Dior Patchouli Imperial (La Collection Privée)

Patchouli Imperial is a crisp, aromatic, desiccated, very woody men’s cologne that is far from the patchouli soliflore that its name would imply. It starts off as a men’s fougère, before turning into a scent with faint ties to Guerlain‘s L’Instant Pour Homme and, to a much lesser extent, Habit Rouge. Eventually, it ends up as a dry woody fragrance with an ambered touch, but little character.

Source: Dior

Source: Dior

Patchouli Imperial is part of Dior’s prestige line of fragrances called La Collection Privée. (The line is sometimes called La Collection Couturier on places like Fragrantica and Surrender to Chance, but I will go with the name used by Dior itself on its website.) The eau de parfum was released in 2011, the creation of François Demarchy, the artistic director and nose for Parfums Dior. Dior describes the scent as follows:

Potent and sensual, Patchouli is an essential House of Dior ingredient that took up its place at the beginning of the New Look revolution in 1947.

Full of elegance, François Demachy’s composition, Patchouli Impérial, is a celebration of this legendary oriental ingredient with notes as sultry as they are sophisticated. “Patchouli is a major note, the most animal of all the plant notes. It is refined, revealing unprecedented elegance.”

Dior’s very limited — and I would argue, very incomplete — list of notes only mentions:

Russian Coriander, Indonesian Patchouli, Indian and New Caledonian sandalwood.

Source: Dior

Source: Dior

Fragrantica voters add in cedar, Sicilian mandarin, and Calabrian bergamot. I agree with them, but would also include some other things. What I smell is:

Lavender, Bergamot, Lime, Virginia Cedar, Russian Coriander, Indonesian Patchouli, Cocoa, Indian and New Caledonian/Australian sandalwood, and something ambered.

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

Patchouli Imperial opens on my skin with cologne and fougère traits of lavender, bitter lime, bitter dried orange peel, bergamot, lemony peppered coriander, and dust. It is followed by a sour wood note that is simultaneously green, unripe, and desiccated. Dustiness infuses everything, especially the coriander which smells old, stale, and sharp. It’s not the dustiness of patchouli, but rather, of a dirt road or a crypt.

The wood note isn’t appealing either, as it is slightly off, almost like rancid “sandalwood.” A few months ago, I received a concentrated Australian sandalwood oil, and it smells extremely close to the aroma in Patchouli Imperial. The oil had an oddly medicinal, mentholated edge which isn’t apparent here, but it had the same “off,” green tonality that eventually turned a bit creamy like sour buttermilk.

Photo: D&M Canon. dmcanon.blogspot.com

Photo: D&M Canon. dmcanon.blogspot.com

The dustiness is quite something. It leaves an itchiness at the back of my throat, but more than that, it creates a staleness around the notes that robs the citric elements of all their brightness and zestiness. It also amplifies the definite herbaceous quality in Patchouli Imperial, especially the lavender which has all the dried, pungent, sharp characteristics that I loathe so much. The overall effect is to a create a fragrance that is as much a dry woody scent as it is an aromatic, fougère cologne.

Source: vfxdude.com

Source: vfxdude.com

Other notes soon arrive to join the bitter citruses, pungent lavender, sour green woods, and dried tonalities. At first, it is cedar which is equally dry and musty. Then, there is a hint of creamy sweetness that cuts through the stale, bitter, and arid accords, but it is very muted. More noticeable is a sour medicinal element that appears after about five minutes. It is sharp and pungent, but it doesn’t smell like the camphorated, leafy darkness of patchouli. Instead, it has an almost leathered greenness that feels like a distant cousin to galbanum. 

Patchouli Imperial is such an odd mix of sourness, greenness, dark brown desiccation and aridity, dust, staleness, and pungency. Dried lavender, dried bitter orange peel, bitter lemon, heaping amounts of peppered coriander, dust, dry cedar, unripe sour buttermilk “sandalwood,” and more dust — it’s really unpleasant to my nose. I’ve tried Patchouli Imperial a few times over the last 6 months, and most recently again in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport in October, and each time, I’ve recoiled at its opening. People sometimes use the term “old lady” as a derogatory way to describe fragrances; I dislike the term as something that is both sexist and not particularly useful as a descriptor, but I’ve often wondered why no-one describes fragrances as being “old man” in nature.

