Top Classical Patchouli Perfumes : Part 1 Patchouli

A green plant that evokes the scent of earth. A leaf that smells like wood. A wood that smells like chocolate. Patchouli is a complex, intriguing, and polarizing ingredient in a perfumer’s palette. Some like it, others hate it. It leaves nobody indifferent. Yet, it’s also a material that gives perfumery today its distinctive character. A modern chypre can be made without oakmoss, but not without patchouli.

My latest video is part of a patchouli series, and in the first episode I discuss the material itself and cover classical patchouli fragrances. The way patchouli is processed affects its smell dramatically. A steam-distilled patchouli oil smells earthy, musty, loamy, while solvent-distilled patchouli absolute is reminiscent of cacao and dry woods. Other methods allow distillers to recompose fractions of patchouli essence to highlight certain effects, such as its licorice or sweet notes.

To describe patchouli in practice, I gives a few examples of classical fragrances. Despite its popularity today, patchouli doesn’t have the classical pedigree of jasmine or rose. It was an accent note, rather than a material that set the dominant impression. Nevertheless, as I show in the examples below, even when a small amount of patchouli is used to round out woody or leathery accords, accent florals, or balance out ambers, it can still project its character.

Chanel No 5

You might be surprised to see patchouli and Chanel No 5 mentioned together, but this ingredient is essential in the formula to balance out the rich floral accord and the waxy-starchy aldehydes. The newer reformulations of No 5 feature more patchouli, since many other materials that comprised its base are no longer available.

Caron Yatagan

Dark, handsome, and brooding. Meet Yatagan. Patchouli is married with leather and woods here and it smells like the ’70s.

Grès Cabochard

Another dark and intense fragrance with a beautiful patchouli layer. Cabochard, unlike Yatagan, is meant to be a feminine fragrance, so the floral notes soften the patchouli and leather. Nevertheless, it’s still a bold perfume.

Aramis

A masculine classic and an enduring favorite, especially in the US. A good example of patchouli paired with aromatic notes and woods.

Clinique Aromatics Elixir

Patchouli works well with herbal and spicy notes, and this fragrance is a perfect illustration. The current versions of Aromatics Elixir are heavier on patchouli at the expense of other spicy and animalic notes.

Miss Dior (1947)

Known today as Miss Dior l’Original to differentiate it from Miss Dior (which is really Miss Dior Chérie.) The original Miss Dior is a green chypre that weaves patchouli into a white floral accord.

Balmain Jolie Madame

A creation by the legendary Germaine Cellier, Jolie Madame pairs dainty violets with dramatic patchouli. The result is striking and puzzling in its strong contrasts. This pretty lady has many surprises up her sleeve.

In the next episode, I will discuss modern patchouli fragrances.

More on patchouli, perfumes and styles: Patchouli, Note of the Week.

Of course, I would love to hear about your thoughts on patchouli and patchouli fragrances.

Subscribe

55 Comments

  • Karen A: What an informative video! Interesting about the different distillation methods. Patchouli was never a note I liked as the oil makes me feel a bit queasy, but then I tried Coromandel which is one of my most favorite fragrances for fall and early spring. I only have the extrait so don’t know how the EdP wears, but the extrait is warm and enveloping like a cashmere cloud. October 1, 2021 at 7:25am Reply

    • Victoria: A cashmere cloud is spot on! October 2, 2021 at 7:19am Reply

  • Kate BAird: I’m surprised you didn’t mention Estee Lauder’s Azuree, which has been my favorite winter fragrance for over 45 years. It’s strongly patchouli-based, although it has now also been reformulated. I love it, and no one I’ve ever met has been indifferent to it. Thanks for your very informative and helpful article! October 1, 2021 at 9:38am Reply

    • Victoria: I mentioned Estee Lauder classics in the video, but I didn’t discuss them separately. It’s a very good perfume. October 2, 2021 at 7:19am Reply

  • Tourmaline: Dear Victoria,

    Thank you for this fascinating post and video. Patchouli is a note that I don’t really know; I can’t imagine its scent. I’ll have to smell Reminiscence Patchouli, so that I can get an idea of what it is like.

