O Patchouli, how I love thee, let me sing thy praises, let me revel in your beauty. There are many beautiful materials out there, but one of the most versatile, complex, heady, and instantaneously addictive to me is my beloved patchouli. What else can so perfectly enhance both a chypre’s oakmoss and an oriental’s amber, florals, vetiver, vanilla, florals, incense, or woods? With nuances ranging from boozy cognac to dark chocolate, smoke, spices, green leaves, dry woods, wet earth, ambered resins, camphor, menthol, and even oily turpentine and musky leatheriness, patchouli is the unsung hero in many compositions, elevating its individual components, amplifying them with even further richness and depth.
Obviously, I’m not talking about ghastly “fruitchouli,” the synthetic formulation where a typically red-berried aromachemical is added to god-only-knows-what-other-hideous synthetics to create a purple-skewing, jammy hot mess of nauseatingly cloying proportions. No, I’m talking about actual, real, true, proper patchouli — one of the very best things ever in perfumery, even if it’s in my completely biased and non-objective opinion.
Unfortunately, patchouli has a terrible rep, one of the worst in fact. No, it’s not because Angel has traumatized a portion of the perfume-smelling population, though it has. (I would actually argue that Angel is not a true, proper, patchouli soliflore and that real patchouli scents smell vastly better, even if that may not mean much to the traumatized amongst you). Patchouli’s terrible reputation really stems from the lingering effects of the 1970s with all the attendant associations to head-shops, unwashed hippies, and cheap hippie-dippie, peace-love-crystal-power movements. I grant you, cheap patchouli or earthy, hippie-herbal patchouli concoctions aren’t great, and they certainly aren’t my personal cup of tea, but I think really good patchouli can be as intoxicating as the richest amber, rose, or oud perfume.
My mission today is to tempt the naysayers out there to give patchouli a second look. So, I’ll provide you with 15 names, all of which are soliflores where patchouli is the star of the show. The fragrances may contain other notes, but those ingredients exist merely to highlight patchouli’s innate characteristics and they’re never co-equal players. The primary focus of these scents is always patchouli, patchouli, patchouli. In short, I’m not talking about mixed compositions where the patchouli is one of many significant players like, for example, Chanel‘s Coromandel, Guerlain‘s LIDGE/L’Instant Eau Extreme, PG‘s Coze, Malle‘s Monsieur, or Roja Dove‘s Danger Pour Homme. No, I’m talking soliflores, baby!
The fragrances listed below have different styles, different accompaniments, and not all of them suit me personally, but each of the 15 soliflores below is, at the very minimum, good, if not great. Five of them are so appealing, in my opinion, that I’ve ranked them as such because they are the ones that I would personally recommend and single out for an initial foray into the genre. The remaining ten really depend on one’s individual tastes and subjective preferences regarding notes or styles (i.e, leathery, semi-animalic, semi-gourmand, etc.), but they are all either noteworthy or popular patchoulis that are worth mentioning for one reason or another. They are listed in no particular order. Between the 15, there should (hopefully) be something to tempt you. I’ve provided small blurbs for each, and you can read the full reviews later on your own to decide which ones are best suited for your personal tastes and style.
Finally, if you prefer something where the patchouli is significant but not the entirety of the focus, the second section of the post briefly covers some mixed-focus fragrances as well.
Sammarco Bond-T: Dark, bold, and rich, Bond-T parfum is almost (almost) my Holy Grail for patchoulis. The star of the show is accompanied by unsweetened, incredibly dense, non-gourmand black chocolate along with accents of smoke, castoreum leather, tobacco, booze, spice, balsamic amber resins, and vaguely animalic dark musk. During its early development, there are occasional similarities to fragrances like Ambre Loup; later on, the bouquet feels like a mash-up of the middle/late stages of several Roja Dove fragrances, namely his patchouli-driven Danger Pour Homme with Enigma/Creation-E Pour Homme‘s boozy cognac and its (Tobacco Vanille-scented) drydown of plum pudding, vanilla, and tobacco. A cup of his milk chocolate Amber Extrait is poured in there as well. If you like any of those fragrances, then this is one for you to try.