Well, let me use it here. Patchouli Imperial has a sour, stale, musty “old man” aroma. It reminds me distinctly of an old Greek man I once knew whose old-fashioned fougère cologne mixed with a definite dustiness from his old books, as well as a subtle whisper of sour staleness from his unshaven face and his ancient, brown cardigan. He was a very sweet chap, but I wouldn’t want to smell like him.   

Light, natural, cocoa powder.

Light, natural, cocoa powder.

Fifteen minutes in, a creamy cocoa powder pops up in the sidelines, adding to the discordant jangle. The stale coriander powder grows sharper, as do the lemon and lime. The sour green sandalwood darts in and out, toying with the musty woodiness of the cedar. Thankfully, the pungency of the lavender softens a little, and that brief flicker of leathered greenness vanishes. The desiccated woodiness in the base remains, however, and my throat feels scratchier than ever. It has to be something synthetic, especially as there is something distinctly sharp in Patchouli Imperial when smelled up close. 

"Dusty Woods" by Brenejohn on DeviantArt. brenejohn.deviantart.com

“Dusty Woods” by Brenejohn on DeviantArt. brenejohn.deviantart.com

It takes about 25 minutes for Patchouli Imperial to soften, and for those sharp, pungent edges to get smoothed out. The fragrance’s sillage drops to a few inches above the skin, and turns mellower. It’s still incredibly dry, however, with a bouquet that is primarily woody lavender cologne with various dusty bits, an abstract patchouli, lemon, peppered coriander, and cedar. The patchouli that is starting to appear isn’t spicy, sweet, ambered, or mellow. It’s merely another form of dry woods with a dusty, herbal facet. The subtle whispers of cocoa and that green, unripe “sandalwood” in the base give Patchouli Imperial a very distant kinship with Guerlain‘s L’Instant Pour Homme Eau de Toilette (“LIDG”). Yet, the Dior has none of the latter’s black tea, its floral tonalities, or its creamy sweetness. At times, the dry citric and fougère elements remind me of Habit Rouge’s opening, but that fragrance was never sour, stale, or musty either.

Patchouli Imperial eventually loses its unpleasant start. The citric aromatics and lavender recede to the sidelines at the end of the first hour, but it takes a while longer for the creamy undertone and cocoa to fully emerge and to turn the fragrance into something less stale. The notes blur into each other, and Patchouli Imperial becomes a soft, gauzy, sheer haze of citric aromatics, dry woods, dry patchouli, dry cocoa powder, and some abstract creaminess. Tiny whispers of lavender and peppered coriander lurk underneath, but they’re muffled. Patchouli Imperial is a skin scent after 90 minutes, though the fragrance is still strong when sniffed up close.

"Golden Brown" by Emily Faulkner. Source: redbubble.com

“Golden Brown” by Emily Faulkner. Source: redbubble.com

Around 2.25 hours into Patchouli Imperial’s development, the fragrance takes on the characteristic that will remain for a while: a blurry soft, citrus, patchouli, woody scent. The amount of cocoa powder waxes and wanes, but the note feels increasingly nebulous and abstract as the hours pass. The best way I can describe it is as something that smells like dry sweetness, instead of actual chocolate. The patchouli also feels abstract, verging more an a generalized dry woodiness that has a hint of some sweetness than any actual, distinct “patchouli” in its own right. The citrus element finally fades away around the middle of the fourth hour, and an abstract “ambery” quality takes its place. In its final drydown, Patchouli Imperial is a nebulous, gauzy whisper of dry woods just lightly flecked with some ambered sweetness and a hint of powder.

Source: wallsave.com

Source: wallsave.com

Like all its Dior Privé siblings, Patchouli Imperial has moderate sillage and good longevity. At first, the fragrance is quite potent and strong, but the projection drops after 90 minutes, and Patchouli Imperial wears close to the skin for the rest of its duration. Dior intentionally wants its fragrances to be refined, unobtrusive, discreet, but strong and long-lasting, and Patchouli Imperial is no exception. All in all, it lasted a little over 9 hours on me. On people with normal skin, the more oriental or ambered Privé fragrances can last much longer.

