Montale Patchouli Leaves: Caramel Praline Patchouli

A perfume house known for its extensive line up of intense, potent ouds seems to be doing some lovely things with gourmands as well. Some months back, I covered Montale‘s two treatments of a lovely chocolate-rose with Intense Café and Chocolate Greedy, but it still wasn’t enough to sway me or to tempt to actually buy a Montale fragrance. Montale’s Patchouli Leaves may be the first, a perfume I’m considering getting for its indulgently gourmand, caramel-praline treatment of the controversial note.

"Autumn Abstract." Photo: Tim Noonan via Flickr. (Website link embedded within photo.)

“Autumn Abstract.” Photo: Tim Noonan via Flickr. (Website link embedded within photo.)

As I’ve tried to explain with this whole patchouli series, true patchouli is very different from the note so many people are exposed to in modern perfumery. It’s not the vile, purple, molasses syrup reeking of fruits and berries that accompanies so many florals or quasi-“chypres” in the aisles of Sephora. The original, real, true patchouli is smoky, spicy, very brown-red in hue, with hints of aged cognac or brandy, toffee, dark chocolate, milk cocoa powder, tobacco, leather, toasted nuts, dry woods, and incense. It’s a woody smell that can take on green, mentholated aromas, ranging from peppermint to medicinal camphor. It can also reflect earthy notes, whether dusty or like damp, black loamy soil. Whatever its many characteristics, the true, brown patchouli often has a negative reputation lingering from its days as a favorite of “dirty hippies” in the 1970s who doused themselves in it to cover the strong smell of pot (or a lack of hygiene).

Source: biofarmacia.ro

Source: biofarmacia.ro

The niche houses have tried to rehabilitate poor, maligned patchouli, refining it for the modern era with its modern tastes. Montale‘s version seeks to turn patchouli into something gourmand and indulgent, seeping the leaves for two years in Bourbon vanilla. The result is something that uses vanilla’s richness to soften and tame patchouli’s wilder side, creating a soft, affordable, cozy caramel (or caramel-praline) combination that feels wholly in tune with today’s love of gourmand fragrances.   

Source: Dezire.org

Source: Dezire.org

Montale puts Patchouli Leaves into the Woody or Bois category, and describes the perfume as follows:

Beautiful Patchouli Leaves macerated for two years in the trunk of the Oak tree combined with Vanilla, Amber and White musk on a base of Cystus Ladaniferus from Tibet.

Fragrantica classifies the scent as an Oriental Woody. It lists its notes as follows, excluding the mention of any oak:

patchouli, vanilla, amber, musk and labdanum.

Patchouli Leaves opens on my skin with a spicy, slightly smoky, mellow rich warmth that floods over me like the deepest, smoothest wave of brown-gold-red lava. It’s quickly infused by rich Bourbon vanilla, boozy aged cognac, and a distinctly toffee’d nuttiness. It smells like pralines, vanilla, and toffee’d woods, flecked lightly by a smoky incense. Deep down in its depths lurks a balsamic, ambered resin with a faintly leathered element. The labdanum amber isn’t detectable in its own right, and you never think, “oh, amber,” but the dark, chewy note runs like a deep vein through the base, giving off a toffee, nutty aroma that amplifies the same characteristics in the patchouli. 

"Black Widow v1" by *smokin-nucleus. Source: DeviantArt. (Website link embedded within photo.)

“Black Widow v1”
by *smokin-nucleus. Source: DeviantArt. (Website link embedded within photo.)

There is great warmth and a golden haze circling around me like a plush cloud. Patchouli Leaves is sweet, but never excessively so on my skin; there is too much dryness, woodiness, and smoky incense for it to be cloying and syrupy in any way. The cognac and brandy aroma softens surprisingly quickly, retreating to the sidelines and leaving mostly a subtle nuttiness. Another surprise is Patchouli Leaves’ weight. For a fragrance with such richness, body, and potency, it is quite airy. It never feels opaque, dense, or heavy, perhaps as a way of countering the richness of the vanilla that is slowly rising to the surface. The initial bouquet is very strong and intense, projecting easily 6 inches in range, depending on the quantity you use, but the actual fragrance itself feels like a pillowy, praline-coloured cloud of patchouli.

Source: Mama Quail at mammaquail.blogspot.com

Source: Mama Quail at mammaquail.blogspot.com

Ten minutes in, subtle changes occur. Patchouli’s greener, “dirtier” side emerges with subtle hints of earthy soil, mentholated peppermint, and dark chocolate. The latter is like bitter-sweet chocolate, though it eventually turns into a dusky cocoa powder. The earthy note is simultaneously musky, dusty, and like sweet, damp potting soil that you find in a garden. It’s subtle, and much more muted than the chocolate and peppermint accord. And the medicinal touch smells like eucalyptus camphor, though it’s much milder here than in other patchouli fragrances that I have recently tested. As Nathan Branch wrote in his brief review of the scent, “Montale Patchouli Leaves has an earthy, leafy tone that reins in the sharp bite of actual patchouli so that you’re smelling what might be patchouli plants growing in a deep forest.” 

Source: wallpapersus.com

Source: wallpapersus.com

All the notes are infused with a dry woodiness that, to my nose, smells more like aged, slightly smoky cedar than the lighter, milder oak. The notes blend together seamlessly, creating a beautiful spicy, sweet bouquet of: dark, smoky woods; toffee’d balsamic, amber resin; toasted nuts; damp, earthy soil; dark chocolate; chilly peppermint menthol; incense; Bourbon vanilla; and smoky cedar.

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

It takes about 20 minutes for the vanilla to rise fully to the surface. At first, it takes on an oddly musty dryness as it merges with the woods and the patchouli’s earthier side. As its sweet richness washes over the darkness, Patchouli Leaves loses more and more of its boozy, cognac, leathery nuances, its spiciness, and its dark, balsamic feel. A friend of mine recently compared patchouli’s rich, sweet, spiciness to a deep, fat, sub-woofer bass, and I think that’s a perfect way to describe the note’s most beautiful characteristics. Here, the sub-woofer is increasingly pumping out a deep, fat vanilla “thump, thump, thump” — both of the sweet Bourbon variety, and the drier, woody, occasionally dusty kind. The patchouli is on top, but its truly dark, balsamic, spiced smokiness has been tamed from a deep operatic bass to a mid-level tenor.       

Forty-five minutes in, Patchouli Leaves turns softer, creamier, and more blurred. The notes fold seamlessly into each other, though I wish they had a little more separation and distinct shape at this point. The woody elements seem less smoked and dry, the fragrance’s hint of dusty earthiness is more muted, and the dark, bitter-sweet chocolate is turning increasingly into milk chocolate powder. The faint traces of mentholated camphor are replaced almost entirely by peppermint, but they’re not very significant as a whole on my skin.

Source: pixabay.com

Source: pixabay.com

More and more, the focus of Patchouli Leaves is turning almost entirely into a caramel praline bouquet, with all the other notes standing on the sidelines. The prominence of the patchouli’s smoky, woody, or earthy characteristics varies over the next few hours, but they are increasingly inconsequential, appearing in only the subtlest way if you really sniff hard at your arm. Around the middle of the second hour, Patchouli Leaves’ powerful sillage finally drops, hovering now only 3 inches or so above the skin. However, it takes about 5.75 hours for the fragrance to turn into a true skin scent. After that, it just lasts and lasts.

Source: wallpapers.free-review.net

Source: wallpapers.free-review.net

Ten hours have passed, and I’m still wafting toffee’d caramel, praline, vanilla patchouli. A few more hours after that, the perfume fades in large part, but remains very noticeable on small patches of my arm. All in all, Patchouli Leaves lasted an astonishing 14.75 hours with a small application (2 big smears amounting to a single spray) on my voracious, perfume-consuming skin. With a larger amount (approximating 2 sprays), Patchouli Leaves lasted 17 hours on tiny parts of my arm. Montale fragrances are known for their longevity, but still!

What makes it so surprising in the case of Patchouli Leaves is that I don’t smell anything strongly synthetic in the base — and synthetics are what usually give a fragrance enormous longevity on my skin. Even more astonishing is the fact that there is no ISO E Super in Patchouli Leaves. None at all. That is a first for any Montale that I have tested. How Pierre Montale managed to survive without imbuing the perfume with his usual gallons of ISO E Super, I have no idea, but he did it. (Bravo, and please continue!)

To like Patchouli Leaves, you have to love both original, true patchouli in all its manifestations and gourmand sweetness. If you don’t like both, you’re in trouble. The reactions to Patchouli Leaves on Fragrantica are highly mixed, with some posters having issues with the patchouli’s “hippie” element, while others can’t handle the sweetness. Those who love patchouli with all its earthy, spicy, or occasionally medicinal sides have much less trouble, and love it. Some examples of the range of opinions:

  • My new OBSESSION! It’s drop-dead gorgeous. The amber is not synthetic like most ambers. This is a warm, mellow, slightly sweet amber perfume. Patchouli is intense–rich and nutritious like a peat bog. I smell plenty of dark, damp soil, full of partially decayed mosses and leaves. [¶] It reminds me of Prada’s Amber, but Prada is spicy, and I don’t get that spicy quality in Patchouli Leaves. [¶] So earthy, yet so heavenly.
  • Patchouli patchouli patchouli, a floral note drifting by.
    A tidal wave of sweet sweet patchouli, if you like pot brownies then this’ll probably tickle you in your bad spot. […] OH!, a moist dampness is present as well. [¶] A hippies wet dream.
  • Very sweet and creamy patchouli. After 1 hour smells like some eatable sweety made of patchouli and vanilla. Reaaly too sweet.
  • Patchouli Leaves smells like a cheap head shop perfume. The vanilla is awful sweet and unnatural, the Patchouli is sweet and unearthy, the amber is sweet and cloying. Allover it smells cheap-oily. For the goths out there: You don’t want this patchouli, you’d smell like your hippie grandma, who has lost her sense of smell by using too much acid.
  • This is definitely a hippie patchouli. It begins smelling intensely of mud and tilled soil, then it transforms into a bodily, sweaty patchouli within about a half hour. If you are a hippie, this is you in liquid form. It’s genius, but it’s not something I’d wear.
  • In the nutshell: remove cocoa note and you get l’instant pour homme extreme from guerlain. This is classy, deep, dark evening scent.
  • This is completely stunning. It creates a certain warmth that really puts me at ease. […] I can definitely smell patchouli (duh!), but it’s not what I have always known patchouli to smell like. Two people at my work wear some kind of patchouli scent, but on them it smells like dirt. It is obviously NOT Montale! Instead of smelling like a hippy, I smell angelic: fresh patchouli leaves mixed with a gourmand vanilla. Top shelf stuff!

Basenotes, however, has a very different, positive take on the scent. Out of 30 reviews, 24 are positive and only 6 are negative. Their perception of things:

  • Best patchouli ever made. Sorry Borneo and Coromandel, but you’re a step below of Patchouli Leaves. Opening is raw and earthy, then join the vanilla and make it creamy and sexy. Projection is huge, same with lasting power (over 12hs).
  • Or. Gasmic. [¶] My girlfriend suggested I use “smellgasm” or something similar but I just felt, in my bones, that it wouldn’t do this superlative scent justice. […] My goodness this stuff is dangerously divine.
  • I’ll tell you what I got with wearing this- old book pages in a library vanilla and I loved it. I’m going to own this some day (I hope). I sit down on the sofa and wear this as I read a book and it’s so comforting to me.
  •  it’s like a big scoop of Mint Chocolate Patchouli ice cream on me for the first 5 minutes. It develops quickly and warms into a loamy patchouli within 15 to 30 minutes on my skin, but it starts out as patchouli wearing a winter coat of bracing green (mint and/or lime and/or lavendar) and dark chocolate-oak boots. Granted, this feeling of coolness is very fleeting. It begins morphing almost immediately into a warmer patchouli and amber brew with a touch of vanilla.
  • Holy Smokes! This patchouli is no joke. This is not a classy, refined patchouli like Chanel’s Coromandel. This is not a dry, chocolaty patchouli like Borneo 1834. This is a sting-your-nose, transport-you-to-the-Grateful Dead-lot-circa-1989 kind of patchouli. […] This patchouli is very earthy and very rich. The juice itself is dark and seemingly thick. […] After about an hour the ferocity subsides considerably, leaving an amber/vanilla/patchouli that is indeed more akin to Coromandel, albeit more earthy.
  • This smells like the woods. Sweet, dry, powerful, earthy, serene. And it has the most beautiful deep brown colour. However, there is a lot of amber here. A LOT. A very beautiful fragrance that works amazing is the autumn.
  • Like eating dark chocolate with your lover under a tree after it has rained.

The people at Basenotes seem to have a better understanding and appreciation for real patchouli than those at Fragrantica, which probably explains why 24 out of 30 people gave Patchouli Leaves a positive rating. For me, I don’t think the fragrance is as “hippie” or “dirty” as they do, but my skin amplifies base notes and obviously brought out more of the vanilla from the start. On other people, the fragrance may be indeed have more of an earthy funk like damp soil or a medicinal touch for the first hour until the vanilla rises to the surface.

With regard to other patchouli scents, I agree with only some of their comparisons. Patchouli Leaves definitely isn’t as refined, nuanced, or gorgeous as Chanel‘s incense, white cocoa, and light patchouli amber fragrance, Coromandel, which is one of my favorite perfumes. Someone at Fragrantica wrote Les NereidesPatchouli Antique was a better interpretation of note, but for me the two scents are extremely different as Patchouli Leaves is very gourmand and vanillic, while Patchouli Antique is very musty, dusty, woody, and minty. They also preferred Reminiscence‘s Elixir de Patchouli which many people on Fragrantica repeatedly find is similar to the Montale. I don’t agree with that either. To me, the Elixir is significantly more woody, and smoked, with a mildew-y swamp quality from the strong vetiver. It is also more ambered and less vanillic, in my view, but it may be a question of skin chemistry. As a whole, the strongly gourmand touch in the Montale separates it out from all the patchouli scents that I’ve tried thus far, which is why I think Serge LutensBorneo 1834, David Jourquin‘s Cuir Tabac, or Profumum‘s Patchouly also don’t compare.

Source: vanillesdesiles.com

Source: vanillesdesiles.com

To be honest, I like Patchouli Leaves, but I’m not in love with it and something holds me back from committing fully. It’s not as chic as Coromandel, or as beautifully spiced as Profumum’s more ambered Patchouly. My main problem is that I’m not really into gourmand scents, and that is the essence of Patchouli Leaves on my skin. Deeply vanillic scents always leave me a little cold, even when they turn into caramel praline. I would prefer more spice and incense, and for the patchouli to really shine through as the main star, instead of being tamed by the equally significant vanilla.