Santa Maria Novella Patchouli: SMN’s Patchouli is many Patch Head’s Holy Grail. I would consider it to be the second most hardcore of the lot in terms of the unadulterated nature of its aroma, at least initially before the amber resins mellow the edges and the occasional “head-shop”-like camphor. It is a gorgeous, powerful, deep, and robust patchouli that feels almost raw, yet, paradoxically, also elegant and refined in its rawness. As I wrote at the time in my review, one commentator admiringly stated, “SMN weren’t f*$%ing around when they made this one.” No, they most certainly weren’t. Prior to my trying Bond-T, this was the patchouli which came the closest to my personal Holy Grail imaginings. I remember the first time I tried this, my head whipped around for a double-take as a big smile crossed my face. [Update March 2022: Fellow fragrance reviewer Claire Vukevic told me that her 2019 bottle of SMN’s Patchouli had been reformulated to have rose and possibly some other ingredients. In other words, it was no longer the hardcore soliflore of old. There aren’t a lot of people who talk about this fragrance these days, so I haven’t heard if anyone else has experienced a significant change in the scent but I thought you should know Ms. Vukevic’s thoughts.]
Nobile 1942 Patchouli: Nobile’s take on patchouli is the smoothest of the lot and, as such, perhaps the most approachable for those who like patchouli but aren’t hard-core, fervent, salivating Patch Heads. It has a wonderfully bright opening, thanks to some citrus, then soft, quiet, muted accents of smoke, dry woods, and resins. There are times when some parts feel like a cross of the next two fragrances, Horizon and Psychedelique, with its elements of cognac and amber, while other parts nod to the woodier aspect of more classical patchouli fragrances mentioned in the second section below. The review explains it better, but what you need to know for now is that this is the patchouli soliflore which is the smoothest, most approachable, and silkiest on the market. That may be why it appeals to a number of woman who don’t like the more hardcore offerings. Regardless of gender, if you want to explore patchouli soliflores, this one has to be on your list. Top-notch stuff!
Jovoy Psychedelique: Psychedelique pairs patchouli with strong amounts of labdanum amber for a heavily boozed, cognac-drenched patchouli. Lesser amounts of other ingredients add caramel, vanilla, cocoa, and, in the early hours, small wisps of camphor, peppermint, dry woods, dry earth, mentholated greenness, leatheriness, and incense-y smoke. As a result, Psychedelique lies midway between the purer patchouli approach and the more modulated, boozy, ambered, mixed-oriental style. It’s a great scent, and one which I would have bought for myself if it didn’t turn quiet and discreet on my skin after only 2.5 hours. But that may be a personal skin issue, and it doesn’t change the fact that many Patch Heads put Psychedelique high on their list of personal favourites.
Oriza L. Legrand’s Horizon: I almost put Horizon fourth on my list instead of fifth because I truly love its head-turning opening bouquet which is rich with waves of Armagnac cognac licked by soft tendrils of smoke, dark chocolate, and ambered resins. On fabric, there is also bitter orange, tobacco, nutty hazelnut, leatheriness, and ambered resins. On my actual skin, however, it’s a simpler bouquet and sheerer than one might expect from something so strong in the opening stage. Plus, the scent doesn’t last as long on me as it seems to on everyone else, many of whom experience great longevity as well as roses, almond, anise, and/or dry woods. Even so, simple or complex, Horizon is still grand, in my opinion, and it’s definitely worth a test sniff. It’s also worth noting that this is one of the patchoulis, along with Nobile’s Patchouli, where there is little to no camphor, dry earth, or anything remotely “head-shop”-like about the patchouli, at least not on my skin. [UPDATE MARCH 2022: I ended up falling hard for Horizon. During the lockdown of 2020 and in the many months since then, I found myself turning to my bottle again and again. It comforted me, soothed me, made me happy, and was also fantastic as a scent to spray on my pillow. I have actually turned to Horizon five times more often than Santa Maria Novella’s Patchouli, probably because of the booziness and variety of other notes. No, it still doesn’t last long on skin but, thanks to the big bottle, I just spray with wild abandon. Plus, it lasts a long time on fabric, like scarves or bed linens; since I typically like to sniff or wear Horizon in the evenings in order to relax, the pillow or bed sheet longevity gives me more bang for my money.]