I’m not at all enthusiastic about Patchouli Imperial. I’m not judging it as a patchouli fragrance, because, by and large, it isn’t one in my opinion. I’m judging it as a men’s cologne, and I think there are better takes on this particular profile than Patchouli Imperial. Its opening is horrid and incredibly unpleasant. While the fragrance subsequently improves and loses that discordant, jangling, dry, sour staleness, it merely devolves into a generic citric, dry woody scent before ending up as a slightly less dry, ambered, woody blur. I should probably repeat the word “dry” a few more times, but I think you’ve gotten the point by now.

You might argue that Patchouli Imperial is a refined take on patchouli, but it wasn’t on my skin. It felt uninteresting, average, and unoriginal more than anything else. For patchouli-mixed scents, I think you’d do far better with Guerlain’s L’Instant Pour Homme in either concentration (as there are olfactory differences between the two) or Chanel‘s Coromandel. For fragrances that primarily focused on patchouli, there are a host of options that I would recommend before this one, starting with Profumum‘s Patchouly. On the other hand, I think men who hate patchouli may enjoy Patchouli Imperial. By their standards, the note may seem very clean, fresh, and refined.

On Fragrantica, reviewers are more enthusiastic than I am about Patchouli Imperial. Some seem to have experienced much more actual patchouli than I did. Others compare the scent to Givenchy Gentleman or Nasomatto’s Absinth. I haven’t tried either to be able to compare. A number of people mention both amber and powder in the drydown, while a few bring up mentholated notes in the start. The comment that amused me the most came from a poster who said he got the most bizarre unsolicited comments whenever he wore Patchouli Imperial from friends who “associate it with along the lines of Caveman, Mummy’s Tomb, DOM, Closet filled of mothballs etc.” I suspect that is the crypt-like dust that dominates Patchouli Imperial’s start. 

I generally really like the Dior Privée line, but Patchouli Imperial is a complete pass for me. I don’t enjoy it as a cologne, and it’s definitely not my idea of a beautiful patchouli.   

Cost & Availability: Patchouli Imperial is an eau de parfum that is available exclusively at Dior boutiques, at Dior online, and a few select, high-end department stores. Dior Privée perfumes come in two sizes: the 4.25 fl oz/125 ml costs $170 with the new Dior price increase, while the 8.5 fl oz/250 ml costs $250. (There is a third option which is so enormous, I can’t imagine anyone buying it.)
In the U.S.: Patchouli Imperial is found at Dior’s NYC boutique, and at the main Las Vegas store [call (702) 369-6072]. Ordering from the store is best as they will give you a free 5 ml mini bottle of the Dior perfume of your choice, along with 3-4 small 1 ml dab vial sample bottles, to go with your purchase. Even better, you will get free shipping and pay no tax. U.S. Department Stores: New York’s Bergdorf Goodman, San Francisco’s Neiman Marcus, and the Saks Fifth Avenue in Chevy Chase, Maryland also carry the Dior Privée line collection of perfumes.
Outside of the US: The Dior International page offers all their Privée fragrances for you to order online. This is the listing for Patchouli Imperial, but there doesn’t seem to be an e-store from which to purchase it. In addition, you can use the Points of Sale page on the Dior website to find a location for a Dior store near you. You can also navigate the Dior website’s International section to buy the perfume online. The problem is that the site is not very straight-forward. If you go to this page, look at the very far right to the bottom where it will say, in black, “International Version” and click on that. You should see options for Europe, Asia-Oceana, and South America. Within Europe, there are different sub-sites divided by country. The one closest to you should have the perfume available for sale.
Samples: If you want to give Patchouli Imperial a sniff, samples are available at Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.00 for a 1 ml vial. If you’re interested in trying the whole Privée line (minus the discontinued Vetiver), Surrender to Chance sells all 13 fragrances in a sampler set for $35.99.