On the other hand, Patchouli Leaves has some definite positives that I find hard to ignore. It’s a cozy scent that beats out all the others in terms of its projection and astounding longevity. It’s also extremely affordable, with one discount retailer selling the large 100 ml bottle for $104 instead of $160. Given the strength and richness of the fragrance, that 100 ml bottle may last you until the end of days. Those unwilling to commit to eternity can also go with a 50 ml bottle that costs roughly the same amount at retail.

At the end of the day, Patchouli Leaves will only work for you if you know and love patchouli in all its true, original manifestations. If that is you, and if you adore sweet fragrances centered around vanilla, then you should definitely give the Montale a sniff. It is an incredibly warm, rich, smooth and indulgent take on the note, and a perfect scent for a cold winter’s night curled up before the fireplace.  

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Patchouli Leaves is an eau de parfum and is most commonly available in a 3.4 oz/100 ml for $160 or €80, but some sites also sell a 50 ml bottle for $110. It is available on the Montale website only in the large 3.4 oz size for €80. Montale also offers a free 20 ml mini-bottle of the fragrance at the time of purchase. Discount Prices: I found Patchouli Leaves discounted at LilyDirect in the large 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle for $104.71, instead of $160. I’ve known a few people to buy from the site without problem, and they are a reputable vendor. In the U.S.: Patchouli Leaves is available in both sizes from Luckyscent and MinNewYork, at $110 for the small and $160 for the large. Parfums Raffy offers both sizes for a fraction less: the 50 ml size for $105, as well as the 3.4 oz/100 ml size for $155. All the sites sell samples. Outside the U.S.: In Canada, Patchouli Leaves is available at The Perfume Shoppe‘s Vancouver site which sells the 1.7 oz/50 ml size for US $110. Since the site is originally a U.S. vendor, you may want to contact them about Canadian pricing. In the UK, I couldn’t find any sellers. Germany’s First in Fragrance sells the 100 ml Patchouli Leaves for higher than retail or the Montale website at €94, but ships all over the world. In the Netherlands, the perfume is sold by ParfuMaria for €95, while Italy’s AllaVioletta offers it for €80. In the Middle East, I found Patchouli Leaves at PerfumeUAE, while in Russia, it is offered on Montale’s Russian website. In Japan, Montale is sold at a few stores, like Tokyo’s La Beauté One. For all other locations from Osaka to Spain, Austria, Italy, Bahrain, Lithuania, Kuwait, even Uruguay, and elsewhere, please check the Montale Distributor page. There are even more stores all over the world from Japan to Africa shown on Montale’s Store PageSamples: I obtained my sample of Patchouli Leaves from Surrender to Chance which sells 1ml vials starts at $3.99.

Comme des Garcons Series Luxe: Patchouli – Not Patchouli

CDG Patchouli Luxe in the pyramid bottle. Source: Fragrantica.

CDG Patchouli Luxe in the pyramid bottle. Source: Fragrantica.

There should be some sort of law against false misrepresentation with perfume names. At the very least, there should be some sort of penalty box where perfumes are sent to be egged when they not only fail to smell of the very thing with which they are titled, but when their primary aroma is something not even mentioned on the bloody list! As you can tell, I’m feeling rather irascible, and the reason is Comme des Garcons‘ endlessly wordy, misleadingly named scent, Comme des Garcons Series Luxe: Patchouli. (Yes, that last bit seems to be the full, official name of the fragrance, which is why I will just refer to it as “Luxe Patchouli” or “Patchouli Luxe” from here on out.)

Luxe Patchouli EDP in the regular bottle. Source: Nathan Branch

Luxe Patchouli EDP in the regular bottle. Source: Nathan Branch

Patchouli Luxe was created by Antoine Maisondieu, and is an eau de parfum that was released in 2007. (There is also an eau de toilette version.) The notes as compiled from Fragrantica and Luckyscent include:

White pepper, fenugreek, bearberry, lovage, oak extract, opoponax [sweet myrrh], patchouli, cedar, vanilla, sandalwood, vetiver.

Photo: Karen Gallagher. Source: morningjoy.wordpress.com

Photo: Karen Gallagher. Source: morningjoy.wordpress.com

Luxe Patchouli opens on my skin with a burst of white pepper quickly followed by smoked, slightly singed cedar, a boozy, vanilla-infused Bourbon, and more white pepper. There are hints of dried greens, dried grass, dried herbs, and smoked vetiver. On their heels is black pepper, fenugreek, dill pickle, and something not included on any ingredient lists that I could see: immortelle. Subtle flecks of a leathery darkness pop in and out of the beautiful pepper and herbal top notes. It’s like a vista of dry yellow and green fields dotted with foraging sheep. The field lies at the edge of a dark cedar and vetiver forest that is smoking, so someone decided to douse the sparks and singed tinder with sprinkles of vanillic Bourbon.

Immortelle, or Helichrysum in Corsica. Source: Wikicommons.

Immortelle, or Helichrysum in Corsica. Source: Wikicommons.

Less than five minutes in, the immortelle or Helichrysum suddenly springs into action, followed quickly by the fenugreek and a faint touch of mildewed woods. For me, Luxe Patchouli should really be called Luxe Immortelle since the flower seems to have been used by the bucketfuls. For a large part of the perfume’s development, the aroma reflects immortelle’s drier characteristics: a herbal floralacy that smells like dried chamomile, dandelions flowers, and yellow curry powder.

Source: indonesiapepper.com

Source: indonesiapepper.com

Soon, even more white pepper arrives on the scene, followed by sweet myrrh’s nutty warm smoke, and dry cedar. The pepper is absolutely lovely, as it smells exactly like the really expensive Muntok Indonesian kind you use in cream-based dishes. (Julia Child hated the use of black pepper in white sauces.) The white version isn’t something I’ve encountered frequently in perfumery, so I’m a big fan, though it vanishes in less than 10 minutes on my skin.

Dried fenugreek leaves via Suhana.co.in

Dried fenugreek leaves via Suhana.co.in

The immortelle’s curry powder characteristic is amplified by the fenugreek, which smells equally dried and herbal. Fenugreek is not something that a lot of people are familiar with, even in cooking, but I used to love using it and have a big bottle in my pantry. It has an aroma that is like concentrated dill mixed with parsley and dried leeks. It is often used to pickle vegetables in Indian food or is blended in South East Asian curries, while in Persian food it is responsible for one of the country’s most important dishes, a herbal, non-curried stew called Ghormeh Sabzi. For me, the aroma of the fenugreek combined with the immortelle in Luxe Patchouli actually brings the whole thing closer to another Middle Eastern dish called Baghali Polo (or sometimes, Sabzi Polo). (There is a recipe for Baghali Polo with lovely photos at Cooking Minette.)

Baghali Polo. Source: Cooking Minette.

Baghali Polo. Source: Cooking Minette.

In short, I smell of food and dried herbal flowers, with a touch of pickled dill, but there is nary a whiff of patchouli to be found anywhere. Actually, I am reminded distinctly of Serge LutensSantal de Mysore, which I’m pretty sure also contains a heaping amount of fenugreek and which made me think of the same dish. Luxe Patchouli is not as foodie, sweet, curried, or hotly buttered as the Lutens. It is a much more peppered, dry, woody take on the Lutens’ fenugreek Baghali Polo, but they definitely feel like cousins to me. I wasn’t a fan of the Lutens, and I’m not a fan of CDG’s bouquet either, though I do liked the singed cedar in the background.

Immortelle. Source: The Perfume Shrine.

Immortelle. Source: The Perfume Shrine.

CDG Luxe Patchouli simply does not change on my skin. Starting around 15 minutes into its development until its very end, it is primarily an immortelle and fenugreek perfume. There are subtle variations in characteristics of the immortelle, as well as in the prominence of the fenugreek, or the quantity of smoked, dry woods in the background, but, by and large, the fragrance is primarily some form of immortelle on my skin.

Patchouli? Not as I know it. Not green, medicinal patchouli, not conventional brown, spicy-sweet patchouli, or even the ghastly modern, fruited purple kind. Patchouli — luxe or otherwise — is simply not a factor in a fragrance whose name pays homage to that one, solitary note. I don’t understand any of it. While I could blame my skin for acting up, I’m not alone in finding Luxe Patchouli to be predominantly an immortelle scent. We will get to that shortly, since I should first give you the rest of the perfume’s development.

Luxe Patchouli has some unusual things going on with the sillage. Regardless of quantity, the fragrance hovers right on the skin within 45 minutes. At a larger dose, there are little tendrils that hover in the air around me, and the immortelle is noticeable from afar. As a whole, Luxe Patchouli feels very soft, very quickly. It’s a tiny, pillowy cloud of immortelle’s dryness, whether it is the dandelion and chamomile floral element, the dryness of its green stalks, or its faintly curry-like whiff. The whole thing is strongly infused with the fenugreek’s Middle Eastern dill, parsley, and leek herbal aromas, and the whole thing together combines to create a green, dry, herbal curry bouquet. The cedar lurks at the edges giving off singed smoke, but the vetiver, vanilla Bourbon, and white pepper have essentially vanished.

Source: pl.123rf.com

Source: pl.123rf.com

The immortelle does change, however. At the end of the first hour, it turns spicy and even more curried, instead of merely just dry, floral, or sweet. About 2.25 hours in, Luxe Patchouli is a mere skin scent with immortelle. There are indistinct, tiny hints of abstract, dry woodiness and smokiness at the edges, but they are very muted. Meanwhile, the fenugreek has started to retreat to the sidelines where it will remain for a few more hours. At the start of the 5th hour, Luxe Patchouli turns more sweet, as the immortelle’s maple syrup side emerges. There is some sort of quasi “sandalwood”-like note in the base that doesn’t feel like sandalwood, per se, but a generic creamy woodiness that is lightly spiced and sweet.

As a whole, the sweet elements are not enormous or extreme in Luxe Patchouli. They fade away about 6.75 hours in, along with any remaining traces of the fenugreek and curry, leaving a scent that is merely dry, dusty, herbal, floral immortelle. There is a hint of maple syrup, and the whole thing lies nestled in a cocoon of abstract woodiness that can just vaguely be made out as smoked cedar. By the start of the 8th hour, Luxe Patchouli is a smear of immortelle, abstract woods, and vanilla. In its final moments, a few minutes after the start of the 10th hour, it dies away as a haze of woody, dry sweetness. Not a whisper of patchouli showed up in any shape, size, or form on my skin, a fact I would find much less irritating if the whole scent were not intended to be “Luxe: Patchouli.”

Image: StocksbyAnnaforYou at stocksbyannaforyou.deviantart.com

Image: StocksbyAnnaforYou at stocksbyannaforyou.deviantart.com

As noted at the start, this review is for the eau de parfum version of Luxe Patchouli. I don’t have a sample of the eau de toilette that seems more commonly available, but, from what I gather, the two scents are alike in terms of how they smell. According to a Basenotes thread comparing the two, the differences are largely of depth and sweetness, with many finding the EDT to be drier, thinner, less original, and with less richness. Many called the EDT the “diet version.” A number of people who hate patchouli found Luxe Patchouli to be perfect for their tastes. I can’t figure out if that means they actually detected patchouli on their skins, if they don’t know what the real, brown, true patchouli smells like, or if they love the perfume because they didn’t detect it at all. I assume it was the latter, as a number of people who do describe themselves as patchouli fans found the EDT to leave them a little cold. One poster, “Hedonist222” wrote:

Frankly I don’t get much patchouli from it.
A lot of immortelle.

In fact, there are numerous Basenotes’ threads on the subject of the nonexistent patchouli. Let’s take just one, entitled “Comme des Garcons Luxe Patchouli – Where’s the patchouli?” A few of the responses:

  • All I get in this is what to me smells like angelica root. Angelica root is very powerful and tends to dominate anything it’s added to. It also smells like there is an attempt at synthetic irones as well (I have smelled some quality synthetic orris fragrance oils, and the note I get here is a close match).
  • I loved it, but not enough to purchase a FB. It’s basically immortelle and not much else. It’s very rich and dense; almost syrupy and SL-like. It’s not that complex and I would’ve bought it…say have it been 150.
  •  I tried this at the CdG shop here and it was a memorable experience because it was the only time I have felt compelled to find somewhere nearby to wash off all traces of a scent I have sampled as quickly as possible. If this is immortelle in the raw then I can live without it.

In the official Basenotes thread for the scent, a lot of people love Luxe Patchouli for all its non-patchouli characteristics. For one, it was a much better version than Annick Goutal‘s immortelle bomb, Sables. For another, Patchouli Luxe was all about the sweet myrrh. A third loved the angelica and fenugreek combination with the immortelle. A fourth chap, “Darvant,” wrote:

This is complex. A rich, spicy, sugary, very dark patchouli that is since the beginning smoky (sweet smoke) and with a sheer tarry and balsamic note of licorice in a link with something like anise or angelica (may be the bearberry) all surrounded by resins of oak, myrrh and vanilla. The aromatic blend ends smokey because of the influence of burnt woods from the top to the bottom but is aromatic and surprisingly green and earthy because of the influence of vetiver, bearberry and feengreek. The interaction of pepper, smoke, patchouli and  tarry-aromatics (immortelle, bearberry, feengreek?) grounds a very dark appalling structure  flanked by greens, hints of camphor and finally civilized and smoothed by a huge amount of balsams and resins. The fragrance itself is a tangle, the mildness is made of balsams and woods (sandalwood and cedarwood), the patchouli is well flavoured and hidden in the middle of a black  bitter-sweet shadow that is aromatic and earthy, tarry and mellow at once. All the elements are in a perfect balance. Ubermodern, futuristic fragrance with a huge amount of texture in my opinion, really searched and luxurious, perfect for clubbing in all the cozy, velvety, dark-violet club of the down town.

My experience was hardly as complex or as interesting. Whatever the momentary nuances of Patchouli Luxe’s opening minutes, it quickly devolved to nothing more than fenugreek dill, dill pickle, dried herbal flowers, and various manifestations of immortelle with a hint of singed cedar. If Darvant experienced all that far beyond the first 15 minutes, then I’m deeply envious. For myself and so many others, however, Luxe Patchouli was curried immortelle and little else.

Luxe Patchouli in its box. Source: Nathan Branch.

Luxe Patchouli in its box. Source: Nathan Branch.

Some bloggers seemed to have enjoyed Luxe Patchouli quite a bit, regardless of its quirks. For Lee at the Perfume Posse, the fragrance began as a refined patchouli, before the “second stage took me into an East Asian grocery[,]” and then ended as a “beautiful, truly dreamy immortelle kick.” For Nathan Branch (who has some truly exceptional photos of the bottle and box),

CdG Luxe Patchouli is warm, richly layered and exceptionally polished from front to finish. [¶] Whereas Le Labo’s terrific Patchouli 24 has a charred-wood quality that steers it in a darker, more unexpected direction, CdG Luxe Patchouli is nothing if not a smooth operator all the way through, definitely in the spotlight yet respectfully sharing the stage with a lush procession of incense, bourbon, dry wood, a touch of leather and a dash of salt.

