Winter. The antisocial, deep pull of it.The malingering invasiveness. How it clings to you; piercing your bloodstream.Patchouli, reminding you of where you came from, and where you are going.The earth. Black, deep, wet: beyond the depths of the subconscious.
I adore patchouli, with reservations. For my Serge Luten’s classic Borneo 1834, my personal favourite, see my other piece on patchouli, Patchouli Patchouly. For a more recent and dressed up Dior take on the patchouli note, look here. For Madonna’s intriguing linkage to patchouli oil look here, but for a simple, more comprehensive look at a selection of the bona fide classics of the patchouli genre, go no further.
PATCHOULI / SANTA MARIA NOVELLA
A must-have patchouli: rich, stinging and pure, the workers at the monastic, Florentine profumeria allegedly having done their patient and diligent work for you with these sour and pungent leaves. A dark, formal preparation, an elixir: root-coloured, viscous, in the classic gold embossed bottiglia.
While Santa Maria Novella’s patchouli doesn’t show off (there are no ‘twists’ or ‘facets’ here to undermine the harmony), the Santa Maria Novella rendition of that darkest of perfumed notes is perfect for those who simply want a well balanced, elegant patchouli. Backed up with the subtle, warm, yet stern and stringent base notes typical of the house, it lingers, sumptuously, all day: a beautiful Italian equilibrium of darkness and light.
PATCHOULI LEAVES/ MONTALE
Already of legendary status among patchouli lovers, this is one of the best ‘straight’ patchoulis. If there is a problem with pure patchouli oil (which, I ultimately think is the best if you can find the right one), it is that it is sometimes much too rough and unwearable in it freshest state. You would have to stay in at home twelve hours before venturing out to get the exact stage of patchouli you were after (and this only with a good oil, they vary so much). And though not the precise balance of dry, musty and earthy I have long been after – I like it really, really earthy – this excellent blend by Montale saves you the bother of sequestering yourself in a patchouli dungeon waiting for the right moment to emerge by instead giving you an instant, fully formed, patchouli hit.
All of Montale’s perfumes are good, especially for those not interested in pale evanescence but who want their perfumes strong, erotic and proud. Patchouli Leaves is exactly that; the leaves of the patchouli plant, macerated for two years in oak tree bark. Under this fulsome melange is an ambered layer of vanilla, musk and Cystus Ladaniferous from Tibet that warms the blend (for me perhaps too much so), but rounds it, smooths it into a full fledged perfume that is sweet, replete and exotic.
PATCHOULI NOIR/ IL PROFUMO
Il Profumo is an interesting Italian niche brand which has what it claims to be a unique method of ‘osmosing’ its ingredients together: a ‘slow evaporation curve which allows a very intimate and sophisticated use of the perfume.’ All their perfumes are apparently given psychological directives; Patchouli Noir, according to the website, is ‘pervasive, decisive, antidepressant, tonic’, and it is, in fact, a peculiarly bodied, warming, musky, bodily patchouli that I find very emotive and enveloping. A chocolatey, vanillic base underlines the title note (with cedarwood and poppy), and it lasts, and lasts, and lasts, forever, on its wearer’s receiving skin.
PATCHOULI 24 / LE LABO
It’s rare to encounter a scent that hits the gut like the end of a love affair, but that’s exactly what this brilliantly original scent did to me the first time I smelled it in Paris. Once in a while a perfumer hits the jackpot with a collection of notes that cut straight to the emotional jugular, and this is it; the poignant smell of a lover gone, an ache of perfume, the perfumer taking the dark timbre of patchouli (very little – this can scarcely be called a patchouli in fact) a hint of cloves, and fused it with a beguiling, almost meaty, smoky-forest note of bonfires; Russian silver birch tar – a poignant, cruel smell, like smoked, Lapsong tea in a freezing wintery room. Fused to this strange and alluring smel is a sex-charged vanillic musk, for a very original, disturbing, and emotive patchouli of a totally different nature.
A hint of this on a lost lover’s shirt would be unendurable.
