“Patchouli is the scent that covers up the smell of marijuana.”
This is not my expert advice, but the words of Will Andrews, director and technical fragrance expert at Coty, who I met over mojitos in a beach bar on Tenerife. Myself, passionate about patchouli and holding a “patch head” membership card, couldn’t be more curious to deep dive into this vast olfactory ocean, where we splash into the very core of fragrance philosophy.
The Pineal Post: Really?
Will Andrews: Yes, it smells cannabislike and was very popular in the late 1960’s and 70’s counter-culture to disguise the smell of pot. The dark, deep and sensually seductive smell became very fashionable with the hippies using it everywhere, as raw oil on skin. It’s a sexy and suggestive smell with lots of energy. It leaves a trail.
TPP: Where did they get it from?
WA: Are you ready for the long story?
TPP: Bring it on!
WA: Patchouli itself came to Europe from the Far East in the 1800’s. It came with silk clothing exported from India. The garments were packed with leaves of patchouli to keep the moths and insects away. This practice, which had started as a means of protection for the silk, ended with patchouli being considered an affluent upper class scent associated with the great silk route.
TPP: So it became very posh to smell like insect repellent?
WA: Yes, isn’t that incredible? And it leads me to this: Things that smell in nature, the flowers and the leaves. They are not for us, not for human beings. They are for the insects. Eighter to attract the insects or to repel them. There is no evolutionary reason why human beings should love the smell of flowers. And the same applies to patchouli. It keeps the bugs away and yet some of us like to wear it. We don’t know the reason why.
TPP: Then, 160 years later, it turned into a filthy hippie thing, what a huge contradiction!
WA: Yes, many of us tend to think of patchouli as something worn by dirty hippies at Woodstock. So maybe smells fit in to a cultural movement. They gain an identity and get associated with a happening, or people and places, which transcends their original purpose in nature. And maybe this is the human spirit that transcends nature. Because surely smell and perfume has more meaning than it’s raw pieces from nature ever intended. And that is the truly amazing thing about perfume. It transforms and translates from something that has a functional purpose into something that is purely emotional. It’s so beautiful.
TPP: So where does patchouli stand in perfumery today?
WA: It’s still widely used as a richer base note and brings a wonderful atmosphere to any fragrance. Many people like that slightly naughty, dark and sexy vibe. The smell’s accociation with subversive culture still remains and there is no doubt that upper class and subversion meets these days. So the experiences patchouli has gathered along the way have stayed with it and therefore it has kept it’s charged aura. It will take a long time, probably spans of decades before it will loose the identity it has gained.
TPP’s collection of fine patchouli perfumes includes:
Patchouli, Santa Maria Novella. This one claims to be created in the 1800’s and it’s probably the darkest, most robust patchouli fragrance on the market. A pure, raw, damp and shameless patchouli suitable for die-hard patch heads.
Ombre Leather 16, Tom Ford. Like the ombre effect on a luxury leather jacket, this is a scent that bleeds one note into the next. Black leather over purple jasmine over earth-brown patchouli over green violets over white moss.
Soul of The Forest, Maison Martin Margiela. Smokey and sweet – a spiritual retreat for the soul amidst nature. Top notes are black currant and ancient moss. Middle notes are labdanum, sap and balsam fir. Base notes are incense, patchouli and cedar.
Portrait of a Lady, Editions de Perfums Frederic Maille. Dark roses and mystical incense. This fragrance balances between the oriental and chypre theme with patchouli dominating the heart of the composition.
Moonlight Patchouli, Van Cleef & Arpels. Patchouli is the core of this fragrance, while soft moonlight tones reveal delicate floral notes of rose and iris. A precious warm suede accord, imbued with leather and fruity accents, completes this exceptional fragrance.