- [UPDATE MARCH 2022: I have to add Maître Parfumeur et Gantier’s Patchouli 1969 which I absolutely fell in love with and tried to buy for myself mere hours into my second test. The bouquet varies depending on how much I apply. With a small amount, Patchouli 1969 is an utterly addictive mix with cardamom chai latte patchouli, cocoa, vanilla, and sandalwood (similar to that in Guerlain‘s famous LIDGE or L’Instant de Guerlain Eau Extreme). With an extravagantly large amount, Patchouli 1969 shifts quite a bit and goes to the other extreme, redolent of the classical style (see below) with strongly hippie, earthy, woody, slightly dirty, hardcore patchouli.]
THE REST (in no particular order):
The classical tradition took patchouli and then accentuated its innate facets with cedar, vetiver, and, in some cases, a small degree of labdanum resin. Occasionally, a drop of citrus, spice, vanilla, or some other note was included as well. The cumulative effect is a much woodier patchouli than the current or modern style, and there is also much more greenness, camphor, dry earth, smoke, and antique cedar-chest dustiness. Reminiscence‘s Patchouli was probably the benchmark classic patchouli for a whole generation, appealing to both men and women alike, and it’s as straightforward as the rest.
The other fragrances follow in its classical footsteps. All of them are nicely done and hew closely to the conventional template. However, each of them has a different balance of notes (like the degree of camphor, cedar, smoke, cedar, or vetiver), even the two Reminiscence fragrances. Which one you prefer will depend on your individual tastes and on what nuances are brought out by your personal skin chemistry, but if you want a straightforward, classical patchouli accentuated by dry woods, these four are all noteworthy. My advice is to read the two reviews (which have a lot of comparative analysis), decide which one suits your personal tastes and styles the most, then order samples to see what interacts best on your skin.
Mazzolari Lui: I’ll repeat the opening to my review because it sums up the gist of the fragrance: “Somewhere, there is a horseman who smells like this — and, I don’t mean that in a bad way. Lui is a patchouli fragrance with a surprisingly animalic, leather twist, and I quite enjoyed it. It is the scent of dark, slightly dirty patchouli infused with the aroma of a leather saddle and a heated, musky horse galloping over earthy vetiver. Despite an intensely masculine opening, its animalic nature is ultimately a refined one that calls to mind virile, macho polo players more than cowboys on the range. On the right skin, it would be sexy as hell. On me, it was a bit less than what I had expected.” In some ways, Lui follows the classical template because it is primarily a triptych of patchouli, vetiver, and animalic, musky, horsey leather, and it remains that way for an incredibly long period of time. This is one best suited to guys who love those elements and are looking for a slightly animalic take on patchouli.
LM Parfums‘ Patchouly Boheme: This is probably the most unorthodox of the patchoulis on this list because the opening stage is all about the smoky sweetness of singed woods and a mesquite barbecue. I literally felt as though I were wearing a mesquite barbecue, complete with the aroma of cooked, smoked meats. Yet, this very woody take on patchouli later transforms into an absolutely lovely, cozy cloud of more typical patchouli, caramel amber, darkened resins, balsams, and dry vanilla. It’s the most unusual “patchouli” fragrance that I’ve ever encountered and I can’t say it’s my personal thing, but I know a handful of men who like it quite a bit.
