Fragrances in this group – the patchouli deviations – tend to be more perfumey, abstract, and therefore more individual in character. Some of these deviations treat the patchouli as a fixed point on a map, others as a jumping off point into unknown avenues of discovery. Though some clear sub-categories can still be discerned (patchouli chypre, rose-patch, fruitchouli, etc.), even the patchouli perfumes that may be said to fit a ‘type’ surprise you by sliding instead into tight slots intended, in retrospect, for them alone. For example, though Noir de Noir (Tom Ford) and Rose Nacrée (Guerlain) both play with the rose-patch template, the first smells like French chocolate truffles and the second smells like the inside of a Mosque.
Stepping away from the more straightforwardly patchouli patchouli group (earth, cocoa, amber) discussed in Part I opens the door to a diverse group of potential new entrants. Because once you start cross-pollinating patchouli with jasmine, oakmoss, immortelle, black pepper, vanilla, and tonka bean, the results vary as infinitely as the combinations to a bank vault safe.
On the one hand, this makes it easier to identify and avoid redundancies. On the other, the temptation to add these fragrances to your collection is strong, precisely because each of them is special in their own unique way. My approach to curation of this second group, therefore, is less structured than the first. I will have to feel my way intuitively through it, being completely honest about the specialness or ‘essential-ness’ of each choice to my personal collection.
Remember, this is by no means a comprehensive analysis of every single patchouli-esque perfume I have ever smelled or reviewed, but rather a good hard look at my personal collection and collecting habits.
Patchouli 24 by Le Labo. Yes, yes, I know that 80% of the patchouli in Patchouli 24 is in its name. And yes, if you were to argue that Patchouli 24 smells more like smoking tar pits and the aftermath of a chemical fire in a tire factory than it does patchouli, you’d certainly have a point. But are you writing this blog, or am I?
Something about the way the burned, smoky ‘electrical fire’ facet mingles with the thin, poisonously sweet slick of vanillin and the faint whiff of runner’s sweat (vetiver) pooled at the base makes me feel like Lisbeth from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, chasing a bad guy down on her motorcycle. The salty-sweet ‘glazed ham’ quality to the smoke is also something that feels weirdly sexy to me. I would wear this more often, but for the fact that when I do, my husband stops the car to check for an electrical shortage or fire of some sort.
Saying goodbye to:
PARFUMS Luxe: Patchouli by Comme des Garçons. Luxe: Patchouli’s opening salvo of wet teak, hickory smoke, syrupy immortelle, anisic fenugreek, and herbal patchouli is both impressive and challenging. I swooned when I first smelled this in a niche perfumery store in Belgium but should have remembered that scents that are characterful enough to push past the thick fuzz of hundreds of other perfumes being sprayed into the air are often too big for me when I get them home.
There are parts of this fragrance that I love. It is a genius idea, for example, for the perfumer to flank the patchouli with the syrupy warmth of the immortelle, the burning white pepper, the dried alfalfa sweetgrass, and the bold smokiness of the opoponax, because these notes render all the soil out of the patchouli like fat from a sausage, leaving only its vegetal facets on display. On the other hand, vegetal in patchouli speak always translates to a stewed celery-like tonality, which is not ideal, because, you know, walking around smelling like a vegetable stock cube is not something I aspire to.
And unfortunately, this is the aspect that gets further accentuated by the curryish fenugreek note, which smells like crushed celery seeds mixed with pine and mint. I can take fenugreek in spicy sandalwood settings (like Santal de Mysore by Serge Lutens) but my tolerance level plummets when it is shoved up against an already vegetal-smelling patchouli. There is nothing like this in my collection, let alone my patchouli collection, but Luxe: Patchouli gets worn too infrequently to earn a permanent place.
Le Mat by Mendittorosa. A dry-yet-syrupy exposition on the same immortelle-patchouli idea as Luxe: Patchouli, but far less confrontational and saturnine than the Comme des Garcons. I find it beautiful. However, at €250 a bottle, it is one of those small, precious things that I am content to file away in my memory palace and think about every now and then.
