Atelier Cologne Mistral Patchouli ~ fragrance review

Atelier Cologne Mistral Patchouli

Patchouli haters — I used to be a card carrying member of the club — are probably not so numerous as they once were. Some of us perfumistas were undoubtedly desensitized by frequent exposure over time. But it's also true that there's just not so much to hate any more, now that "patchouli" invariably means a patchouli fraction, in which all the difficult bits have been removed via the wonders of modern science; these days, as often as not patchouli is virtually indistinguishable from other dry woody notes.1 If you were born long after the days of head shop patchouli oils (and have somehow managed to bypass Thierry Mugler Angel and its many spawn) and your only exposure to patchouli came from recently launched department store fragrances, you might wonder what all the fuss was ever about.

Atelier Cologne's latest, Mistral Patchouli, belongs to this brave new world of patchouli. It's not just that it's a relatively sheer fragrance, in keeping with the brand's concept of the "magical freshness of cologne coupled with the lasting power of eau de parfum", but that there's nothing earthy or musty or heavy or otherwise demanding about the patchouli. It's a patchouli for patchouli haters, and by the same token, anyone hoping for a decent patchouli-fest is likely to be disappointed. For some, the bigger "problem" note in Mistral Patchouli might be the grapefruit, which is ebullient in the early stages and at times teeters just on the edge of sweaty. On my skin, it never quite went overboard, and it mingled nicely with the pepper and star anise notes (also on the list: iris, incense, geranium, benzoin and vetiver).

The spiced grapefruit lasts well into the dry down, where you'll also find a very clean and mostly dry sort of patchouli. In keeping with the backstory,2 there is the vaguest of vague hints of salty sea — it's a cool, minty sort of effect more than anything; Mistral Patchouli is not a conventional aquatic. I am guessing the vetiver is a fraction as well, and it lends a slightly greenish touch without any real earthiness, farther on still, a touch of iris smooths things over and gives Mistral Patchouli an elegant air, again, without smelling much like iris.

Verdict: I have never understood why brands are so eager to name their perfumes after raw materials unless the composition demands it, especially when the material in question is a turn-off to so many consumers. I don't think anybody would smell Mistral Patchouli and say, ah, a patchouli fragrance, nice! That said, it's beautifully done, and struck me as lively, chic, and easy to wear (unless you have issues with grapefruit). It might be my favorite from this brand so far. I did not fall head over heels, but I didn't fall head over heels for Grand Néroli or Orange Sanguine either and that did not deter me from buying 30 ml bottles of each — I'm always arguing for smaller bottle sizes, but it's just as well they're not universal as I find them awfully hard to resist.

Mistral Patchouli is marketed as unisex but leans slightly towards the masculine. The lasting power is good.

Atelier Cologne Mistral Patchouli was developed by perfumer Jérome Epinette. It is  available  in 30, 100 or 200 ml Cologne Absolue ($70 - $185). For buying information, see the listing for Atelier Cologne under Perfume Houses.

1. And of course, the same issue applies to many other fragrance notes as well, from florals to woods to spices to citrus. Newbies embarking on an expensive and arduous journey of learning individual fragrance notes might want to reconsider — I'm not at all sure it's worth the trouble.

2. The "story" of Mistral Patchouli: "Just as they could not stop the winds from blowing, nor could they stay apart any longer. They left everything behind, but they were together, fearless and free. They laughed in the sea salt air and shared a final moment on land before setting sail under the luminous blue sky."

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  1. I’m actually a ‘dirty” patch lover. That being said, I might like a very cleaned up version, as well.

    Great review !

    • Robin says:

      I found this really enjoyable — I predict lots of perfumistas will like it, patch lovers & haters alike. If you try it do report back, would love to hear what a dirty patch lover thought of it.

  2. Emily says:

    I was hoping against hope for a full-on patch-fest, but this sounds good nonetheless. I’m wondering how the patchouli in this would compare with the patch in Eau de Rochas (which isn’t dirty exactly, but to my nose is most definitely patchouli)?

    • Robin says:

      I couldn’t say, it’s been some time since I’ve smelled Eau de Rochas. But this is LESS patch than many department store fragrances.

  3. Joe says:

    Hrm. I was unpleasantly surprised at the Rose and Vetiver offerings from Atelier Cologne, and the hype about a “no-really-we-promise-THIS-patchouli-is-different!” scent kind of had me yawning with anticipation.

    But after reading about the grapefruit and your general impression of this, I’m willing to try it if and when it crosses my path (though I still don’t think I’ll make an effort).

    I still think my favorites in the line are Trèfle Pur and Ambre Nue. I’m so happy they have those 30ml bottles (though I don’t own any). I feel I’m still not very familiar with a few in the line, such as the Oolang. I finally sniffed Bois Blonds on skin a few weeks ago and it was really nice.

