If there is such a thing as a Proustian fragrance note, surely patchouli must be it. The bushy herb that is part of the mint family provokes unbidden (and unwanted) associations with the Sixties, when it became the perfume of choice of the hippie tribe. In its natural state a green aromatic that is used as natural insecticide, the herb is a basenote staple of perfumery as well as being celebrated as a central theme.
Les Néréides Patchouli Antique is one of a number of patchouli-centric fragrances in niche perfume lines that strips away the past and presents patchouli as something eminently more palatable for modern tastes. Patchouli takes well to a variety of diverse elements, from the overworked fruit to tobacco, amber, vanilla, leather, benzoin, musk, and woods, to name a few. It does especially well with vanilla, which is the treatment Les Néréides has given it to create a smooth, well-tempered “golden” patchouli that smells as if it has been cask-aged like a fine liqueur.
Although the lasting power is superb and the strength impressive, Patchouli Antique is a mellow liquid using vanilla not as a sweetening agent but as a smoothing one. Vanilla takes the edge off the green, aromatic and slightly minty quality that the note possesses in isolation. The “antique” of the name conjures up ideas of aging and one is hard-pressed to escape a noticeable mustiness that creeps into the fragrance after a fruity and golden opening.
Patchouli Antique is not enslaved to the herbal origin of the note. After the fruitiness of the opening comes a lovely, semi-damp earthiness similar to what one finds in L’Artisan Voleur de Roses and then the notes of wood, paper, leather, and perhaps a vapor of alcohol. At this point I’d not be surprised to find it served, straight up, in a specialty bar, the way the most esoteric tequilas are with their whiffs of the barrels in which they matured.
Vanilla comes into play in the drydown, rubbing out the earlier earthy and liqueur-like qualities but not in a degree that makes the fragrance gourmand. It does tend to desensitize the patchouli a bit; those looking for straight-up patchouli should head immediately to the tongue-twisting Farmacia SS. Annunziata dal 1561 Patchouly Indonesiano, which claims no note other than patchouli and which is both revelatory and a head-clearer. Those looking to mostly eradicate the note by means of sweetness should consider Montale Patchouli Leaves, in which the leaves are steeped in vanilla.
It’s probably inevitable that one should liken Patchouli Antique to some sort of garment, generally cashmere, due to the ambery-vanillic plushness that appears after the mildew note dissipates. Depending on the method of application (spraying or dabbing) it can become almost a skin scent when applied in moderation, or it can announce itself as patchouli and it will elicit remark when used that way.
This isn’t a fragrance for those who dislike the note. If that is the case, Patchouli Antique will not cause conversion. It’s a great scent for patchouli connoisseurs who make small distinctions in earthiness and sweetness and formality and in-. It’s my third favorite patchouli after Chanel Coromandel and Reminiscence Patchouli and I can’t think of any way to “improve” it or to render it more pleasurable.
Les Néréides Patchouli Antique includes notes of patchouli, musk and vanilla. Available from Luckyscent and directly from Les Néréides boutiques.