Rose-patchouli fragrances work in much the same way as rose-oud fragrances do, in that they pair something lush, floral, sweet and stereotypically feminine (the rose) with something rougher, darker, woodier and more stereotypically masculine (patchouli, oud). The fragrance works because the contrast works. For some reason, rose-patchouli fragrances all have a slightly Victorian, gothic feel to them – stormy, dramatic, morose (serious Morrissey vibes) – while rose-oud fragrances read as dry and exotic. I must be in the mood to wear a rose-patchouli fragrance, as they tend to feel quite rich and over-bearing on my skin, and I am not always ready for their sturm-und-drang. However, I have found two that both suit me and fill very different mood slots in my collection.
Eau de Protection by Etat Libre d’Orange, aka Rossy de Palma. This is the Gothic darkness I’d been hoping for from Voleur de Roses. The opening is bright and scratchy feeling, teeming with enough ginger, pepper, and geranium to make you wince. This is soon somewhat softened by a cocoa-ish musk that feels slightly funky in a cat’s paws kind of way, which in turn sets the stage for a dramatic smackdown between the drawing-blood-on-metal sharpness of geranium, wine, a pulp fiction rose, and an earthy patchouli. Towards the end, the scent seems to lurch between dried earth, roses, musk, amber, and cocoa, shunting you from the high-toned and pitchy to the dusky and velvety, and then back again. The whole ride, which takes place over ten hours on my skin, never once feels comfortable or predictable. Bravo you weird, wonderful people at Etat Libre d’Orange! This is as jolie-laide as Signora Rossy de Palma herself.
Rose Nacrée du Desert by Guerlain. By rights, Rose Nacrée du Desert is a balsamic rose-oud – exotic and Eastern in character – rather than a rose-patchouli. Yet, for me, the role played by the patchouli is so central to its character that I personally classify it as part of the rose-and-patchouli sub-genre. It is dry, rich, and as hefty as a hippo. A bright, jammy Taif rose is set down to smolder in a pit of smoking resins, medicinal saffron, and the sour, incensey greenness of oud wood, and this accord is what dominates the scene at first. But then, in the drydown, in rolls that tremendously gloomy, soil-like patchouli, trampling all over a powdery, sweet benzoin to give it a dirty, lived-in edge. Rose Nacrée means pearlized rose, which implies something delicate or femme. But nope. This is the darkly beautiful oil anointing the beard and robes of Emirati men, wafting evocatively in their trail as they head into the Mosque for evening prayer.
Already yeeted from the Patchouli Patch:
Voleur de Roses by L’Artisan Parfumeur. Voleur de Roses is a relatively simple scent based on three notes – rose, patchouli, and stone fruit – but it is the interplay between these notes that makes it fascinating. The opening is that of plums on the turn, the sweet smell of fruit slowly rotting in the sun. Since this is so quickly joined by wet young rose and an earthy patchouli, you are never quite sure whether the fruity decay belongs to the rose or to the freshly upturned earth, so the rotting plums effectively form a bridge between the rose and patchouli.
The feel of the perfume is wet, lush, and botanical. It is certainly not as dark or as brooding as reviews paint it. The patchouli dominates the rose, yes, but it is not a sinister, raw, or aggressive sort of patchouli. In fact, the whole thing comes off as delicate and transparent, like a Japanese silk screen print. With notes as lusty as patchouli and rose these, you want the scent to be deep, bloody, resonant and almost pounding in their intensity. Or at least I do. But Voleur de Roses never delivers the intensity I crave, and to add insult to injury, it seems to dissipate from my skin in under two hours. And I refuse to pay L’Artisan Parfumeur prices for what amounts to a patchouli-rose splash.
Sexy Baby Powder Patchouli (Yes, it’s a category, deal with it)
Patchouli Bohème by LM Parfums. Immediately, this recalls the smeary aroma of the ladies’ communal changing room where my mother would bring me into as a little child to wait while she tried on clothes. The closed air swollen with the collective unsnapping of bras and unpeeling of pantyhose, the yeasty aroma of cooped-up underboob and flesh rolls suddenly released from their whalebone prisons, and the clouds of deodorizing talcum powders moistened by the day’s wear and tear.
