Patchouli packs a punch

Fashion Quarterly - - Contents -

Pipe stores, gypsy fairs, mar­kets sell­ing tiedyed T-shirts where cloy­ing in­cense or other pun­gent smoke fills the air... One whiff of patchouli and it’s likely you’ll be trans­ported to an­other time and place com­plete with the sights and sounds of where you first en­coun­tered the scent. While not al­ways un­favourable, they’re un­likely to con­jure some­thing chic, modern or fresh.

But such is the magic of to­day’s master per­fumers, many of whom are now us­ing the notes pro­duced from the oil of the bushy green herb as the base of their de­cid­edly con­tem­po­rary fra­grances.

De­spite hav­ing its hey­day in the era of peace and love, the po­tent herb had ac­tu­ally been used for hun­dreds of years be­fore that. Na­tive to In­dia, the oil was orig­i­nally used to treat skin is­sues as well as dried and used to scent fab­rics and re­pel in­sects dur­ing trade and travel.

These days well­ness prac­ti­tion­ers us­ing herbs and es­sen­tial oils to pro­mote good health ex­tol the ben­e­fits of patchouli, sug­gest­ing it has calm­ing, sooth­ing ef­fects

that can help treat anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion.

Your rec­ol­lec­tion of patchouli might be of a pri­mal, earthy odour, per­haps even akin to BO, but used pru­dently in fine fra­grance, it

pro­vides a warm, vel­vety, sen­sual base. When pro­cessed faith­fully, by dry­ing the leaves and ex­tract­ing the scent with steam, the plant of­fers a sweet herby aroma with a woody bal­samic un­der­tone. The in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar chypre family of fra­grances, char­ac­terised as scents that con­trast fresh cit­rus and a woody oak­moss base, now rely heav­ily on the ad­di­tion of

patchouli. Where am­ber, san­dal­wood or oud (a wood resin) once were called upon, patchouli is now in favour to round out the base notes — or the el­e­ments that linger long­est — in the lat­est fra­grances. It can lift sparkling cit­rus and give an un­ex­pected depth to white flo­rals such as jas­mine and tuberose.

For niche noses that re­main fans of its earth­ier in­car­na­tion there are con­tem­po­rary op­tions too, usu­ally ac­com­pa­ny­ing warm wood, resin and leather notes.

“By dry­ing the leaves and ex­tract­ing the scent with steam, the plant of­fers a sweet herby aroma with a woody-bal­samic un­der­tone”

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