I’ve spent so much time on other people’s experiences to give you an idea of the positive aspects of the fragrance if you’re looking for a dry, sometimes syrupy sweet, herbal, woody scent. I’m also trying to underscore as much as possible that you will be disappointed if you’re looking for a conventional, true, dark, brown patchouli with all its traditional characteristics. This isn’t it. This is indeed an “East Asian grocery” store, followed by immortelle.

Luxe Patchouli is a nice fragrance for what it is, though greatly over-priced at $290 for a mere 45 ml. It is refined and seamless; quite unisex; and its weak sillage (but good longevity) would make it appropriate for a conservative office environment. In my opinion, however, it is not a patchouli scent by any stretch of the imagination. If there were truth in advertising requirements about perfume names, someone at Comme des Garcons’ perfume or marketing department should get their knuckles rapped.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Comme des Garcons Series Luxe: Patchouli is an eau de parfum that comes in a 45 ml bottle, shaped either like a cube or like a pyramid. It costs $290 or €190. In the U.S.: you can purchase Patchouli Luxe from Luckyscent in both shapes, though the pyramid one is currently sold out. The site also offers a sample at $6. The fragrance is also available in the cube bottle from BeautyHabit for $285. Outside the U.S.: In the UK, you can Patchouli Luxe EDP at Liberty London for £95. In France, the scent is available from Premiere Avenue, Paris’ Colette, or Pur-Sens for €190. The pyramid-shaped Patchouli Luxe is offered by Germany’s First in Fragrance for €190. The regular bottle is sold in Belgium by Senteurs d’Ailleurs, though they don’t have an e-store. In Russia it’s offered by Eleven7ru. I’m having difficulty finding more stores that carry the rarer EDP version. And there is no working, functional Comme des Garcons website. Samples: I obtained Patchouli Luxe from Surrender to Chance which sells vials starting at $4.99 for a 1/2 ml.

Farmacia SS. Annunziata Patchouly Indonesiano

Well, this will clear your nose! The most intense patchouli I have ever experienced is Farmacia SS. Annunziata dal 1561 Patchouly Indonesiano, which is also the longest named patchouli fragrance around. Patchouly Indonesiano is, quite literally, patchouli tripled: the best and highest quality leaves from Indonesia, from top to bottom, without a single thing to leaven them. It is quite… an experience.

Source: Fragrantica

Source: Fragrantica

Farmacia SS. Annunziata dal 1561 (or “Farmacia SS. Annunziata” as it is called for short) is an Italian niche house based in Florence whose history goes back to 1561, when a chemist called Brunetti worked with the Benedictine Nuns of San Nicolò to create all-natural beauty products and potions. As Roullier White explains, the ancient, original apothecary:

passed from the nuns to various owners until it was acquired by the Azzerlini family, who has now managed the brand for over three generations. However the apothecary which was recorded in existing documents in 1561 still survives, with white ceilings and dark wooden shelves decorated with apothecary jars from the 1800’s and although it preserves its old traditions, Farmacia SS Annunziata uses modern machinery and new materials to make its world renowned fragrances.

Source: Luckyscent.

Source: Luckyscent.

Patchouly Indonesiano is a concentrated eau de parfum which, in my opinion, is more like extrait de parfum that feels like undiluted perfume oil which you’d find in a naturalist’s store. Farmacia SS. Annunziata describes it quite simply as an

[a]roma that never sets, a symbol of history. Intense and eternal aroma. It surrounds the wearer of a seductive atmosphere. A fragrance with an unmistakable character, an earthly beauty.

Top notes: PATCHOULY

Heart notes: PATCHOULY

Base notes: PATCHOULY

Indonesian patchouli. Photo: Aromahead on Flickr. (Website link embedded within.)

An Indonesian patchouli plantation. Photo: Aromahead on Flickr. (Website link embedded within.)

Patchouly Indonesiano explodes on my skin with a blast that did, indeed, clear my nose. If you have sinus trouble, you may want to consider this fragrance because it has a seriously potent opening. It is a strong blend of: dry dust, dark earth, medicine, camphor, smoke, sweetness, raw black leather, and musk. Mere seconds later, a rubbery note, bitter coffee, and dark chocolate join the party, along with hints of something vaguely sweaty. The whole thing makes my head spin a little. The combination is truly intense and with powerful projection, though the sillage seems to drop almost instantly to coat the skin like a perfume oil.

Source: deseretnews.com

Source: deseretnews.com

It only takes a few minutes for the camphor that leads the charge to soften, and for Patchouly Indonesiano to shift a little. The nose-clearing menthol is joined by an oily smell that resembles castor oil, as well as by a strong element of paper. Patchouly Indonesiano’s primary bouquet is now of: paper, oil, menthol, dry dirt, black rubber, dust, and a hint of chocolate. It makes me think of an auto mechanic’s shop where a greasy pool of castor oil and the smell of rubber tires swirl with the scent from a nearby coffee-maker that is on a table with dusty old ledgers. The mechanic is wearing patchouli oil from a nearby health-food store, and eating a bar of dark chocolate. Outside, construction is going on, with a diesel-running machine uprooting mounds of dark earth, as dust particles fill the air.

Indonesian patchlouli fields. Source: boccecreative.com

Indonesian patchlouli fields. Source: boccecreative.com

I realise none of that sounds particularly good, but there is something oddly fascinating, even entrancing, about the panoply of aromas in Patchouly Indonesiano. It’s as the though the essence of nature with sweet, rich soil has mixed with the most intense manifestations of something industrial and mechanical. There is a sweet, spicy muskiness that is earthy and soothing underlying Patchouly Indonesiano, and that I like quite a bit.

Source:  quora.com

Source: quora.com

It’s just the rest of the bouquet that I’m dubious about and struggle with. The menthol is seriously medicinal, as if our car mechanic slathered himself in Vicks Vapor muscle rub, but it is the distinctly rubbery rawness of the patchouli that is the hardest to take. This is not  the more burnished, soft, richness of leather that can sometimes underlie the note. This is sharp, raw, black rubber with a hint of diesel fuel. The notes feel distilled down to their concentrated essence, then mixed with castor oil, and rubbed right into my nostrils. It actually made my eyes go a little cross-eyed at one point.

Patchouly Indonesiano is largely a linear scent where the notes vary only in degree and prominence. Fifteen minutes in, the dustiness, tobacco, and that fleeting drop of sweatiness vanish, while the smoke, paper, menthol, rubber, oil, and dirt elements go stronger. At the end of the first hour, the fragrance is primarily camphor and castor oil, followed by subtle nuances of black rubber and smoky woods. There are muffled, muted whispers of sweetness and spiciness, but they can’t counteract the rougher elements.

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

Things improve, however, about 2.5 hours in, when Patchouly Indonesiano becomes much more focused around the traditional aromas of the note. The scent is now a warm, brown, spicy, sweet patchouli scent with very little of the dusty, rubbery or diesel elements. There is still a hint of something mentholated lurking about, but Patchouly Indonesiano is much better balanced and mellower. The fragrance turns into a skin scent at the end of the second hour, and remains largely unchanged until its very end. By the end of the 6th hour, it is a mere blur of sweet woodiness, and then it fades away entirely about an hour later.

The reviews for Patchouly Indonesiano on various sites largely center around the fragrance’s dirtiness and its price (which is $160 for 100 ml). On Luckyscent, a number of people find the perfume to smell like simple patchouli essential oils that you can purchase from places like Whole Foods for $16. Others find it to be the truest and most refined patchouli scent around:

  • This is what I’ve been looking for, for years even. A gorgeous patchouli that has all the rich, earthiness and dry, woodiness without that nasty, unwashed hippie thing going on. This is an elegant, refined and very true patchouli that smells wonderful on its own, and layers very well with musks and ambers to create really sexy scent combinations. Outstanding!
  • I have tried many of the other Patchoulis (Patchouli Patch, Patchouli Leaves, LeLabo’s 24) but this is by far the loveliest and most refined. […]
  • This is the dirtiest patchouly I’ve ever smelled (and that’s a good thing). I really enjoyed sampling this scent, it is the rawest patch I’ve come across. This one is about as earthy/dirty as you can get, it’s pure patchouly oily and nothing else. Everytime I closed my eyes and smelled I pictured myself surrounded in a warm grassy dirt patch. This oil has a slightly above average longevity rating from me lasting just about all day and projects a strong 4-5 hours. Really good scent but it smells pretty close to your run of the mill patchouly oil you can find at any herbal store. I do find this to be a bit stronger and a slightly more unique than your typical patch oil but I can’t see paying the extra money for something you can find for around $20.

The focus on Fragrantica is more about the scent itself, with all its dusty complexity:

  • Patchouli + cobwebs. Very earthy, dry, dusty, and almost moldy. [¶] This is how an antique rocking horse that’s been sitting in an attic for several years would smell. [¶] All that being said, I like it. It’s full of character and smells like historical objects.
  • I love patchouli, and I guess I expected this to blow me away, but maybe I am learning that I like my patchoulis best when blended with other notes. It started out bracing, camphorous, and dirty, and within an hour it was a velvety smooth, warm, and woody skin scent, but Patchouly Indonesiano had very poor staying power on my skin and was barely detectable after that first hour. Four hours later there was no trace of it on my wrist. I like it for being a high-quality single note fragrance, but I would have to reapply it constantly to be able to fully enjoy it.
  • Dust and patchouly. And a little more earthy dust. In my imagination this is the type of dust that could be found settling on a crypt or kicked underneath the heels during a dry desert walk.
Dusty, dirt road in Laos. Photo: Daniel McBane. http://www.danielmcbane.com/laos/dusty-road-central-motorbike-loop/

Dusty, dirt road in Laos. Photo: Daniel McBane. http://www.danielmcbane.com/laos/dusty-road-central-motorbike-loop/

The most interesting comment for me comes from someone who has purchased two bottles of Patchouly Indonesiano, and is still ambivalent about it!

I have been through two bottles of this, and I have a ambivalent relationship with it. Most of the time I love it for it’s true, up-front patchouli note – it’s everything that patchouli is supposed to be. This would be: camphoraceous, dusty, earthy, dry, linear and even wine-like at at times.

However, sometimes I think that I’d get the same results by adding a good amount of aged patchouli absolute, iso e super, a touch of cedar and a synthetic musk (all easily obtainable) to some perfumer’s alcohol. This would probably result in a similar scent for a good deal less $$. There really isn’t much more to this other than patchouli and some bolstering modifiers.

It just depends on the day. Nonetheless, if you love patchouli, this will be absolute heaven for you – nobody will mistake what you’re wearing.

I adore patchouli, but I share the feelings of a number of those quoted up above. I’m starting to realise that I need some modifiers and softening agents to go with my patchouli. This sort of untamed, concentrated, and very raw form isn’t really my cup of tea. Patchouli Indonesiano is, as one commentator on Basenotes put it, “a balls-out, take no prisoners” patchouli. It would be lovely once in a blue moon, but not for $160, especially if there are similar scents which one can purchase as pure essential oils from a health food store for $16. Even if the fragrance were cheaper, the hard-core, balls to the wall (to paraphrase that Basenotes’ description) extremeness of the opening blast makes the scent too much like a novelty fragrance for me personally, while the poor sillage and minimal longevity on my wonky, unobliging skin would be frustrating.

I’ve been trying to imagine what would happen if a bottle of Patchouly Indonesiano fell into my lap, and the simple truth of the matter is that I doubt I would reach for it very often. Perhaps it might work as a layering scent, though I don’t really do that. It might be interesting as a bath oil (since the perfume really feels more like an oil), but that’s rather heretical and ridiculous for something that costs $160. I wouldn’t want my sheets to smell of castor oil and black rubber, so that would be out, too. I would probably do what some chap did on Luckyscent: give the bottle to someone who is a hardcore patchouli nut, and whose skin chemistry works wonders with the thornier elements in question. I have no idea who that imaginary person might be, but it’s definitely not me.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Farmacia SS. Annunziata Patchouly Indonesiano is a concentrated eau de parfum that is available only in a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle which costs $160. The European price seem to range from €110 to €129, but I can’t figure out the set retail cost. Farmacia SS. Annunziata does not seem to have an e-store, and it doesn’t provide any pricing information. Discount Price: I found Patchouly Indonesiano offered by an Italian eBuy boutique called Store Perfumery for $148 with free worldwide shipping. The exact link (which will obviously be inapplicable if the perfume sells out) is hereIn the U.S.: Patchouli Indonesiano is available for $160 from Luckyscent, along with a sample. Outside the U.S.: The entire Farmacia SS. Annunziata line of fragrances, body products and samples is available from Italy’s AllaVioletta. You can also find Patchouly Indonesiano at Profumeria Manuela for €110. Germany’s First in Fragrance sells the perfume for €121, while the Netherlands’ ParfuMaria sells it for €129. In Switzerland, Beauty Flash sells the fragrance for CHF 175. In the UK, some of the Farmacia SS Annunziata line is carried by Roullier White, but Patchouly Indonesiano is not listed on the website. Rich Perfumes in Buckinghamshire also carries the line, and you may have to call to see if they have the Patchouly. Samples: I obtained my sample from eBay, but you can also buy one from Luckyscent. Surrender to Chance does not carry Patchouly Indonesiano, and neither does The Perfumed Court.

Les Néréides Patchouli Antique (Patchouli Précieux)

Source: worldofstock.com

Source: worldofstock.com

A keepsake memento box made of cedar, left in a dusty old attic, only to be found and doused with rum and cognac, then to transform as if by alchemy to something quite different. That is part of the journey you take with Patchouli Antique from Les Néréides, a French perfume house that initially started in the world of expensive, high-end costume jewelry before branching out into perfume. Their fragrances represent their overall ethos of the most basic, simple ingredients, presented in the most refined manner. They eschew expensive or fancy bottling, preferring to opt for a minimalistic aesthetic, both to appearance and, to some degree, the perfume itself.

Patchouli Antique or, Patchouli Précieux, as it is now known.

Patchouli Antique or, Patchouli Précieux, as it is now known.

Patchouli Antique (or Patchouli Précieux as it has now been renamed) embodies that aesthetic for much of its journey, though its opening is wonderfully complex and nuanced. The fragrance is an eau de toilette that is classified as an “Oriental Woody” on Fragrantica, and its notes are not complicated according to most sites. Luckyscent says that they are nothing more than:

Indonesian patchouli, Vanilla, and musk.

However, one French retailer provides something very different. Olivolga describes Patchouli Antique as follows:

Patchouli Antique becomes Patchouli Précieux, the perfume is the same.