At the center of all this is a balmy-greasy accord like clay or playdough spiked with the rosy-minty spikes of geranium leaf. There is an ungodly amount of tonka bean in this, its slightly roasted almond butter facet roughed up by an oily patchouli masquerading as a black leather jacket. Thanks to the strong role played by the tolu balsam, the texture of the perfume oscillates between sticky (turgid, airless, and ‘brown’) but and dusty (baby powder spliced with glints of metal). Tolu balsam is similar to benzoin (woody, vanillic, spicy) but deeper, waxier, and more medicinal, with a pronounced leathery or tobacco like effect. In Patchouly Bohème, it is as essential as the patchouli. This is a scent that catches me off guard every time I wear it, because I never anticipate the way its soft, balmy, nutty-powdery skin is just a front – a wee baby Shalimar – hiding this massively earthy, roasted leather. It is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Lord of Misrule by Lush. The opening smells like black pepper but only if you imagine a handful of black pepper powder being blown at you through the sweet, glittery miasma of mica and minerals that hovers around the bath bomb wall at Lush. If you told me this is what Outer Space smells like, I’d believe you.
Straight away, there are two layers. The first, that minty-mineralic ‘bath bomb’ dust that impregnates every available air particle to the point you feel a little ‘choked out’. The second, a wet, syrupy-sweet accord that smells a little like the Coca Cola syrup you mix with seltzer in a Soda Stream. In this regard, it feels like Lush is recycling a few ideas from previous perfumes in Lord of Misrule, most notably the bright, Coca Cola-ish marmalade-myrrh accord from 1000 Kisses Deep and the burnt sugar notes from All Good Things. The patchouli is hiding out in the heart, but it is so heavily bookended by the sharp pepper and the syrupy amber that, for the first hour or two, it is easy to miss.
But the greyish fuzz of minerals and space dust eventually burns off, revealing a sumptuous patchouli amber so rich you can almost feel it as a weight on your skin. Essentially, in marrying a sexy ice-creamy amber-vanilla tandem to a headshoppy patchouli (think more the incensey sweetness of patchouli nag champa than the essential oil), Lush has recreated the more expensive feel of niche vanillambers, like Ani (Nishane) or Ambre Extrême (L’Artisan Parfumeur) but charges you a mere €35 for the pleasure. As long as Lush makes Lord of Misrule, I will be buying it.
One herbal and dusty, one creamy and playdough-y. Both greenish. Both essential (to me).
Cozé 02 by Parfumerie Generale. Coze smells like someone picked up the nicest smelling things in the world – coffee, pepper, dark chocolate, hash resin, patchouli – and shoved them into a perfume. For something that references both hash and the chocolate we eat when we get the munchies, this is as far away from the druggy atmosphere of a teenage boy’s bedroom as can be. The sativa note has been cleverly married to a host of other green, herbal, and woody elements, thus yanking the whole thing outdoors. Whenever I wear this, I feel like I am in the company of friendly lumberjacks, sitting down in a forest opening to coffee, brownies, and a funny cigarette or two after a morning of cutting down trees. It is the type of perfume that makes you feel happy in an uncomplicated way.
The opening is rather dry and dark – a brief boozy patch followed by ashy tobacco and a fine dusting of something that can only be cocoa powder. It is delicious and slightly spicy, with hot pepper and cloves. This ashen layer is fitted closely over a sticky green hemp base, and then finally set to smolder on a base of mahogany wood chips. There is a near perfect balance between edible and inedible, dry and balmy, and smoke and cold, clean air. Technically, it would probably be correct to call Coze a quasi-gourmand, but its genius lies in dotting the foody notes so evenly around a dark, woodsy, smoky base that it would never occur to anyone to call it yummy.
Arbolé Arbolé by Hiram Green. Full review here. There is a wonderfully soft, smeary quality to the patchouli used here – it is clearly patchouli, but not at all headshoppy. Rather, backlit with a greenish, rosy tint that makes me think of exotic liqueurs, it takes on a pleasantly stale, waxy chocolate softness that recalls vintage make-up, heavy silks taken out of storage in cedar trunks, and huge beeswax candles dripping over everything. There is a sort of cosmetic, floral wax tonality that smudges the corners of the other notes and gives the perfumes a touch of vintage glamour. Hiram Green perfumes wear as if lit from within and this is no exception.