Profumum Patchouly: Patchouly can be summed up simply as patchouli layered and enveloped within Profumum’s Ambra Aurea. In other words, patchouli swaddled between ambergris, labdanum, and some degree of incense-y smoke. On my skin, it took only 30 minutes for the Ambra Aurea part to take over and for the primary, dominant note to become salty, musky, caramel-sweet ambergris, then labdanum, both of which were flecked by fluctuating, sometimes minor degrees of patchouli and incense. It’s lovely but, if you already own Ambra Aurea, it may feel a little redundant, as it did for me. I should note that Profumum has reportedly reformulated and/or diluted some of their fragrances, including Ambra Aurea and Patchouly. My reviews are for the earlier versions and I have no idea what Patchouly smells like now.
Serge Lutens Borneo 1834: Borneo 1834 is now only a Bell Jar Paris/Barney’s Exclusive and it has been reportedly been reformulated since the time I wrote about it. Back then, however, it was dark, earthy, patchouli paired with dark chocolate, woods, cedar, vetiver, smoke, and some skanky cumin that, on my skin, turned towards the body odor side. In a nutshell, it was the classical patchouli formula given a modern touch of dark chocolate along with Lutens’ favourite cumin-cedar signature accord. I don’t know what the fragrance smells like now, but no patchouli guide can skip mentioning Borneo 1834 because it was once very popular and was sometimes described by its female fans as the dark chocolate counterpart to Chanel’s Coromandel. If you’re near a Barney’s or Serge Lutens’ Paris headquarters, it’s worth a sniff but I don’t know that I would urge anyone to seek it out otherwise, given the reformulation issue, cost, and difficulty in access.
Farmacia SS. Annunziata Patchouly Indonesiano: This is the most hardcore, intense patchouli on the market, period. It is, quite literally, patchouli tripled: the highest quality leaves from Indonesia, from top to bottom, without a single thing to leaven them. It is quite… an experience. In fact, it may clear out your nose with its powerfully camphorated, mentholated, medicinal, and blackened notes. It certainly did for me. There is also an immensely oily quality to the scent, like motor-oil castor oil, and a pronounced black rubber aspect to its smokiness. None of it is my thing, but this is, hands down, the butch-est, most testosterone-laden, masculine patchouli out there and some men love it for that precise reason. So, if you’re looking for a take-no-prisoners patchouli that skews practically black in visuals and that thumps its chest like King Kong, then look no further than this extrait.
Montale Patchouli Leaves: In a nutshell, this is semi-gourmand patchouli. Its patchouli has been steeped in Bourbon vanilla for a long period of time, but its overall character is really vanilla-caramel-praline patchouli. The patchouli is enveloped in a cloud of caramel, nutty praline, ambered toffee’d, and boozy vanilla which are laced with varying, fluctuating degrees of incense-y smoke, dry woods, dark chocolate, chilly peppermint menthol, camphor, and damp, earthy soil. Unlike many or most Montales, this one has no overt, intrusive presence of its usual ISO E Super. Some people love its gourmand character, while others find it to be too hippie/head-shop patchouli for their tastes. If you want a sweeter take on patchouli and love a lot of vanilla, then this might be one for you to consider.
OTHER FRAGRANCES & MIXED-FOCUS BLENDS:
A few side notes are warranted in this discussion. First, I have tried to list fragrances currently in existence, which is why I have not mentioned Les Nereides Patchouli Antique. It, too, should be in the section on Classical Patchoulis, but the fragrance was first reformulated and renamed as Patchouli Precieux and then, subsequently, it seems to have disappeared entirely. I’m pretty sure that it’s been discontinued because it’s no longer listed on the company’s website, but I’m not 100% certain on that. That said, if you prefer the classical patchouli formulation (i.e., with cedar and vetiver) and if you ever come across an old bottle called “Patchouli Antique” on eBay, then this is one to consider as well.
