Hello guys! Today we’ve decided to tell you a little more about one of our
favorite ingredients: patchouli! That nerdy hippie plant, you say? Yes, that very one. Because you should know that this tropical plant has more than one trick up its sleeve! Indeed, its woody, earthy, camphorated, and syrupy notes never cease to inspire Haute Parfumerie. As a key ingredient in the perfumer’s palette, it adds depth and longevity to perfumes. So, tell us the truth: do you think patchouli smells like an old vintage boutique? Nay. Let’s set the record straight.
Patchouli: the plant with a thousand virtues
The origin of Patchilai (sorry, patchouli)
The name patchouli comes from the 19th century and is derived from the Tamil terms “patch” (green) and “ilai” or “leaf” (English), which both mean “leaves”. Patchouli is a kind of large shrub whose broad, downy leaves are borne by a long, hairy stem, and which is decorated with purplish-white flowers. Tropical plant par excellence, it is cultivated in Indonesia, China, and the Philippines.
A precious essential oil with a unique scent
Patchouli’s fragrant essential oil is produced from its leaves. The growers dry them in the sun for a few days, and that’s when they start to smell. They are then steam distilled to obtain the essential oil.
This essence, concentrated at 40% patchoulol (this is not a typo but a molecule), has a woody and earthy smell. Its distinctive odour is reminiscent of musty notes of a slightly over-ripe apple or a cork of wine. Admittedly, when you say it like that, it doesn’t sound very sexy. But in small doses, patchouli adds character and a good dash of chic to compositions. It’s a bit like the Osmanthus, a pretty little flower that smells like a farmhouse, but in small doses can add a delicious apricot touch to the fragrances!
A past in perfumery that doesn’t always sell
Landing in the 19th century
First stop: England
Patchouli first arrived in England in the Victorian era in the form of dried
leaves. The English bourgeoisie embraced patchouli, which they placed in sachets of potpourri in their living rooms. It was the height of chic! And so, patchouli began its conquest of Western noses and entered their perfumes.
Then on to France
Patchouli also conquered the hearts of the Parsian demi-mondaines during the Second Empire on the Grands Boulevards of Paris. But patchouli’s arrival in the world of perfumery wasn’t really planned. Originally, large dried patchouli leaves were used as mothballs (#glamour). They were bound around cashmere shawls imported from India to protect the luxurious wool during transportation. As a result, these precious shawls received an unexpected perfuming from the patchouli leaves!
It wasn’t long before the scent of patchouli began to be associated with these shawls, which were considered to be the epitome of luxury and refinement. This association with the chic, exotic and rare, made it a very popular scent with the so-called “cocottes”. From then on, it was a favourite in perfumery and made its way into all the perfumery workshops. We love its addictive and sensual notes that are similar to musks or jasmine.
Explosion in the hippie years
Later, in the 1970s, patchouli was the darling of the hippies who used to
burn it on sticks, or scented themselves directly with pure essential oil. (OK, wow.) Often overdosed, this smell became a sign of recognition for the young protesters. It thus became a kind of olfactory embodiment of this era of rebellion, freedom, and renewal. So patchouli went from so chic to so cool…
But this reputation is a double-edged sword. It makes it both a flagship ingredient in perfumery, but also a scent that can be hated! Often associated with clichés, patchouli is considered vintage, even old-fashioned by many people. And yet, it has left its mark on the most charismatic, sensual, and iconic perfumes of our time! And it continues, more or less discreetly, to pimp our contemporary perfumes.
Patchouli: the star of modern perfumery
Back in the spotlight
The truth is that Haute Parfumerie cannot do without this very special ingredient. Despite its association with hippies and sexual liberation, patchouli has regained its place as a cherished ingredient. Its moist, woody, earthy, and sometimes even chocolaty scent inspires the greatest Noses.
Perfumers nowadays use its essential oil, as well as its fractions, which give off lighter, less camphorated notes. Its warm, woody, and sometimes even “musty” facets are found in all chypre scents and many oriental, leathery or woody compositions. A big star in contemporary (women’s) perfumery, the chypre accord has been dominating perfume bestsellers lists for several years now. Yes, you thought you hated patchouli… but it’s the mystery ingredient in many great perfumes!
Patchouli: The Swiss army knife of perfumery
Perfumers regularly use patchouli as a base note because it provides long-lasting and deep scents. However, some perfumers no longer hesitate to bring it to the forefront of their fragrances.
Patchouli adds an impertinent character, tinged with freedom and sensuality. So much so that it is sometimes even considered an aphrodisiac! The essence of the illicit and addiction, it is both sultry and mysterious. It transports us to an imaginary, warm world that reminds us of the origins of the love generation.
Like all our ingredients, our patchouli is of impeccable quality. If you’ve
never really had a taste of pure patchouli, and you’re spending a day in Paris, we invite you to come and visit us at the Ateliers Parfum Sillages Paris! You will be able to smell the 64 ingredients of our perfume organ and finally get a scent of this mythical ingredient!
If we have already convinced you, then you can take the plunge and add patchouli to your formula! And let us know what you think 😉.
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