All the individual characteristics of the raw materials – the cedar, patchouli, sandalwood – have been sanded down until only a smooth, integrated woodiness remains. There is none of the normal bitter muskiness of cedar, none of the raw, earthy, or leafy facets of patchouli, and the sandalwood registers only as a unifying texture of creamy butter. There is a smutty quality to this perfume that appeals enormously to me. It shares the same soft ‘musky cocoa powder’ sexiness with Mazzolari Lei and Parfumerie Generale L’Ombre Fauve, both of which also blur the lines between patchouli, musk, and ambery-vanilla aromas so smoothly that the nose doesn’t immediately recognize one or the other.
Patchouli Nu-Chypres (Sans Moss)
I have two favorites in this category. Stellar job at curation, Claire! Both use the earthy-minty ‘emotional remoteness’ of patchouli as a replacement for oakmoss in the chypre equation. But they are so different to one another, as well as criminally discontinued and therefore unobtanium, that I have no choice (no choice, I tell you!) but to keep both in my collection.
Bottega Veneta eau de parfum (For Her) by Bottega Veneta. Like the famous intrecciato handbag upon which it is based, Bottega Veneta weaves together tonally-greige strands of plum, jasmine, and patchouli for a dusky, hoarse-throated take on suede. It has the same milky bitterness you get in other light suede fragrances such as Daim Blond (Serge Lutens), which it resembles slightly. But it is the addition of the gruff, stone-washed patchouli that makes Bottega Veneta the more robust and sexier scent. Sadly, Bottega Veneta has discontinued this perfume, along with all its original ‘department store’ perfumes, choosing instead to throw the brand’s entire marketing budget at its soulless, couldn’t-strike-upon-an-idea-if-it-tried luxury segment (Le Gemme). Well, fuck you very much, Bottega Veneta.
31 Rue Cambon by Chanel. This is a fragrance that proves that a fragrance doesn’t need oakmoss for it to smell like a proper chypre. Though I didn’t love it at first, it has slowly taken hold in my life, occupying roughly the same general space in my head as Mitsouko (Guerlain) and Profumo (Acqua di Parma). But because Rue Cambon draws on a dry patchouli to provide that bitter mossiness essential to the drydown of a chypre, it is more modern, i.e., more streamlined in structure and far less powdery.
31 Rue Cambon is essentially a jostling together of ice and earth – the bitter, stinging purity of that bergamot, the Grappa-like chill of orris root, a touch of milky peach skin and jasmine in the heart to fool you into thinking that there is something akin to human warmth in here (there isn’t) – all grounded by a patchouli material that smells more like dried rose petals crumbled into dried earth than the chocolatey version used in Coromandel. It makes me smell like someone who has her shit together. The version I wear – the original eau de toilette – was discontinued in autumn of 2016, a sacrificial lamb slaughtered on the altar to modern consumer demand for beauty to last more than five hours (the fucking heathens). Unfortunately, the post-2016 eau de parfum version suffers from an overload of thick, swampy ylang or vetiver that suffocates the lacy delicacy of the bergamot-iris-jasmine-patchouli structure.
In other words, when both my Bottega Veneta and 31 Rue Cambon are gone, I will be nu-chypre-less.
Already yeeted from the Patchouli Patch:
Mon Parfum Chéri, par Camille by Annick Goutal. A throwback chypre, all sharp elbows and no curves – and yet Mon Parfum Chéri, par Camille is a modern construction, launched in 2011. The plum note is tart and sour, the iris starchy, and the patchouli as dry as a bone. It manages to be rich and dark without being earthy, and light and powdery without being sweet. For me, it immediately formed a memory bridge between the mossy plum of Guerlain’s discontinued chypre, Parure, the woody violets of Bois de Violette (Serge Lutens) – without the candied sweetness – and the dirty patchouli drydowns of grungy drugstore rose chypre classics such as La Perla Classic. Its bitter, dusty grandeur suggests a perfume with a long and storied past, like Mitsouko. I respect the hell out of Mon Parfum Chéri, par Camille (to the extent that I bought and sold it twice in two years) but found it difficult to wear comfortably. I struggled to bend it to my will, make it sink properly into my skin. Its noli-me-tangere air made it a forbidding and standoffish experience.
