Tom Ford White Patchouli : Perfume Review



Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.

If only Tom Ford White Patchouli upheld the promise of its opening accord, I would have been ready to give it 5 stars. It opens up on such a sultry accord of spices and amber with patchouli’s chocolate bitterness perceptible underneath; it is difficult not to fall under its spell. Yet, after an opulent prelude, the composition veers into the barren territory of sharp woods and pale musks. Perhaps this suggests that I prefer my patchouli in the darker registers, full of its earthy, pungent facets.

Although White Patchouli is a modern bright woods composition with a few of hints of oriental resins and spices, it is related to classical patchouli rich fragrances like Jean Couturier Coriandre and its more recent incarnation, Agent Provocateur. It only takes a delicate touch of patchouli to transform a pretty floral into a seductive blossom, and if the quantity is increased even more, the result is heady and striking. In the opening accords of White Patchouli, this aspect is presented beautifully. The patchouli begins to shimmer right under the sweet orange and coriander. As the rose notes begin to reveal their soft, honeyed warmth, the woody darkness of patchouli lends them a rich, velvety character. Smoky incense plays up the exotic aura of White Patchouli, leading one to expect a smoldering drydown.

Just as one expects to receive more opulence and seduction, things grind to a halt. Patchouli begins to pale and wither away, leaving behind a strong and brash woody note laced with musks and sharp amber. Even more disconcertingly, something in the drydown makes me think of the musky sweetness associated with fabric softeners. The switch is so jarring and disappointing that it took me several trials to finally come to terms with the fact that White Patchouli and I are not meant to be together. As is the case with fragrances one does not like, White Patchouli lasts forever on my skin. At any rate, to experience a fantasy that it promises but did not deliver, I reach for Agent Provocateur or Frédéric Malle Portrait of a Lady.

Tom Ford White Patchouli contains notes of peony, mandarin, bergamot, jasmine, rose absolute, coriander, ambrette seed, sandalwood, incense and golden amber. Available at the Tom Ford boutiques, Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Sephora, Nordstrom and other retailers. The Eau de Parfum–$62 (30ml), $95 (50ml) $138 (100ml.)

Sample: my own acquisition



  • Suzanna: I assume this sells well enough to keep it on the shelves next to Black Orchid. I agree with you about the drydown, which brings to mind something I’ve recently noticed: A lot of modern drydowns are either clumsy, cheap, or poor excuses. It’s as if the fragrance is built for the top alone and is not meant to carry on through the base.

    The modern musky/vetiver/amber base is the ruination of many a good scent. There is a certain type of musk used now–you would know more than anyone–that is indeed fabric-softener like. What a disappointment. August 8, 2011 at 9:26am Reply

  • dleep: I purchased this unsniffed. Although I don’t hate it, it is not what I expected and I don’t wear it very often. August 8, 2011 at 11:48am Reply

  • minette: this just wasn’t patchouli to me – as you say, it pales and withers away to blandness. maybe that’s the “white” in the name? a disappointment, for sure. especially coming from a man known for sexy. August 8, 2011 at 1:58pm Reply

  • Andy: I like my patchouli very Dirty and rich—but this obviously doesn’t capture that. I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but my my favorite thing about patchouli, in terms of it in it’s essential oil is its drydown. Whereas patchouli starts out as chocolatey and dirty, it seems to drydown to a rich, cool, opulent aroma which I can’t get enough of! August 8, 2011 at 3:36pm Reply

  • Debbie: I bought this based on already admiring a few of Tom Ford’s fragrances as well as adoring patchouli, and I fell under the spell of the compelling opening you describe. I wore it a few times, was massively disappointed with the no-show of the sexy, dirtier notes I associate with patchouli (and Tom Ford) and as a result it languished in the back of the perfume drawer for a good few months. The next time I smelled it was when I complimented a girlfriend on her perfume and it occurred to me that it was White Patchouli. From then I’ve actually really enjoyed wearing it, mostly because my expectations of what I thought it should smell like had been re-calibrated. So, to round up, it’s not been a bad purchase for me, it just didn’t live up to the initial fantasy – and I’m unsure yet if it will be a re-purchase. P.S. Thank you for pointing out the similarity to AP; I’ve been trying for weeks to identify another scent it reminds me of and this is it. There is, to my nose at least, almost a fruity note that is common to both these perfumes. A revisit of AP rather than a re-purchase of WP may be more likely (less costly too). August 8, 2011 at 4:00pm Reply

  • Victoria: I completely agree with you, many fragrances today do not have interesting drydowns. A lot of it has to do with the regulations that basically restrict some of the best materials used classically as the base notes. And the trend for clean musky drydowns also means that bland fabric softener feel. August 8, 2011 at 2:36pm Reply

  • Victoria: I was ready to buy it after smelling it on my skin for the first 15 min. It was just gorgeous. And then… Very disappointing turn of events. August 8, 2011 at 2:37pm Reply

  • Victoria: Many contemporary patchouli accords are cleaned up to the point of not smelling like patchouli! Patchouli has a camphorous, earthy, dirty facet. Once it is polished away, it often smells bland, unless there is something else in the composition to create a twist. August 8, 2011 at 2:38pm Reply

  • Anne: I’m interested in you reference to ‘chocolate bitterness’ – that’s what I get from Dior’s Dune, which I am enjoying very much at the moment. (I know, I know, a great cliche of the 90s but it is new to me … !) I don’t like bitter chocolate to eat, but love it in perfume. Fortunately Dune does deliver a magnificent dry-down! Thanks for the review. August 8, 2011 at 8:14pm Reply

  • Anne: Yay Dune! I might give that Borneo a sniff. Angel is the signature of a friend of mine, so I don’t wear it myself. It smells magnificent on her; she can really pull off well. August 8, 2011 at 9:44pm Reply

  • Victoria: I love that aspect of patchouli too. The top note is a bit harsh on its own, but the drydown is splendid. You put it so well in that it is cool, yet very rich. August 8, 2011 at 8:41pm Reply

  • Victoria: AP is one of my favorites as far as “rose-patchouli” fragrances go. I know that it has much more than just this, but I always think of it in terms of these two dominant notes. August 8, 2011 at 8:42pm Reply

  • Victoria: I love Dune, and I am always glad whenever I encounter others who love this great fragrance. Its drydown is fantastic, and I can see what you mean about bitter chocolate. Dune has lots of amber, oriental notes and patchouli. Patchouli is interesting, because its chocolate facets become pronounced in some pairings in particular. For instance, that’s where Angel gets most of its chocolate notes as does Lutens’ Borneo 1834. August 8, 2011 at 8:44pm Reply

  • Victoria: I love Borneo 1834, mostly because it keeps its patchouli very dark and earthy. It is a very sexy perfume! August 9, 2011 at 9:09am Reply

  • annie: It seems to me that all perfumes of this kind of composition abandon the glory of patchouli and leave only the bullying smell of sandalwood. Sandalwood is everywhere all the time and I hate it. Where are the patchouli beauties of old?? What were those formulations and why aren’t they recreated? I have exhausted my resources for years trying to find it or make it, all to no avail. Sandalwood is like an aroma scourge. It’s either sandalwood in all the “patchouli” analogues or it’s that fabric softener stuff that almost all perfumes reek of these days. Sigh…. February 3, 2012 at 8:08pm Reply

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