Ingredient Focus: Patchouli
Posted on February 27 2020
Related to the mint family, patchouli (aka Pogostemon patchouli) is a bush with purple-white flowers that grows mainly in India and western China. Its leaves produce the essential oil of patchouli which is obtained through steam distillation. The word derives from the Tamil patchai (green) and ellai (leaf)
Patchouli has been used for centuries in perfumery. It has a unique and powerful scent with a camphorous, earthy and woody character. Patchouli oil gets even better with ageing as it gets richer and smoother after resting for several months or even years. At Angela Flanders we mature our Patchouli for at least three years before using it in our perfumes.
Patchouli is often used as a base note in chypre (as in Clinique Aromatics Elixir and the Original Miss Dior), oriental (Chanel Coromandel) and woody fragrances (Polo). The deep and dark notes of patchouli marry particularly well with fresh notes of bergamot or lavender but also with delicate floral notes of rose as well as with warm and creamy sandalwood.
Patchouli was first introduced in Europe in the 19th century with the import of fine silk and cashmere from Asia. Traders would layer these fabrics with patchouli leaves for their insect-repellent properties and they would permeate the luxurious fabrics with their intoxicating scent.
Patchouli became increasingly popular in Europe and America, especially during the 60s and 70s. It was often associated with the hippie movement and the fascination for all things Indian. It acquired somewhat of a bad reputation as people would often overapply and the quality of the patchouli scents available then wasn’t always great (with many low-quality synthetic formulations)!
Nowadays, patchouli has become popular again partly thanks to new techniques that make it possible to remove the most pungent aspects of the oil. Patchouli can be found in many modernised chypre type fragrances (as in Narciso Rodriguez For Her) and in “fruitchouli” fragrances (Mugler Angel and Chanel Coco Mademoiselle) where it is combined with gourmand and fruity notes.
Despite its polarising nature, patchouli is one of perfumery’s most unique ingredients and a building block in the art of perfume making. You might think you don’t like patchouli, but you might be surprised to learn it is actually present in a perfume you like! At Angela Flanders, we love it and use it in quite a few of our fragrances, in fresh perfumes such as bergamot-based Earl Grey but also in sultry oriental fragrances such as Ottoman or Topaz.