Oakmossy Pagan Patchouli
Aromatics Elixir by Clinique. We all know what Aromatics Elixir smells like. Or do we? It initially smelled murky and old-fashioned to me, until I leaned into it and realized that it is one of the great perfume anachronisms of the last century. Created by Barnard Chant in 1975, Aromatics Elixir blazed a trail of agrestic patchouli, bitter herbs, rose, resins, and moss through what was a very different perfume world, setting itself in opposition to the clean, sporty fragrances that followed soon after but also breaking ties with the mannered formality of the green floral chypres of the fifties and sixties. Aromatics Elixir’s groovy, loose-hipped manner is the kind of messy that earns you a lifetime of therapy later. Sometimes it smells less like a perfume and more like a collection of elements a pagan goddess might summon from the undergrowth. It lives exclusively in the small, private space between my clavicle and my sweater where it can do the least damage. I apply the potent urine-yellow juice delicately – sprayed lightly onto my fingertips and then pressed gently onto my flesh – but in the end, the submission is all mine.
Saying goodbye to:
Beloved Woman by Amouage. Beloved is beautifully done. But was it necessary for me to invest in a whole bottle of it when it is clearly Amouage’s homage to Clinique’s Aromatics Elixir? No, Claire, it most certainly was not. Example number 202 of spectacularly poor judgement. Beloved opens with a bitter, powdered clove, lavender, and sage combination that smells as aromatic and talc-like as Histoires de Parfums’ 1876. But really, the rose, the hay-like chamomile, and the sage all combine to sing an Aromatics Elixir-shaped song. Beloved is a fine lady, and Aromatics a hippy mom. But the essential bone structure is there. One might have been the other had different choices been made, and all that.
Now, of course, there are differences. Aromatics Elixir is earthier, its airways gunked up with patchouli. And the rose note in Beloved is arguably more remarkable. Hidden behind the aromatic powder of the opening, you might miss it at first, but then it swells in intensity, rising from a crumble of dusty potpourri rose petals to become a big, juicy rose fluffed out by moisture. The rose lingers for a while in a pool of boozy, hay-like immortelle, for a combination that is simultaneously syrupy and dry, sweet and savory.
But again, did these small differences provide adequate justification for slapping down a cool €300-and-something down on the table for a bottle of Beloved when Aromatics Elixir performs the same basic trick of making you feel womanly, powerful, and in control of your own fate, but at a cost that is almost ten times less? No, Claire, they did not.
Already yeeted from the Patchouli Patch:
Noir Patchouli by Histoires de Parfum. A very refined take on the Bernard Chant canon of patchouli classics from Aramis 900 to Aromatics Elixir, retrofitted for modern tastes with a soft leather bag accent, every inch of its lining thickly dusted with green floral cosmetic powders. But the earthy, almost metallic bitterness comes from the tree moss rather than from the patchouli, so while it is dark, it is also fresher and livelier (mintier) than expected. I liked it, but liking is not a strong enough emotion for me to keep anything. And once I’d spotted the familial Aromatics Elixir DNA, it was time for it to go.
Tramp by Lush. Tramp was my Lush favorite body wash for a full decade, so when I got the chance to order a bottle of Tramp perfume from the Lush Kitchen in 2016 or 2017, I didn’t hesitate. A simple blend of two especially dank forest-floor materials – patchouli and oakmoss – I can understand why they were forced to discontinue it in this post-IFRA world (my last remaining bottle of the body wash still lists Evernia prunastri on the label). What I don’t understand is why I loved the shower gel so much and the perfume not at all. In one of those ‘be careful what you wish for’ scenarios, it turns out that a straight-up, one-two punch of patchouli and oakmoss smells like an unfinished sketch of Polo or Brut. Bitter, aftershavey, pungent, and unrelenting – gah!
Unlike the cocoa aspect of the more patchouli-forward fragrances in Part I, which appear only as a facet of the patchouli material itself, this category refers to a more explicitly gourmand treatment, i.e., melted chocolate, dark chocolate truffles, Nutella, etc. Where patchouli becomes transubstantiated into something purely edible.
