Patchouli, Patchouli, Patchouli.
It’s time to take a stroll through a far east market…somewhere where sweet melodies of unique instruments and chatter of merchants drift through the air. Tea houses bustle with people, dried herbs lay in piles perfuming in the hot sun, and dust kicks up below your feet – It’s the kind of place where your senses go wild… all at once.
Surprise: That’s exactly what Patchouli is!
One of the most evocative, and somewhat controversial, scents to date, patchouli has a rich history, and an even richer smell. While some may have negative connotations of patchouli, let’s avoid turning our noses up at this “far out” scent as we begin to untangle the question: “What does patchouli smell like?”.
Let’s kick things off with what Patchouli is.
Defined as “a heavy perfume made from the fragrant essential oil of a southeast Asian mint” (Pogostemon cablin)– Patchouli is “an evergreen perennial herb native to Southeast Asia, with lightly fragrant leaves, and white, violet-marked flowers”.
So if you were thinking far east, you’re getting warmer on the hunt for the truth behind the mystical scent of Patchouli.
How would we describe this particular smell? Woody, earthy, dry and humid at the same time, with rich ambery inflexions, and aromatic somehow medicinal tones.
This scent is simultaneously mysterious and highly evocative, so another way to describe it is to name the atmospheres or places that one whiff of patchouli can transport your senses to.
Patchouli may remind you of…
- a forest during fall,
- nature after it rains,
- wet soil,
- a cool cave,
- a far east market
- or even a music festival (thanks to Woodstock and the 60’s)
Patchouli is not only a rich scent, but it comes with a rich (and somewhat controversial) history as well. Let’s get into the reputation of patchouli versus reality.
Patchouli is commonly associated with the Sixties and the hippy movement– which often elicited mixed reactions. Here, patchouli was often worn in overdose, the smell becoming a sign of recognition for the protesting youth. It became a kind of olfactory incarnation of this time of rebellion, freedom and renewal. Let’s just say, there’s a good reason it’s been described as smelling like a Grateful Dead concert. Fortunately, over time it has moved away from this image.
Now, the reality of patchouli:
Before being the “hippies smell”, patchouli has been a key traditional raw material for perfumery for over 100 years. It’s a pillar of one of the most elaborated perfume writing structures, the “Chypre” (a blend of bergamot, rose, oakmoss and patchouli) named from a fragrance called Chypre, from Coty launched 1917. At Dossier, this structure can be experienced in both Musky Oakmoss and Fruity Oakmoss, two perfect examples of this very traditional use of Patchouli.
Okay so, Patchouli is now stuck between 60’s hippies and the past century of perfumery? Not at all! Patchouli is alive and well.
Patchouli has undergone 2 successive revolutions to become what it is now in the perfumer’s palette: an indispensable, noble, rich and mysterious ingredient.
The Radical Revolution (1992): Mugler’s Angel, (Dossier’s Gourmand Patchouli)
It all started with Mugler’s Angel’s daring overdose of patchouli blended with gourmand notes, as we covered in another articles We have already talked about Angel in another article, DREAM TEAM: THE 3 MOST ICONIC FRAGRANCES AVAILABLE AT DOSSIER.
The Gentle Revolution (2001): After this, Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle (Dossier’s Woody Oakmoss) took a more subtle, yet entirety effective, approach to revamping the Chypre structure by decreasing one of the original pillars, oakmoss, while emphasizing the other main pillar: patchouli. This created a more relaxed structure, similar to the feeling of taking off your stilettos to put on your favorite pair of sneakers to take off running.
After this, it was as if Angel and Coco Mad had lots of babies, all surfing on the revamped Chypre structure mixed with gourmand notes!
These scent babies included:
Now that we’ve covered the rich and complex history of this rich and complex scent, you should be able to spot the alluring scent of patchouli from a mile away.