Tom Ford Patchouli Absolu ~ fragrance review

Tom Ford Patchouli Absolu, Catherine Deneuve and a Neanderthal

How many people know what REAL patchouli smells like? It seems fewer and fewer perfumistas have smelled “dirty” natural patchouli. The patchouli most used in perfumes these days is clean and crease-less, its damp/dank, earthy/root-y character has been dimmed or eliminated. Brutish, chest-thumping patchouli has been replaced in designer fragrances with patchouli that could be characterized as either an elegant lady or a freshly laundered, cuddly teddy bear who has cocoa-scented breath, with a dab of vanilla extract behind each ear.

Tom Ford Patchouli Absolu doesn’t go the ladylike or gourmand routes; its patchouli retains a natural “edge.” If real patchouli is Homo neanderthalensis and contemporary patchouli is Homo Catherine Deneuve, Tom Ford Patchouli (Absolu) is…Tom Ford himself…

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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…

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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…

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Reminiscence Patchouli Pour Homme ~ fragrance review

Reminiscence Patchouli Pour Homme

Reminiscence Patchouli Pour Homme is not a strange, cocoa-sprinkled, cramp-inducing patchouli fragrance like Serge Lutens Borneo 1834 (whenever I smell Borneo 1834 my stomach begins to ache). Patchouli Pour Homme is certainly not a loud, “crude” type of patchouli perfume favored by provincial nouveaux riches. (See Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, where the prissy, aristocratic Leonid Andreyevitch Gaev enters a room, sniffs the air, and complains: “It smells of patchouli in here.” Someone’s wearing cheap perfume…and it’s none other than peasant-turned-entrepreneur Ermolai Alexeyevitch Lopakhin!) Patchouli Pour Homme is also not the variety of oily, overbearing patchouli used by old-time hippies to scent their greasy hair and beards or their sweaty leather boots. Patchouli Pour Homme is a staid patchouli fragrance.

Reminiscence Patchouli Pour Homme contains mandarin, lime, geranium, cedar, patchouli, labdanum, tonka bean, tolu balm, white musk, and benzoin. Patchouli Pour Homme opens with warm lime and geranium leaf; quickly other notes pop: ‘fossilized’ cedar (almost too “dry” to detect), sheer labdanum, well-behaved and CLEAN patchouli…

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Reminiscence Elixir Patchouli ~ fragrance review

Reminiscence Elixir Patchouli fragrance

Most perfumistas have a note, or maybe two or three or ten, that they simply can’t bring themselves to appreciate. I have a few. I don’t love mimosa or heliotrope, although I don’t really hate them either. I can live without angelica, and anything more than a pinch of cumin is too much. I’m not fond of melon-y aquatics or very clean musks. My one true bête noire, though, has always been patchouli. Six years ago, a perfume with enough patchouli that even an amateur such as I could smell it was pretty much out of the question — which basically ruled out the entire oriental fragrance family. In the years since, I’ve mostly come to terms with patchouli, that is, I would no longer say that I hate it, and oriental perfumes are no longer verboten. I still wouldn’t say I loved patchouli though, and a fragrance that actually has the word patchouli in the name isn’t one I’m going to be rushing out to try.

The Osmoz booklet from the Les coulisses du parfum, Vol III, Legendary woods & resins kit describes patchouli as “woody • camphory • green • earthy • mossy • mildewy”. All of that sounds good to me, even the mildewy part — I think of oakmoss as mildewy, and it’s one of my favorite smells in the world. But there’s something about the particular way that patchouli is mildewy, in combination with the richness and the sweetness, that just doesn’t work for me. You’d think that newer, cleaner (molecularly modified) versions of patchouli would work better for me, but they don’t always — they usually wipe out much of the earthy part, which to me is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater…

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