Noir de Noir by Tom Ford. The recipe in Nigella Lawson’s ‘Feast’ for Chocolate Guinness Cake makes an enormous wodge of damp, dense (yet springy) chocolate cake of the deepest black imaginable, topped with a thick single layer of white cream cheese frosting meant to resemble the head on a pint. The beauty of this cake is the way what Nigella calls ‘the ferrous twang’ of Guinness holds its own against the chocolatey sweetness of the crumb and the tartness of the cream cheese. If you think about it, the pairing makes sense – there is something almost animalic, or at least iron-rich, like blood, that connects the loamy darkness of stout (and soil) with the aroma of a 90% cocoa bar of chocolate being melted in a bain marie.
Noir de Noir uses the iodine-like sting of saffron to perform the same trick. The slightly garbagey, vegetal iron-filling aspect of the spice acts upon the patchouli and roses to create an extraordinarily dark truffle accord that feels like a cross-section of that Chocolate Guinness Cake. It’s worth noting that the rose note here is slightly rosewater-ish, providing a chippy Turkish Delight brightness that countermands the black velvet lushness of the chocolate-oud. Probably the most romantic perfume in my collection, though, like dark chocolate and Turkish Delight, a strictly once-in-a-blue-moon kind of craving.
Angel Muse by Thierry Mugler. Full review here. Muse is an improvement on the original Angel because (a) it manages to drown out the high-octane Maltol shriek of its predecessor with a velvety blanket of hazelnut cream, and (b) the treatment of the patchouli in Muse tacks towards gianduja rather than the sour, wet dishrag left to molder overnight in a sink of the original Angel. Muse smells both edible and inedible, like a posh chocolate truffle mashed underfoot into the warm, sweet grass of a polo pitch, which makes it a successful perfume rather than just a successful gourmand perfume. The addition of vetiver is critical. Vetiver often smells like ground hazelnuts (see Vetiver Tonka, Sycomore, Onda) but adds a savory, mealy element that restrains the sugar. That effect is noticeable here, and matched to the soft chocolate of the patchouli, the inevitable result is that of a creamy, nutty chocolate truffle (gianduja). Naturally, because I like it so much, Angel Muse has been discontinued.
The marriage of inedible (patchouli) and edible (fruit). Note that the patchouli in this style of fragrance is usually very clean and ‘pink’, i.e., a prettied-up version of the material, stripped of all its brown, grungy earth tones, instead bulked out by tons of white musks and sweet, syrupy Maltol. This style of fragrance is not my kind of thing, but I have managed to find two examples that I can not only bear but truly love.
Visa by Robert Piguet. In a slightly similar vein to Mauboussin, Angel, and Chinatown, it would probably be more accurate to call Visa a complex, fruited ‘oriental’ with a distinct patchouli character, however since we are no longer saying the O word and since this attempt at curation is focused on patchouli, I am going to place Visa in the fruitchouli category and invite anyone with a problem with that to write me an angry letter. The fruit notes in Visa are remarkable – white peaches, plums, and pears that smell true to life without smelling the slightest bit loud or fake. Darkened at the edges by the burnt sugar of immortelle and wrapped up tenderly in a powdery benzoin and patchouli blanket, Visa’s peaches and plums come bathed in autumnal dusk compared to the strobe-lit glare of other fruity-floral fragrances. There’s a certain winey, ‘stained-glass’ glow to the stone fruit here that makes me ridiculously happy.
Everything in Visa feels hushed. Even the leather note is gentle – a buffed grey suede rather than a twangy new shoe. The suede and the slight drinking chocolate powder feel in the base offers a gentle cushion for the fruit notes. Half the pleasure I derive from wearing Visa lies in trying to guess what category it falls into. It straddles several at once – the fruity-floral, leather chypre, fruit leather, gourmand, and yes, definitely the dreaded fruitchouli. But far being a brainless fruity, sweet thing that you use to stun the opposite sex into submission, Visa smells poised and a little bit mysterious.