The Grasseois house of Molinard has been producing classical, impeccably made yet reasonably priced colognes and perfumes since 1849 in the old tradition, with its own flower fields, distilleries – the original artisanal methods of Provence that the town of Grasse still holds dear. And this is a very French patchouli, very much in the eau-de-cologne tradition of citrus, neroli, lavender, musk; at first glance merely delicate, refreshing, old fashioned.
Shortly though, as the day wears on, the pure, clinging scent of a very dry and well aged patchouli comes through the scent with an impeccable strength of character; staying fresh and close to the skin in a very loveable manner. Molinard’s Patchouli is an unusual scent, at once clean and conservative, mannered, yet eerily seductive.
PATCHOULI/ LORENZO VILLORESI
The great thing about the scents of Lorenzo Villoresi is their passion; fine quality materials blended in generous proportions with a deft, self assured and snarling distaste for the banal. This perfumer does, however, sometimes tend to pack quite a large number of essences into his perfumes and he is famous for his quite startling openings, his lunging preparatory overtures. His Patchouli, I find, on some days that I try it, seems smudged, perhaps, with a few too many ingredients: herbs and spices; a preponderance of dry, herbaceous lavender; vetiver; sandalwood; and warming fixatives of oakmoss and benzoin.
The resulting scent is thick, rich and strange; it disturbs with a dark, sexual power: an under-arm, animal muskiness that is very potent. A friend of mine likened this to the smell of a sweaty mechanic after a day in the garage, and I have to say it is true. This will be, for some, though, not an entirely bad thing – myself included, and I must admit I am actually thinking of buying this at some point.
There are plenty of patchoulis out there that do the typical patchouli/musk/vanilla combo for that loose-limbed, oofy, splayed-on-the-sofa thing, and these are rarely my favourites. Etro’s Patchouly is quite an original take on the theme, recognisably an oriental patchouli, but not slack, molly-coddled, or doe-eyed; rather it is a tight, airtight blend; persistent, dry, balsamic, under an arid and beautifully persistent patchouli from Java. Recommended.
PATCHOULISSIME/ KEIKO MECHERI
In Japan’s traditional folk medicine, the leaves of the patchouli plant are the best known antidote to the bite of the mamushi; a poisonous snake that lurks in the grass in mountainous zones (and in the woods near my house). But in perfumery, the Japanese are known for quiet, transparent scents, and like all Keiko Mecheri Eau de Parfums, this does not graze the feral.
Mecheri, Japanese in name but a very New York based perfumer, makes urban, stylish scents that don’t demand too much on the wearer or her public, the appeal of the brand being an instant, colourful and rich likeability. Patchoulissime (a misleading name – there is nothing extreme here) is a light, floral scent with light ambered undertones: the patchouli hazes in and out when it feels like it with a certain clean grace. This patchouli is fresh and wearable, with a restraint that will appeal to some, but not too exciting if you are, like me, a true patchouli fiend.
PATCHOULI / L’ARTISAN PARFUMEUR
If you find this somewhere, on the internet, at a fleamarket, anywhere, anywhere and you love patchouli, then please, please snap it up. Usurped by the much more compromising, less interesting (and far more commerical) Patchouli Patch that came many years later, the powers that be at L’Artisan misguidedly decided to let this haunting classic go.
L’Artisan’s patchouli was beautiful, and the best ever: earth-full, but not earth-bound. A clarified, and purified beautifully brittle vine of dry, sinuosity that trailed behind you like a a stark winter sky viewed through thick bottled glass.
Aerian, light; a dry, holy spirit.
40 responses to “A LUSTY, MUSTY SELECTION OF PATCHOULI :: : : PATCHOULI by SANTA MARIA NOVELLA + PATCHOULI LEAVES by MONTALE + PATCHOULI NOIR by IL PROFUMO + PATCHOULI 24 by LE LABO + PATCHOULI by MOLINARD + PATCHOULI by LORENZO VILLORESI + PATCHOULY by ETRO + PATCHOULISSIME by KEIKO MECHERI + PATCHOULI by L’ARTISAN PARFUMEUR”
Great reviews Neil! I told myself that I wasn’t purchasing any more perfumes this year (that means a little more than one month), but now after reading your mini-reviews (quite fun I might say), I am interested in trying a few of these.
