Patchouli, The Reverent Lover (in perfumery)

Patchouli has always been a part of my fragrance, like a line through my life.

-Julia Roberts

Patchouli is on my work dresser this week. Dark, aged patchouli, with its powerful earthly body, giving voluptuous backbone and mystery to a handful of fruity chypre mods. I suppose it's the cool nights approaching, the swirls of bonfire smoke tickling its way through the kitchen windows as the first fires of the season are set ablaze. There is an instinctive need for cozy. For the essential elements of life that illustrate autumn - being closer to get warm. Soft sweaters. Golden leaves, harvested garden abundance, glowing embers in the fire-pit. Hot morning coffee with kitty snuggles.

Patchouli plant vintage illustration

I know patchouli has a hippy history but I'm ignoring that today. Because the larger picture of patchouli in the world of perfumery is so much more. An essential ingredient in chypre compositions and sometimes ambers and fougeres, patchouli gives mystery, complexity, earthiness, sweetness, muskiness, and while on its own has an unmistakable personality, it can play a vital role in a fragrance where other aromatics shine.

Patchouli in my experience is often the x factor. It can add the seduction facet to an otherwise clean incense accord, it can make a cool rosebud open wide, and it most certainly adds tenacity to the wear of any fragrance. The slightly animalic dirty aspects, when blended with certain other aromatics, can create a creamy, powdery, some would say feminine, effect.

Vintage perfume boudoir image

It's a delicate thing, patchouli. Often it is a make-or-break ingredient for a customer - if they see it and think they hate patchouli, they may not give that fragrance a try, assuming they will hate the blend because they hate patchouli.

Did you know that Rainwater Rose has a tiny bit of patchouli? That's the note of 'gentle earth' listed on the perfume card. It's not enough to be noticed, just a few drops in the entire batch, but if it weren't there, the rose soliflore that you smell with such radiance, such freshness and purity, wouldn't reach your nose with the same bloom, or drydown into the rose petal jam layer underneath. Patchouli is a passionate lover to roses.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the alchemical magic of patchouli inside of Vintage Violet - a green chypre with mysterious facets, glorious sillage, and a dramatic evolution throughout the wear. It changes and morphs and tells stories on your skin. The powdery, mossy, sophisticated character is highlighted with leafy green and blue hues, while the perfume as a whole really cannot be picked apart. It must be worn and appreciated for the whole and memorable entity that it is.

Yet this week I am feeling even more daring with the juice. I am experimenting with the borderline of patchouli synergy and patchouli forward, with one of my favorite perfume subfamilies, the fruity chypre. A paradox of notes that sings burlesque, a good fruity chypre is not easily ignored, or forgotten.

Using red mandarin in place of the classic bergamot, with the leathery, rocky darkness of fossilized amber, edgy amounts of oakmoss, labdanum, and prisms of other ingredients, these mods are really getting to me. In the good kind of way.


Aromatic Muse, Fruity Chypre, Gather perfume