Leaving behind its musty, hippie past, patchouli has reformed its reputation with some chic new incarnations.
Pipe stores, gypsy fairs, markets selling tie-dyed T-shirts where cloying incense or other pungent smoke fills the air… One whiff of patchouli and it’s likely you’ll be transported to another time and place complete with the sights and sounds of where you first encountered the scent. While not always unfavourable, they’re unlikely to conjure something chic, modern or fresh.
But such is the magic of today’s master perfumers, many of whom are now using the notes produced from the oil of the bushy green herb as the base of their decidedly contemporary fragrances.
Despite having its heyday in the era of peace and love, the potent herb had actually been used for hundreds of years before that. Native to India, the oil was originally used to treat skin issues as well as dried and used to scent fabrics and repel insects during trade and travel.
By drying the leaves and extracting the scent with steam, the plant offers a sweet herby aroma with a woody-balsamic undertone
These days wellness practitioners using herbs and essential oils to promote good health extol the benefits of patchouli, suggesting it has calming, soothing effects that can help treat anxiety and depression.
Your recollection of patchouli might be of a primal, earthy odour, perhaps even akin to BO, but used prudently in fine fragrance, it provides a warm, velvety, sensual base. When processed faithfully, by drying the leaves and extracting the scent with steam, the plant offers a sweet herby aroma with a woody-balsamic undertone.
The increasingly popular chypre family of fragrances, characterised as scents that contrast fresh citrus and a woody-oakmoss base, now rely heavily on the addition of patchouli.
Where amber, sandalwood or oud (a wood resin) once were called upon, patchouli is now in favour to round out the base notes — or the elements that linger longest — in the latest fragrances. It can lift sparkling citrus and give an unexpected depth to white florals such as jasmine and tuberose.
For niche noses that remain fans of its earthier incarnation, there are contemporary options too, usually accompanying warm wood, resin and leather notes.
Scroll for the new releases in fragrance with subtle patchouli base notes through to bold power players.