Great reviews, Neil! Lovely to think about Patchoulie on this frosty Yorkshire morning. I adore Il Profumo Patchoulie Noir and was recently thinking of buying a bottle, having not had one since 2008. It’s very rarely on internet shopping sites and quickly came off Harvey Nichols’ shelves being replaced with Chocolate which sales people kept telling me was a ‘softer version’ (but it’s not!), It’s possibly too intense and enduring for many people – definitely a scent to commit to for a long stretch when you need a perfume as a permanent companion rather than a light fellow traveller. It’s a very strong, warm and sure concoction and gives space for reflection, privacy, hope and contemplation – definitely agree it is a ‘I am here, and I’m not going’ one. I have never found a patchoulie to match it, and it has become my baseline marker. Other patchoulies rarely come close.
In certain moods I like Angela Flanders Patchoulie 6. It is very spicey and appears to have a huge whack of Bay Laurel and cloves in it which instantly conjures red berries and Christmas wreaths and jolly Christmas TV chefs for me! It evokes a sort of material wellbeing – strangely Taurean actually. It’s a Winter party patchoulie in some ways, but I don’t connect very much too it much as I like it.
An emerging patchoulie fave for me at the moment, and one that nears Patchoulie Noir, is Intrigant Patchouli. Have you tried it? It’s a very dense, warm, spicey patchoulie with a measured honey-thick sweetness. Some patchoulies have been dolled up to sugary excess, but this retains the essential woody bitter edge that keeps patchoulie intriguing, searching and enigmatic. Defeinitely worth a spritz.
Intrigant Patchoulie is by Parfumerie Generale.
I can never quite get into Parfumerie Generale. There is always something baked, or sweet, or off for me about Pierre Guillaume’s perfumes, much as they are, indeed, intriguing. I tried that one but couldn’t quite get into it. Perhaps there is one of my no go ingredients like immortelle or fenugreek in it.
Have to ask you about the extra ‘e’, though Nina. Expliquez vous!
which extra ‘e’?
Oh you mean PATCHOULIE! Yes, it’s a funny one that isn’t it? Well I am dyslexic so there’s a possibility it’s just one of my spelling quirks, but I have to say I’ve always spelled it like this since the heady (very heady) days of 1980s dousing myself in Spiritual Sky, and recall others spelling it this way. Wrote many a teenage letter with ‘Smoke Patchoulie, Man, make peace not war!’ written on it! Ah, youth! I find it so odd that with the growth of the internet there’s been a standardisation of it to Patchouli or Patchouly! These – the latter in particular – really jar visually with me. It’s probably a hippy hangover spelling. When I was growing up Kent was full of old hippies who’d done the trek out to India and elsewhere then returned with their backpacks full of obscure perfumes, joss sticks and trinkets to set up little kiosks full of the stuff, and await eager teens like me to waltz in, douse and sniff and listen to their tales! I expect ‘patchoulie’ was an anglicisation of the indian word on the side of a joss stick packet and just stuck! I like it. I’m keeping the ‘e’! Patchoulie!
Oh yes, I gathered! I already answered below – can you see it?
I was surprised how much I liked Intrigant Patchouli (oh go on what the hell I’ll drop the e for a fling) because I usualyy am not keen on the Parfumerie Generale range. I am always a bit wary of that formulaic ‘numbered perfume’ approach they do – it’s almost too ‘laboratory’ or factory like – no space to imagine the perfume has grown somewhere with a story or impulse to make sense of it. But it is gorgeous and not too sweet at all (I dislike Tom Ford’s White Patchouly for being too sweet – like a cat with its claws clipped). It has ginger and benzoin in it which I think explain its appeal pour moi.