Second, as I’ve said repeatedly in the past, favourites lists are, by their very nature, subjective and a matter of personal tastes. And, personally, I do not think much of Tom Ford‘s Patchouli Absolu. It’s not so much that this is a very butch, masculine treatment of patchouli but, rather, I find it to be an unbalanced one with materials that are, in my opinion, of average to minimal quality. It’s not a scent that I find to be either opulent or smooth, and parts of it are quite abrasive to my nose. Moreover, I think that there are much better patchoulis for the price or, in some cases, much below it. However, having said all that, if you’re looking for a mega-butch, testosterone-laden patchouli with loads of aridity, darkness, smoky leatheriness, and woodiness, and if you have no issues with aromachemicals, then I suppose this might be one to consider. (However, if all those factors are the case, then I would actually recommend Nasomatto‘s Duro over this one.)
For somewhat related reasons, I personally do not recommend Malle‘s Monsieur. For one thing, I do not consider this to be a patchouli soliflore but, rather, a mixed-focus fragrance. To be precise, it’s really an old-school, 1970s cologne-style composition. In addition to all that, it contains a whopping amount of the horrific Amber Xtreme aromachemical, which even Luca Turin describes as the most nuclear woody-amber on the market, so it’s not just me who has disdain for it. Putting that aside, the bottom line is: if you’re looking for a good, smooth, opulent, or unisex patchouli soliflore, this is not it. However, if you’re looking for something in the masculine mixed-cologne style, if you have no issues with aromachemicals, and if you don’t mind the higher price, then you can try this one.
Finally, I also think little of Dior‘s Patchouli Imperiale in the Privée Collection. I’ll simply sum it up as dusty old man cologne, like great-grandpa in an old, shabby, moth-eaten, mothballed cardigan, living in ancient dusty woodiness. No, just no. If you want to go the classical patchouli route, then I think that there are far better, more appealing iterations of it on the market. (See the quartet linked up above.)
If you sought mixed-focus compositions in which the patchouli was a significant player but not sole or driving thrust, I personally think there are much nicer fragrances out there than something like Monsieur. The ones that I would recommend trying are, in no particular order: PG‘s Coze, Chanel‘s Coromandel, Guerlain‘s LIDGE or L’Instant Eau Extreme, or Roja Dove‘s Danger Pour Homme. One thing to keep in mind with that list is that some of these fragrances have been reformulated since the time of my review. For example, I wrote about Coromandel EDT, and I have not tried the new EDP formulation to know how it compares or what changes, if any, may have occurred. In a somewhat related vein, there is a fair chance that Coze is no longer identical to what I described in my review as one or two people have told me that it’s been further diluted since my post. Be that as it may, Coze was one of my favourite mixed-patchouli blends, as was Coromandel EDT, and I own bottles of both, so it may be worth your time to seek out their current renditions to see what you think. I also recommend sampling the other two fragrances mentioned here. LIDGE is unisex and should appeal to fans of Guerlain’s Coromandel, amongst other things. Roja Dove’s Danger skews to the masculine side, though, and was inspired by Guerlain’s Heritage. You can read the full reviews for more details.
While those mixed-blend recommendations are purely oriental in character, there is one patchouli floriental that is worth mentioning as well. Laboratorio Olfattivo Patchouliful is almost like two fragrances in one, starting off first (and relatively briefly) as a true patchouli scent in the vein of Santa Maria Novella‘s Patchouli before subsequently turning into a very close replica of Jardins d’Ecrivains‘ lush, heady, and unisex orange blossom, tobacco, myrrh fragrance called George. Regardless of the split focus or identity, all of Patchouliful is beautifully done and has a very Italian polish to it. One of the noses behind the scent was Cécile Zakorian; the goal for the scent was to make something bright and happy suited for “The Happy Hippie King;” and the patchouli is meant to play hide-and-seek amongst an unconventional note list that includes, among other things, bergamot, cinnamon, cloves, frangipani, iris, cedar, and labdanum. In short, if you’re looking for a mixed-patchouli fragrance that goes beyond the usual oriental template by having a bright floral element to it, then this may be one for you to consider. As one Fragrantica reviewer said, this is a patchouli fragrance for those who usually hate the note. I know both men and women who love and wear Patchouliful, and it is definitely unisex.
So, that’s my round-up of patchouli. Hopefully, there will be something on the list to tempt you to explore further. Have a lovely evening, everyone.