Ah, Patchouli. Divider of opinion. You tend either to love it, or hate it, depending usually on your associations with the leaf and whether you lived through the hippie era. But that's a bit cliched. In any event, I wasn't truly a child of the seventies and didn't know any hippies. Nor did I visit any headshops I was aware of. So while I recognise how patchouli can smell a bit of the unwashed and of other more illicit herbs, I actually like the smell. Having said that, I can't wear a patchouli fragrance every day. It's a very strong and distinctive smell that I like only in moderation. Although patchouli is used in many perfumes (more than you would realise, probably), there aren't that many perfumes, certainly in mainstream, that focus more or less exclusively on the note. These days, patchouli tends to have been 'cleansed' of any odd whiffs or hint of body, fur, mothballs, you name it, to the extent that smelling a true patchouli fragrance can initially be a bit of a shock if you aren't that familiar with the note.
I've written about a few patchouli perfumes before, including three of my favourites, Mazzolari Lui, Serge Lutens Borneo 1834 and Chanel's Coromandel. Lui is a beast of a patchouli fragrance, bearing its fangs right from the start, in a sort of blood, fur and beastly breath fashion, before settling down into a very rich and strong patchouli accord that lasts for hours. If you don't like patchouli, then watch out if you try Lui. Borneo 1834 focuses initially on the mothball-like facets of the leaf, then moves into a rich, oriental take on patchouli with cocoa. It's a beautiful perfume. To my nose, Coromandel bears more of a resemblance to Borneo 1834 in that it also marries a slight chocolate note to a smooth and honeyed patchouli, but is much more reserved.
I recently sampled Patchouli Noir again, by Histoires de Parfums. I've had this one for ages and recall first wearing it last summer. I liked it, but wasn't blown away. This time round was a totally different story. To my mind, Patchouli Noir is unique and smells like no other patchouli fragrance I've encountered. I would describe it as a patchouli chypre. The opening is quite aldehydic, with some citrus notes, which fade very quickly to reveal a spicy pepperiness that immediately reminds me of Noir Epicee by Frederic Malle. The patchouli on this occasion is not evident on my skin at first, but after a few minutes I can sense it lurking beneath the pepper. It's an interesting take on patchouli, with the mossy and pepper notes quite strong, complementing the patchouli. Patchouli can dominate a perfume, but in this case it rounds out the 'harsher' pepper, creating a lovely dry accord that in feel is a bit like the sort of chypre style embodied by Mitsouko for example, although it is nowhere near it in actual smell. I don't generally like pepper in a perfume, but here it creates more of an incense feel than out-and-out pepper-grinder territory. As I said earlier, the first few times I wore Patchouli Noir the patchouli was far more evident and forceful, but in cooler weather it sits back a bit and allows the other ingredients to have a say. It smells wonderfully sophisticated and is entirely unisex in my opinion.
I can easily recommend Patchouli Noir for anyone who wants to try a different angle on the patchouli note or perhaps is not a fan of out-and-out patchouli.
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