Parfums de Nicolai Patchouli Intense ~ fragrance review

Parfums de Nicolai Patchouli Intense, large bottle

Natural patchouli. So maligned. Always mentioned in the same breath as low-rent head shops…or hippies. Thus? Thought of as: dated, old fashioned, tired…obnoxious. Or just noxious. 

Me? I love real patchouli! But the first time I wore natural patchouli I realized it was not beloved by all. During college, I remember taking my little brown bottle of patchouli oil and dribbling some oil into my palms and then rubbing it all over my leather boots (as I had read “rebels” did in the 60s). I went to work. Almost as soon as I sat at my desk I heard whispers slowly turning into boisterous shouts: “What’s that smell?” “I’m getting SICK!” “Damn! It smells like a HEAD SHOP in here!” “Is Stevie Nicks in the building?” I started to sweat.

I went to the bathroom, soaked paper towels with hot water, and rubbed my boots till the leather was drenched, but the patchouli was neither removed nor neutralized. No! Even when I got home hours later, the scent of patchouli on those boots took over my apartment and was still going strong the next day, but in a mellower way, a way that made me love the aroma of patchouli all over again.

These days it’s rare to smell real patchouli in a perfume; what you get is usually a picked-apart-and-put-back-together patchouli with its earthy/mossy/wet-stone aspects deleted. Still, I even enjoy “scrubbed” patchouli.

Parfums de Nicolaï Patchouli Intense* begins with the smell of candied citrus peel mingling with “re-orchestrated” (but not too clean or sheer) patchouli. The slightly food-y opening diminishes as green notes appear; the “green” is off-balance — bitter/aromatic and almost chewy, then lightly floral in character.

In mid-development, Patchouli Intense is at its most intense — with a deep, wood-patchouli aroma, spice notes (reminiscent of cinnamon-ginger — zingy), and frankincense (light on smoke, heavy on resin). Patchouli Intense wears down to an amber accord, replete with what smells like moss; incense-wood; meaty, but faint, musk; and benzoin-vanilla.

Patchouli Intense started its existence as a men’s cologne (Patchouli Homme), then was renamed and marketed as the unisex Patchouli Intense Eau de Toilette (discontinued) and now is an Eau de Parfum; it has great lasting power and respectable sillage. Patchouli Intense is wearable in all seasons but its scent reminds me of the emotional time (sadness and dread mingling with excitement) of late summer/early autumn.

With Patchouli Intense, perfumer Patricia de Nicolaï presents patchouli in an upwardly mobile manner: a “boutique” vibe replaces the head shop, and old-school preppy (that moss!) shoos away the hippies. Make of this what you will: a positive development or a cryin’ shame. 

Parfums de Nicolaï Patchouli Intense Eau de Parfum is available in 30 ml spray ($65), 100 ml spray ($165), or 250 ml splash (shown at top; €268). For buying information, see the listing for Parfums de Nicolaï under Perfume Houses.

*Listed notes: lavender, rose-geranium, sandalwood, frankincense, cinnamon, leather, patchouli, amber and vanilla.

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  1. Rappleyea says:

    Oh, Kevin, I’m rolling laughing at your boot story! I bet those boots never did lose their smell! :-)

    Great review, and I really, really need to try this one. I’ve been looking for a “head-shop”, real patchouli scent forever, and have about given up. I’ve been using Aura Cacia’s e.o. blend called Tranquility which is mainly patchouli.

    • Kevin says:

      Rappleyea…I’d say just get a nice little bottle of patchouli oil from India…then you can ramp up your perfumes. Those boots did smell good for a long time….

  2. Absolute Scentualist says:

    This is going on my must sample list. I’m really in a patch phase at the moment and have decided I simply have to get over myself and buy a bottle of Montale Patchouli Leaves. The last order I placed for it ended up being canceled due to stock running out and I was going to just say,”Meh, I don’t really need it.” But I do. :)

    Kevin, your boots story reminded me of when I had a vial of patchouli oil shatter in my purse in high school. En route to a sleep-over, no less, so not only did I “stink up” my friend’s room, but the bathroom in an attempt to salvage my ID card and other essentials. My friend’s father asked who trapped the 60’s in their bathroom but her mom thought it was nice. Sure, probably for the first few hours but I bet it hung around for days. lol

    The Nicolai prices are so amazing. I still have to pick up some Kiss Me Tender which, despite my usual less than favorable feelings toward anis, still haunts me months after sampling. What an amazing fragrance house and a line which I really must explore more in depth.

