Paisley, Patchouli, and Paranoia

JanisThere’s this unfortunate thing about patchouli: she has baggage.  In fact patchouli has a past and the said past is not the sort you come by in front offices or middle class living rooms.  Patchouli used to live on a commune at some unspecified period in her existence (she’s fuzzy on dates) and she now operates strictly within the territories bounded by the Dew Drop Inn and the tat parlor.

Nowadays some perfumers would like to clean up patchouli and see if she can adapt to the high life.  They have a far harder job on their hands than Henry Higgins did with Eliza Doolittle, because, as we’ve already mentioned, Patchouli is not a good girl.  I don’t think realistically that she can do any better than an appearance at the Burning Man Festival and you can just forget about Embassy balls.

Can Patchouli live down her seedy, not to say counter-cultural past?  I worry about that.

Actually, I worry so much that I never wear patchouli myself, on the theory that, like a bra strap, she may be showing even when you don’t want her to.  Some people even claim that they’ve been caught with their patchouli down while wearing Chanel’s Coromandel, which is about as high end as it gets.  Is anyone really up for this kind of exposure?  Do you want to spend all day worrying if your patchouli is clean in case you get hit by a bus?  I can tell you right now, it isn’t.

Rather than give in to this kind of paranoia I suggest that you embrace the skank.  It’s your only option really since there’s no way you can sneak this note past anyone.  There is always Le Labo’s Patchouli 24 which smells like patchouli and brown sugar-cured bacon.  Seriously, it does. Bacon is generally the all time favorite scent of men, so it may prove to be a magnet.  It might even smell like your boyfriend after he’s been on a BLT binge, and that is, at least, an interesting thing.

If you want marginally more refinement you can try Chantecaille’s Kallimantan.  It is quite similar to Coromandel but to my mind sweeter and rather less complex.  Patchouli is in there all right, and she’s not coming out no matter how much you may bang on the door and tell her it’s urgent.

But then, I told you the refinement was marginal at best.  Brazen is the way to go with this note.  No one should ever have to ask if you’re wearing patchouli.

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13 thoughts on “Paisley, Patchouli, and Paranoia

  1. I read this while drinking my morning coffee; it inspired me to ditch VintageFest just for a day and go a little crazy with Coromandel. How much warmer patchouli is than all the aldehydes I’ve been huffing as of late!… I felt as though I were wearing a wonderfully soft wool shawl all day long.

    1. Patchouli does have her comfort side. Got to love that crumbly, earthy, don’t bother me now I’m digging in the dirt side, although, a large number of people just can’t abide it.
      Come to think of it, patchouli reminds me of a classic from my childhood, A Hole is to Dig, with illustrations by the late great Maurice Sendak.

  2. As a relic of the 60s, I have to admit to a major fondness for patchouli, Patchouli makes me think of the India print cottons I used to wear – they were redolent of it. If I close my eyes, I can think I’m back in the store I used to frequent on Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown – Jaipur West – and I expect to see my high school boyfriend at any second…though you have it exactly right, Blacknall – she’s a skank. But then I’ve always embraced my inner (and often outer) skank!

    1. Those shops were fun! I remember a huge old bazaar of a place near the Pantheon in Rome with hammered brass and bangles, and incense sticks everywhere, and those fabrics with little mirrors sewn on. Remember those? They always smelled of patchouli too.

      Not sure if I could pull off full on patch now, but it certainly is, just as you say, a kind of instant diorama or the early seventies for me. Our counter-cultural madeleine is much whiffier than Proust’s!

  3. Although I grew up during the ’60s, I don’t remember patchouli at all, so it has never been burdened with any cultural or countercultural connotations. Therefore I can wear and enjoy it in all innocence; if someone near me smells a head shop, I can widen my eyes and ask, “Who, me?”.

    1. You’re lucky! The rest of us, alas, smell patchouli, and think: “head shop”. The note kind of drags the association along behind it like an olfactory ball and chain.
      However, there are some good patchoulis out there, Lovely Patchouli for instance, the Krigler oriental. Have to try that again!

  4. I was only born in the seventies, so too young to have any negative connotation with Patchouli. I love patch in almost all its forms, save for the poor-excuse-for-patch sanitised forms we tend to get in perfume these days.

    For a great masculine take on patchouli, I’d strongly recommend Mazzolari’s Lui, which is a furry, growly take on patch – amazing, in my opinion, but if you don’t like strong patch, it might be a challenge.

    1. Think my associations with patchouli are headshop-y- but fond on the whole.
      Will have to give the Mazzolari a try, as hirsute patchoulis are favorites of mine, even though not sure if I could wear them now.
      Have you ever some across Les Nereides Patchouli or Reminiscence’s? I haven ‘t, but hear they’re good, and they’re more available to you in Europe than to us.

  5. First of all, I want to say that I love the form you choose for the story!

    Now, I agree with you about patchouli. It’s definitely not my favorite note but in the right combination I might like it. Coromandel will be one of such “right combinations.” Portrait of a Lady is another one. But, in general, it’s not my cup of tea.

    1. Yeah, I kind of enjoy ex-hippies myself, even in perfume form, like patchouli.

      Coromandel is about the most refined patchouli composition I can think of, but what about Borneo 1834? Funnily enough no one has mentioned that one yet, but it must be the inspiration for Coromandel. Some poster on Fragrantica cracked me up by suggesting that Borneo was the smell of Russel Crowe in Gladiator!

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