Patchouli is a very polarizing perfume ingredient, partly due to its associations. Some people really, really hate this smell……




For those coming of age in the sixties and seventies, inexpensive, musky ‘love oil’ patchoulis were of course the smell of unwashed dope-smoking hippies and the headshops in which they congregated – the scent effectively masking the smell of marijuana……a penetrating, dirty-black, vine-like odour that got in the nose hairs and stayed there. Perfume forums discussing any patchouli scent even now usually state whether it is ‘headshop’ or not, as if this were the worst crime in perfumanity, as though the Summer Of Love were something to be quite ashamed of…… hairy,  filthy hippy.











For Eighties kids like me, growing up near Birmingham with my excited Saturday visits to the Oasis underground ragmarket in the city centre, ‘patchouli’ was the acrid, cheap and very crude smell of scary Goths and their Sisters Of Mercy leather; their Sex Gang Children records and piercings, terrifying and compelling at the same time as I glanced at them nervously while looking through the record racks for my latest 12″s.  Their smell (like decomposing corpses freshly interred, then suddenly yanked out of the soil from a dark, dank cemetery), if they ever brushed past me with that brittle, back-combed Siouxsie hair, made me shudder.




















I don’t think I really came to love the note – now in my absolute top five perfume ingredients, until a dalliance with a Frenchman I had in Marseilles one summer, a rather pretentious chap (‘Je suis le patchouli’) who nevertheless had a genius ability for mixing different scents, even ones I would have considered utterly incompatible. On the night in question, the handsome boy came towards me through a haze of dry ice at whatever club it was, but it was the scent of him that reached me first, that truly clinched the deal. The Kenzo Pour Homme I knew. But Angel? And what was that other, divine smell that tipped the layering into genius? Whatever it was, it blew me away. And of course I found out minutes later, after a kiss with the stranger, that it was Patchouli by L’Occitane, a gorgeous scent, a patchouli that had such emotion within it  for its violet, clove-rose, and powdered base….



Fast forward a few months and a letter from him came to my flat in London. I opened it, and have honestly in my life never had such paralyzingly strong emotional reactions from a scent      (he himself was not the issue…it was that sense of triggering, of time and place and being transported that so amazed me, the incredible power of perfume to punch you in the gut to another place in an instant, especially when it smelled so beautiful)….




Thinking back on his scent-combining, though, I suppose it was more obvious than I had thought: Angel and Kenzo are both founded on patchouli ( though I still think mixing the oceanic and the vanillic in such an impactful way was very clever on his part), and it seems now that I was destined to love this note to death (sandalwood and I will never be friends: vetiver is good for those days when I want to feel more elegant – Maitre Gantier et Parfumeur’s Racine the perfect scent for this mood), but I am ultimately more of a down to earth creature at heart and patchouli feels so very right to me, with its lingering, earthen smell that evokes cold, wet soil and the inexorable pull of the grave……. yet also that strenuous heat and warmth, that octaved, bone-dry wood….it is a smell that is mysterious, spiritual, and erotic simultaneously, and the fact that a lot of other people hate it is fine with me as I have always been something of a belligerent olfactory terrorist.





Patchouli went out of fashion for a long time, but with Angel, Coco Mademoiselle, and the endless list of smell-a-likes in the recent patchwave, it has long been making a comeback – too much so if you ask me – in its current, chemically remixed, attentuated form à la Tom Ford White Patchouli that smells very fash but lacks the true, beautiful liquor of those slowly fermented Indonesian leaves. Personally, though I am a huge amber and oriental lover, on the whole I don’t need my patchouli softened with sugar or cream: no Montale Patchouli Leaves, Patchouli Patch, Profumum Patchouly, Ombre Fauve, ‘Intriguant’ Patchouli or Patchouli Antique for me: I like it raw. Either a really good, aged essential oil, or else something rich and dark like the sweaty mechanic smell of Patchouli by Lorenzo Villoresi; the original, aerial Patchouli by L’Artisan Parfumeur- whose discontinuation was a crime against true patchoulists – or the rich, Catholic blackness of Patchouli by Santa Maria Novella. Lucky Scent, that infernal torturer of my brain with their treasure troves of so many perfumes I want I could lose my mind, has some patchoulis I like the sound of in their tantalizing stockrooms, such as Patchouly Indonesiano by Farmecia SS Annunziata, but for the time being I will stick, very happily, with my beloved Borneo 1834 by magicians Christopher Sheldrake and Serge Lutens.













