There are materials in perfumery which are damned by a couple of words. When it comes to patchouli the phrase “head shop” is the one. It refers to the endemic scent of the shops which sold paraphernalia for smoking marijuana that popped up in the 1960’s. There are all kinds of anecdotal stories for why patchouli was so prevalent. It was used to mask the pot smell. It was used to mask the unwashed smell of the clientele. It smelled cool. There is no clear cut answer to why. The downside is patchouli has lost some of its panache when it is associated with the bohemian.
I admit I carried this prejudice with me when I first started my perfumed path. I wanted to wear fragrance to add a touch of class not have it be the perfume of the plebian. Over the years I learned how versatile patchouli was as an ingredient. At turns herbal, earthy, resinous while being playful or serious. There is a reason it shows up in so many compositions. When it comes to The Gold Standard the perfume I consider to be the baseline for patchouli is Chanel Coromandel.
Chanel Coromandel was released in 2007 as part of the Chanel Les Exclusifs collection. It was one of the inaugural releases in this collection. Chanel in-house perfumer Jacques Polge collaborated with perfumer Christopher Sheldrake in designing it. This was interesting because at this point M. Sheldrake had become the de-facto in-house nose at Serge Lutens. In that capacity he had recently designed in 2005 an intense chocolate patchouli gourmand; Serge Lutens Borneo 1834. That was a patchouli of darkness and mystery. Working with M. Polge on Coromandel the patchouli is less of an enigma. What makes Coromandel stand out is it embraces the bohemian and the chic nature of patchouli in one fragrance.
Coromandel opens with a bit of citrus and a bit of jasmine. It is a simple one-two before the patchouli arrives. When the patchouli does come in it is the non-head shop version. It is that cool green slightly camphoraceous version of patchouli. The perfumers add a little pine to frame these characteristics. This is a classical feeling vintage-ish perfume aesthetic. This is the patchouli I learned about smelling other perfumes. The base turns it into that head-shop accord as frankincense, benzoin and amber give anyone who lived in those times a flashback. Despite my dismissal of this as plebian previously; in Coromandel it has been elevated because it comes after the more refined heart accord. It makes it easier to enjoy the full patchouli experience the perfumers have provided.
Coromandel has 18-24 hour longevity and above average sillage.
I am usually critical of fragrances that try to have things both ways when it comes to designing around a specific material. It is a measure of why Coromandel is The Gold Standard for patchouli because it is one of the rare ones which succeeds at doing that.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.
Patchouli is one of the most common notes in all of perfumery. It is also one of the most widely-known notes by those who are not interested in perfume because it has been a fragrance associated with hippies and head shops, especially during the 1960’s and 70’s. The latter is an unfortunate association even though it makes it identifiable. I have always embraced the association as one of trying something different. As I’ve been exposed to more and more sources of really outstanding patchouli I have been reminded that the way patchouli became known to western noses was through the silk trade of the 18th and 19th centuries. Because patchouli was thought to be an insect repellent the rare silks were packed with patchouli leaves before being shipped to every royal court in Europe. The scent of patchouli on your silk was as good as a seal of authenticity. The smell of patchouli became associated with the noble classes and royalty during that time.
When I met Laoboratorio Olfattivo creative director Roberto Drago at Pitti Fragranze he spoke to me of wanting to create a patchouli perfume which captured both of these influences. To that end he asked perfumer Cecile Zarokian to create the new Patchouliful from a sketch he had done of a man wearing a crown, Hawaiian shirt, shorts and flip flops sitting on a throne. We laughed and I called it him the King of the Summer of Love. As Sig. Drago and I spoke further he related to me his desire to have a patchouli fragrance which was not so heavy he wanted something which would be as light-hearted as the sketch of his laid-back king. Mme Zarokian has a wonderful habit of listening to the creative directors she works with. She understood what Sig. Drago wanted and delivered a patchouli that is transparent and lilting while still having a real sense of the power of the title note.
Mme Zarokian starts Patchouliful off with a beautifully balanced spicy duet of cinnamon and clove. She keeps them floating on the surface of things and once you see underneath you are greeted by orris, frangipani and the expected patchouli. The clove, in particular, persists into the floral heart. The orris and frangipani form a slightly green floral bouquet. The patchouli is added in such a way that it seems to be playing hide and seek in among the spices and flowers. For quite a while it never seems like the patchouli will gain the upper hand. Later on in the development it does and it lands on a base of cedar, labdanum, and musk. Mme Zarokian leaves the ending as opaque as the middle phase of development was.
Patchouliful has 8-10 hours of longevity and average sillage.
All too often patchouli is used as a powerful presence in a perfume. Patchouliful shows there is also pleasure to be found by dialing back the power and allowing the user to come forward to the patchouli rather than the patchouli coming to them. The delicate hand used by Mme Zarokian to realize Sig. Drago’s vision makes for a memorable patchouli perfume. I have the Hawaiian shirt, short, flip flops and crown; whenever I find my throne Patchouliful will be my coronation day scent.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Laboratorio Olfattivo.