The Summer of Patchouli Love, Part One: The Cool Kids
Perfume-Smellin’ Things has been invited to participate in one of the biggest group blogging projects to date, and certainly the most complex one that I have ever been involved with. Monica Miller of Skye Botanicals and the Perfume Pharmer blog has coordinated a truly impressive array of natural perfumers, testers (“The Patch Test Bunnies”), judges including our own Marina who owns Perfume Smellin’ Things, and even celebrity participants, all centered on one concept: Thirteen natural perfumers were challenged to create a an alcohol-based fragrance in Eau de Parfum (at least 15% oils concentration) with at least 25% pure patchouli essential oil in the mix. As assertive as this material is, it required a lot of ingenuity to make a perfume that smells like something other than patchouli with this rule in place! The intriguing part of this exercise is that only Monica knew who made which perfume; the samples were sent to the Patch Test Bunnies in anonymously numbered vials, and we had to test them on merit alone; we were not informed of any of the other ingredients either, all we knew about was the patchouli. (We knew the roster of perfumers though, and it’s a stellar cast indeed!) This is my take on the fragrances, which ranged from delicate to extremely bold, and showcased both the talent of the perfumers and the versatility of the material itself.
The taming of the Green Monster may not be easy, but the results were rewarding. My own skepticism about patchouli was really put to the test – in fact, I think Monica wanted me on the panel precisely because I am not the kind of patchouli fan who would ever wear the stuff by itself, and it’s just too much for me in any number of commercial fragrances. What I like about it is the mysterious dark green character it lends to a more complex composition, shoring up and providing a sturdy framework for chypres, Oriental blends and even gourmand scents. My patchouli adventure has been very enlightening, as I began to see just how much it contributes to the perfumer’s palette, and how indispensable it has become in its long history of being used to scent our world. At the end of this series there will be a prize draw, so stay tuned. Let’s get started, and may the best perfume win!
I tested all the perfumes on paper strips before I wore them on my skin so I could become better acquainted with their individual qualities. (I decided to use a “high school clique” theme because the Summer of Love and its ensuing cultural shift was a phenomenon born of teenagers and young adults, and I was old enough to remember it, so you can imagine how much patchouli I have smelled in my life!) First up are the ones I named “The Cool Kids” because they focus on the refreshing yet calming quality that patchouli can contribute to a perfume when it’s matched with certain ingredients that bring out that part of its complex character. Not surprisingly, a good number of the submissions fell into this category while others bordered on it. Number 6 is a sparkling cologne style scent with a brisk woody feel in which lime and bergamot are lively players. I liked it very much and I wish I could have a big bottle of it for splashing on in summertime. I am not usually one to wear a lot of traditional eau de cologne style scents but I would certainly wear this. The patchouli makes itself known but is matched well with the other elements and is not overly dominant. It is the kind of fragrance that announces its “masculine” intentions right off the bat, but women can easily get away with wearing it since it lacks the dreaded “sport” accord so often found in mainstream perfumes made in this style. Long live the naturals!
Number 5 was another favorite in this category for me, because it pairs up the patchouli with a charmingly sweet lemon note and a hint of tea (I think) that is really attractive. The lemon is somewhat candied, which masks the patchouli’s pungency. It got even sweeter on my skin, while on paper it was much more citric. I really enjoyed this one and it came close to making my top three, but in the end I wanted the lemon to last longer and my skin tends to amp up sweetness, so the part I liked best did not last long enough. On the other hand, this would be a great comfort scent and it’s user-friendly to the max.
Number 7 was a bit similar to number five, but with a definite character of green tea to it, which was a great partner for the patchouli. Lots of citrus and a somewhat delicate and flowery feeling made this one stand out. I love the aroma of green tea so this was in the running as well. The patchouli in Number 7 seemed to be a particularly refined sort, miles away from the “hippie oils” that have caused so many people (including me) to react against it in recent decades. This is exactly the kind of fragrance that might change quite a few minds about patchouli. The green tea was very pronounced on paper but on my skin it gradually became sweeter. I like sweet tea as much as anyone but I want my green tea straight up, and my skin just morphs this one into something a little more sugary than I would have liked. I can’t blame the perfumer for this, however, since I tend to do that anyway and I can’t change my skin chemistry. Had it not been the case this would have been an outstanding choice for a green tea scent.
Number 12 was tilted to the masculine side of the equation, a “men’s cologne” type to my nose that was grassy and also had a green tea feeling to it, although not as pronounced as it was in Number 7. It did not develop the sweetness as that one did, but it felt just a little simple and unfinished to me, like a very good idea that could have used more time. I ended up liking it more after extended testing on skin, but it smelled too similar to some other natural perfumes I have tested recently so perhaps that skewed my perception. I would go so far as to call it rustic, but in a quiet way, and the patchouli itself was of excellent quality. It’s another one that is probably best appreciated in really hot weather, which has been notably absent here in the Pacific Northwest so far this year.
My favorite among the “cool kids” was Number 14, a really outstanding fougère style fragrance that reminded me somewhat of the wonderful Wild Fern by Geo F. Trumper. It begins with a bang as fresh, exhilarating and soapy neroli hits the nose, followed by the classical fougère construction rendered in an especially green and appealing manner. I came very close to putting this in my top three and I went back and forth a number of times. I am a big fan of green fragrances, and I am also a fan of Number 14. It is polished and expertly done, well balanced and employing a very smooth and agreeable patchouli, and the only thing that kept it off the podium was lasting power; it got a little unfocused after a couple of hours and went away not long after that. Of course, if I had a nice big bottle of it, I could reapply it as often as I want!
To see all the participants in this project, including previous blog posts leading up to the main event, which will run throughout the summer of 2011, please visit this page on Perfume Pharmer. Some of the writers will have their reviews published there as well while others will post on their own blogs, and all the links are on this page. You can also get a sneak peek of everyone’s top three favorites! We even have celebrities on board, including Kim Novak (!!!), Mary J. Blige and Jodie Foster, and an international roster of perfumers who graciously agreed to lend their considerable talents to the challenge. Peace, Love and Patchouli – PLAP - to everyone!
Image credits: Summer of Patchouli Love logo courtesy of Monica Miller and created by graphic artist Elizabeth Whelan.
Photo of “Summer of Love” celebrants in 1967 via Yenra.com, original source unknown.