I should qualify whatever I say about Borneo, and its position in my pantheon of holy grails, by saying that I do, in fact, remix it myself, sacrilegious and extravagant as this may sound. It is so almost perfect for me, but it just needs that extra dose of good patchouli essential oil, stored in the dark for a few months (I have had four bottles so far and done this), to reach what I feel is perfection, to take it away from its vague intimations of powdery orientals like the original Emeraude by Coty. Otherwise, it is perfect, and I cannot live without it, with its black-widow, chocolate-bean magic;  its musty, enveloping thickness. On a winter’s day, in a long black felt coat, it is heaven, but it also works in small dabs on a beard in summertime after a shower; and clean clothes, and out for fun somewhere on an August night; so dark; so dashing.




I also love the romantic story behind the scent, of how in the year 1834 the first patchouli-scented shawls made their way to Europe by ship from Java; how they set off a craze, and how this idea was translated into a perfumed story……

…that strange, and very original, top-note introduction of sharp green galbanum, cardamom and camphor (used on the ships to ward off the silk-eating moths), and which always reminds of Japan as it used a lot here in incense and medicines: then, the intense, dark Sumatran patchouli smothered deliciously in that blanket of dark, unsweetened cacao absolute and licorice..the hint of powder and dust, like the dry beating of caged moths’ wings…..




What is astonishing in this scent is the complete lack of sweetness; the absence of vanilla or sucrose….this really is no Angel. The result of the inspired arranging of these seemingly irrational ingredients is a brooding but delicious scent with anisic overtones that I find mesmerizing, a scent that feels so comfortable on my skin and clothes it has become one of my favourite perfumes of all time.


Filed under Patchouli, Perfume Reviews

39 responses to “PATCHOULI PATCHOULY

  1. seaglasslvr

    Perfumers Workshops Patchouli was the only Patchouli I could tolerate… too woodsy, dark and damp otherwise!

  2. ginzaintherain

    I have never smelled that one……but I think this is one of the ultimate love/hate ingredients in scent, and I LOVE it!

  3. Helen

    I have never known anyone wear it better. Although thinking about it, I know almost no-one else who does wear it, not in an overt way. You once gave me the most beautiful Japanese incense that you had doctored with a little patchouli, the result was stunning, it was the coolest soft earth in a box (which I still have).

  4. Helen

    And thank you for that lovely journey through patchouli.

  5. You are right.. I have smelled so many of the Patchouli’s and have actually fallen back on a few in shock.. haha.. but PW’s was sooooo good!..I wish they were still around… I think they are but only for their Tea Rose.

  6. brie

    Patchouli diluted in sweet almond oil (an unscented carrier oil) slathered all over the body makes a great moisturizer when the cold hits the Northeast and dries out my skin. It was the only “scent” I wore last fall and it left an astonishing beautiful lingering effect on my wool sweaters!
    By the way, I am having tremendous fun having discovered your blog and reading all of these posts 🙂 !!

    • ginzaintherain

      If I did that in Japan I think I would be arrested!

      And thanks Brie for the positive comments: it means a lot to me..

  7. brie

    HaHa! I had forgotten that the Japanese are quite demure with regard to their perfume choices! Ironicially, my perfume despising co-worker (who berates me for just about every scent I have worn to work) did not blink an eyelash when I wore this very strong concoction last Fall. It is actually because of her that I made my segue into essential oils for my natural blends are the only scents I can wear without having to hear her baulk (perhaps because they sit close to the skin). However, it is a blessing in disguise as I am now making blends for others at work who “pay” me in tea and chocolate (my edible obsessions 🙂 !!)
    I am curious, however, as to what is popular/acceptable in Japan? When I think of Japan the notes that come to mind are cherry blossom, osmnathus, green tea,lotus, yuzu……yet I read somewhere that rose fragrances are the most popular there which strikes me as odd, for rose can be quite overpowering.

  8. I love this review and this whole patchouli conversation. Borneo 1834 recalls for me a train journey to the coast on a visit to Japan with dear friends some time ago. Patchouli has always been a staple in my perfumerie, and I spent much of my teenage years reeking of 99p Spiritual Sky -a dark brown pungent scent that stained your wrists browny-yellow (not unlike iodine) and announced ‘presence’ at every saunter and turn. In my youthful mopes around ‘the seaside town they forgot to bomb’ draped in waistcoats and purple-tasseled garments, the patchoulie formed an appropriate accompaniment to graveyard reading of Keats, and long conversations with disgruntled hippies pondering their middle years in a haze of dope. Now I am in my middle-years I can relate to them and their endless cups of tea, rows with spouses, and meditative fags at dawn. The poshest patchoulie I ever had the pleasure to spritz however was Il Profumo Patchoulie Noir. I can recommend this wholeheartedly.