    • Kevin says:

      AbScent: I can’t imagine your purse ever recovered fully!!!!! Back in the day I would often layer patchouli (and, believe it or not, tuberose) with perfumes I had tired of…and it would always add some “interest.”

    • Oakland Fresca says:

      I was on a patchouli bender recently…tried at least half a dozen, including the Montale… I know I sound like a broken record, but Ylang 49 was the one that haunted my dreams…

      My list:

      Patchouli Intense (yes)
      Montale Patchouli Leaves
      Histoires de Parfums 1969
      Le Labo Patchouli
      Le Labo Ylang
      Patchouli Patch

      • Kevin says:

        Oakland…MUST try the Le Labo Ylang…good list.

  3. donnie says:

    Hi Kevin. I own this under the Patchouli Homme label, and I like it. But, God bless Ms de Nicolai, I find it has sillage far and wide, and and that amber, vanilla, and rose thing goes on seemingly forever, which is to say long enough to be tiring. Small applications get more notice from strangers than anything else I wear. It’s not one that my family express enjoyment about either. So I deliberate before I apply.

    It occurs to me that her drydowns are generally remarkable for strength and complexity. I can’t really think of anything in my relatively limited collection that is equally long and strong.

    • Kevin says:

      Donnie: I don’t think I ever tried Patchouli Homme…that was ages ago in Perfume Land. I’m betting the formulation has changed…but you are right about PdN dry-downs…I’ve found that they are not wimpy, but interesting (on the whole)

  4. james1051 says:

    “Is Stevie Nicks in the building?”
    that’s a great line, with apologies to Fleetwood Mac 4.0 fans.

    The patchouli-stinky hippie-black lights and bead curtains-connection is going to take a couple of generations to ‘blow over’, I’d guess. That, combined with its atomic longevity and instant, makes patch a note I approach with caution.

    • james1051 says:

      “and instant” . . . announcement of its presence…makes patch etc….

      Sorry, my lava lamp malfunctioned in mid-sentence.

      • Kevin says:

        James: HA! I thought you had perhaps shifted in your bean bag chair!

  5. meganinstmaxime says:

    Hilarious boot story! I adore patchouli but more in the full on Borneo style. Is this is a bit tamer? I do like her scents though – she seems to have relabeled a lot of her perfumes as ‘…. intense’ and upped the prices a bit. Anyway saying that I do find that of the 4 that I have of hers they all make me feel a lot more well heeled than I am so I quite like that – they are sort of like dress up perfumes for me.

    • Kevin says:

      Megan…yes, this is tamer…

  6. Lise says:

    Naaaw, I love that boot-story! Thank you, Kevin :-)

    • Kevin says:

      Lise…you’re welcome!

  7. Carolyn says:

    What a highly entertaining read this review is! I remember in my late teens using a patchouli scent that came in a black tube with some sort of wand applicator – Alyssa Ashley perhaps? – anyway, at the time I was working for a car leasing company & was one of two women, the other being a much older lady – all the guys from management to workshop commented favourably on my perfume.

    I’ve used one PdN fragrance for years – Le Temps d’Une Fete in its original format many years ago to its more recent reincarnation as a daffodil/narcissus/extremely green smell – now sadly discontinued.

    • Kevin says:

      Carolyn…that is too bad…I can’t get enough of narcissus! They are going strong in the garden now.

  8. Squirrely says:

    Patchouli Intense will be my next full bottle – I adore it. One of my favorite winter scents, and fantastic sillage and lasting power for me (I have scent eating skin). Love the PdN line.

    • Kevin says:

      Squirrely…think I will get a bottle too…thank goodness for 30 ml

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