There’s Sandalwood in it which is the one edge of dry baked biscuit in it for me, but luckily I don’t notice it too much and revel in the patchoulie, ginger and benzoin combo). But if you are tuning in on the sandalwood, perhaps that’s it.
Also on a new patchoulie front – try Nasomatto Hindu Grass! I really liked that too. It’s a really strong bitter patchouly deepened by vetiver and oakmoss but then made grassy and strangely light with green orchid and citrus! It’s a really unusual combo. I could do without the oakmoss personally, but if you like an austere patchoulie, it’s worth a snifter!
Just remembering also it’s got a bit of coriander and a ton of Bergamot in it. Patchoulie and Bergamot – really odd combo but massively bracing and enduring throughout the day. It’s not really a scent to hide in or relax into – it’s warm and solid but right up front and on the surface. It’s almost like a kind of ‘business man patchoulie’ which is really incongruous I know.
You have reviewed many of my favorite patchouli perfumes. I Adore the Santa Maria on my hubby. To your list, I would add, my all time favorite..Jovoy Psychedelique. I wear the older formulation Patchouli Antique by Les Nerides to bed frequently, and I diffuse Horizon by Oriza Le Grand in my Muji diffuser for a house that smells amazing. There is nothing as comforting a a great patchouli, and I am so glad, you love them, too!!
Don’t know the Horizon. They have some of that range in Shinjuku Isetan so I feel like smelling them again now.
The Nereides I remember distinctly, in its original form. Very ghostly, very sexy, very musky (far too musky for me personally).
Psychedelique: YES. I have a review written down somewhere but have lost it (you wouldn’t believe the piles of paper and notebooks in this place). I really liked it, actually. Kind of perfect (and therein lay its problem for me, perhaps. A kind of Ur Patchouli, and I don’t do Ur).
Any more you can think of?
Funny, but I crave patchouli when autumn arrives ….( in the depth of winter give me vanilla, amber,cocoa and sandalwood)….and I prefer it straight up or blended in a carrier oil which I use as a moisturizer all over my body and face….patchouli oil is remarkable for dry, wrinkling skin….and I really don’t care if I am offensive to others (someone once told me I smelled like mushrooms) I have a lovely dark patchouli oil from Eden that I have aged for over a year….it is evolving beautifully….
You see I know instinctively that your oil will be better, by a mile, than any of these perfumes. Patchouli, like a good sandalwood or vetiver oil, truly, ultimately, doesn’t need a perfumer.
I recently ordered Patchouli, Dark, sourced in Indonesia from Eden Botanicals. I mixed it with a good, unscented moisturizer and now I smell like the forest floor or an old Tobacco barn. Both of theses aspects are appealing to me. This dry, botanically mouldering odor is very reminiscent of the Borneo 1834. I was pondering layering this with something else but I think not. I am also realizing that carrier oils are responsible for off-putting patchoulis, it was never the patchouli itself. Also obsessed with Ylang-Ylang essential oil!
Oh god me too.
But for me, Borneo never had quite enough choul, so a touch of that dark forest floor sounds perfect.
Funny, psychologically I think I am very much ‘high’ and ‘low’, also in terms of my aesthetic tastes, I don’t really like much that is middle ground, and somehow patchouli and ylang ylang express that.
Love a good patchouli. I have never tried quite a few on your list so will search for the Santa Maria Novella and the Montale. My favourite is Borneo and like some of the commenters above I really like Intrigant Patchouli. I have a roll on of the Molinard and it is divine – wish it lasted a bit longer though. The biggest patchouli in France is definitely the Reminscence – I smell this quite a bit when out and about.
Glorious reading and even slightly enticing, especially the long gone L’Artisan one, but i just cannot go all out patchouli.
Love patchouli in a scent, never much cared for it on its own. Yet, I adore Youth Dew, which has quite an amped up patchouli character, go figure.
What about Angel by Therry Mugler. After everything else has gone .. 12 hours later.. the patchouli is left ..nice. ..A very polarising perfume.
Funny, I was wearing Angel on my hand last night and thinking exactly the same thing. It really is patchouli at the end, as you say, with that milky aspect surrounding it.
It’s polarizing even for me. Sometimes I quite like it and others I can’t stand it. How about you?
Same. its a blockbuster alright. The black currant is interesting as weii because it is so unusual. Id like to try Lolita :Lempicke apparently its similar but not as full on. Have you tried that?
I saw it at the flea market the other day; had a sniff; quite liked it actually, but then didn’t buy it as I knew I probably would never wear it. It did seem smoother though, more airy. You should try it.
I watched a doco about Spandau Ballet the other night…so cute.. I somehow missed them in the eighties??.The Sex Pistols were more my thing… Were you and Duncan Spandau Ballet boys. I love Harajuku in Tokyo where everyone dresses up . Bo peep complete with blonde ringlets and lamb was popular when I was there in 2004. Also painted on bruises and ripped clothes with blood etc.I never got to Harajuku when I was there last year. Do Japanese girls still do that?
Neil, how about Coromandel? I am not a big fan of patchouli (or a fan at all, I guess) but I think Coromandel is sublime. Also,the new Mugler – Angel Muse is lovely,I’m not an Angel fan but I loved this one. The drydown reminds me of Coromandel. I guess the smooth patchouli/chocolate combo…
I know what you mean, but for me personally, no. I have Angel, I have tried to understand Coromandel, but that ethyl maltol multiply reiterated and ‘purified’ technical patchouli I just can’t do. It feels like an affront to me.
Yes, you have a point there. I guess Coromandel is a patchouli for non-patchouli lovers! 😉 As is Angel Muse. It is very good though, for a modern mainstream release! I think Mugler still has it.
I only sniffed the Muse in passing and it seemed ok, but just a bit too similar to all the other sweet lustful perfumes that are the current vibe. I am desperate for a new direction.
Oh yes, mainstream perfumery is in desperate need for some “new and improved”!
I can’t even remember the last time I bought something from the designer offer. I did however buy the Muse, I used to wear Angel in elementary school (embarrased) but it was always a commitment. The heavy patchouli bothered me but I loved the gourmand aspect. Eventually I gave up on Angel but the muse hit the spot perfectly. They tamed everything I disliked in Angel but still kept it’s DNA and uniqueness in comparison to other wannabes. I also found the new Zadig&Voltaire very lovely and pleasingy gourmand allbeit not unique. Also the new Stash by Sarah Jessica Parker is shockingly good (embarassed again). So I guess there is a tiniest tiny hope for the designer world.
The idea of Angel in elementary school is very good indeed.
Hahaha now you’re making fun of me! 😉
Possibly only to scare away the teachers…
Absolutely NOT making fun!
I apologize for such a late comment, but I enjoy your reading a lot and find it very pleasurable to meander through your back catalogue picking up legends & lore but also nonlinear fragments of a life. I was wondering if you’d tried the new (2015?) Molinard Patchouli EDP, the one in the purple bottle?… I confess I’ve never really been that attracted to patchouli, as it usually just turns to dirt on me, but a small sample of this that I wore to bed haunted me all through the (beautiful) autumn day afterwards. To my nose it is chocolatey, a bit fruit and animalic-smelling in a way I can’t pin down. It has made me want to give away everything I own, but as a stopgap from following through, I am reading your pieces about every other patchouli in christendom (is it christendom though? I keep thinking of cathedrals built on top of pagan temples.).
A great way of putting it: it is a deep scent both prosaic and very mysterious I think, ruined by its use in modern perfumes but still magnetic for me. I haven’t tried the more recent Molinard
Oh dear, about 5 or 6 years after I bought my S.M.N. Patchouli in Brussels, it has actually gone off! Just like that: pouff! I could hardly believe it, but there you are. It’s the head-note, and around 5 minutes later that off-rancid-note fades. But goodness, what a disappointment!
That does happen with that perfume, unfortunately – it becomes quite alcoholy and as you say, rancid.
Incidentally, I was wondering if I might private email you: email@example.com