I started my 2-part patchouli series by describing classical fragrances, or rather classical uses of patchouli. This material was once used as an accent note to enrich ambers, leathers, and mosses, add darkness to herbs and citrus, and to create shadows in floral bouquets. Then Thierry Mugler Angel happens in 1993 and perfumery hasn’t been the same since. Today, using a formula with 25% patchouli won’t make anyone raise their eyebrows, and this ingredient has become so ubiquitous in sweet, gourmand perfumes that it has engendered its own family.
Why has this happened? Angel certainly showed that pairing patchouli with sugary notes like caramel, vanilla, or cotton candy creates a striking contrast. The sweetness recedes, while the warm dryness of patchouli shimmers. Imagine that almost thirty years later Angel remains one of the most copied perfumes. It’s also still among the top-selling fragrances.
For this reason, compiling a list of modern patchouli fragrances was easy. I titled my post “Favorite” patchouli fragrances, although I should say that I also included perfumes that made a splash and influenced other creations, whether in fine fragrance, candles, shower gels, or home cleaning products.
And here is my top 10 contemporary patchouli list
Angel is polarizing but intriguing. I can count on my fingers how many times I wore it for pleasure–not for work, but I still find it fascinating. I just don’t want to sit next to someone on a plane or at a movie theater wearing it. A great example of patchouli’s tempering effect on sweet, rich notes.
Angel, Prada, and Flowerbomb are all siblings with different personalities. Prada is the most elegant and aloof of the trio, so it’s recommended for those who like warm ambery patchouli fragrances but without heavy sweetness. I also smell a curious toasted rye bread accent in it.
Not a favorite, perhaps, but it’s representative of the genre and must be included. Patchouli here lacks its earthy facets, so its effect is soft and woody against the gourmand-floral accord.
A definitive patchouli created in 1970, it was reformulated enough that I classified it with the post-Angel perfumes. Its generous use of patchouli blended with amber and musk is impressive. But be warned, it’s a fragrance for serious patchouli lovers.
If I were to select my favorite patchouli, Borneo 1834 would be my choice. I wouldn’t even hesitate naming it. Everything about this fragrance is perfect–the balance of dry, earthy patchouli and luscious bitter chocolate, the elegant development, the slow burn. If you find it too edgy, see below for a milder recasting.
A softer, warmer version of Borneo 1834 created by the same perfumer Christopher Sheldrake. I like the bitter chocolate and patchouli pairing so much that I own and wear both fragrances.
One of the most sophisticated patchouli-rose combinations. Agent Provocateur is another option, if you prefer more spice.
Guerlain Patchouli Ardent
An elegant take on patchouli layered with fruity-green notes, pink pepper, rose, and musk. Warm and elegant and suitable for both men and women.
The first version of this perfume was striking for its strong sulfuric note that nevertheless captured the smell of pink grapefruit. The current iteration is milder but still fun, and patchouli is used to offset the bittersweet citrus rind.
The combination of patchouli, rose, and mineral notes creates an effect of sun-warmed stones and Mediterranean herbs. Linear but evocative.
If you missed the first part of the series, here is the video:
As always, I’m curious about your favorite fragrances and your thoughts on patchouli in general.
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