    Thanks for the review, and by the way, Happy New Year, Robin, to you and everyone at NST. :D

    • Joe says:

      I should mention that I have no patch-phobia, and the way some perfumisti carry on about how they haaaaaate it makes me laugh (because it turns out it’s discernible in half the things they love, but they seem to be unaware of that fact, or just willfully ignore it).

      I don’t mind some of the cleaner patches. Still, the way some scent companies crow about how they’ve developed “a patchouli that (we swear!) DOESN’T SMELL LIKE patchouli” is sort of as silly to me as newfangled vegan products that have the taste and texture of real meat.

      • Merlin says:

        I’m not sure the vegan parallel works very well! For one thing there is a very good reason why people might enjoy meat-like vegan food. The production of meat-like vegan food does not depend on the hideous wide scale suffering of factory animals. I am not being sensational here – the conditions of such animals are well documented. Some people eat free-range types of meat instead but this is expensive and sometimes hard to get. Also, it involves the killing of animals…

        • Joe says:

          You know, I actually understand all that. But thank you.

    • Robin says:

      Joe, I didn’t care about the rose, and even less about the vetiver. I adore vetiver, so calling something vetiver and then using a fraction that leaves out all the best parts — that will never work with me. I don’t adore patch, so perhaps had more of an open mind about this one? But also do think it’s a more interesting scent than the vetiver. (And Jessica is reviewing the rose tomorrow)

      But none of these are well served by naming them after the materials.

      I need to try the Trefle Pur & Oolong again too.

      And a very happy 2013 to you as well! We all made it through another perfume year :-)

      • Joe says:

        I didn’t mind that the vetiver was fractionated (though I love vetiver, sometimes it does eat everything else). I just found the fruity aspect WAY too syrupy for my taste. I thought the rose was okay for awhile, but then I gave my decant away because it felt similarly syrupy and a little cheap smelling.

        • Robin says:

          That is true, it does eat everything else! And probably nearly all vetiver is fractionated, I wouldn’t know. I just thought it wasn’t really a “vetiver fragrance”, so why call it that :-)

    • Rappleyea says:

      lol @ “yawning with anticipation”!

    • lupo says:

      Hi Joe,
      I tried Vetiver Fatal and I actually quite liked it :) i found it a very sheer vetyver, slightly gourmand, sort of a Vetiver Tonka cologne. Rose Anonyme, the name gives it away, quite forgettable. And this one… I like it. It reminds me of Murdock Patchouli, although less boisee. Of the entire line, I agree with you, Bois Blonde is probably the winner!

  4. Masha says:

    Ah, patch! I love the real thing, and own several vials of it, iron-free, iron-with, fractionated, whatever…. Being a GenX, I have only fond memories of the headshop varieties, all our neighborhood moms (the nice ones, that is) smelled of it. I like the fractions, but still make my own blend of orange essence, vanilla, and 100% patch for when I need a comfort frag. I’m trying to find seedlings so I can grow the real deal….

    • Robin says:

      You know, I know nothing about growing patchouli — do report back if you do get some growing!

    • Rappleyea says:

      Masha – my patch blend of choice is bergamot, rose and patchouli. Can’t beat the real thing!

      • Masha says:

        Oh, that sounds beautiful, I’m going to try it!

        • Rappleyea says:

          Likewise, I’m going to try your blend!

  5. Rappleyea says:

    Well… darn! I was hoping for the real thing. I guess those days have gone the way of painted vans, Jimi Hendrix and funny brownies!

    Thanks for the review!

    • Robin says:

      Hey, there are so many real patchoulis on the market though! Although probably the ones I like are not loved by REAL patch freaks.

    • ggperfume says:

      Oh, Rapp – funny brownies are still big in some parts of the country!

      • Rappleyea says:


      • Marjorie Rose says:

        Yes–unfortunately, I had to turn in some kids selling those at my school not so long ago! So they seem to have made a successful transition to next generation.

  6. flannery says:

    LOVE their Vetiver Fatal and Rose Anonyme so was eager to try this one, but it definitely doesn’t work for me. As usual, I find one or two fabulous frags from a perfume house while the others, not so much. In a way I’m always relieved I don’t love something new, at least the credit card is relieved.

  7. lucasai says:

    Great review Robin. I’m glad you reviewed Mistral Patchouli because my take in this new Atelier Cologne will be published next week. I’ve already written the piece and it awaits it’s stage time (one review coming up before it – tomorrow)
    I must say that I seriously liked grapefruit of Mistral Patchouli and the whole fragrance too. I’m not a patchouli lover nor hater, I like this one.