    I always find it amazing that humans experiment with the plants and other elements around them so that they eventually discover great ingredients – be they aromas or types of food. For example, they extracted the scent of patchouli by processing the initially bland patchouli leaf. It’s also interesting that different extraction methods yield different versions. I like both chocolate and licorice, so perhaps I’d like the varieties yielded by solvent extraction and other methods.

    I was surprised to hear that patchouli was in so many fragrances, and particularly that the chypre accord relied on the pairing of patchouli with oakmoss. I have miniature bottles of Miss Dior and Aromatics from the eighties, and a more recent mini of Jolie Madame. I adore Miss Dior, and I find Jolie Madame smoky and interesting, but I’ve never particularly liked Aromatics, which I used to find medicinal. But then, I haven’t smelled it in over 30 years, so I should take out my small bottle and give it another chance.

    With kind regards,
    Tourmaline October 1, 2021 at 9:51am Reply

    • Victoria: Aromatics Elixir is not something I’d wear myself for that reason, it’s too sharply herbal to me, but I like it on a blotter. Patchouli is definitely a complex material. October 2, 2021 at 7:20am Reply

  • carole: I thought I hated patch, but like Karen, I was given a sample of Coromandel, and loved it. Now I have a couple of patch fragrances, including AG Mon Parfum Cherie, par Camille, and Borneo from SL. I try not to wear these to work though. One coworker wear a really rough smelling patch oil and it’s really pervasive. This person also really enjoys garlic fingers for lunch so it’s a lot of scented products and food for the office. Victoria and other readers: is patch office appropriate? Does it depend on application, do you think? October 1, 2021 at 9:52am Reply

    • lysine: I feel like it depends on the amount and type of application. If I’m going to wear a strong fragrance to work I usually opt for one I can apply by dabbing/rollerball rather than spray. If I’m going to spray a patchouli heavy scent I sometimes opt for spraying my legs instead of wrist or chest since those spots are closer to other people’s noses. October 1, 2021 at 12:54pm Reply

    • Victoria: In small quantities it should be fine, but it’s true that it’s a very persistent note and some people dislike it with passion. October 2, 2021 at 7:21am Reply

  • Filomena: Victoria, thank you for your interesting video on Patchouli. At one time I did not care for pure Patchouli fragrances even though I did know Patchouli was in quite a lot of perfumes. However, I have grown to enjoy the note, I do own Santa Maria Novella Patchouli, Jovoy Psychedelique, Molinard Patchouli and Il Profumo Patchouli Noir. The Patchouli Noir is very well blended and not as strong as the Jovoy. October 1, 2021 at 10:09am Reply

    • Victoria: I like the patchoulis you mention. They’re true to the material, but they still have lots of nuances. October 2, 2021 at 7:22am Reply

  • Berengaria: haha not only do I love all the perfumes you meant above, I also h a v e them all 🙂 October 1, 2021 at 10:10am Reply

    • Berengaria: mentioned, not meant… October 1, 2021 at 10:11am Reply

    • Victoria: You’re a true connoisseur of patchouli! October 2, 2021 at 7:22am Reply

  • Kimberly: Your timing is perfect! Thank you for the video and information concerning Patchouli. I recently received a sample of Lubin’s Black Jade. While I like the dry down a lot, I can’t get past the opening which on me lasts about an hour. It has patchouli in it and I have been wondering if that is what has been throwing it off for me. Just the other day I was thinking that I should buy some pure patchouli somewhere so that I could get better acquainted with the scent. Then I could begin to better recognize the different elements that I smell in perfume. October 1, 2021 at 10:30am Reply

    • Victoria: Black Jade develops slowly, and yes, I suspect that you dislike its earthy patchouli aspect. October 2, 2021 at 7:23am Reply

  • Tara C: I love patchouli, especially the chocolatey type. Borneo, Ummagumma and Coromandel are favorites. October 1, 2021 at 11:28am Reply

    • Victoria: Chocolate and patchouli work well in food too! October 2, 2021 at 7:23am Reply

  • Nancy Chan: I use to dislike patchouli in perfumes. However, Coco Mademoiselle changed my view on patchouli. In well blended perfumes, patchouli is very elegant and balances out very sweet fragrances.

