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Nose-to Nose – Our Top 10 scents for December/January – Patchouli - December 4, 2013

Photo - Wikipedia - Jean Auguste Ingres - La Grande Odalisque, 1814, Louvre, Paris

Gwen:     I liked your post about Patchouli with Curves last Friday. It’s amazing how a single note can transform such a big dominant note like patchouli into something quite different and captivating.

Kay: But it’s the patchouli that starts the magic!

Gwen: Did you know that it’s an herb that belongs to the mint family?

Kay: I knew it was an herb, and now that I think of it, the mint connection accounts for patchouli’s somewhat camphorous smell when you first sniff it. According to Fragrantica, it grows as a bush in Asia, India is the largest source – the name comes form a Tamil word “patchai” which means “green leaf”.

Gwen: The distilled oil made from the leaves has been used for centuries in perfumes and incense, but I learned it’s also an effective insect repellant, and is an ingredient in alternative medicines, for skin conditions and other things.

Kay: I bought some patchouli oil absolute just because I wanted to know how the note smells on its own, and it smells incredible. Green and earthy and very herbaceous at the top, then it darkens and becomes sweeter with a rich woody-balsamic character. The real stuff is so different from the synthetic sickly-sweet hippie-era version.

Gwen: And apparently the oil is like a good wine – it gets better as it ages. Just like us!

Kay: It ages? I have to say my bottle of Borneo 1834 does seem to smell better every time I use it!  That frag is hands-down my favourite patchouli.

Gwen: You know what I love about Borneo 1834? It’s not sweet!

Kay: Me too! It’s an incredibly dark dry scent, deep, dark, and delicious, with that shocking blast of bitter choclate and vegetal patchouli up front. Then the hint of licorice, and cardamom, and exotic woods – mahogany and ebony – then the labdanum, the incense! Omigod, it’s just gorgeous.

Gwen: Strange name though, but then, it IS a Serge Lutens.

Kay: Serge did his homework. Apparently, Borneo 1834 refers to the place and the year when England and Europe were introduced to patchouli - the leaves were used in the packing bales of Indian and Chinese silk to deter moths….the gentry were so taken with the exotic herbal patchouli that they soon started using it in their homes, and wearing patchouli oil as scent.

Gwen: And the rest is history, as they say. One of my favourite patchouli frags is Elixir Patchouli by ReminiscenceThat breathtaking camphor/cedar facet of patchouli at the opening is soul stirring! Then the other facets of patchouli appear – the woody, earthy, green notes – and it becomes rich, deep and intense. It is the definition of patchouli.

Kay: I know that scent – it is amazing. What else do you have on your patchouli shelf?

Gwen: Here goes – I have four more:

Santa Maria Novella Patchouli, the original scent made by the nuns at the Italian convent gives you the full-on patchouli experience. It has the sharp camphorous note along with a dark, rich, dirty earthiness that is decidedly masculine. As it blooms you get the full range of patchouli -  bitter notes, herbal notes, floral notes, spicy notes, woody notes. Then an exotic musky dry-down which brings it into feminine territory. It’s a benchmark patchouli.

Lady Vengeance This girl from Juliette has a Gun has a heart of rose dirtied up by patchouli. Patchouli is a powerhouse but here it cuddles the rose all the way through and gives it depth and darkness, removing its thorns. A note of vanilla sweetens it up to make it seductive. The drydown is so smoooth and musky.

Portrait of a LadyPatchouli gives this lady a decidedly rich earthiness that makes you want to get to know her a whole lot better! Frédéric Malle and Dominque Ropion are geniuses. Enough said…….

1740 is a surprise patchouli from Histoires de Parfums. It opens with a sparkle from bergamot and boozy fruit from davana. Then it goes right into a heart of earthy, dark patchouli, spiced up by herbaceous coriander, anise and cardamom. What a set up for one of the best drydowns I know - a dreamy amber/leather accord made richer by cedarwood and birch.

Kay: They all sound intriguing. I have a few more, too – I can’t imagine owning just one patchouli!

Patchouli Patch is a classic from by Bertrand Duchaufour for L’Artisan. The peachy/citrusy osmanthus top introduces a simple, slightly sweet patchouli accord. No heavy amber notes muddy up the herbal patchouli, the dry-down into the heart continues in this simple manner, mixing in just a bit of white musk which settles the patchouli on the skin like a cashmere blanket. The base notes of anise and spice inject a cool woody accord, typical of Duchaufour drydowns, ethereal and quiet, like the arrival of cool purple air at dusk. Perfection.

Voleur de Roses - These roses from L’Artisan Parfumeur smell like they are rooted in damp earth, their sweetness diluted by a breeze of herbs and woody resins. Plum wine is somehow in the mix too, with the end result a dry, wonderful, twisted rose lying on a bed of patchouli leaves in a forest. Very cool and sophisticated, the dark hair, white skin, red-lip kind.

Ahh, Angel. Yes, she is a patchouli. At the top, I smell tart fruits, then sweet cotton candy with bitter chocolate, then dark herbal patchouli comes up very loud, and very clear. The strong patchouli is softened by vanilla and caramel as Angel moves into the heart, becoming smooth and almost dreamy, and well, delicious – not edible, just really delicious! A modern classic from Thierry Mugler.

Hippie Rose by James Heeley opens with green notes, bergamot and moss, and then musk. This fresh accord is sitting on top of patchouli, lovely green-herbal natural patchouli, which moves and swirls with the scent of young fresh roses newly opened, with green leaves and soft thorns. It smells light and airy, and full of promise, very modern, and very un-hippie-ish, despite its name.

Gwen: WOW! Patchouli is such an important note in perfumery. These are all terrific-smelling scents.

Kay: Yup. If a perfume lover can’t find a patchouli to love in this bunch, then they oughta have their head examined.

Gwen: Or their nose.....

We invite you to try these ten fabulous fragrances, and discover the beauty of the patchouli note interpreted by the best noses in the perfume world. Chances are, at least one of them will find its way into your heart forever.