  8. RusticDove says:

    As a patchouli fan, I really appreciate this review as I’m now forewarned and won’t have my hopes up that this will be my Holy Grail patch fragrance. So, that out of the way, perhaps I can enjoy this for what it is. ;-)

    It’s funny, the only Atelier scent I have is a decant of the Vanille Insensee, and while I enjoy it, I wouldn’t call it a favorite – but everytime I wear the darn stuff, I get compliments. And it’s usually from cute young guys. I wonder what that’s all about? ;-)

    • 50_Roses says:

      Cute young guys? Where was that Vanille Insensee when I was in college?

      • RusticDove says:

        Yes 50, that would have come in handy. ;-)

    • Robin says:

      I think that’s the best way to approach it. Let me know what you think.

  9. Abyss says:

    This sounds nice from the list of notes but, since I’m one of those people who find prominent grapefruit problematic, I guess it’s one I needn’t worry about seeking out.

    • Robin says:

      Oh, give it a shot! I can’t wear Pamplelune, mind you.

  10. egabbert says:

    I love the quality of the patchouli in Angel — to me it’s just a tiny bit dirty but really camphoraceous, like mothballs. Most fragrances with patchouli seem to be a lot dirtier or a lot cleaner, not hitting that same middle ground. Is it just me?

    • Robin says:

      It’s not as earthy as some, that’s true, but boy is it camphoraceous. I like it now, but it really used to repel me. Anyway, this one is neither earthy nor mothball-y.

      • egabbert says:

        I guess mothballs have gone out of style! The first time I tried Angel I was like, Wow, what smells like bug spray?

    • Lys says:

      I get what you’re saying, I always think Angel’s patchouli smells pretty clean and sharp but the other ingredients tart it up, especially that sweaty cumin. (just my impression …)

      • egabbert says:

        I get a sweaty cumin note in Angel too, though people don’t mention it often.

  11. Merlin says:

    I’m a little confused about where I stand on the Great Patchouli Question. Both Karma, and TF’s White Patchouli have this raspy quality which I dislike. I assumed this raspy-ness, this catch that they have, was a quality of the patchouli note. I quite liked Jo Malone’s White Musk and Patchouli and assumed that it was a ‘cleaned up’ type of patchouli which was why I could enjoy it.
    But, here’s the thing: Cacherel’s Lou Lou definitely has that aggressive raspy-ness to it – I always assumed this was the patchouli. But, I looked up the notes and patchouli is not even listed! So now I’m starting to think I have no idea then how patchouli smells???

    • annemarie says:

      To add to confusion, Hermes’ 24 Faubourg has a mild scratchiness which to me is quite pleasant and reminds me of linen or raw silk. It must come from the patchouli that is listed as a note, but I don’t actually smell patchouli. I’m guessing it is there for texture rather than scent.

      • egabbert says:

        Actually I think that scratchy quality is the orange blossom — indoles create the raspy/scratchy effect in good/realistic while floral accords.

    • Robin says:

      Not sure if I know exactly what you mean by raspy, but a couple points — there’s a rough, musty quality to patchouli that is also in oakmoss, but which I like in oakmoss, not patchouli. Wonder if we’re talking about the same thing?

      • Merlin says:

        I need to do a side-by-side with something that has oakmoss: would URC do? I also have the modern Halston Woman which smells oakmossy to me.
        Its like Karma is just about wonderful – but then there is this catch in it – perhaps its a certain underlying sourness? I need to try it again and try to formulate it better!
        I remember not liking Faubourg, but I need to try it again as I cant remember quite how it actually smelled!
        I’d sniff Angel again, but ever time I re-try it – I regret having done so, lol!

        • egabbert says:

          Patchouli definitely has a sour quality when it’s not the clean/sweet fractionated kind.

        • Robin says:

          Drawing a blank on URC (?) but real oakmoss is hard to find these days.

          • Rappleyea says:

            Tauer’s Une Rose Chypree?

          • Merlin says:

            Yes, sorry, i forgot to come back to this – it is the Tauer that I meant!

    • egabbert says:

      I always thought the raspiness in Loulou was due to jasmine.

      • Merlin says:

        Oh no! Now there are multiple notes with potentially raspy aspects – *throws up hands in defeat* :)

  12. annemarie says:

    Darn, I was hoping this would be saltier. I have some liquid hand soap at the moment scented with patchouli (and orange) and it has saltiness to it that I really like.

    Where are these days, when patchouli doesn’t really smell like patchouli, vetiver not like vetiver, iris not like iris … ? Where will it end? Do we not want to smell the earth and the sun and the sky any more? Do we only want the easy, nice, clean bits, and leave the rest? For years where I live, shop-bought tomatoes have not tasted like tomatoes, so I grow my own.

    Okay, end of hippie rant. I’m not usually like this, really I’m not …

    • Robin says:

      Try it, maybe you’ll find it saltier than I did!