    Today I am wearing Chanel No.5 Extrait.
    I am surprised to see that Chanel No.5 contains patchouli, as I cannot perceive the earthy note. October 1, 2021 at 11:45am Reply

    • Victoria: Patchouli is not too earthy in No 5. In fact, it’s blended well into the woody accord. October 2, 2021 at 7:24am Reply

  • Deanna: Just a note of appreciation to Victoria.
    We are spoilt with all your wonderful articles, it’s always such a treat to see an email pop up from Bois de Jasmin.
    On the the note of patchouli, a classical perfume I would suggest would be Enjoy by Patou, the patchouli appears at the end and lingers beautifully. October 1, 2021 at 12:23pm Reply

    • Victoria: Aw, thank you very much, Deanna! Enjoy is a nice patchouli example, a blend of classical and modern. October 2, 2021 at 7:25am Reply

  • Shelly: Thanks Victoria so informative as usual and brought back memories of the original Cabochard which I started wearing when I was 15 in 1974. I remember receiving the parfum with a grey velvet bow from my boyfriend when I was 20, I loved it and I can still smell it in my mind. Over the years Cabochard became degraded as a fragrance when they changed the ingredients. I wonder if anyone has a suggestion for something that evokes Cabochard looking forward to the next instalment from Victoria. October 1, 2021 at 1:43pm Reply

    • Victoria: Have you tried Rien by Etat Libre d’Orange? It’s not the same idea, but the character is similar. October 2, 2021 at 7:25am Reply

      • Shelly: Thanks Victoria, no I haven’t I will get a sample always great to try something new. I got out an old bottle of aromatics today and I remember why I liked it. Patchouli is a reminder of the 70s for me and school. Never realised how much it runs through so many fragrances that I like. October 2, 2021 at 8:40am Reply

  • Aurora: Thank you very much Victoria, my No 5 are vintage, so would they still contain patchouli? The drydown is clearly animalic to my nose.

    Favorite patchouli is Acqua di Parma Orofumo and By Terry Rouge Nocturne, my favorite rose/patchouli combo. October 1, 2021 at 2:06pm Reply

    • Aurora: *Profumo October 1, 2021 at 2:07pm Reply

    • Victoria: It still has it, but it’s less noticeable. You can smell it better on a blotter. October 2, 2021 at 7:26am Reply

  • Sandra: I tried Rose Prick by Tom Ford, the title was misleading and so is the pink bottle. I was surprised it was a patchouli forward, rose hangs in the background sort of fragrance. The rose is jammy, but not overly rosy, more bitter. Not anything that knocked my socks off but I a full bottle ended up on my lap 😉 October 1, 2021 at 3:19pm Reply

    • Victoria: That sounds nice, bittersweet rose and patchouli. October 2, 2021 at 7:26am Reply

  • john: Thank you for this lovely article! As usual, it leaves me wanting more (rather like fragrance itself); the information, perspective and delivery you provide are always a pleasure. I own a bottle Aramis and admire it, but have found over time that its (slightly notorious) use of cumin a little hard to manage in a workplace setting. Aramis’ prominent aldehydes are also something I sometimes have trouble with, though I appreciate their role in providing a burnished gleam to the composition’s sawdust-y accords and huge dose of isobutyl quinoline.

