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.