Tag Archives: Patchouli





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.







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.







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.





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.





Bailey guard gate - Lucknow c1862 by Shepherd & Robertson.jpg





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.









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.





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.







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.





Filed under Patchouli










If you were to rewind time back precisely twenty five years, at this exact moment I would have probably been dancing ecstatically around my bedroom in a daze of awe and elation to my 12″ record of Like A Prayer. It was a song – no, more than a song – a monument, that had been out for a couple of months now but which had taken an absolute, reckless hold of my consciousness. I couldn’t actually believe how good this new release was, how she had managed to change herself so utterly effectively again just at the moment that her image had begun to get stale, that her profound, chameleon intuition had allowed her to lay low for a while, dye her hair black, get divorced from Sean Penn, and re-emerge, triumphantly, with a fantastic, epic record of such monster proportion. I had always really liked Madonna, but now I loved her.



We had already seen her acute sensibility to cool, and the brutal, unsentimental ability to shear away the past, in the swift conversion from the ribbons and lace shenanigans of Like A Virgin to the shorn, cold, ice-bitch gleam of True Blue (a look she had blatantly ripped off from Melanie Griffith’s porn star turn in Brian De Palma’s Body Double), but by 1987, four years into her success, the sound was already beginning to get a touch samey and ‘typical Madonna sounding’ with the Who’s That Girl soundtrack and You Can Dance remix album; she was resting on her laurels, she was stuck. I, personally, pop pundit extraordinaire, thought that was that, that she was finished, because at the time I felt that I was so attuned to the fortunes and misfortunes of all pop stars and rock bands, the shifting conscious in relation to their positions in the pantheon, that I could sense, like a seismological instrument, the exact moment that their fashionability dipped, the tragic moment when Duran Duran released ‘Notorious’ and lost their edge (although in reality that was with the release of ‘Wild Boys’), or when solo acts like Howard Jones or Nik Kershaw, popular at their exact moment of hit status i.e 1984, suddenly entered the farewell land of uncool gone forever. Essentially, it was, and is, extremely difficult for a pop act to keep their edge, their relevance in the fickle world of teenagers, record companies and trends, and virtually no one was able to sustain interest, let alone dazzle the public, beyond a couple of years. Cyndi Lauper managed it for about three years, Michael Jackson already seemed outdated by the time that he released Bad, Culture Club looked, and sounded ludicrous at the five year mark, and although the Human League had latched onto Janet Jackson’s producers Jam & Lewis to update their sound for their ‘Crash’ album, it was to be just luck; a fluke of fate.




Madonna was an entirely different entity. With Like A Prayer she crashed back into the public sphere fresher and more vital than ever. Seriously, whatever you may think of her, the woman is a genius in this regard, her antennae always listening in, her instincts, in those early days especially, infallible. When Like A Prayer was released, with its genuinely uplifting, gospel chorus, and dance floor power, it was as if she were an entirely different person ( and so were we). It felt as fresh as a daisy and just as shiny and new. Sensing the oncoming beginning of the nineties, she had updated the sound, ditched the disco nuances, brought in a live rock band to record the music, and imbued it all with emotion; memory, familial reminiscence, melancholia. And rather than the separate, four minute pop slices of the previous albums, there was a continuum to the songs, a cohesion of spirit, with upbeat, rousing anthems such as Express Yourself and Keep It Together being juxtaposed by far sadder, emotive songs such as the exquisite Oh Father, Spanish Eyes and Promise To try, tracks that brought her back to her childhood, the sixties, and the death of her mother. And, fascinatingly for the olfactive sensitive, Madonna did something that I have never experienced before this album or with any musician since: she had each album scented with patchouli oil. I don’t know how this was achieved, precisely, with the record company and logistically (you can imagine the manufacturers being up in arms at this request), but it is a well known fact among Madonna-philes that the initial editions of the album inner sleeve were all doused in musky, well-aged patchouli essences to add, overtly or subliminally, to the church-incense vibe of the title track. And it worked, brilliantly: when you lifted the paper inner sleeve out of the jacket, you were assailed with just the right amount of spectral patchouli – not the cheap music festival ‘oils’ but the essential: it lingered, and it of course scented even the record itself, the label in the middle, meaning that as you put on that album for the millionth time, as it spun round and round it gave off an evocative atmosphere of patchouli, making you associate that smell with Madonna, the paisley patterned aura of the music, the Strawberry-Fields-Forever sixties’ longing of the sweet child’s lullaby Dear Jessie, the delicately scented past. My original copy is still in my parents’ garage in England, but I am pretty sure that even a quarter decade later, if I were to take it out from the pile of records it would still be smelling, clearly, of patchouli, a gimmick if you like, but one that three-dimensionalized the experience of Like A Prayer ingeniously, making the music, the scent, and the icon fuse into one.