29 thoughts on “Dior Patchouli Imperial (La Collection Privée)

  1. Would you please comment something about the patchouly notes on Givenchy Gentleman?
    I do consider this is a “rounded” and balanced perfume in which the patchouly notes are well blended. Do you agree? Thanks and regards.

    • I used to buy Givency Gentleman for my husband back in the 80’s. we both adored the smell. I have no idea if the new formulation is the same. Until it was mentioned here I had totally forgotten about it. Sad to say I cannot conjure up the notes in my old brain. I just remember that it smelled damn good.

  2. Oh, this is so sad from a line I too generally really enjoy. I’m so glad you reviewed it as I’d been thinking of trying it…. but hm, no, I don’t need to smell like this at all.

    • The Perfume Dandy who is another fan of the Dior Privée line just wrote below how little he liked Patchouli Imperial and how it lacked charm. So, that’s two votes against it. I think you’d definitely come in as #3.

      • Yeah, I think you’re right. 🙁

        It’s okay though, as Mitzah makes up for any fails by the rest of the line, and I quite like (maybe more than like, I haven’t made up my mind) Oud Ispahan, and am very entertained and engaged by Eau Noire. Especially by that strange violet note in the base, and the some of the green facets of the immortelle.

  3. Dearest K
    ‘Ancient brown cardigan’, now that really says it all.
    I found it a rather over-complicated mess without any lasting charm.
    Not all of the quality of some of the others in this line.
    Wonderfully dissected though, as always.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • Coming from you, who I know likes the line as much as I do, probably even more, that’s a definite strike. I laughed at the “over-complicated mess without any lasting charm.” A very elegant way of saying “hot mess.” *grin* The funny thing is, this was always the one that I had expected to love. I’d even originally asked for Patchouli Imperial to be my free 5 ml mini with my purchase of Mitzah, but they accidentally sent me more Mitzah. Once I smelled Patchouli Imperial, I was so glad for the mistake.

      Maybe you have to really loathe patchouli to enjoy the fragrance??

  4. I do not dislike Patchouli Imperial but don’t like it either. It’s OK. If I had absolutely nothing else to wear I would have used it (I’m not saying that for all perfumes: with some I would rather go scentless!) but provided I have other perfumes, including several from the same collection, I don’t think I’ll even finish my sample.

  5. I forgot which scent I asked for but this was the little bottle they sent with my Mitzah. It’s just okay on me. I’d never spend money for it that’s for sure. I don’t see any similarity to Absinth. I tried that one because it smelled so great on someone and on me it was a hot mess. I don’t hate Patchouli Imperial but I wouldn’t put it in my top ten either. I will say that it did not smell like a moldy cellar on me which is what some patchouli tends to do. After your review I’ll have to give it a bit more skin time and see if I can smell what you’re smelling. In all honestly when I tried it I didn’t really sniff as if I were going to review it. It was just a case of dab it on and go about my day. I guess that confirms the boring part because I didn’t really notice much to swoon over or to scrub off.

    • I think you may have enjoyed Ambre Nuit a little more than this one. 🙂 As for Patchouli Imperial, I suppose “boring” is better than unpleasant? lol

  6. I am on the other side of the fence with this one. I love it. The thing about this one is that it is very polarizing. I enjoyed reading your perspective on this perfume.

    • I’m glad you love it. Is it a polarizing scent? I didn’t have that impression from reading the comments on it. I think those who dislike true patchouli seem to like it quite a bit.

  7. This is one of my favorites from the collection, and I thankfully don’t get the acrid/sourness you describe. I do, however, get the dryness and dustiness, though I quite like that. Unfortunately, my ultimate gripe with the line as a whole is that with the exception of a few they are a little too restrained. I’ve enjoyed most of them, but I’m not necessarily super enthusiastic about them. The pricing is right, though! It’s funny that there’s an even larger size than the 250ml one! That alone is a vat – I cannot fathom one larger!

    • I’m glad you enjoy it. As for the Privée line, yes, I agree, they are intentionally quite restrained. And their sizing is utterly insane, as well as hilarious. I’ll never get over the fact that their “tiny” version is bigger than most perfume house’s giant version.

