A green plant that evokes the scent of earth. A leaf that smells like wood. A wood that smells like chocolate. Patchouli is a complex, intriguing, and polarizing ingredient in a perfumer’s palette. Some like it, others hate it. It leaves nobody indifferent. Yet, it’s also a material that gives perfumery today its distinctive character. A modern chypre can be made without oakmoss, but not without patchouli.
My latest video is part of a patchouli series, and in the first episode I discuss the material itself and cover classical patchouli fragrances. The way patchouli is processed affects its smell dramatically. A steam-distilled patchouli oil smells earthy, musty, loamy, while solvent-distilled patchouli absolute is reminiscent of cacao and dry woods. Other methods allow distillers to recompose fractions of patchouli essence to highlight certain effects, such as its licorice or sweet notes.
To describe patchouli in practice, I gives a few examples of classical fragrances. Despite its popularity today, patchouli doesn’t have the classical pedigree of jasmine or rose. It was an accent note, rather than a material that set the dominant impression. Nevertheless, as I show in the examples below, even when a small amount of patchouli is used to round out woody or leathery accords, accent florals, or balance out ambers, it can still project its character.
You might be surprised to see patchouli and Chanel No 5 mentioned together, but this ingredient is essential in the formula to balance out the rich floral accord and the waxy-starchy aldehydes. The newer reformulations of No 5 feature more patchouli, since many other materials that comprised its base are no longer available.
Dark, handsome, and brooding. Meet Yatagan. Patchouli is married with leather and woods here and it smells like the ’70s.
Another dark and intense fragrance with a beautiful patchouli layer. Cabochard, unlike Yatagan, is meant to be a feminine fragrance, so the floral notes soften the patchouli and leather. Nevertheless, it’s still a bold perfume.
A masculine classic and an enduring favorite, especially in the US. A good example of patchouli paired with aromatic notes and woods.
Patchouli works well with herbal and spicy notes, and this fragrance is a perfect illustration. The current versions of Aromatics Elixir are heavier on patchouli at the expense of other spicy and animalic notes.
Known today as Miss Dior l’Original to differentiate it from Miss Dior (which is really Miss Dior Chérie.) The original Miss Dior is a green chypre that weaves patchouli into a white floral accord.
A creation by the legendary Germaine Cellier, Jolie Madame pairs dainty violets with dramatic patchouli. The result is striking and puzzling in its strong contrasts. This pretty lady has many surprises up her sleeve.
In the next episode, I will discuss modern patchouli fragrances.
More on patchouli, perfumes and styles: Patchouli, Note of the Week.
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