The story of Patchouli Précieux: The soothing scent of rich, clean earth freshened by rain. This is the loamy soil of an enchanted hillside at dusk as you lay in the grass and watch the clouds. The opening is very intense, but give it a moment and the trademark gentle touch of Les Nereides becomes apparent. The patchouli retains its earthiness, but becomes soft and deep, melding with layers of pillowy vanilla and smooth musk to create a dreamy landscape … Bewitching!

Base: patchouli, cedar wood, sandalwood, vanilla, musk
Head: sweet orange, green note
Middle: Gurjum balm, scots pine

Source: footage.shutterstock.com

Source: footage.shutterstock.com

Patchouli Antique opens on my skin with a rich cocktail of notes. It is a blend of sweet, chewy, dusty, slightly medicinal, red-brown patchouli with booziness, followed by tobacco and a subtle whisper of leather. It is patchouli in all its true splendour with a spicy, sweet, smoky character that also has subtle touches of green, woody dryness, and dark resinous amber. The amorphous “boozy” note soon turns into something delineated and distinct, as both a fruited rum and a very aged, nutty cognac. Yet, the whole top bouquet is paradoxically filled with antique dust and old woods. Patchouli Antique smells much like an old cedar memory chest stuck in a dusty attic for years, then doused by a pirate’s stash of booze.

Source: cigarettezoom.com

Source: cigarettezoom.com

Patchouli Antique is initially very strong, but it quickly softens to become a beautiful blend of dark notes that envelops you in a small cloud. The rum smells as though it was seeped in juicy, Seville oranges. Though the fruity note is quickly subsumed by the patchouli, dusty, and smoky woods, it pops up occasionally to counter the dryness of the perfume’s base. The tobacco is simply lovely, and may be one of my favorite parts of Patchouli Antique’s opening. It smells just like the rich, fragrant, very fruited pipe tobacco that my uncle used. There is also a subtle leatheriness underlying the scent, but it’s burnished, aged, and completely doused by cognac. The overall blend is faintly similar to Oriza L. Legrand‘s Horizon patchouli, but Les Nereides’ version is much richer and more complex.

Source: thejewelerblog.wordpress.com

Source: thejewelerblog.wordpress.com

Ten minutes in, Patchouli Antique is like a dark topaz stone made from boozy patchouli and dry, dusty cedar, throwing off rich nuances of leather and sweet pipe tobacco like little, brown rays. There is the faintest hint of creamy vanilla lurking deep down below, but it is subtle at this point. The whole thing lies nestled in a smoky, resinous, slightly green cocoon that was initially quite muted, but which suddenly rises to the surface. It takes exactly 13 minutes for the patchouli’s green side to emerge. It’s metholated and slightly medicinal, but it’s much more minty as a whole. Patchouli is a plant in the mint family, and there are definite reflections of that side in the perfume, though they are quite soft at first.

Source: 1stdibs.com

Source: 1stdibs.com

Much more noticeable, however, is the woody dustiness that becomes stronger, and a quiet creaminess in texture. Patchouli Antique increasingly smells like the creamiest of very ancient apothecary cabinets, made out of cedar, covered by a light film of ancient dust, then heavily infused with dark, chewy, spicy patchouli. I think the creaminess is due solely to the vanilla which isn’t distinct in its own right at this point, but which works indirectly in the base to create that textural feel and smoothness. It rounds out any rough edges, making sure that Patchouli Antique is not too green or woody.

Abstract Mint Green and Chocolate Brown art on canvas by Heatherdaypaintings on Etsy. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Abstract Mint Green and Chocolate Brown art on canvas by Heatherdaypaintings on Etsy. (Website link embedded within photo.)

To my regret, the creaminess also serves to diffuse the boozy rum and cognac accord, weakening it and making it fade away almost completely by the 20-minute mark. Taking its place is a creamy mint tonality that soon dominates both the patchouli and the scent as a whole. It is as though Patchouli Antique has entered into a completely new phase where the primary bouquet is creamy mint patchouli, followed by dusty cedar and the merest hint of something leathery. The fragrance has the feel of heavy creamy, though not in any fresh, sour, or particularly sweetened way. The dry, woody, and minty elements cut through the vanilla, to help ensure that the primary focus is on the greener side of the patchouli. I have to say, I really miss the lovely fruited tobacco and run-cognac, and I’m not crazy about feeling like a creamy mint ice-cream infused with patchouli chips.

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

The second stage is short-lived, a quick transitional bridge to Patchouli Antique’s main phase which begins at the end of the first hour. The vanilla blooms in its own right, overtaking the mentholated mint element, and turning Patchouli Antique into a creamy patchouli-vanilla scent with a very dusty, woody undertone. The mint remains, as does the dry cedar, but both move increasingly to the sidelines. The patchouli has lost much of its chewy, spicy, smoky darkness, feeling washed, and somewhat cleaned by creamy vanillic softness. The whole thing hovers an inch above the skin, and feels very airy.

At the 90-minute mark, Patchouli Antique on my skin is 4 parts vanilla, 3 parts patchouli, 2 parts mint, and 1 part dusty, dry, amorphous woods. Occasionally, the patchouli will dominate the vanilla, but, generally, it feels much more enveloped by the creamy note. To be clear, however, the fragrance is never gourmand at all. Patchouli Antique lacks the sweetness for that, but the patchouli remains very muffled for much of the time. I would have far preferred more of the rich, spicy, smokiness of patchouli in a redder, brown fragrance than such a creamily beige one dominated by soft vanilla. That said, Patchouli Antique is a refined scent where all of the edges have been smoothed out.

However, I think it may have gone too much in the direction of cleaning the patchouli of its dark earthiness, funk, and spicy leatheriness. How people can compare Patchouli Antique to a monster of medicinal funk, smoky vetiver woodiness, and intense darkness like Reminiscence‘sPatchouli or Elixir Patchouli is completely beyond me. I see very little in common between the three scents, except the boozy element that both Reminiscence fragrances begin with if a lot is applied. On my skin, the greenness in the Nereides fragrance is primarily mint, whereas it was heavily camphorous and mentholated with the Reminiscence duo, in addition to being infused by an intense, smoked vetiver.

The overall lack of smokiness in Patchouli Antique also removes it from the realm of Chanel‘s spectacular Coromandel which is one of my favorite perfumes primarily because of its gorgeous patchouli drydown. In Coromandel, the patchouli turns into something like a creamy Chai tea dusted with white chocolate and infused with frankincense, but it always smells like sweet, spicy patchouli. The patchouli in Les Nereides’ version is much blander, creamier, cleaner, and softer, without the incense or spicy sweetness. There are minuscule flickers of both deep down, but they are heavily muffled.

Source: stonecontact.com

Source: stonecontact.com

In fact, Patchouli Antique seems increasingly like a vanilla fragrance with just dashes of patchouli tossed in. At the start of the third hour, Patchouli Antique is a creamy, woody vanilla with patchouli, followed by a touch of synthetic white musk in the base. It is also now a skin scent, though it is still noticeable up close. It soon devolves further, turning slightly powdery, until it is a mere gauzy smear of woody vanilla, followed by patchouli and white musk. It feels like a wispy, drier, simpler, less sweetened cousin to something like Serge LutensUn Bois Vanillé. I like the latter quite a bit, but it is not what I’m looking for in a fragrance that is supposed to center around patchouli.       

Patchouli Antique has very good longevity on my perfume-consuming skin for a fragrance that is an eau de toilette, but it is hardly as spectacular as others seem to report. Around 7.5 hours into its development, the fragrance is almost gone. It dies away entirely an hour later, 8.5 hours from the start, as a blur of dusty, woody sweetness. The sillage was initially strong with a large application, but soft with a smaller one. The average, overall projection as a whole for the fragrance’s lifespan was soft.

Suzanne on Bois de Jasmin has a detailed assessment of Patchouli Antique which I agree with in small part, though I think she experienced far more of the lovely opening phase of the fragrance than I did. Her review reads, in part, as follows:

Les Néréides Patchouli Antique is one of a number of patchouli-centric fragrances in niche perfume lines that strips away the past and presents patchouli as something eminently more palatable for modern tastes. […] 

Although the lasting power is superb and the strength impressive, Patchouli Antique is a mellow liquid using vanilla not as a sweetening agent but as a smoothing one.  Vanilla takes the edge off the green, aromatic and slightly minty quality that the note possesses in isolation. The “antique” of the name conjures up ideas of aging and one is hard-pressed to escape a noticeable mustiness that creeps into the fragrance after a fruity and golden opening.

Patchouli Antique is not enslaved to the herbal origin of the note.  After the fruitiness of the opening comes a lovely, semi-damp earthiness similar to what one finds in L’Artisan Voleur de Roses and then the notes of wood, paper, leather, and perhaps a vapor of alcohol. […]

Vanilla comes into play in the drydown, rubbing out the earlier earthy and liqueur-like qualities but not in a degree that makes the fragrance gourmand.  It does tend to desensitize the patchouli a bit[.][…]

Depending on the method of application (spraying or dabbing) it can become almost a skin scent when applied in moderation, or it can announce itself as patchouli and it will elicit remark when used that way.

I envy Suzanne for an experience that seems much boozier and for far longer than my own. On my skin, I had a liqueur and earthy patchouli phase that may have lasted 20 minutes at most, followed then by heavy mint ice-cream patchouli, woody vanilla-patchouli, and finally, just plain woody, powdery vanilla.   

On Fragrantica, the reviews are mixed, as some people find the scent too musty, minty, or mentholated. As noted earlier, 10 people voted that Patchouli Antique was extremely similar to Reminiscence’s Elixir that I reviewed yesterday, but I can’t see any overlap at all. In the Fragrantica comments, others bring up Parfumerie Generale‘s Coze, a scent I haven’t tried, as well as other patchouli mainstays. A few examples of the range of opinions:

  • I detect no patchouli at all in this, at least not as I understand it. [¶] It goes on minty, medicinal and slightly weird-smelling and reminds me of semi-fresh breath that someone’s been trying to conceal by chewing gum. Camphorous. [¶] There’s also something reminiscent of pu-erh tea emerging after a while. [¶] None of these notes are anything I associate with a personal fragrance applied for the pleasure of oneself or those around you. Terrible.
  • This is a thick, chewy patchouli, reminiscent of Coze in my opinion. Where Coze is heavy on the tobacco, this is heavy on the chocolate note (though none is officially listed) this is a great winter scent and if you like Coromandel, Borneo 1834 and Coze, this is most definitely a must have.
  • It’s an interesting scent – I think that’s the kindest thing I can say about it. […] It makes me think of dusty attics and cobwebs and stale cigarette smoke. I imagine being a child and finding clothes from 80 years ago that still have the faint scent of perfume on them – that’s the smell that I get. It’s evocative in a way but if I want to smell like this and I could live in a damp house with a bunch of smokers, wear Opium to bed and get up without showering and go out. Not my thing really.
  • This is not simply a patchouli fragrance, this is patchoulissimo. No frils, pleasantly unrefined, simple and extremely earthy patch with powdery/ambery undertones. Honest, unpretentious yet attention worthy for any patch lover…I stick with more complex interpretations of the main theme, but if you’re up for a classic no surprise patchouli, check this out, this is quality stuff.
  • As many of the reviews on Luckyscent mention, this really does have a musty opening note. In fact, on me, it is bordering on downright mildewy! But strangely, it’s mildewy in an endearing, nostalgic way…reminding me of memories made while playing with my cousins in the attic of their summer cabin. [¶] Eventually, after not too long, the mustiness fades and I am left with a soft, powdery, sweet patchouly.
  • I must say it`s horrific. Very strong tobacco and medicinal patchouli. So very much not up my alley.
The kind of purple, fruited patchouli to avoid if you want real patchouli. Source: Shutterstock.com

What purple, fruited patchouli feels like, and what to avoid if you want real patchouli. Source: Shutterstock.com

You have to be a lover of true patchouli scents to appreciate Patchouli Antique. Given the note’s notoriety since the 1970s with all the negative associations to hippies and “head shops,” true patchouli with all its spicy, sweet, smoky, earthy funk isn’t common in modern perfumery. What is listed as “patchouli” is the terrible purple fruit-chouli kind with its overwhelmingly syrupy, jammy, fruited, berried molasses that accompanies roses scents or which is used as the base in fake, neo-quasi “chypres” now that oakmoss has essentially become a thing of the past. People used to the patchouli  in commercial, mainstream scents like Chanel‘s Coco Noir or Marc Jacob‘s Lola (to give just two of a plethora of examples) will undoubtedly respond to Patchouli Antique with some of the reactions noted above.

That said, Patchouli Antique does have a mustiness and dustiness that isn’t typical of even dark, true patchouli fragrances. Tobacco and leather are more characteristic undertones, but, as some of the comments above demonstrate, skin chemistry may play a role in determining how they manifest themselves on your skin. If your chemistry always turns tobacco into an ashtray, or if you hate tobacco fragrances as a whole, then patchouli may be a problematic note for you in general. If, however, you love fragrances like Coromandel, Borneo 1834, or Guerlain‘s L’Instant de Guerlain Pour Homme Extreme (LIDGE), chances are that you already like the real kind of patchouli.

Whether you will like Patchouli Antique, on the other hand, will very much depend on how much vanilla you want in your patchouli fragrance. For me, the patchouli is far too stripped down and denuded, the vanilla dominates too much of the fragrance’s overall lifespan, and I’m not crazy about the mint phase. In short, I’ll stick to the gorgeous, smoky Coromandel if I want a patchouli-vanilla fix. However, if you don’t mind a scent that is predominantly dry woody vanilla, and if you don’t mind a powdery touch, then you should give Patchouli Antique a sniff. It has a lovely, boozy opening (brief though it is), the drydown is very soft, and it is very affordable at $70 for a large 100 ml bottle. I know someone who enjoys powdery scents and loves patchouli; she uses Patchouli Antique every night as a comforting, soothing bed-time scent. You might feel the same way.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Patchouli Antique or Patchouli Precieux (the new name) is an eau de toilette that is most commonly sold in a 100 ml/ 3.4 oz bottle and which costs $70, or €65. A few places offer the 30 ml bottle which costs €35 (or €29 on sale). There is also a body lotion. Generally, you will find the perfume under the old name being sold at a discount, or that sites carrying it are sold out, as they make way for the new bottle. In the U.S.Luckyscent carries Patchouli Antique in the old 100 ml bottle for $70, but they are currently sold out. They also sell a 0.7 ml sample for $3. Outside the U.S.: You can buy Patchouli Antique directly from Les Néréides where it is sold under the new name, “Patchouli Precieux,” and is available in both sizes. The 100 ml bottle costs €65, while the 30 ml bottle costs €35. I found the perfume discounted on a few sites under the old name: the Netherlands’ DePluymGraaff sells the 100 ml bottle for €49, while Italy’s Scent Bar sells the 100 ml for €55 and the 30 ml for €29. In the UK, Les Nereides had a shop in London in Kings Road, but I read that it has closed. The brand’s jewellery is carried by the House of Fraser, but not its scents so far as I can tell by the website. I found Patchouli Antique at Ursula and Odette, but the site has no e-store. You can perhaps call to purchase. Elsewhere in Europe, France’s Olivolga sells Patchouli Antique in the 100 ml bottle for €65, as does Linea Chic. Germany’s First in France has Patchouli Antique on sale for €49, perhaps because it is the old bottle with the old name, but they are sold out. They offer samples of the scent for €4. Les Nereides shops: Les Nereides has stores in Paris, while its line is also carried at Paris’ Les Galleries Lafayettes and Printemps. There are also Les Nereides boutiques in Sydney, Odessa, Hong Kong, China, and Japan. You can look up their locations at Les Nereides Store Locator. Samples: I obtained my sample from eBay, but Patchouli Antique is also available at Surrender to Chance starting at 2.99 for a 1 ml vial. Many of the sites listed above offer vials for sale.

Reminiscence Patchouli & Elixir de Patchouli

I thought I’d begin my patchouli series at the beginning with the referential benchmark perfume which started it all. It was 1970 when Reminiscence Paris released Patchouli, the fragrance which would be forever tied to their name in many people’s minds. A true, dirty, woody patchouli, Reminiscence’s eau de toilette was very much a product of its times, and embodies all that the negative associations with the note: the “Summer of Love,” dirty hippies, and a “head-shop” earthiness. Yet, Reminiscence’s Patchouli remains a cult hit and, for many, the standard by which all other scents in the genre are measured. For a few of my friends, the perfume is known merely as “Reminiscence,” as if there were nothing else. I myself call it the same thing. So, to avoid endless redundancy in talking about both the note and the perfume name, I’ll simply refer to the scent from now on as “Reminiscence.”

Source: inthe-r.com

Source: inthe-r.com

In 2007, the company issued a flanker called Elixir de Patchouli. Though there have been a few Reminiscence spin-offs of the 1970 original, the Elixir is an eau de parfum that is intended to be a deeper, richer version of Patchouli, a daughter more than a cousin. The two fragrances seem largely alike on the surface, especially when you spray on a lot. They both open as extremely boozy, cognac-like patchoulis, but they diverge later on to some extent. However, if you apply a minimal quantity, the differences between the Reminiscence and the Elixir are much more noticeable. I thought I would analyse each one in turn.

PATCHOULI:

Source: Miriam London

Source: Miriam London

Patchouli is an eau de toilette which Reminiscence describes as an “Oriental Woody” with the following olfactory pyramid:

Top and Heart Notes :

Woody (Essential Oil Virginia Cedar, Essential Oil Javanese Patchouli, Essential Oil Haitian Vetiver, Essential Oil Australian Sandalwood)

Base Notes :

Ambery (Spanish Labdanum Absolute)

Sweet (Madagascan Vanilla Absolute, Tonka Bean Absolute),

Balsamic (Tolu Balm Resinoid),

Musky (White Musk)

If you apply a lot of Reminiscence, its opening is all boozy cognac followed by hints of dark chocolate. Four big smears creates a potent, forceful, truly intense cloud of dark patchouli where the aged cognac essentially trumps all for a good portion of the opening 15-minutes. However, I think the perfume’s true characteristics and nuances are most evident with a lesser, perhaps more normal dosage, so my breakdown will talk about what the fragrance is like with 2 big smears which would be the equivalent of 2 small sprays. Given the famed potency of Reminiscence in its opening stage, I’m not sure anyone would ever apply more than 2 small sprays anyway.

Reminiscence opens on my skin as a powerful force-field of chewy, earthy, leathery sweetness infused with smoky cedar. The immediate impression is of dark patchouli that is sweet, spicy, and musky, with hints of dry woods, and smoke. More significant, perhaps, is a note that can only be described as a wet, mushy, salty touch, almost like ambergris. To my surprise, Reminiscence is surprisingly sheer for such a massively strong perfume, and feels as though it has no weight at all.

Red clay river bank. Source: panoramio.com

Red clay river bank. Source: panoramio.com

There is a definite greenness underlying the dark brown, red, black notes. The perfume makes me imagine a wet, terracotta-brown, sloping, river bank of musky earth at the base of a big cedar tree. Out of the mushy soil sprout dark green leaves that smell a little medicinal. Yet, there is also sweetness in the air. From afar, the patchouli smells like smoky, bitter-sweet chocolate toffee with spices, leather, a whisper of nuttiness, and a whole lot of funk. Up close, however, the patchouli is primarily woody and dry in nature. There are also clearly synthetics in the base, something that eventually gives me a little bit of a headache. I suspect it’s my nemesis, the white musk.

Ten minutes in, Reminiscence starts to slowly shift. The chocolate rises to the surface. It’s dark but semi-sweet, with an almost expresso-like undertone. The vetiver soon explodes in full force, smelling as smoked as the cedar that it joins, and the two together cut through Reminiscence’s sweetness. They add a definite dry, forest feel to the visuals of wet, red earth. As the smoked vetiver and dry cedar bloom, so do the dark, green patchouli leaves, turning very medinal and camphorated. I don’t have my sample of Serge LutensBorneo 1834 to compare to Reminiscence side by side, but there are definite similarities in the mentholated notes. However, the Reminiscence seems more heavily dominated by the smoked vetiver and cedar than the Lutens. It is stronger in smell, but sheerer in feel, and it also seems dirtier.

Source: thecandyfan.com

Source: thecandyfan.com

The Reminiscence smells a lot like chilled peppermint and bitter chocolate with heavy amounts of smoky vetiver and cedar. In some ways, it reminds me of the American sweet, a York Peppermint Pattie, only much drier and woodier. I find myself oddly apathetic to it all, perhaps because I wish there were more sweetness, and much more weight. It doesn’t feel molten, thick and opaque, no matter how strong it may be up close.

The projection isn’t enormous either, though you may get fooled by the strength of the perfume’s notes up close. (With 4 enormous smears, however, the projection is nuclear, and the fragrance can be smelled across the room.) Yet, for all that the sillage is average with a low dose, the Reminiscence still sends little tendrils into the air around you, weaving a dark spell that is a mix of sweetness, earthiness and dry, smoked woods.

Source: pixabay.com

Source: pixabay.com

After 20 minutes, Reminiscence begins to transition. The medicinal, mentholated aspect to the funk becomes stronger, and the perfume definitely seems like something suited to the ’70s or to the hippies at Woodstock. I like parts of it, and others I don’t. The synthetic clang in the base gives me a headache, and the notes are too intensely mentholated for my tastes. I smell like a bitter, dark chocolate version of a York Peppermint Patty, mixed with an athlete’s muscle rub, and a hefty dose of smoked, dark vetiver. The cedar pops in and out, lending even more woody dryness whenever it appears.

I think people who are used to a much sweeter, more modern patchouli fragrance where the note is infused with vanilla from the start may get a little bit of a shock to their system at the medicinal funk and vetiver woodiness of the Reminiscence. This is definitely patchouli, yes, but it is a significantly darker, more bitter, medicinal camphorated version than many of its descendants from other brands.

Source: pl.123rf.com

Source: pl.123rf.com

It isn’t until the start of the second hour that Reminiscence pipes down a little. The vanilla suddenly appears, and it changes the scent quite dramatically. The perfume is increasingly a soft, balmy, mellow patchouli atop a light vanilla base infused by cedar and vetiver. The bitter dark chocolate has turned to milk chocolate, and the medicinal aspects are diffused, returning to a pleasant peppermint note. The sillage drops, the notes blend into each other, the perfume is sweeter, and the whole thing feels even gauzier. Around 90-minutes in, Reminiscence is a sheer, spicy, creamy patchouli infused with sweetness, smoky woods and vanilla.

At the end of the third hour, Reminiscence is a total skin scent, and a mere blur of ambered sweetness that just barely smells of patchouli. I have the impression that the fragrance has vanished in areas, and I’m profoundly dubious that it’s actually going to last. To my surprise, however, Reminiscence hangs on, though it turns increasingly vanilla-oriented in focus. About 5.5 hours in, it’s almost all vanilla with just the faintest hint of patchouli and cocoa powder. It finally dies completely around 7.5 hours from the first spray, leaving as a mere vanilla blur.

At double the dosage, Reminiscence has differences in notes, sillage and longevity. The sillage still drops at the end of the first hour, but it takes two hours in total before the fragrance begins to soften and mellow out. The Reminiscence still becomes a skin scent at the end of the third hour, but the total duration is considerably extended to roughly 11.75 hours in length.

The major differences in smell are most noticeable in the opening blast which is suddenly boozy, like aged Armagnac brandy or cognac, in a way that was completely absent at the lower, normal amount. The other differences are primarily of degree. The Reminiscence becomes even more overtly medicinal and dirty with the larger dose, and the fragrance remains that way for a longer period of time. It takes almost 3 hours from the start for the mentholated, earthy, medicinal funk to mellow out, and for the vanilla to soften the patchouli. Oddly, the fragrance takes on a more ambered labdanum undertone at the double dose, and around the middle of the third hour. It’s less vanilla-centered quite so soon, more golden and soft. Eventually, though, Reminiscence eventually ends up the exact same way, as vanilla with patchouli and cocoa powder, then just vanilla in its final moments.

Source: urlm.co

Source: urlm.co

As regular readers know, I’ve been on a hunt for a replica of my holy grail patchouli scent that I wore when I was 14-years old, and which I thought was from the French jewellery house, Ylang-Ylang. It as a glorious dark patchouli with Mysore sandalwood, vanilla, and a light floral touch. Lately, I’ve been wondering if my memory was off, and my holy grail scent was really from Reminiscence. After all, both are jewellery houses started in the South of France, with a similar aesthetic and look. Was I merely confusing the two? I can visualize the store in Monte-Carlo down to a T, but had I gotten the name wrong all this time? I don’t think so, but, when I asked a childhood friend from Monte-Carlo about Ylang-Ylang and a patchouli scent, she said, “It has to be Reminiscence.”

So, when I was in Paris, I took her to the store to see if Reminiscence was the same scent I remember. We sprayed it on our wrists, and I was sniffing mine when she started to shake her head. “This can’t be right,” she said. “It didn’t smell like this. I can’t forget the smell, since half the girls in my high school wore Reminiscence. And this isn’t it!” I asked the sales assistant if the fragrance had been changed, only to receive vehement denials. I don’t believe her. My original favorite had a heavy sandalwood aroma, and while I’m still convinced my holy grail came from “Ylang-Ylang” not Reminiscence, their fragrance also had Mysore sandalwood. Now, however, the perfume lists “Australian sandalwood” as one of its notes. I could not detect sandalwood in any way in the modern Reminiscence Patchouli that I tested, perhaps because the Australian version is utter crap, bland as hell, and isn’t real sandalwood. (Sorry, I know I sound like the biggest snob alive when it comes to this issue, but the two things truly are not alike!)

My memory aside, my friend is convinced that Reminiscence has changed from the fragrance she knew so well — and she’s not the only one. On Surrender to Chance, someone wrote the following comment:

I wore this yummy fragrance over 20 years ago and am assuming they changed the formula….it does not smell like it used to and my family agrees:( so bummed out[.]

Reminiscence Patchouli is perfectly fine, but I found myself strangely apathetic about it. I don’t know why because, in some ways, it’s really quite nice at a higher dosage: the sharpness of the synthetic musk in the base is hidden; the boozy cognac at the top is pretty, as is the amber that shows up later, and the longevity is much improved.

I think the perfume is simply too mentholated at one stage for my personal tastes, too bitter, and with too much smoky vetiver. I need a counterbalance to all that dry woodiness, and much more sweetness to dilute the medicinal tone. Later, when the sweetness does arrive, and the camphor retreats, the fragrance is simply too wispy in feel. I hate how it goes from one extreme (potency), to the other (wispy, sheer skin scent) as quickly as it does, and I don’t approve of the fragrance’s lightweight feel in general.

Sometimes, the original benchmark classic cannot be improved upon, as vintage Opium demonstrates full well. Occasionally, however, modern successors take the blueprint set by the pioneers, and make it much better. I think Reminiscence’s Patchouli falls into the latter category. I’m know it was innovative for its time, and I feel it was probably better before it was reformulated, but the current version is far from perfect, and I think there are better patchouli fragrances on the market. Profumum‘s Patchouly definitely comes to mind, as do a few scents I will write about later this week.

A number of readers on Fragrantica don’t share my opinion. Take the issue of longevity and sillage. The majority (10) vote for “very long lasting,” followed by “long lasting,” while the sillage votes are split with 10 votes for “enormous” and 10 for “heavy.” Almost all the comments on the site are very positive, with a few comparing the fragrance favorably to patchouli niches from Montale, Micallef, and Molinard:

  •  I absolutely loved the clean balminess of Pathcouli. That’s certainly the next best thing to Montale‘s Patchouli Leaves which I declared as my number one. I’ll not compare the two here though. In its own right, Reminiscence’s Patchouli is one of the best, cleanest, dreamiest patchouli fragrances you can ever try. No sharpness, no mustyness, no zesty/citrusy or artificial extra notes whatsoever… That’s the real stuff (some good quality patchouli oil) which has a distinctive “oily” smell reminding me of pure unadultered olive oil. In this respect it’s certainly “exotic”, quite Middle Eastern indeed[.] [Emphasis added by me to name.]
  • This one opens with incense shop and dry cedar wood. Then, a creamy vanilla and praline ensues and tempers the rather moody patch note at the bottom. It’s like teleporting from a Moroccan side street to a Venetian cafe for gelato. I thought at first this one was bitter, but comparing it to Molinard Patchouli and Montale, it’s actually on the sweet side. And I really, really, love it. It is a hippie gourmand essence, but harkens back to some more innocent and hopeful hippie hour; before 1968, say.  [Emphasis added by me to name.]
  • A very beautiful and quite heavy patchouli on a woody base.It smells quite like patchouli oil,very concentrated and powerful. Reminds me of Micallef Patchouli,but Reminiscence’s Patchouli is way stronger and darker.The drydown is a bit sweet patchouli with wood.A hippie patchouli,all the way!It has very good lasting power and sillage! [Emphasis added by me to name.]
  • I think that this is the smoothest of [Reminiscence’s] patchouli blends, and I get a strong, golden, amber-y labdanum entwined with the soft, warm, earthy-resinous patchouli. It has a bit of vanilla sweetness to it, but is mostly a warm, rich, golden, resinous scent. The patchouli smells expensive and smooth, not at all dirty or sharp. It’s dark, golden, and decadent, and I fall in love with it again every time I wear it.
  • This is a rather Nice Patchouli . starts of kind of earthy and the smell of Earth and weth moss came to mind. […]  But then after a little Wild the other notes comes in to make a Symphony .its still very Earth, Smokey, rather hippi like some state before me. […]  i think you must be used to dry Patcholie to be able to pull of this kind of scent.
  • One of the most beautiful patchouli. [¶] A piece of art, strong in the opening, woody, earthy and wet in the middle notes, sweet and vanillic in the drydown, musky the day after. [¶] A deep and warm fragrance you can wear in cold weather and in summer’s evenings. [¶] Pefect and unisex, oriental sensuality and spirituality in a bootle.
  • you spray it.. black magic comes out.. engulfs you..scares you for a second..be strong ..take it..then ..you feel earth moves under your feet..it shatters you.. reminds you of your roots.. and where you came from.. and where you will eventually end..it smells like earth.. like wet earth.. so earthy.. ambery.. PATCHOULI.

I seem to be in the minority, as you can see, especially with regard to the issue of density and longevity. I do think that, if you want a perfectly serviceable, hardcore, dark and dirty patchouli fragrance, Reminiscence probably cannot be beaten for the price. You can buy a 50 ml bottle at various discount sites for between $57-$70. It’s a decent fragrance, and I even briefly considered getting a bottle for myself, despite the moderate longevity on my skin and the unfortunate sillage. At the end of the day, however, I simply can’t get past my feeling that Reminiscence’s Patchouli is merely quite average.

ELIXIR DE PATCHOULI:

Source: Fragrantica.

Source: Fragrantica.

In 2007, Reminiscence came out with an eau de parfum of its trademark scent which it calls, alternatively, Elixir Patchouli, Elixir de Patchouli, or Inoubliable Elixir Patchouli. I’ll just call it “Elixir” for short. Reminiscence describes the fragrance as “the intense version of Patchouli,” and says it has the same notes.

With an average dose (2 small sprays), the Elixir opens on my skin with patchouli that is sweeter, warmer and much less bitter. There is noticeable vanilla up top, as well as labdanum amber. The fragrance has much more of a caramel smell at first, than dark chocolate, though that arrives later. There is also a distinctly nutty, cognac-like whiff, though it’s subtle. It certainly wasn’t there with the Patchouli Eau de Toilette at a lower dosage. Another difference is that the synthetic musk isn’t apparent in the base. As a whole, the Elixir feels richer, smoother, less dry, less sharp, and less woody.

Cypress swamp. Photo: Don Mace Agency. Source: conservationfund.org

Cypress swamp. Photo: Don Mace Agency. Source: conservationfund.org

Ten minutes in, the Elixir changes. First, there is a subtle undertone of wet tobacco, the sort of tobacco that some Americans chew. Then, the fragrance takes on a strange tinge that I can only describe as marshy — like murky, slightly fetid pond water. In my notes, I first wrote “rancid,” before crossing it out, as a more bitter, slightly rotting, fecund, wet earthiness appears. It reminds me a bit of the stagnant green water left in a vase of flowers after a week. At this point, I wrote “rancid” again, along with “rotting cedar?” and “pond algae.” The combination of the vetiver with the earthier aspects of the patchouli and the dry, smoked cedar must be to blame. Whatever the reason, I’m not very enthusiastic about it. Thankfully, the accord lurks under the top layer, lasts only about 40 minutes, and is not a dominant aspect of the Elixir with a small amount. However, if you spray on a lot of the perfume, then it’s extremely noticeable.

Thirty minutes in, the Elixir is a wet, musky, earthy patchouli scent with sweetness, chewed tobacco, smoky vetiver, dry cedar, and hints of caramel labdanum. The medicinal, mentholated note rises to the surface, as does the bitter chocolate. The fragrance follows much of the same olfactory path as the Patchouli eau de toilette, right down to the drop in sillage at the start of the second hour and a lack of opaqueness.

The two fragrances only diverge in path at the start of the fifth hour when the fragrance turns into a labdanum amber front and center, with vanilla and patchouli-milk chocolate tonalities lurking down below. In its final moments, the Elixir is merely a blur of amber with patchouli and a hint of dry woodiness, fading away around the middle of the 8th hour. With the same quantity, the Eau de Toilette version had ended an hour soon, around the 7.5 hour mark, though it felt translucent and close to dying at the start of the 4th hour on my skin.

CognacWith a much bigger quantity (4 big sprays), the Elixir opens as a lovely boozy cognac. It’s powerfully aged, rich, sweet, and potent patchouli, followed by labdanum amber, vanilla, cedar, and vetiver. It’s smoky, sweet, leathery, musky and boozy. The amber note is particularly nice as it feels like ambergris with its musky, wet richness. Then, the marshy undertone returns, along with that weird funk to the vetiver. The wet pond was back, but it was initially fleeting amidst all the cognac booziness.

Once the boozy note recedes at the start of the second hour, then the pond element returns in much greater force, and the patchouli now fully takes on that weird, “off,” somewhat rancid, dank tonality. The stale, chewed tobacco undertone is back as well. The two notes are infused with peppermint chocolate, and the whole combination feels like a very difficult, very wet take on patchouli. Yet, for all that strange tinge in the base, the Elixir is also a sweet, spicy, slightly smoky scent full of real patchouli richness. The mint notes are milder, the subsequent mentholated tonality is tamer and much less camphorous, and the whole thing is much smoother.

Source: pixabay.com

Source: pixabay.com

Ninety minutes in, the fetid vetiver pond fades away, and Elixir is a creamy chocolate-peppermint patchouli with vanilla. It’s much less bitter, dark, and woody than its eau de toilette predecessor. It’s also got significantly more projection, though that starts to soften around this time as well.

Slowly, the labdanum amber starts to take over. By the middle of the third hour, the Elixir is labdanum, patchouli, and vanilla, with soft flickers of cedar. There is a light, greenish woodiness in the base that I assume is the Australian “sandalwood,” but there is also a very pretty spiciness that has appeared. It’s very dry and dusty, almost like cinnamon that has been left at the bottom of some attic drawer. Once in a blue moon, that oddly rancid, woody element pops back up, along with a touch of sour muskiness, the old marshiness, and a hint of something medicinal.

Generally, however, the Elixir is an amber-patchouli scent with dry woody elements and vanillic sweetness. The fragrance turns softer, milder, and much sheerer as time goes by. At the end of the 6th hour, it becomes a wispy blur of labdanum amber with patchouli, followed by small traces of an indistinct woody dryness and just a whisper of vanilla. The Elixir remains that way until the very end, 10.75 hours from the start, when it’s the thinnest smear of something sweet, golden, and dry.

I liked the amber and cognac parts of the Elixir quite a bit, but there were elements that were off-putting for very different reasons than the original Reminiscence Patchouli. I’ve tried the Elixir a number of times, at different dosages, and always found it too sheer and with that strange, rancid, vetiver-cedar swamp nuance. Both the strength and duration of the note varied, depending on the quantity applied, but it was always there to some degree or another.

I also wasn’t impressed by the Elixir’s overall sillage which is generally moderate to weak on my skin, except for the fragrance’s opening hour or if a significant quantity is applied. That said, the Elixir has much better sillage than the regular Reminiscence patchouli which was pretty abysmal on my skin after the first hour unless a huge amount was used. On Fragrantica, the votes for the Elixir’s projection are tied, with 7 choosing “moderate,” and 7 choosing “enormous.”

With regard to longevity, the regular Reminiscence Patchouli may actually beat out the Elixir if a significant quantity is used. There were two instances where the regular Patchouli was still noticeable in parts after the 11th hour with 4 doses, while the Elixir seemed to have faded away almost entirely after the 9th hour, except for one small spot on my skin. It might simply be a misperception due to the soft sillage. On Fragrantica, the Elixir’s longevity is voted as “very long lasting” by a landslide over all the other categories. I clearly have very odd skin.

On Fragrantica, people love the Elixir, just as they did its predecessor. The comments are almost all raves, with one poster providing her thoughts on how it compares to the eau de toilette version:

i love this amazing patchouli. […] its similar to the older original patchouli […] but the elixer has a more vibrant vibes to it.. its a bit more alive.. more hip.. more aromatic.. its of course still that same old earthy patchouli ..yet its more mesmerising.. more sensual.. more beautiful ..i think it really depends on your skin […] its an amazing.. dark ..mysterious.. full bodied.. warm… sexual.. strong.. balmy ..almost crazy ..its so smokey.. […] its so cozy ..something in it just relax me.. if you get over the initial shock of the patchouli strength and all..it takes a little getting used to ..maybe a lot..!  […] it smells like hippie princess and patchouli.. and its just mesmerising […]

Another poster compared it to well-known fragrances from other houses:

It opens with a swirl of amber and a chocolate-like note, very gourmand, – but not sweet – almost similar to Mugler’s Angel. Minutes apart you get a deep smoky note, very leather type in the league of Piguet‘s Bandit and Tauer’s Lonestar Memories. Then a earthy note peeps leaving a trail of soft but not tamed patchouly. It’s like resting after a crazy initial dance. [Emphasis to names added by me.]

Oddly enough, I do see how the smoky vetiver could evoke Bandit‘s greenness and leather feel, or how the cedar may bear some resemblance to that in the Tauer fragrance.

Speaking of comparisons to other fragrances, 10 people compared the Elixir to Montale‘s Patchouli Leaves, while 10 others thought it was just like Les Nereides Patchouli Antique. I have samples of both, but have only given the briefest of tests to the Montale, so I can’t compare except to say that the Montale is significantly deeper and richer in my early estimation. I’ll update this section when I review the two scents properly. What is interesting, however, is that only 5 people voted that the Elixir resembled its mothership fragrance, Reminiscence’s original Patchouli. As noted above, I think there are differences too, beyond just depth, smoothness, and intensity.

Source: Nathan Branch.

Source: Nathan Branch.

Another name which has come up is Serge LutensBorneo 1834. One blogger, Nathan Branch, found the two fragrances very much kindred spirits:

Patchouli Elixir is a stronger, more intense version of the soft, sweet original Patchouli fragrance from Reminiscence, and it easily runs in the same league as Serge Lutens Borneo 1834 — lots of potent green and camphorous patchouli for the first few hours, gradually softening into woods with a dusting of vanilla-cocoa over the rest of its long life-span.

Source: Nathan Branch

Source: Nathan Branch

But I want to stress that the juice goes on very strong. The BF, who’s the warm and huggy type, walked up to me for his usual morning squeeze only a few minutes after I’d sprayed some of the Elixir on, but a look of alarm flashed across his face when he got close and he suddenly veered off with just a quick pat to my shoulder, so if you’re planning on going out anywhere and you want to wear some Reminiscence Patchouli Elixir for the day, either apply with a light touch or give yourself a couple of hours before walking out the door.

I’m tellin’ ya, this stuff is a serious patchouli stink bomb right out of the bottle.

I agree, it’s extremely potent at first, and it shares some similarities to Borneo 1834, though I think they are far fewer than Mr. Branch does. Borneo never turned into a cedar-vetiver swamp on me, the tobacco undertone was very different, and so was its drydown.

All in all, I think both Reminiscence fragrances are very pleasant, but have some issues. Each one has a single, weird note that puts me off, lacks the weight I’m looking for, and could have better longevity or overall, long-term sillage with a normal dose. I go back and forth on which one I prefer, but I like Profumum‘s Patchouly more than either of them. In all fairness, I’m very picky when it comes to patchouli, and have a perfect scent (and weight) in mind that I’m seeking to replicate. Given that everyone else seems to adore the two Reminiscence fragrances, they may be worth checking out for a test if you’re a hardcore patchouli lover.   

DETAILS:
Patchouli EDT Cost & Availability: Patchouli is an eau de toilette that is available in 3 sizes: 50 ml, 100 ml, and 200 ml. The prices are, respectively: €52, €76, and €105. Reminiscence: Reminiscence has an e-store, which offers 2 free samples with every order and, for a limited time until 12/23/13, free shipping. Their delivery countries are: France, the UK, Italy, Germany and Austria. Reminiscence has shops throughout France, but also in Italy, Belgium, and Switzerland. In the UK, I found Patchouli at Miriam London Boutique where it retails for £59.00, but it is currently sold out. In the U.S.: you can find Patchouli heavily discounted on Amazon which sells the 50 ml bottle for $57.91 via a 3rd party seller. You can also buy Patchouli from BeautyHabit which sells Patchouli for $70 for a 50 ml bottle. There is also StrawberryNet which ships worldwide and which sells Patchouli in the 50 ml bottle for $70.50 or the 100 ml for $96. Samples: Surrender to Chance offers samples starting at $2.99 for a 1 ml vial.
ELIXIR EDP Cost & Availability: The Elixir de Patchouli is an eau de parfum that comes only in a 100 ml bottle and which costs €94 or $120.  In the U.S.: BeautyHabit sells all the Reminiscence fragrances, and you can find the Elixir for $120 for the 100 ml bottle. You can find the Elixir on Amazon for $124.55. It is also sold at StrawberryNet for $125.50, and the site ships worldwide.  Outside the U.S.: the Elixir is available directly from Reminiscence which offers 2 samples with every purchase and, for a limited time until 12/23/13, free shipping (in France, to the UK, and selected European countries). You can also find the Elixir at the French Sephora or at the StrawberryNet site linked above. They ship world-wide. Samples: I obtained my sample while at Reminiscence in Paris, and I can’t seem to find any place in the U.S. that may carry it. I don’t know if BeautyHabit offers samples for sale, other than the free ones which come with an order. Surrender to Chance does not carry the Elixir de Patchouli.

Mazzolari Lui: Equestrian Patchouli

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.

"Dressage Black and White" by Diana Rose Greenhut or DianaExperiment. http://www.flickr.com/photos/dianagreenhut/5830354123/

“Dressage Black and White” by Diana Rose Greenhut or DianaExperiment. http://www.flickr.com/photos/dianagreenhut/5830354123/

Lui is an eau de toilette from the Italian niche house of Mazzolari. The house goes back to 1888, but Lui was released in 2006. As a lover of dark patchouli fragrances, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read its description and the sheer range of gushing, raving reviews. It seemed like Lui might be my Holy Grail for patchouli, a scent good enough to tempt me into considering a blind buy. I’m glad I tested it first because, intriguing and interesting as it is, I’m not in love with it.

Lui in its black box that opens like a book. Source: The Different Scent company.

Lui in its black box that opens like a book. Source: The Different Scent company.

Some basic details on the fragrance are hard to obtain. Mazzolari’s website is best navigated by someone who speaks Italian — and that is not one of my languages. I can’t find any information on who created the scent, and I don’t trust Google Translate’s version of Mazzolari’s description for the scent. So, let’s go with Luckyscent which describes Lui as follows:

Potent and virile, Lui is the fragrance of a refined man with a wild streak a mile wide. Rich with patchouli, vetiver and leather, this is a complex and unguarded scent, completely comfortable on the skin yet smokin’ hot underneath. Hints of sandalwood tame the wild animal, while a dark amber and rich musk enhance the raw sensuality of Lui. Raw and elegant at the same time, Lui is an uninhibited fragrance for a man who likes to keep everyone guessing…and just a little on the edge.

The notes — as compiled from Luckyscent, Fragrantica and elsewhere — seem to be:

Indonesian patchouli, vetiver, leather, sandalwood, Texas cedar, spices, ambergris and flowers trails.

Nic Rolden, polo player, via Horsenation.com

Nic Rolden, polo player, via Horsenation.com

Lui opens on my skin with patchouli dominated by a leather note that feels raw, very butch, and somewhat fecal. It smells a little like the inside of a brand new, extremely expensive leather shoe that has a touch of horse manure smeared on its sole. The leather has a strong whiff of sweaty horse attached to it. In short, it’s raw, animalic, slightly musky, earthy, and a bit fecal, all at once. For me, it was an instant flashback to the smell of my own horse after a long ride and of being in the stables afterwards. I didn’t mind it one bit, and actually enjoyed the very equestrian feel of it. It also strongly called to mind the horsey note in an old, classic, leather fragrance, but I can’t seem to recall which one it might be. (It’s not Hermès’ Equipage.) Regardless, it’s a twist on leather that I find more interesting than that in many modern leather fragrances that I’ve tried recently, though I have to wonder how some non-equestrians might take it. Women, in particular, may find Lui’s opening to be overly masculine, and the leather a little bit too raw.

Polo player, Nic Roldan.

Polo player, Nic Roldan.

The horsey leather aroma completely overshadows the patchouli in the opening minutes, and is soon joined in its potent blast by a strong, rooty earthiness from the vetiver. The latter feels sharply green, almost herbal in nature, and with a slight funk that adds to the unexpected twist. Something about the overall combination really feels like the musky, sweet earthiness of a slightly heated horse, its sweaty leather reins, and the whiff of the stables all around. Yet, it’s not hardcore barnyard by any means. I have a friend who is in the racing and horse world, and he often retains the lingering traces of his day on his skin, even after a shower sometimes. If you imagine patchouli’s dark, slightly spicy, slightly smoky sweetness infused with an earthy greenness and a strong trace of the horse world on a very masculine guy’s heated, slightly musky skin, then you’d have the feel of Lui’s opening minutes.

Argentinian polo player Nacho Figueras. Source: DailyMail.co.uk

Argentinian polo player Nacho Figueras. Source: DailyMail.co.uk

With every passing minute, however, the horsey leather loses its fecal edge and softens its initial intensity, though its animalic essence never fades completely away. Instead, 45 minutes in, it retreats to the sidelines to hide behind the patchouli. At the same time, the sandalwood and some abstract, amorphous spiciness rear their head in the base, adding a woody depth and richness to the fragrance. More noticeable is the growing hint of a slightly smoky, green cedar lurking about the edges. It creates a strong visual of dark greens, rich red-browns, and leathery darkness. The overall effect calls to mind an elegant dressage equestrian or tough polo players, not John Wayne wearing chaps and riding on a Western saddle on a desert range. Somehow, the horsey leather in Lui is a very refined note despite its masculine edge.

Source: wallpaperswa.com

Source: wallpaperswa.com

Lui is primarily a triptych of patchouli, leather and vetiver, that never changes its core essence for an incredibly long period of time. The degree and strength of the three main notes fluctuate over time, as does the indirect impact of the notes in the base, but Lui is really a leather-patchouli scent with vetiver. At the end of the second hour, Lui feels like soft swirl of patchouli from afar, but every time you sniff your arm closely, the animalic, hard, horsey leather pops up. Hour after hour, I thought it may have finally vanished, but it lurks behind the patchouli’s dark richness. The vetiver eventually melts fully and completely into the scent, joining the subtle, almost indirect, muted sandalwood and spices in the base, but the leather never does. It never loses its distinct touch of the stables either, no matter how light it may be. I like it — but I’m admittedly rather passionate about the horse world.

It takes about nine hours (!!) for Lui to change a little, and, even then, it’s only temporary. The fragrance takes on the slightest tinge of powderiness, and Lui becomes much sweeter, too. The powder is never significant, however, and only lasts an hour or two before Lui returns to its primary bouquet of patchouli with hints of leather. Lui remains that way until its very end, an astonishing 13.25 hours later. Did I mention that this is an eau de toilette?!!

Lui’s potency is something that is frequently mentioned in comments on places like Luckyscent. An an eau de toilette, the fragrance has a certain lightweight feel and thinness. Yet, it also has the strength of a powerful eau de parfum. For the first two hours, Lui felt like a very noticeable but soft, airy cloud that hovered about 2-3 inches above the skin, but then, it quickly dropped and turned even thinner in feel. Its potency, however, was always very good. I had read that two sprays can last forever, but that Lui is better appreciated with a light application. I ignored that last part, and I applied 3 very large-ish smears (yes, I love my black patchouli!) which is probably less than 2 sprays from an atomizer, and I was incredibly impressed by Lui’s longevity. The projection was merely moderate, however, though Lui is strong when sniffed up close for at least 7 hours. At that point, the fragrance finally became a gauzy veil right atop the skin. Even so, it still didn’t take much effort to detect the patchouli leather. If this is an eau de toilette, I can’t begin to imagine what an eau de parfum from Mazzolari might be like!

Lui generally gets extremely positive reviews. Take a look at some of the Luckyscent comments that made me temporarily consider a blind buy:

  • Mazzolari Lui is truly mind-blowing. Two spritzes MAX to the mid-section is all you need to enjoy this heady, deep, hypnotizing italian brew. Pure masculine power and erotisism in a bottle. 
  • Lui is one scent that has elicited more positive comments than any other in my wardrobe. As has been stated, it lasts for hours, and the drydown is just so very nice. I can’t think of any other scent that compares. Wonderfully masculine, yet comforting and should be be in every man’s repetoire of fragrances.
  • Way too many new fragrances are samey, dull and unremarkable. Glad I found this. Deep, powerful but refined. Great evening scent. Get a sample, you’ll realise it’s worth the price-tag. I’ve always loved patchouli but it goes sweet on me. This time it didn’t.
  • When lightly applied this really shines as a dark, smoldering Patchouli based scent. The Patchouli takes twists and turns and finally gives way to a wonderful Ambergris base. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful – though apply it lightly or you won’t like it.

Fragrantica commentators are equally enthusiastic. To give you just one example, the assessment by “alfarom” who writes:

  • Someone may describe Lui as simplistic, I prefer to say it goes straight to the point with no frills. A dark, butch and testosterone driven animalic bomb, built around a patchouli-amber structure. The opening is brutal with a massive dose of civet and other animalic “amenities”. Definitely not for the faint of heart. A thick patchouli note, breaks in right away and together with amber, drive the fragrance towards a slightly powdery, leathery, endless drydown. Old school, challenging, dirty and by all means mascuilne. [¶] If you like hair-chested types of fragrances such as Parfum D’Habit, Macassar and the likes, this stuff is for you. Me? I’m sold.

Yet, for all that Lui is marketed and loved as a men’s fragrance, women like it, too. One example is the Non-Blonde who tried Lui, and bought a full bottle. Her review reads, in part:

Lui is supposedly a masculine fragrance. The notes are sandalwood, cedar, patchouli, ambergris, vetiver and spices. It’s strong and heavy on the patchouli. Not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure. The impression from the very first note to the drydown is of a dark and earthy scent. The woods aren’t dry. The sweetness is kept in check by the spices (cinnamon? clove? It depends. Nothing too obvious).

The earthiness has reminded my husband of JAR’s very dank and oakmossy Shadow. I’m not sure if the two are comparable, but I sort of know what he’s talking about. The darkness of the wood and the spicy depth of Lui do have something in common with Shadow, but it’s sweeter which makes it more wearable for women. Or, at least, for me. I loved it on my husband as well as on myself. It has a lot of presence and gives an aura of confidence. The patchouli here is sexy, not a head shop scent. It’s strong and would probably not appeal to those who only go for subtle.

The one exception to all these largely similar accounts seems to be Nathan Branch who had a totally different experience, one centered almost predominantly around powder:

Lui by Mazzolari is yet another powdery sandalwood/patchouli kitten masquerading as a musky wild cat. The non-blonde insists that Lui is earthy with dark woods and a spicy depth, and a reviewer at Base Notes waxes on about how animalic and potent it is, but Lui could only be considered “earthy” or “animalic” if you’re used to wearing perfumes that are predominantly violets or lily of the valley.

Lui opens up with a blast of Johnson & Johnson baby powder, then settles itself into heavily sweetened sandalwood and patchouli territory until it rides off into a light musk sunset crowned with plush, pink clouds. There’s nothing particularly singular or interesting in the way it goes about its business, but it’s nice enough for social gatherings and will probably get you some notice, provided you’re hanging out with a group of ex-hippie mothers at a baby shower.

Oh dear. I have to emphasize that his experience seems to be atypical, but I think it’s an important one to keep in mind if your skin amplifies powder notes.

For me, personally, I think I shall pass on Lui. I really liked certain bits of it, and enjoyed my test quite a bit, but I wasn’t wowed or deeply enamoured. The main reason is that I’m looking for a dark, deep, super spicy, opaque, black patchouli fragrance, and Lui sometimes seemed be heavily leather and vetiver in focus. The amber never showed up on me, and the spicy, smoke that I like with my patchouli was almost imperceptible. In short, I was looking for something extremely specific when I tried it, and, in that sense, I was disappointed. In all other ways, however, I enjoyed Lui and think it’s a very good fragrance. I also think it might completely turn my head to smell it on a guy’s musky, warm skin.

Adolfo Cambiaso. Photo: Gabriel Rocca.

Adolfo Cambiaso. Photo: Gabriel Rocca.

Nonetheless, I don’t think Lui is for everyone. You have to love animalic leather that feels almost raw and butch at the start, before it mellows into something smoother, mellower, and softer. You also have to love patchouli with a dirty edge. Those of you used to purple, fruited patchouli of the sort in Coco Noir or any host of commercial, mainstream fragrances, be aware that this is a totally different animal. (Thank God!) Lui is a masculine fragrance in bent, but I certainly think some women could wear it. Women who have a riding or equestrian background, in particular, might absolutely love it. It takes a very familiar aroma, and transforms it in a very refined, sexy manner. In short, if you love patchouli and animalic, masculine leather, Lui is one to keep in mind.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Lui is an eau de toilette that comes in a 100 ml/3.4 oz size and which costs $175, €109 or €125. In the U.S.: You can find Lui at Luckyscent. Outside the U.S.: Mazzolari has a website, but it doesn’t seem to have an e-store or to list vendors outside of its own boutiques in Italy. I didn’t find it the easiest website to navigate, though it may have been a language barrier. I found Lui sold at Essenza Nobile for €125, Germany’s The Different Scent (for the same amount), and First in Fragrance for €109. I had difficulty finding other vendors in other countries, such as the UK, France, or Oceania. Samples: I obtained my sample of Lui from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.99 for a 1 ml vial.

David Jourquin Cuir Tabac: Cozy Patchouli, or “Where’s Waldo?”

Source: womenworld.com.ua

Source: womenworld.com.ua

According to legend and stories swirled in the mist of history, patchouli was introduced to the West by traders who used the plant’s oil or its dark, green leaves to protecting their precious cargo of silk. The plant’s naturally medicinal, sometimes mentholated or antiseptic notes would ward off insects and other marauders. When the silk hit the streets of Europe, fine ladies were enchanted by the lingering sweet smell of patchouli and demanded more of it. One version of the tale credits Napoleon with the introduction of the scent, by way of shawls that he’d brought back from Egypt and which were redolent of the plant’s sweet, earthy aroma. Today, however, the smell of true, dark patchouli has fallen into disrepute as a result of negative associations with the 1970s and “filthy hippies,” and it’s not widely used in perfumery. Yet, patchouli happens to be one my favorite notes (in its dark, chewy incarnation), so when I heard that Cuir Tabac from David Jourquin contained five different types of it, I sat up and ordered a sample right away.

Cuir Tabac via Luckyscent.

Cuir Tabac via Luckyscent.

David Jourquin is a French perfumer, though I’m unclear on what his exact background may be or if he was in fashion before. He has two fragrances, both riffs on the same overall theme and with slightly similar notes, but one is intended to be a “day” scent and one is meant for “night.” Cuir Tabac is the “evening” scent, while Cuir Mandarine is the day one. Both fragrances were released in 2011, are eau de parfum in concentration, and are packaged quite solidly in leather, stitched with the David Jourquin signature. As First in Fragrance puts it, “[a] chiseled jewel, sealed with wood from the walnut tree, sheathed in finely sewn Spanish leather, with a window that reveals the rare, golden hewed liquid.”

The Jourquin fragrances are inspired, in part, by the olfactory memories of his mother with her leather jacket, his visits to Guadeloupe with his father, and the impact of trips to Morocco with his step-father. Luckyscent explains a little more about the specific inspiration and scent for Cuir Tabac:

For Cuir Tabac, the nighttime version of his pair of Cuir fragrances, David Jourquin drew heavily on his childhood memories of visiting the bustling marketplace of Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe with his father. By blending the sweet and pungent scents of the market with his powerfully evocative signature leather and tobacco notes, Jourquin has created something remarkable: an enveloping, warm, and edgeless fragrance that truly feels like a memory.

The Pointe-à-Pitre market. Source: guadeloupetraditions.free.fr

The Pointe-à-Pitre market. Source: guadeloupetraditions.free.fr

The David Jourquin website describes Cuir Tabac and its notes as follows:

The heady and insolent patchouli heightens the deep and profound tobacco, cigar and musk notes overturning the senses in a soft murmur of fine eternal lavenders.

Mixed with fine lavenders as top notes.
Brown tobacco, cigar and musk as middle notes.
Five patchoulis from five Indian regions as bottom notes.

"Black Widow v1" by *smokin-nucleus. Source: DeviantArt. (Website link embedded within photo.)

“Black Widow v1”
by *smokin-nucleus. Source: DeviantArt. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Cuir Tabac opens on my skin with every possible manifestation of patchouli imaginable. It’s dark, chewy, resinous, sweet, musky, earthy, and smoky. It’s black, but it’s also got green bits to it which result in a brief, 15-minute period of mentholated, slightly medicinal, bitter tonalities. At the same time, the patchouli is also extremely golden and pale, manifesting an incredibly creamy touch that smells a lot like milky café au lait. There are nutty undertones that are a little like roasted almonds, but there is also a faint whisper of chocolate lurking about. The whole thing is neatly wrapped up in a very quiet, subdued smokiness. It’s far from being as black as I’d like, and it lacks the weight or rich, baroque depths of the note in Profumum‘s Patchouly. Instead, it’s a lot closer to the patchouli in Serge LutensBorneo 1834 in the opening moments, mixed in with some of the creaminess of Chanel‘s Coromandel.

Artist: adrymeijer on DeviantArt. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Artist: adrymeijer on DeviantArt. (Website link embedded within photo.)

In less than a minute, other elements appear. First, and most prominent, is lavender which feels dry, pungent, herbaceous, and exactly like that in dried lavender sachets from Provence that I loathe so much. Thankfully, its abrasive sharpness is quickly mellowed out by the infusion of the patchouli, but it still has an edge to it that this lavender-phobe finds a little off-putting. Frankly, I’m not sure I can recall the last time I smelled a lavender-patchouli pairing, let alone one that is quite so singular and unadulterated in its focus. It’s an odd duo, and, yet, not wholly unappealing. What actually bothers me significantly more is the lurking, whip-sawing, crocodile’s tail of something synthetic that flickers around the dark waters of the base. I don’t know what it is, but it burns my nose with its razor sharpness, and continues to bother me throughout much of Cuir Tabac’s lifespan.

The third guest at the party is amber. Cuir Tabac’s perfume notes may not list amber, but there is a definite golden haze in the base that is sweet, musky, and resinous. Perhaps it’s merely another facet to the patchouli, but it seems much more resinous than just that. The whole fragrance sits atop a somewhat molten base that, at this point, is lightly tinged with a hint of creamy, almost vanillic, sweetness.

Source: www.hispanicallyspeakingnews.com -

Source: hispanicallyspeakingnews.com –

Five minutes in, the first glimmer of tobacco appears, smelling just like a fresh, unlit, Cuban cigar. If you’ve ever walked into a humidifier cigar room, you know the aroma here, though it’s very muted and subtle at first. The note also has sweet, golden, almost leathered, and floral underpinnings, and they don’t stem from the other accords so much as from the tobacco itself. Lurking about is a subtle smokiness that feels more like incense than tobacco smoke, but it may be a by-product of one of those five patchouli types.

If you’re wondering where is the leather in all this, you’re not alone. For a fragrance that is called Tobacco Leather, Cuir Tabac doesn’t actually feel like a leather fragrance at all. At no time do I ever get “leather” as a singularly dominant, individual, powerful force, at least not the leather that I’m used to. Instead, the fragrance sometimes carries the subtle feel of leather as a subset of the patchouli and resins, a manifestation of their characteristics, if you will. There are moments, much later on, when faint flickers of leather dance around the periphery, but if you’re expecting the sort of leather note that you’d find in Chanel‘s Cuir de Russie, Puredistance‘s M, Serge LutensCuir Mauresque, Parfum d’Empire‘s Cuir Ottoman, or Montale‘s Aoud Cuir d’Arabie, then you’ll be sorely disappointed. Cuir Tabac is not a true or hardcore leather fragrance by any means, no matter what the name may say. Given that the leather is mostly more of an implied suggestion, I think a more accurate name for the fragrance might be Patchouli Tabac….

Fifteen minutes in, Cuir Tabac starts to shift a little. The patchouli’s medicinal undertones have faded, while its other features have grown stronger. Now, the patchouli has a far greater whiff of something that is slightly green and herbaceousness. Even more noticeable is the dancing, wafting aroma of nuts and cream. The patchouli has a strong element of toasted nuts, and it’s no longer just a subtle impression of almonds, but toasted hazelnuts as well. There is also a growing creaminess to the patchouli that we’ll get to momentarily. The patchouli isn’t the only one to change, however. The lavender starts to turn sweeter; it feels creamy, fluffy, and a little like lavender ice-cream.

"Caramel Kaleidoscope" by Toni Jackson on Fineartamerica.com

“Caramel Kaleidoscope” by Toni Jackson on Fineartamerica.com

Near the close of the first hour, I’ve become convinced that Cuir Tabac’s list of notes is incomplete. The fragrance’s undertones are smoky at times, nutty at other times, and always resinous in feel. There is an increasingly vanillic aspect to the foundation, as if Siam Benzoin and/or Tonka Bean were used to add that creamy sweetness. It becomes more prominent as time goes on, especially once the lavender recedes in strength around the 50-minute mark. Cuir Tabac is now a lovely, multi-faced patchouli fragrance with nutty, creamy, sweet, musky, dark, and vanillic touches, followed by touches of lavender and the faintest hint of fresh cigars. Unfortunately, the base continues to have that synthetic note that feels as sharp as broken glass. I tested Cuir Tabac twice, just to be sure, and the aromachemical was there each time in differing degrees of prominence. At this point, I’m chalking it up to either an amber and/or musk synthetic accord.

I still don’t smell any dominant, hardcore leather, per se, but there is a growing impression of its feel flittering about the edges. At first, there was the subtle, muted whiff of something resembling new car seats in an extremely expensive vehicle, but the smell soon gave way to an impression of an old, comfy, sweetened leather, armchair.

St. James Hotel's Library Bar, Paris.  Source: Oyster.com

St. James Hotel’s Library Bar, Paris.
Source: Oyster.com

Honestly, I think it’s probably the power of suggestion due to the fragrance’s overall feel. Cuir Tabac has definitely started to evoke the reading room and library in an old Mayfair gentlemen’s club with its wall of books, its comfy, well-worn, dark leather armchairs, and a warm fire. There is a butler passing around cognac snifters, accompanied by the finest Belgian chocolates, and a humidor of the most expensive Monte-Cristo cigars from Havana. For those who don’t feel like drinking, there is creamy café au lait, dusted by white cocoa powder and toasted nuts. And, somewhere in the background, someone is burning a tiny, itsy-bitsy bit of black incense.

It’s all very lovely, but, alas, it’s also an increasingly soft scent. With the exception of that sharp synthetic accord, the rest of Cuir Tabac starts to feel like a very well-blended blur. Less than 75-minutes in, the notes lose a lot of their edges and shape, and the sillage drops. Cuir Tabac is a warm, slightly nebulous glow of patchouli that is creamy, sweet, a little bit smoky, slightly leathered, very nutty, and just barely infused with lavender atop a musky, ambered base. The tobacco pops up once in a while to make itself noticeable, but it generally hovers at the periphery. The “leather” impression is similarly muted. Everything feels so swirled into the patchouli that it’s really hard to pull the other notes from the cloud which hovers an inch or two above my skin.

"Coffee and cream" Art Print by Shalisa Photography/ Sharon Lisa Clarke on FineartAmerica.com

“Coffee and cream” Art Print by Shalisa Photography/ Sharon Lisa Clarke on FineartAmerica.com

As time passes, Cuir Tabac continues to change. At first, it’s turns into a creamy café au lait with patchouli fragrance that has a subtle whiff of lavender, synthetics, and tobacco. Then, at the start of the third hour, the tobacco returns to the fold and starts to tango with the patchouli. Now, it’s no longer uncut Cuban cigars, but sweetened pipe tobacco infused with patchouli. The latter is still simultaneously creamy and dark, but all the subtle leathered, nutty, and incense undertones have vanished.

The fragrance sits right on the skin, and feels increasingly thin, gauzy, and discreet. It’s frustrating trying to pull the notes out of the air, especially as some of them keep coming and going like ghosts. Just like the tobacco did earlier, it’s now the vanilla’s turn to play hide and go seek. The same story applies to the creamy and milky café au lait tonality. Clearly, the fragrance is very well-blended and reflects different facets on different occasions, but I wish it had more body, depth, and structure. Both times I wore it, the results were slightly different in terms of the small details, as well as in the order and prominence of all the notes except for the patchouli, but the nebulous feel of the fragrance was the same.

Source: de.123rf.com

Source: de.123rf.com

About 4 hours in Cuir Tabac’s development, the fragrance settles down for its final stage. It is now a creamy, vanilla patchouli fragrance with subtle whiffs of sweetened, unlit pipe tobacco, along with the tiniest speck of smoke and musk. It is also now a complete skin scent, as sheer as gauze. Cuir Tabac remains unchanged until its final moments, a little under 11 hours from its start.

In some ways, it seems that Cuir Tabac dissolves in on itself, but you can also argue that it’s meant to be a soft glow that discreetly envelops you before it turns into something more personal. The latter interpretation seems to be supported by David Jourquin’s somewhat abstract attempts at philosophical, poetic stylings on his website, both in the section about him and the one devoted to his philosophy. The references to dark shyness, “a secret wake like a promise,” and “firm determination enveloped in infinite softness and warmth” seem to be as much about his fragrances as they are about him. Then, too, there is the part about how “[h]e is like his fragrance, sensitive, secret, calm and yet bubbling over, motivated by an intense passion.”

So, if Cuir Tabac is intentionally meant to be this secret, quiet, shy whisper of softness and warmth, then I can hardly criticize the perfumer for achieving his goal. I know a number of people who prefer wispy, gauzy, soft scents that remain close to the skin and are just a private message to themselves. If they like dark patchouli, then Cuir Tabac is tailor-made for them. However, even they might not think the perfume was worth it for the price and accessibility issue. Cuir Tabac is an eau de parfum that costs $235 or €168 for a 100 ml/ 3.4 oz bottle, and has only limited distribution. In the U.S., only Luckyscent carries it. I couldn’t find any vendors in Canada, the U.K., Oceania, and vast swathes of Europe, though it is carried by Germany’s First in Fragrance, and there are plenty of vendors in France and Russia. My point is, would someone want to risk a wispy, unobtrusive blur of a scent that is quite expensive and, for many perfumistas in different parts of the world, not easy to test out first?

Judging by the handful of reviews for Cuir Tabac on Fragrantica, the answer would be “no.” In fact, almost all the reviews say the same thing: that the fragrance is too discreet, “puny,” and sheer for the price tag. To wit:

  • God bless the individual that’s willing to spend hundreds of dollars on this fragrance. The problem with Cuir Tabac isn’t the scent. The bigger issue is that you’re gonna be playing the olfactory version of “Where’s Waldo”. This is more like a thin scent rather than a skin scent. The tobacco smells like a walk-on instead of the star in this concoction. The rest of the notes are puny and shows no interest in fighting back the tyranny of fleetingness. Definitely not a fragrance built for the playoffs.
  • Starts out with almost only dry strong patchouli and a hint of pipe tobacco, soon to transform into more like the smell of a warm – unlit – cigarette and a more subtle spicy note. [¶] Two hours later what’s left is a discrete patchouli note and a warm very present, yet not aggressive, amber-like touch.  [¶] Beautiful scent but less isn’t always more and maybe this one would’ve been better off with more potency.
  • For the first hour, you get hints of sweet pipe tobacco, quickly overshadowed by a medicinal tone (probably the mix of lavender & patchouli). I typically enjoy both lav & patch, but something is awry with this particular mix. After the lav & patch fade, you get the sweet pipe tobacco that I remember my grand uncle (mother’s uncle) smoking, for hours to come. Is this stuff good? In a word, yes. Do I wanna smell like my 70+ year-old uncle? No. And I really don’t wanna pay $235 USD to 🙂
Where's Waldo, via The Telegraph.

Where’s Waldo, via The Telegraph.

The “Where’s Waldo?” comment is brilliant, and my hat is off to “Roge” who used it! I think the reference definitely applies not because of the scent itself, on my skin at least, but because of how many of its notes just vanish like a ghost, only to occasionally reappear later, or how hard they are to pull out of the nebulous patchouli cloud. Lord knows, if one expects a true leather fragrance, Cuir Tabac will be “Where’s Waldo” indeed! If you will note, not a single one of those comments (or the remaining few on Fragrantica) mentions leather at all. Odd for a purported “Cuir” fragrance, wouldn’t you say? I’m relieved that it’s not just me. As for the tobacco, judging by those comments, it seems to have played hide-and-go seek with a few other people as well, since the reports are quite split on its prominence.

One thing that needs some elaboration, however, is the issue of Cuir Tabac’s longevity. The thin, unobtrusive nature of the scent and its low sillage clearly was a problem for two of the commentators quoted up above. However, if you look at the votes on Fragrantica, the majority voted for “very long lasting” (12+ hrs), followed by “long lasting” (7-12 hrs) in second place. In short, don’t let the fragrance’s wispy nature and weak sillage fool you.

An unrelated topic brought up by Fragrantica is the issue of similar scents. One commentator found absolutely no difference between Cuir Tabac and its sibling for the day, Cuir Mandarine. Another thought Cuir Tabac was too similar to the more affordable Thierry Mugler fragrance, A* Men Pure Havane. I haven’t tried the latter, but I’ve read that it’s a very honey-dominated fragrance, not a patchouli one. Still, if the similarities are true, then it makes Cuir Tabac seem even more pricy.

Ultimately, I think that Cuir Tabac is a very mixed bag. The creamy bits are lovely, as is the café au lait undertone that sometimes vaguely mimics a similar nuance in Chanel‘s Coromandel, and I always enjoy dark patchouli, even when mixed with lavender. Unfortunately, I had enough problems with the scent that, at that price range, I would far prefer to get Profumum’s glorious, smoky Patchouly soliflore with its incredible concentration, baroque richness, salty ambergris, and lack of razor-sharp synthetics. Still, if money is no object, if you prefer your patchouli to be gauzy, lightweight, and discreet, and if you also enjoy lavender, but don’t like leather or dominant tobacco notes, then Cuir Tabac may be for you. It’s an extremely narrow category of perfumista, but I’m sure you’re out there!

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Cuir Tabac is an eau de parfum that is available only in a 100 ml bottle and which costs $235 or €168. David Jourquin: you can purchase Cuir Tabac directly from David Jourquin for €168. Samples are also available for €3,50. In the U.S.: Cuir Tabac is sold at Luckyscent, along with a sample. Luckyscent seems to be the only U.S. distributor or vendor for the Jourquin line. Outside the U.S.: I can’t find Canadian or UK vendors for David Jourquin. In France, there seem to be many, especially in Paris. There, Cuir Tabac is sold at Jovoy, the Ritz hotel, and The Different Company, among others. Germany’s First in Fragrance also sells the perfume and ships worldwide. In Belgium, David Jourquin is apparently carried at Brussel’s Absolut’ly, but I can’t find the line on the store’s website. For all other locations, you can turn to the David Jourquin Store Locator which lists vendors from Russia and Saudi Arabia to Spain and the Ukraine. As a side note, the brand has a lot of vendors in France and Russia, but it seems to have a very limited European presence and even less so elsewhere. Your best bet may be with companies like Luckyscent, Jovoy, or First in Fragrance who ship worldwide. Samples: I obtained my sample from Surrender to Chance which sells Cuir Tabac starting at $3.59 for a 1/2 ml vial. You can also order a sample from Luckyscent.