  8. When I started to read THIS review, I thought I would do a smell along with my sample from the full set of dab samples of the La Collection Privee I got from the Vegas Dior boutique (thanks to your SA recommendation). I went to get it and by the time I got back to my computer, your Yvresse review came up on top when I refreshed my screen. Alas, I really could not trust my sense of smell right now since I am still smelling the combination of hair products from a haircut and from my SOTD CdG Monocle Sugi. At least I did not recoil in horror which means I will likely give up some skin time in the near future. Great review, as always, dearest Kafka!

    • Heh, hair products, hair cut and CdG fragrance…. I don’t know which one to ask about first. 😉 I look forward to seeing what you think of Patchouli Imperial, and if it’s as dry and dusty on you as it was on me. 🙂

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  10. Crumbs, you really don’t like this this! Interesting review, I almost felt as if you describing a different perfume. As it happens Patchouli Imperial was my find of 2013 (and yes, over on Basenotes we do love it). It opens with a slightly dirty note, from the corriander I presume, then morphs into a well-behaved patchouli with most of the sour/pungent/headshop elements kept at bay, the drydown is a beautiful vanilla that stays close to the skin. Love all kinds of patchouli, this is one of my favourites along with Coromandel.

    • Hi Perfume Lovers London. Welcome to the blog. Regarding patchouli, I actually don’t mind “head shop” elements at all if they appear. Traditional, true patchouli is one of my favorite notes in almost all its different facets. (As opposed to purple, fruited patchouli or fruit-chouli, which is not. Ever.) If Patchouli Imperial had manifested itself on my skin the way it seems to have done on yours, I’m sure my review would be very different. Your experience sounds lovely! Mine, alas…. At least we always have Coromandel. lol

  11. I know this is a bit old of a post but where in Charles de Gaulle do they sell the La collection privée and do they carry the entire line? How do the prices in the airport compare to elsewhere? Thank you, your reviews on Dior, Amouage, and so much more are always interesting. 🙂

    • Hi there. It was in the International Departures terminal at…. Terminal E, I want to say? The one where there are like 30 of the most expensive stores from Bvlgari to I think Hermès, and everything else, and you have to take a small internal train to get to it.

      The perfume store carried all the Dior Privées, as well as the regular line. They also had Serge Lutens (non-Bell Jars), YSL Exclusives, and more. (No Amouage though, lol.)

      I cannot remember the pricing, though. I don’t think the shop was a Duty Free thing, but just a regular beauty-perfume store. That said, my memory of the specifics is very hazy, and I may be mistaken. It was 6 a.m., and I hadn’t slept all night, so I was rather a zombie at that point. But they definitely had ALL the Dior Privées.

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  13. Do you guys find Coromandel better than this? I own patch imperial but I havent smelled coromandel. But I heard it was reformulated

    • Speaking for myself, I find Coromandel significantly better (it’s one of my personal favorites), but Coromandel is not a true patch soliflore or centered solely around patchouli as this one is. Coromandel is as much about the incense, white chocolate notes, benzoin, etc., as the patchouli.

      I’m a patch head, but there are so many patch soliflores I like more than the Dior. Actually, almost every single one, because I really was not keen on the Dior at all. It really comes down to an issue of skin chemistry. This one is too dry and dusty on my skin, and the depth of the patchouli was… eh. *shrug* Some of the ones I’ve liked much more: the patchouli’s from Profumum Roma, Santa Maria Novella, Lorenzo Villoresi, Von Eusersdorff, or Reminiscence’s bench-mark original. Oriza L. Legrand’s Horizon is super, as is Psychedelique from Jovoy, but my skin eats them up too quickly. And the Jovoy has very low sillage on me. That said, I have a bottle of the Horizon and love it. So beautifully boozy with cognac notes. The best may be the Profumum and Santa Maria Novella patchoulis, though. The SMN is many people’s Holy Grail in this category.

      In terms of Coromandel having been reformulated, I haven’t heard that, but it wouldn’t surprise me enormously given how the perfume industry works in general. That said, my bottle of Coromandel from this year smells exactly the same as the sample I tested in early 2013.

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