With music I tend to suddenly crave a certain artist or album without knowing why exactly, and then I realize that it is because this was the season or the month that the record originally came out, when it flooded my brain and took over. I find that I start singing certain songs completely out of the blue, then impulsively have a fierce desire to hear them again, or, rather than the usual iTunes mix, as people used to do, listen to a complete album from start to finish. A similar thing happens to me also in regard to perfume. Before even thinking about Like A Prayer, a couple of weeks ago, while still in my jasmine & coconut phase, patchouli sinuously started to wind its way into the back of the brain, telling me it needed to be worn, that something deeper and more complex than tropicana was on its way.





The required scent, that was rising up slowly in my subconscious like a necessity, was not the simple, unadorned Haight & Ashbury love of the Madonna record, however, but Parisian patchouli chypre, a genre of scent I adore absolutely, that clings to you the entire day like a second, imaginary skin, orchestrated, finished, the embellishment of patchouli oil with rose and other flowers, balsams, spice and animalics to produce that black magic undertone that is always so sinewed, stylish, and je ne sais quoi. I speak, of course, of Eau Du Soir, Cabochard, Parure, Magie Noire and the like, but last week the specific perfume that was suddenly being called out for and that I knew absolutely I would have to wear come the weekend was Montale’s delightful Aromatic Lime. I bought this a few years ago from a perfume shop in Tokyo, and have not worn it all that much, but when I found it at the back of my cabinet and sniffed it from the lid I knew that I was right. This was the one. In some ways rather similar to Eau Du Soir in its essential profile and sillage, this is nevertheless possibly more masculine, less floral, and more long lasting, with a lime note in the top that keeps the whole thing smelling delightfully fresh throughout. The initial impression is quite odd, almost like a rich, lime chocolate ganache, with saffron, patchouli, vetiver and myrrh competing with the greener notes of bitter orange, galbanum and lime essence, but it soon dries down to a heart and aura that is, indeed, very ‘aromatic’. Like the perfumes that I mentioned earlier, it has that quality of complexity and shadowiness that you feel is trailing intriguingly wherever you go.





This weekend was a busy one socially, and I knew beforehand that the patchouli vibe was definitely how I wanted to be continuing. On Saturday night there was a friend’s birthday party in Sangenjaya, eighties themed, although we had been too busy, this time, to do proper costumes. What was funny was that aside one girl, who had come as an 80’s singer from The Philippines, every single other woman was there as Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan, with the day-glo colours, ripped tights and leather gloves, the teased up hair, showing the singer’s absolute domination of that decade in the popular psyche. It was Madonna central. D won a lip-syncing contest (which I thought was hilarious, singing along to Tainted Love), while I spent much of the time chatting to a woman called Anastasia, who was also got up as the Madonna but to far more pleasing effect. Perfume-wise, I was perhaps a little overdressed, having decided to finally debut the glorious Piguet Bandit shower crème that the extravagant Rafael sent to me at the beginning of this year, and that I knew I wasn’t going to touch until the moment was right, until the patchouli phase began its inevitable hold.





And this, I have to say, is the ultimate. I have never worn Bandit before ( I prefer Cabochard, with its more powdery, hyacinthine edge ), not, on the whole, going for that kind of harsh and uncompromising bitter leather, Germaine Cellier’s fighting call for women’s olfactory emancipation and its acridly voluptuous smack, but on this occasion I felt, intuitively, that it went perfectly with the Montale. Where most shower gels lather up and bubble and foam and leave you only vaguely scented with the signature perfume in question, this unctuous, satin-esque creation deeply perfumes your skin with a spiced, leather patchouli, all-over-scent, to the extent that you could almost leave it at that. I didn’t, of course, and went for a Kenzo Pour Homme stick deodorant for an extra, patchouli/marine effect, with the Aromatic Lime worn on my clothes and skin. I worried, initially, that it was too much (moi?), but D assured me that the whole thing smelled actually really fresh, the citrus on top coasting on the air and jamming the patchouli waves, keeping it all strangely subtle. It was, fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, nomihodai, or ‘all-you-can-drink’ (god those parties are dangerous), and before you knew it, leaving just in time to get our last train, we were walking down the street, arm-in-arm, singing, yes you’ve guessed it, Like A Prayer, at the instigation of Yukari, belting it out at the top of our lungs, to the bemusement of onlookers (and the police), and it still felt great, still had the impact. That song is timeless.





Sunday. Well, usually I don’t like to have two nights of seeing people and socializing in a row – I think one is ideal, followed by a more mellow day just spent at home, but there was a dinner party on the cards that had been planned for a while, three people who had never been around to the house before, and I was actually really in the mood for it for some reason: perhaps I am just getting more sociable now the weather is heating up and summer is almost in full swing. This time I opted for the same scents, essentially, but toned down: the Bandit shower gel used in smaller amounts (it is pungent!) and just a couple of sprays of the Montale on my T shirt, which I wore under something else. I loved how this combination smelled, the way it would occasionally rise up but not overpower, somewhere between quite masculine and androgynous, but definitely enigmatic ( or so I like to believe). Curiously enough, there were more Madonna connections: Spring Day, one of the guests – her real name, and an excellent stand up comic, incidentally, was tantalizing me with tales of how she had not that long ago had lunch with one of the dancers from the Blonde Ambition tour in Los Angeles, how she had loved Madonna for years ( I love such vicarious pleasures) and it wasn’t very long before we were on the piano singing along to Oh Father and Spanish Eyes and getting all emotional. I botched Like A Prayer itself with an ironic theatrical theatre organ sound that I thought would liven things up a bit after those ballads (in fact it just sounded stupid), but it was hilarious fun nevertheless. And then something else happened: Makana, a recent friend from Hawaii who had come along with slinky Jonathan, said he wrote songs and lyrics, and wondered if I could try and put down some chords and music for them. I have never done this before, and have an inadequate knowledge of chord structure, but before you knew it there we were writing a pop song; though I felt bad for the other guests, as once we were getting down to it the music took over and we didn’t talk to them (!) there was something delightful about the spontaneity of all this: it is something I have long wanted to try, at the back of my mind, I think: I have had the knowledge that writing a song would not be impossible, but having the lyrics and the basic melodic ideas laid out (he is a Leo, like Madam M, who also works this way, co-incidentally) meant that there was a template, that I could try different permutations until we got it right. Like Madonna, Makana is also somewhat exacting, and the song, if it ever surfaces, is not quite ready yet – I/we will have to work on it, and I look forward to it, actually, but the whole thing, at that moment felt exciting, and new, everything rising up spontaneously; freely; and without restraint.


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A disturbing article appeared in The New York Times this morning, detailing the work in progress by fragrance and flavouring congomerates such as IFF, Sanofi and Evolva to produce (with ‘extensive genetic rejiggering’), synthetic substitutes of vanilla, saffron, and patchouli using GM yeasts. Utilizing a new technique called synthetic biology, lab technicians are able to not only approximate the scent of these biologically complex aromas, but will also, because they originate from organically active yeasts, be able to make claims for them as ‘all natural products’, destined for products including icecreams, confectionery, and perfume. While I hate to come across as reactionary, I must say that I find the idea of these beautiful, naturally harvested crops being potentially usurped by money-grabbing mega-corporations quite horrifying. While ‘supporters’ of the new technology (read shareholders) cite advantages for ‘consumers’ in the lowering of prices for fluctuating commodities such as vanilla and saffron, I’m afraid I can only play the cynic and believe that the only benefits to the destruction of livelihoods in vanilla-producing countries such as Madagascar and Java, the saffron-crocus fields of Iran, would be for the executives of these bio-perverting companies, in the form of added bonuses for their doubtlessly already overflowing retirement portfolios.  


No, I am far more inclined to agree with the spokesperson for Friends of the Earth who states: “There’s nothing ‘natural’ about a genetically engineered yeast that excretes vanilla flavouring”. And having spent those five magical days on the Villa Domba vanilla plantation in western Java this August, seeing first hand how much love, care and attention goes into the production of just one ripe, deliciously scented vanilla bean, all in a magically atmospheric community of people who are involved, heart and soul, with the manual labour required to produce a beautiful plant destined to give so much pleasure to people all around the world, I could weep when I imagine that such family-run enterprises might become obsolete, or else damaged financially, when their circumstances are already precarious at best. Any further losses to the vanilla farmers of Madagascar, for example, already some of the poorest people on earth, could be truly devastating.

I am no fool. I am of course aware that the vanillin used in my beloved Shalimar and other perfumes originates in petrochemicals, from the by-product of wood-processing and other means. And I am not averse to synthetics in perfumes per se, particularly when they allow novel olfactory experimentation and produce new aromas that never existed before ( I recently bumped into a friend, Aru, who was wearing one of the perfumes by Escentric Molecules, for example, and I thought he smelled really lovely: fresh, clean, woody in a way that was quite arresting). One of the joys of modern perfumery is certainly the apparent limitlessness of the perfumer’s imagination when such an enormous palette of ingredients lies waiting at his or her fingertips. The true fragrance lover wants authenticity and novelty in perfume; to be surprised and comforted simultaneously. But surely there are limits to what must be re-created,? Particularly when the original natural is perfection itself?  


Even more shocking to me in some ways in this article were the descriptions of  the work currently being done by biochemists on the chemical compounds valencene and nootkatone, synthetic flavourings that aim to replicate oranges and grapefruit respectively. When I think of the sense-rushingly lovely scent of natural citrus fruit, not to mention their inherently healthful properties, not only for our bodies but our also psyches, I feel a mournful sense of helplessness in reading that there are people out there who would willingly decimate the livelihoods of citrus farmers across the world in order to replace them with these supposedly ‘environmentally friendly’ bastardizations. As Jim Thomas, a researcher at the ETC group, a Canadian technology watchdog, says, ” They are going after pockets of tropical farmers around the world”.




Am I being just too much of a romantic, too naïve? Is it only me who finds a vision of a synthetic dystopia upsetting, or do you also find the idea of natural spices and other plants, the wonderful oranges, patchouli, saffron and vanilla that we love in our perfumes and food, being replaced by these tampered, mass-produced frankenyeasts repugant and deplorable?









Filed under Flowers