    • ginzaintherain

      Good lord: graveyard readings of Keats – we are seriously on the same leaf. Please read my Caron Violette Precieuse review immediately!

  9. Cath

    Borneo and Coromandel are probably the only patchoulis I can wear. They have that earthy thing, and are not sweetened. Thanks to your review I now understand where my problem with patch lies: it’s not well blended or used in many perfumes. TBH, I tried Midnight Poison Elixir, patch with caramel, and I HATED it. Thank you for opening my eyes! I don’t dislike patchouli, I just need to find/wear one that is purer.

  10. brie

    “the incredible power of perfume to punch you in the gut to another place in an instant” this is brilliant….you have this uncanny way of putting into words what I feel in my psyche! May I use that quote in one of my posts?

    And as a child of the 70s I ADORE patchouli and will often wear it straight up….one day at work I was accused of smelling like “earthy mushrooms”!

  11. Tora

    Be still my beating heart…. You had me at layering Borneo with patchouli oil, which until this moment, I thought I was the only one who did that. From everything I have read of yours, I believe I would greatly enjoy your aromatic presence. Your riff on Vetiver Tonka pops into my mind, right now, and how strongly I identified with your perceptions. I love the way you smell. Period. Oh, and P.S., have you tried Mazzolari’s Patchouli?

    • I find this idea wonderful, loving someone’s smell on the other side of the world, and am glad also that I am not the only one who feels that Borneo needs JUST that little bit extra. It is even better when you actually macerate the oil in with the perfume….daunting I know but sometimes these things just must be done!

      • arline

        How much do you put in? I have not tried Borneo, but now I want to!!!!!

        I do love patchouly, and often put it in the crook of my elbow, with other fragrances, especially Chanel Coromandel.

        Patchouly works better on my skin, when I blend other oils with it. I appreciate those who can wear it alone, without abandon and great success. I know a few who can.

        I also use sandalwood. I hope one day, you will find the love for that beauty.

        Where do you order your patchouly?

      • Hi Arline

        I just get the best patchouli oil I can find in whatever aromatherapy shop I come across, but the longer you leave the oil in there the better it gets.

        I imagine you smell splendid with the natural oil and Coromandel together!

    • I have never smelled that one: isn’t it one of those expensive ones with hardly any quantity? What is it like?

      • Tora

        It is my favorite patchouli perfume of the moment. It is soft and deep at the beginning, and then honey and amber make it softer and sweeter. It is $175 for 100 ml. I just got a 5ml decant from STC. I have been collecting bottles of patchouli oil since the 80’s. I think I have 12 or so. Out of those, there are 3 that are perfect, and no perfume can compare. I also love Christina by Hilde Soliani, patchouli-vanilla heaven.

  12. Katy

    Beautiful, evocative and brimming with feeling. After a day in the Temple of Souless Joy, this is what we call the bookstore, patchouli was wonderful to come home to! I love dirty patch! I find Angel is quite earthy, the gourmond top burns off quickly and I am left with the masculine, patchy base. One of the secrets to wearing Angel, so others do not smell you as soon as your car pulls into the parking lot, is to spray one generous squirt on your forearm and dab that around. There is a metaphor about the half life of plutonium and the persistence of Mugler fragrances, but, alas, I cannot find it right now. I love Davidoff Zino, which is a really beautiful patchouli rose and the bespoke fragrance of Johnny Depp. Borneo sounds fantastic. I must order a sample.

    • Thank you for your fascinating reply. I can also wear Angel in the way you describe and I agree it definitely works best slightly muted.

      As for Borneo, be warned that it is quite weird, and it actually took me a few times of wearing before I suddenly ‘got’ it (while in the cinema, constantly sniffing my arm throughout…). It is dark and dusty and strange (and gorgeous).

      I know nothing about Zino and am now deeply intrigued!

  13. Lilybelle

    Nothing – but nothing – stops me in my tracks like the scent of patchouli brushing past…“mysterious, spiritual, and erotic simultaneously”, precisely. I think it has a kind of *magickal* force, it is so arresting. I am like Pepe Le Pew floating on air, transported by scent, eyes closed. My Mister hates patchouli. His first wife wore it, and she worked in her family’s horse business, and apparently all the horsey people wore patchouli, which to me makes perfect sense in that environment – but now he can’t stand the stuff. Sometimes I indulge in a dab or two of strong patchouli oil, but I have to wait until he’s not around. Today, I’m wearing Grès Cabaret, which is a light, refreshing rose scent with a hint of patchouli. Do you know Cabaret? I love it. Rose + patchouli are wonderful but I have never experimented with layering VIOLET + patchouli. I’ll have to try that sometime. The flashy, classy, fashionable, fancy, niche patchouli is usually wasted on me. Not that I don’t admire them sometimes, but the plain old dirty hippie stuff is what I really like. Though…Keiko Mecheri’s Patchoulissime was very pretty. I still have some in a decant. And I’ve never tried Molinard’s patchouli but I hear it is a good one and I have a fondness for the house of Molinard. I must try Borneo 1824 sometime. My goodness, you make it sound good! I love the idea of bitter cocoa powder + patchouli, though I think I’d rather smell it on someone other than myself, brushing past. 😉

    • The Molinard was deeply popular in my family. On a strange whim I bought it for my dad, who to my surprise loved it (as did my mum). Then my brother came home one weekend and loved it so much he took it back down with him to London (‘stealing’ in our family is not such a huge crime usually, but on this occasion it caused such a ruckus that mum demanded he bring it back immediately). I personally can’t wear it as it has a very old school musk backdrop, but I do think it is extremely elegant.

      I also as it happens bought Cabaret for my sister. Quite a strange scent I think. Not quite rich enough, but I do like that sly rose patchouliness….

      As for patchouli and violet, I find it a VERY natural combination. In fact, if I were to commission a perfume ( I have tried to make this for myself with varying success) it would include some fancy rose absolutes, some great, aged patchouli, violet, clove, possibly iris, and Japanese hinoki and hiba smokey cedar oils. This is a combination that hasn’t really been explored but I know it smells lovely.

      Borneo is very much a love or hate it thing, but once you are on the former side you feel as if you could practically drink the stuff. I think I have got through 5 bottles so far. Will probably wait until winter until the next bottle, though as I am actually going to Indonesia this year….

      • Ginza, you are beguiling me into rethinking an entire note. I love the earthy, the mortal, and the peculiar, and so how can I have thought that I hated patch-heavy perfumes? I am camped out at the hospice with a family member, far from the possibility of actually sniffing anything, and so I’m mentally recreating the patchouli-based perfumes that I’ve rejected in the past and thinking “Wow. I might like that now.” I am even going to order a sample of Borneo. I reserve the right to continue my well-founded and correct hatred of melon notes and aquatic notes, until you write reviews that make me waver in my certainty. Which, I fear, you eventually will, and then what will happen to my poor wish list?

      • Don’t reckon we”ll ever get there with the melon, as Eau Emotionelle, and especially Apres La Mousson could actually make me throw up my dinner on the spot. The only only melon I can cope with is the deliciously subtle addition to vintage Diorella which as The Dandy knows, is sheer perfume genius when fused with lemon.

        Aquatics… know I am not a fan ultimately, but sometimes when they are done brilliantly like the original Kenzo Pour Homme, they find their place. Glad to be of assistance in help taking your mind off things….

        Hope your family isn’t suffering too much.

  14. I would just love to fall into a vat of patchoulie right now. Yep, just splash right on in there, in a huge vat, and float on my back breathing it in. Remind me NEVER to do ANYTHING academic again Neil. Love you xx

  15. After reading this wonderful post on Patchouli i noticed that there was no mention of Faroy Patchouli. Which was very popular in the 80’s. Faroy Patchouli is a unique blend that will keep you wanting more everytime you come across this aroma. Since i own a candle factory i have smelled every Patchouli known to man and this Patchouli blend stood out and kept me wanting more. It was a must for my candle shop. If you love Patchouli you will love this unique blend. We carry this fragrance in all our products and you can purchase as much as you want at Trinity Candle Factory.

  16. Johnnie

    Would you mind telling us how much patchouli oil you usually add to your Borneo? It would be helpful as a guide.
    Also, how many bottles have you gone through now? By the way, I love your blog! It’s a poetic journal of the senses.

    • That is exactly what I hope it is for people – so this is wonderful to hear. Thank you.

      I only got through about four bottles of Borneo but it has become prohibitively expensive now in Tokyo and I don’t think you can open those new black bottles anyway. I am over the top by nature so put TONS of patchouli in.

      I recommend trying out different patchouli oils first as they vary in quality and in dry down; the last thing you want to do is put a crap patchouli in that will wreck the blend. Try them together before you waste the perfume, and if in doubt, just put a few drops in. It’s a naughty thing to be suggesting to anybody, really!

      • Johnnie

        Actually, I was happy to discover that the new Skyscraper bottles have both removable tops and powerful sprayers!

        What I have been doing is putting about 2 milliliters of my favorite aged patchouli oils into one of Santa Maria Novella’s compact atomizers and topping it off with the Borneo. That way I can tinker with the blend.

        So far I am pleased 😌

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