a journey of the senses by FLACONNEUR
I want to talk about an acquaintance of mine that I’ve been having some difficulty with for some time now. We haven’t known each other for an incredibly long time but our relationship seems to cross paths now and then. It’s certainly not a demanding relationship by any means. Part of the difficulty could be my fault. I guess I just don’t fully understand what they’re all about. The acquaintance’s name is Patchouli. whose parents were not hippies.
Patchouli is part of the mint family of bushy herbs and grows to a height of 2 to 3 feet. The plant is generally native to tropical areas of Asia but also appears in China and West Africa. Patchouli leaves are harvested, dried and rested for fermentation before being steam distilled to product fragrant patchouli oil. Patchouli oil benefits from aging, which produces a deeper earthy aroma, as well as a deepening in the color of the oil. The fragrance of patchouli can be very heady depending on the length it is aged. It has a naturally earthy quality similar to the smell of damp soil. It has been referred to as having a dank and cool character. Patchouli can also smell slightly green and minty, more so is true in its natural state than after the distilling process. Patchouli has been used in the creation of perfume for centuries and remains a staple ingredient even today.
There have been other hidden benefits for the use of patchouli. Asians were known to use patchouli as a moth repellent by packing leaves from the plant alongside its precious silks for transport to far away places. This approach also indicated to the Europeans receiving their precious goods, that they were truly genuine and directly from the Orient. Patchouli has also played a medical role for the treatment of cuts, dermatitis, eczema, acne and dry chapped skin and a host of other common conditions.
The 1960’s ushered in a worldwide cultural revolution, and with it the pinnacle in patchouli’s popularity. Interestingly enough, when people are asked to describe what patchouli brings to mind, a common response is “hippies.” Not necessarily flattering for hippies but somewhat true nevertheless. There was a proliferation of patchouli use in the 1960’s and the scent became synonymous with the hippy, free-love culture. I went to college with a number of people who seemed to be the primary supported the patchouli oil industry. They wore it religiously and, unfortunately, to the point of it was repellent to others. I was a casualty of this patchouli overdose.
I have found myself testing different patchouli fragrances since my college days with little success finding one that suits me. You might classify this situation as the typical love-hate relationship. When patchouli is blended with other components as part of the development process of perfume making, it can take a very one-dimensional ingredient and give it complexity and depth. In addition, it can be used as a supportive structural note in fragrances and add a desired earthy element. When perfumers are looking for something with a dirty or musty note, patchouli can usually fill the bill. There is definitely a time and place in the structure of some particular perfume where patchouli is possibly the only answer. It gives richness to a base when combined with other supporting notes such as amber, musk, sandalwood or cedar. This mixing can enhance many or even temper ingredients within a perfume’s composition. The problem I seem to have with patchouli is when it becomes a concentrated component in a perfume. If patchouli is made the primary or leading note, I can find this personally disconcerting. I don’t really like, or better yet understand the use of patchouli as the primary building block. My reasoning is simple. No matter how much creativity is put behind the fragrance, it just smells like patchouli.
Patchouli by Mazzolari is the only patchouli-based fragrance that I have ever owned. I have sampled dozens of fragrances that call themselves patchouli but the Mazzolari patchouli was one that I could stand to wear. I find that the patchouli here is sweet, probably due to the honey note. I cannot seriously wearing it, especially because I’m not terribly crazy about patchouli. Moreover, do I need to have a patchouli fragrance? Probably not. So, I sold Patchouli by Mazzolari to a patchouli lover. I have had a hard time finding a patchouli fragrance that I like, but I feel that one would help round out my fragrance collection. Should I try again? OK, how about…
My second choice, which I didn’t buy, was Patchouli Noir by IL Profumo. This patchouli includes vanilla. The dozen times that I sampled it, the fragrance never became sweet, as vanilla usually does. Perhaps the mint and cedarwood helped to balance the sweetness that vanilla can instill in a fragrance. Vanilla can also be nutty and not sickly sweet at all. Maybe that’s why I was drawn to Patchouli Noir in the first place. Unfortunately, I did not purchase Patchouli Noir. Why? I was afraid, I guess, that I will end up not agreeing with it, and its fate would become the same as the Patchouli by Mazzolari.
Martine Mecallef seems to have a few patchouli creations that are favorites among fragrance enthusiasts. So I ventured on to sample the appropriately-named Patchouli. Someone commented that this was a patchouli for those not so fond of patchouli. It was a deluge of earthy patchouli but coated in sticky-sweet vanilla and powdery labdanum. The warming ambergris and violet leaf made Patchouli not so over the top patchouli. It’s been about a year since my last tango with Patchouli by M. Mecallef, but I think it’s time to revisit this one. It’s my guess that Martine Mecallef enjoys her pancakes with patchouli syrup.
Ramon Monegal, Bois 1920, Farmacia SS. Annunziata, Keiko Macheri, L’Artisan Parfumeur, Montal, Nobile 1942, Perfumerie Generale Profumum and Yosh, yes, the list goes on and on and still, nothing feathers my nest. I continue to learn a great deal about the structural use for my acquaintance patchouli. I do enjoy its subtle appearance in many of my current collection of perfumes, but I continue to search for the one patchouli fragrance that hits the spot. Maybe we were never meant to be friends, or just haven’t learned enough about each other for the relationship to make sense. Sometimes it is a matter of differences. I will continue the search with a “space available” sign in my fragrance cabinet looking for the perfect patchouli.