    • Marjorie Rose says:

      Oh, go ahead! I like your hippie rant!

  13. Lys says:

    This might be semantics but using a fractionated vetiver doesn’t necessarily mean non-smokey or non-earthy, that depends on the fraction. I wouldn’t expect a big outfit like Atelier to use raw vetiver oil.

    Surprised me to see you liked it in the end after all that Robin – felt like a plot twist! I’ll look for it then.

    • Robin says:

      Totally true — you could, in fact, select for just those qualities. Always seems like they’re after the clean bits though.

  14. olenska says:

    The Ateliers I’ve tried so far have all struck me as very sheer and two-dimensional… and yet the back stories are so weighty and elaborate! Not that I don’t love purple prose, but in this instance it makes me wonder if it’s all to compensate for (or distract from) the thinness of the fragrance. I must confess, I have yet to be captivated.

    • Robin says:

      I know what you mean, completely, but at least they keep the stories short! I can stand a few sentences. But also think that’s totally true — brands think the stories are absolutely necessary, I suppose they would say to stand out rather than to compensate.

      There is so much competition now for this style of fragrance. I do think Atelier does a better job than most. That said, the 2 I bought have mostly sat unused…once I took them home and tried them next to other scents I already owned, they seemed lacking. I do think this one is better, has more personality, than the 2 I bought.

      • olenska says:

        SHORT, you say? Ai-ya! I’m thinking of the dramatic “diamond thief” tale that ties Vetiver Fatal & Rose Anonyme together. Sylvie & Christopher recited it at the Sniffapalooza Bergdorf breakfast. Maybe we were a mite restive to be released out onto the sales floor, but it seemed to go on forever. Then they passed around the scents, and the sense of deflation was keen. All that dramatic build-up…. for this?

        • Robin says:

          LOL…I could not have read that with a straight face! But the “story” for Mistral Patchouli is only 3 sentences, so gosh, there are WAY worse :-)

          That breakfast always made me crazy too though…to much PR babble, too long a wait for the shopping.

    • annemarie says:

      I’ve enjoyed Atelier’s copywriting. It is short – just a quick word sketches that are evocative without being over-dramatic or sentimental. Whoever wrote them knew when to stop. Firms like Atelier can’t hire models and take out full page ads in the glossy mags, so they rely on this kind of promotion and Atelier does it well. That said, the most recent ones have not been quite so good, I thought.

      As for the fragrances, I agree with you. I’ve tried many of them and in the end only went for a decant of Vanille Insensee, and even that one turns a bit dull after it’s truly beautiful opening. Orange Sanguine I would have liked better had it not been so short-lived. Hope to try Mistral Patchouli. Love 30 ml bottles!

  15. Curly11 says:

    I need to ask a question. Is the reason some people hate patchouli because there is this musty, mouse urine odor? I have a small bottle of aged patchouli and find it a bit nauseating until it has gone through the dry down.

    • Rappleyea says:

      A bottle of aged patchouli essential oil?!? I’m jealous!

    • Robin says:

      Well, I don’t know. This is where language fails us with odors…it seems to me there are other notes w/ what I think of as that same quality that I do like. Also don’t generally mind camphor. But there’s an extra, stick-in-back-of-your-throat kind of sour/sweet thing in patchouli that makes me crazy. The patch scents I like (things like Reminiscense Patchouli Elixir) are very earthy, a bit musty, but don’t have that quality.

    • Marjorie Rose says:

      I often wondered if the real thing people objected to was the smell of unwashed human that often corresponds with patchouli. I had a really kind room mate in college who seemed to think that a little essential oil was enough to tide her over between her once-a-week showers. It was pretty difficult to abide, and the smell of BO and patch often transports me back to college. That said, I don’t find patchouli oil all that dirty smelling on its own.

  16. hajusuuri says:

    This sounds good…will need to seek out a sample! Thanks for the wonderful review, Robin!

  17. RusticDove says:

    Today, I am finally testing Mistral Patchouli and I am reminded of Jo Malone Lime, Basil & Mandarin – which I didn’t expect at all! Since I wasn’t expecting a holy grail patch fragrance after reading your review Robin, I’m not disappointed and I quite like it.

    • Robin says:

      Esp. interesting since I hate LB&M! But can grudgingly admit a resemblance :-)

  18. mercurygirl says:

    I am not a patch hag, but I was ready to at least give this one a test spritz right up until you mentioned grapefruit, at which point I thought, “Oh God, no!!” On me, patchouli + grapefruit = pure B.O., the most tragic example being Guerlain AA Pamplelune.

  19. vking says:

    I love this, along with most of their line. Interestingly for me, the most dominant note is anise. It’s wonderful.

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