    My favourite patchouli based fragrance is Guerlain’s Héritage. I was delighted to discover it because it reminded me strongly of Davidoff’s Zino, a fragrance I found very comforting but was unfortunately a bit sensitized to. The Eau de Toilette delivers a wonderfully textured, malty, cacao-y patchouli with a discreet evolution, whereas the EDP is embedded in amber; I prefer the EDT as I find it much friendlier. I do wear it to the office sometimes, but it has a strong mood that I prefer to enjoy without distractions. October 1, 2021 at 3:19pm Reply

    • Victoria: That’s a great patchouli example. Héritage is one of the most underrated fragrances from Guerlain–and masculine fragrances in general, but it’s excellent, and I find it elegant and edgy in equal measure. October 2, 2021 at 7:28am Reply

      • Jeanne: I took a chance and purchased a bottle of Guerlain’s Heritage for my 23-year old son, and he really likes it! I emphasized it is an enduring classic in Europe and the US. October 2, 2021 at 11:28am Reply

    • Cornelia Blimber: Hi John, thank you for reminding me of Heritage. I have 1 and a half bottle in my collection, but I alwas do think of it as lavender. You are right of course, there is a strong note of patchouli. Wearing it today! October 3, 2021 at 5:52am Reply

  • Fazal: Oh, I did not know that patchouli plant, leaf, and wood are all used in perfumes. This explains why some patchouli perfumes smell earthy/dusty and other give a bit chocolatey vibe. Given your description, I assume that it was patchouli leaves that were used in vintage Givenchy Gentleman.

    I have an ambivalent relationship with patchouli and don’t like most perfumes with a dominant patchouli note. However, vintage Givenchy Gentleman is one of my most favorite perfumes and I also enjoy Chanel Coromandel.

    I do enjoy most of the perfumes in your list, though find Yatagan a bit too challenging and vintage Aramis is also a bit too out-of-place in contemporary times.

    My favorite from your list is Clinique Aromatics Elixir. I respect Miss Dior but I like Dioressence a lot more, and given the close relationship between Miss Dior and Dioressence, it seems a safe bet that patchouli also plays a major role in Dioressence formula. October 1, 2021 at 3:35pm Reply

    • Victoria: Patchouli is a leafy plant, but its leaves smell of wood. It’s a curious ingredient.

      Dioressence is another great patchouli vehicle, but I don’t like the new version. The patchouli is still beautiful, but the rest is too screechy and thin. October 2, 2021 at 7:30am Reply

      • Fazal: My mistake for not specifying that I meant the vintage version of Dioressence. I have not tried the latest versions (those by Demachy), expecting them to be hollow, just as you confirm. October 2, 2021 at 10:25pm Reply

  • Victoria: Victoria, thank you for this post since patchouli is my very favorite scent, I’ve loved it since the 70’s. I like the strong dirty scent,very earthy. I’m glad it is being recognised once again for it’s great balancing affect in todays modern fragrances. Always adding mystery and animalistic undertones to the most virginal of scents it creates a mysterious seductive nuance.
    I have a pure patchouli oil that I wear when I want to alter a sweet or floral perfume so it leaves an intriging trail of questionable purpouse.
    My favourites now are Portrait of a Lady by Louis Malle ,Coco Madamoisielle by Chanel, and the original that sparked my lust for patchouli, Velour de Roses by L’Artisan. I look forward to your work. Thank you.
    Vicki Bieze October 2, 2021 at 12:19am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for the extra patchouli ideas and for your descriptions. 🙂 October 2, 2021 at 7:31am Reply

  • Ewan: Growing up Patchouli was the scent worn by ‘Bikers’ or ‘Rockers’ who let it become ingrained in thier leather jackets. It was always deep and heavy, mingled with engine oil,tobacco and ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’. October 2, 2021 at 2:13am Reply

    • Victoria: Ha! That’s a vivid association. October 2, 2021 at 7:32am Reply

      • Ewan: It was an oil in a little bottle, I don’t which type of shop they bought it from; nor if it was used outside the UK. I went to a Black Sabbath concert once and it was wall-to-wall patchouli and tobacco. Noone else wore it.
        Could be an interesting scent, using White Birch instead of ‘huile de engine’. October 2, 2021 at 8:52am Reply

    • Wild Gardener: Patchouli, leather, engine oil; it makes me wonder how much the biker scene could have inspired Fahrenheit. October 2, 2021 at 2:52pm Reply