1969 Parfum de Révolte by Histoires de Parfums. It’s a fruitchouli, but not as we know it, Jim. The perfume’s name refers to the sexual revolution occurring in San Francisco in the late 1960s, but by 1969 the once idyllic hippy kingdom that was Haight-Ashbury had already started to be corrupted by hard drugs, homelessness, and unsavory criminal elements. And in a way, 1969 Parfum de Révolte pays homage to this shift, by grafting an exuberantly sexy, brash fruit top onto a darkly spiced patchouli base. At first glance, 1969 is all about playtime. It opens with the biggest, trashiest peach note ever – as crude and as effective as a child’s painting of a peach, smeared with Day-Glo pink and orange paint. The green cardamom note squirts a gob of Fairy washing up liquid into the pot. Joined by a dizzying swirl of rose, chocolate, and vanilla, the peach vibrates and expands at an alarming rate until you feel like you are literally walking around in your own personal fantasy ice-cream sundae (one that features liberal helpings of vinyl and boiled sweets).
Once the shock and awe of the fruit-vanilla assault dies down, spicier elements enter the picture and quietly anchor the whole thing. The mid-section is a fruity rose and vanilla spiced with the gentle green heat of cardamom pods and the woody warmth of coffee beans. The fruity, creamy roundness is still there, but now with depth and presence. I like 1969 Parfum de Révolte because it gives me both the low-rent pleasure of a Tocade-style plastic rose-vanilla and a darker, more adult finish that rescues it from tipping too far into the gourmand category. When all analysis is folded up and put away, what’s left is a sexy catcall of a fruitchouli with just the right balance of vulgarity and wit.
Saying goodbye to:
Coco Mademoiselle Eau de Parfum Intense by Chanel. I remember something in the original Guide (Perfumes: The Guide, 2009) about Chanel doing their version of Angel and being surprised (and embarrassed, it is implied) that it was such a success. But really, what is surprising in people craving a softer, posher, Chanel-ized take on a fragrance so famously jarring? The essential idea of Angel – sugared fruit clashing with a hoary, masculine patchouli – is a clever one but not that easy to pull off. Coco Mademoiselle took the basic template and cleaned it all up, turning the dial from heavy, sour and syrupy to luminous, pretty, and girly.
The Eau de Parfum Intense version plays it very close to the model for original eau de toilette, i.e., the pinkish, perfumey fruit pop of lychee set alight with a shower of metallic aldehydes, all underlaid with a cleaned-up, fractionated version of patchouli and a shit ton of those bouncy, expensive-smelling white musks that Chanel stuffs into its fragrances. The only innovation in the Eau de Parfum Intense is the additional warmth and depth of tonka bean, but the differences between this and the original Eau de Toilette are not as significant as, say, the differences between Mon Guerlain and Mon Guerlain Intense, or YSL Libre and YSL Libre Intense.
I am letting Coco Mademoiselle Eau de Parfum Intense go because I bought it for all the wrong reasons. On my way to live in Rome in late 2018 and leaving my (very young) family behind, I saw the pinkish juice in that reassuringly square Chanel bottle in the airport duty free, and between my tears (and copious amounts of snot), I thought, why not make myself disappear by wearing something that will make me smell like practically everyone else. It was an act of self-effacement and of sorrow. And it worked. Coco Mademoiselle became my urban camouflage – the skin I slipped into every morning when I felt most like a freshly peeled egg turned out into the city. Wearing it, I instantly became one with the faceless mass of women sleepwalking their way through the metro and train systems in the mornings.
I stopped wearing it for two reasons. First, Helen, a tall and lovely but rather intimidating English colleague spun me around at the train station one morning, bellowing in my ear, Oi! Who’s been wearing my perfume then? (Sigh. The inevitable downside of wearing a perfume this popular). Second, more importantly, since I no longer live in Rome and no longer suffer the absence of my children or husband, I no longer feel the need to punish myself by making myself anonymous. Wearing Coco Mademoiselle now feels as not-me as it always was.
Out of the 22 patchouli fragrances discussed as part this second group, I am keeping 14, or roughly two thirds. Sigh. You see? This is why you should never curate in public. Now normal people will find this blog – maybe, if my SEO is working – and wonder why on earth someone would need this many fragrances, let alone a grand total of 18 of them dedicated to patchouli. The answer is, of course, that I’m not normal. And if you’ve made it this far down the page, then maybe – just maybe – you aren’t so normal yourself.
Source of samples: All the bottles reviewed or, ahem, curated here were bought or swapped for by me. (Using the word curated is supposed to fool both you and me into thinking that this is an artistic endeavour rather than the pitiful result of unrestrained consumption that it really is).