Thursday, January 14, 2010

Hammam Bouquet

You have to love the tactile pleasures of Penhaligon's packaging. Even the sound of the name feels right. It rolls right off the tongue. I suppose I'm on a kick lately, noticing these things more, though not yet enough to make anything but sweeping generalizations about my taste.

I do often notice that bottles considered lovely by others are sometimes downright annoyances to me. I try to picture who must have designed them, and what on earth made them think this would appeal to a buyer of perfume. What made them think this would look good on a vanity? All I've ever thought when I see a Bond No.9 bottle is "gingerbread man"--and I'm that rare thing, a Bond No.9 defender. I like the perfumes enough to disregard the way holding them in my hand feels (in short, all wrong), but I resent that someone somewhere felt confident enough in this design to build an entire line on it. It seems like some kind of assault on my intelligence. I really don't get the draw of the Givenchy Organza design, either, to give another random example, and not just because you have to book end it with sturdier specimens if you intend to display it. In all the hours designers spend thinking about these bottles, do they ever stand one up on a bureau to see how it feels about heights?

Penhaligon's gets me almost every time, right down to the box, and for whatever reason, Hammam Bouquet is one of my favorites. The fragrances I end up loving seem to fall generally under two categories. There are those I love the moment I smell them, and those I'm massively disappointed by at first. Hammam Bouquet was one of the latter. Typically, these are things I've read about, so my expectations are high--and highly specific. It takes a while to adjust. I didn't know what to make of Hammam for a long time. I almost gave it away during the first six months I owned it. I bought it un-sniffed. I was attracted by the promise of rose and the prospect of yet another contender for the ideal dandy must-have.

I couldn't figure out where the rose was. I still can't, but at this point I'm not looking for it. It feels more theoretical than anything, when I start trying to discern it. What I got at first and for a long time was the kind of whiff given off when a rather hefty fellow plops down onto a vinyl seat, the cushion of which promptly farts from the pressure. Let's call this plastic flatulence. Nostalgic I suppose, but surely more suitable as a room spray. I've never been to any Turkish bathhouses, and Hammam is said to evoke one, so that was no help in placing this fragrance.

Knowing there's lavender in the mix makes a little more sense of things. Cedar and Sandalwood illuminate things further. The first is robust in a way I recognize in Hammam. All three can be slightly astringent and/or medicinal in their own ways, producing something of a clamor on the skin, and I now think, having spent more time getting farted on, so to speak, that what I took to be vinyl is that medicinal astringency. Hammam mellows after a while but always retains the signature of that bold beginning. It can feel contradictory, refined but in a crude, caricatured way, harsh and rich simultaneously, a little brash, a little refined. I believe the florals must give it this more laid back counterpoint to the energy of the woods and lavender. Even iris, though, reinforces this contrapuntal attitude; cool and camphorous on the one hand, buttery smooth on the other.

And what of that packaging? It shouldn't matter, you say? Maybe not. But fragrance is a complex enterprise for me, something pretty special. I like that quality to extend as far into the experience as possible, and it helps to know someone else is thinking about it that way too, helping indulge and sustain a fantasy in every way possible.


Carol said...

I had to order a sample based on your post. Thank you!

Brian said...

Oh good Frida. I hope you like it. What kind of things do you knit?

Carol said...

I'll let you know when it arrives!

I knit lots of hats and socks, just started sweaters, do knitting for charity too (hats and socks!). Do you knit?

Hey I see you're a Purdy fan - I recently finished "On Glory's Course" - are you originally a midwesterner? The only other person I know who likes Purdy is also from Ohio like me!