      • Ewan: HI, It looks heavy-metallish. Keep your motor running, head out on the highway……. October 3, 2021 at 1:39am Reply

  • Mayfly: My favourite patchouli fragrances in my collection are POAL, A.G’s Mon Parfum Cherie Par Camille and Les Nereides Patchouli- a true earthy and strange patch, Tana Sanchez desvibes as; “..a cold smell of the damp undersides of garden stones in a sweet woody setting, making for a folk tale of a fragrance, rustic and bizarre”. This is exactly how it smells to me- childhood days as summer turns to autumn, and the weather becomes more damp, playing Enid blyton fairy games in the woods, imagining finding the Faraway Tree!
    I’m also saving up to get a bottle of Coromandel edp for Christmas, I’ve heard it’s not too different from the edt which I adored, can anyone share there experiences of differences in formulations of this one? Thanks. October 2, 2021 at 7:09am Reply

    • Mayfly: That should be’ Patchouli Antique’ by Les Nereides. October 2, 2021 at 7:11am Reply

    • Victoria: I didn’t compare them side by side, but I smelled the EDP on its own. I didn’t think that it was dramatically different, and it certainly smelled wonderful. October 2, 2021 at 7:33am Reply

  • Megan: I have tried many times to learn to like patchouli. I’ve tried Coromandel, patchouli with fragrances I normally really like (e.g. jasmine, sandalwood), and I always come up short. To me, patchouli smells like that god awful incense it seemed like everyone was burning in the 90s and poured out of the 60s Shop at the local mall. Maybe I’ll find something someday! October 2, 2021 at 8:55am Reply

  • Cornelia Blimber: Patchouli is not my favourite note, but I like Borneo 1834 very much. Makes me feel like Konsulin Buddenbrook. Also Etro Patchouly. October 2, 2021 at 9:51am Reply

    • Cornelia Blimber: I had a bottle of Yatagan, but I could not wear it. I smelled too much castoreum. October 3, 2021 at 5:54am Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: Ooh, I love patchouli. My beloved Maria Novella Patchouli went off, a crying shame. So I bought a Farmacia Annunziata Firenze, Patchouli Indonesiano. Both are unapologetically patchouli, and not much else.
    I also treasure my vintage Les Néréides Patchouli Antiques as well as SL Bornéo 1834. So many fantastic patchouli scents out there! October 2, 2021 at 12:58pm Reply

  • Carolyn: I remember wearing a pure patchouli fragrance in my early 20s – it came in a black tube with an applicator wand – Alyssa Ashley comes to mind but obviously the packaging has changed in the subsequent decades! I also remember working in a very male dominated vehicle leasing company at the time & being regularly complimented on how nice I smelled, which is always lovely to hear. October 3, 2021 at 9:26am Reply

  • Akimon: I never thought I liked patchouli much, especially straight up, but I changed my mind when I came across an all natural scent called Medina from a German company Florascent. Its mix of patchouli, saffron, vetiver and orris root was so striking and original, it made me see patchouli – and vetiver – in a new light. Sadly, the newest formulation of Medina is rather dull – I suspect saffron was pared down due to recent regulations and orris root has been pared down because it’s too pricey – and it’s now more of a plain patchouli & vetiver scent, nice but not in the same league.
    I also love vintage Aromatics Elixir and I can definitely smell the patchouli heart in it. The mix of moss and just the right amount of patchouli definitely hits the sweet spot for me. A lot of vintage chypre scents had that going for them. October 3, 2021 at 12:54pm Reply

  • Karen: I adored TF white patchouli for a long time, but don’t seem to resonate with it anymore. Dying to smell Lutens Borneo and Etro Patchouly…..how fortuitous I have an up and coming, much anticipated, visit to Liberty very soon. Bliss! Xx October 3, 2021 at 2:48pm Reply

What do you think?

From the Archives

Latest Comments

Latest Tweets

Design by cre8d
© Copyright 2005-2021 Bois de Jasmin. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy