters might wear, I thought of Hammam Bouquet for Edward Ashburnam, the good soldier of the title (he always knew the right thing to wear…)

  9. Anonymous says:

    damselfly: it IS fun to imagine what perfumes real or imaginary people would wear….

  10. Anonymous says:

    Kevin, as nice as Hammam Bouquet sounds, you make me long for a fragrance that smells like vanilla, pipe tobacco and beagles!

  11. Anonymous says:

    Patty: that scent COULD be a hit with a select group don't you think? My grandfather's beagles slept on fresh hay and dried pine needle beds…their fun smelled wonderful.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Kevin, thanks for this lovely review. My husband and I both love Hammam Bouquet and Penhaligon's in general. This makes me want to try Elixer, too.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Jen DF: you're welcome…and hope you like Elixir.

  14. Anonymous says:

    It was a great article, Kevin! thanks for a nice read!!!

  15. Anonymous says:

    Thanks IrisNobile…enjoy the holidays.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Kevin, What a great review and fun to read. My favorite line: your comment about your Grandfather's smell of “vanilla, pipe tobacco and beagles.” What a happy mental picture that evokes! I already wanted to try the new Elixir, but now I must!

  17. Anonymous says:

    And yet ANOTHER two to add to the MUST TRY list. Thanks Kev!

  18. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Fragrant Memories…beagles were a big part of my childhood. Enjoy Elixir!

  19. Anonymous says:

    As always you are MOST welcome C!

  20. Anonymous says:

    OMG you make this sound so good I want to take a bath in it, a wonderful article thank you so much. BTW I adore pugs :)

  21. Anonymous says:

    Kevin, this is so personal. What I love about perfume reviewing these days are the personal stories that inspired scent memories. Wonderfully evocative writing yet again!

  22. Anonymous says:

    Jett: Elixir WOULD make a great bath product…Pugs Are Tops!

  23. Anonymous says:

    luccia: thank you…it's necessary to include the personal many times…especially when I have a long-term relationship with a perfume like Hammam Bouquet.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Coincidence: I sampled Elixir today, and applied right as I left the gym, in a flurry of cinnamon, roses and Giacobetti's skillful magic swirling all around me. This scent easily veers towards holy grail terrritory for me – I think it's exquisite.

    I likened it, on Basenotes this a.m., to Baie de Genievere by Creed and Egoiste – just more cinnamon and rose prominent.

    Oddly, I have never smelled Hammam Bouquet (no particular reason, actually), and I own no full bottles of Penhaligon's scents. But this one, is so easy to love.

    And can I say that the red ribbon and the way it's tied at the top of the bottle is quite eyecatching. A few guys on BN were making lewd comments about it, but I think it's regal and very British looking. Very Savile Row, if you will. ;)

  25. Anonymous says:

    Mike: DO get your hands on some Hammam Bouquet…you must sniff it. I like the Elixir bottle too…in one photo there's a glass globe on top of the bottle and the online photos are hard to read because of the ribbon. I'll find out soon enough…a bottle will be mine!

  26. Anonymous says:

    Kevin you're a man of immaculate taste I have to say – read my comments on Penhaligon's in the bang-for-buch niche Friday poll (before I'd realised you'd written this. Doh!)

    Hamman Bouquet I have come to slightly be in awe of over time. The more I wear it – and I wear it a lot, I try to restrain myself to days when I just want to treat myself – the more I realise just how beautiful it is. And it IS a very male scent, disporting elegance and class and refinement whiles carrying with it an ageless and timeless beauty.

    I adore Elixir and have been foaming at the mouth about it ever since getting a preview bottle of it six months or so ago.

    I love the drydown which is where you start (I think) to notice the rose a bit more. I some times lightly mist HB over the top just to amplify the rose a tad (it's just me, I like rose notes!).

    Great reviews Kevin and I agree with you all the way down the line on these.

    Can we have more Penhaligon's fragrances on NST now please?

  27. Anonymous says:

    HDS1963:Glad to hear from another Hammam Bouquet fan. I got a bunch of Penhaligon's samples recently so will be exploring the line come the new year…several fragrances I have not tried in YEARS and YEARS.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Thanx Kevin for this review! HB is as far as I know the first ever men's perfume in a modern sense still in production today (Though I remember, when I said this before, you mentioned some older American fragrance some of your presidents used to wear…).
    I recently got Luca Turin's perfume guide and was surprised he rates it only mediocre (***), saying it must have been gorgeous but nowadays the ingredients were too expensive to make it work properly (still he says it's very wearable). But i find his rating pretty irrational anyway. In this case I just fear that his Perfume Guide is so influential it might have an influence on sales… which in view of most of his judgements would probably rather be a good thing.
    This is one of the most original men's scents I know and—shame on me—I still don't own it (I'm surviving on sample vials). I used to think have the same g-word association, but now I think—as I'm not really looking my age and I'm avoiding the English look—I should really get and wear it. I think I can avoid the “old Englishman” air of the dusty roses.
    The rose is so shockingly strong in this—sends me to the seventh heaven. It's really rare to get such a flower bomb for men that on top of it actually smells absolutely masculine! And all this medicinal arabic spicyness. And its DRY, real dry. It almost makes you cough smelling it; As powdery as you can get. Absolutely stunning! I hope they never discontinue it. I'm afraid it does not sell too well, so let's all spread the message: This is unique stuff! And good value.
    I remember you mentioning this HB-Paris connection before: it makes me smile that you wore this epitome of Victorian England on your first trip to Paris! And you mention Mouchoir de Monsieur in the same breath… The French must have been not amused ;)
    Concerning Elixir: I must say, despite an intriguing list of notes, your mentioning of a certain foodyness makes me loose interest. I'm getting bored of gourmands (waffled about it at the Infusion d'iris post, so won't repeat it here).

  29. Anonymous says:

    Oh… this looks so long. Sorry ;)

  30. Anonymous says:

    Lars: I think Hammam Bouquet has kept a pretty steady clientele over the years…if Penhaligon's got rid of it…well, it would be “outrageous”…it's always been their best and most famous product.

    HA! Mouchoir de Monsieur has associations with a trip to Spain and Portugal…again: not France. And don't think simply “foody” with Elixir…the food aspect is fleeting and “raunchy”…not the scent of a pastry shop.

    And never apologize for long comments! Enjoy the holidays.

  31. Anonymous says:

    Cheers! My impression was Blenheim Bouquet was more a seller. A friend loves it. I prefer HB by far though. It's just so different.

    I'll certainly give Elixir a sniff during the next weeks.

    It's so good if a smell brings back memories of a special trip…


  32. Anonymous says:

    Hey Kevin! Today I dropped by Galeries Lafayette in Berlin and they told me Hammam Bouquet has recently been withdrawn completely from the German market… Hope that's not a bad sign.

    Had a sniff at Elixir and yeah, it's nice. It seems to share a specific dusty spicy inscense & rose accord with HB.

  33. Anonymous says:

    Lars: famous last words but if Hammam Bouquet were dropped from Penhaligon's “list”…it would be like Chanel dropping No. 5. (But I do need a bottle anyway….so!)

  34. Anonymous says:

    Well finally got to sniff the Elixir today. All I can say is the 2009 WANT list is slowly starting to buildup for me. My hammam sample is on it's way…will let you know what I think. Ciao!

  35. marmalade says:

    Not sure I agree at all with the original review – the scent of a man? No, not at all. It’s the scent of spices yes, but to my nose it’s the scent of high quality incense, specifically frankincense. It has all the lovely cinnamon and subtle florals to round it out, but specifically I love this because it’s like freshly snuffed candle and high quality frankincense – calming, comforting, slightly medieval and nostalgic. None of that is gendered as far as I’m concerned. Or, it’s gendered if you think women should only smell like flowers!

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