Patchouli Blues

"Strange weeds a flutter in your mind
Worn out jeans are showing your behind
Spake cake with a bit of whipped cream
Herbal tea and patchouli . . . "

-Lords of Acid



Ah, the poor maligned patchouli leaf!  Love it or hate it, patchouli is important to perfumery.  The problem with patchouli oil is that most people have powerful memories or scent connotations triggered by the aroma of patchouli.  To many, the precise mathematic formula for the distinct aroma of patchouli is as follows:  PATCHOULI = MARIJUANA + SWEAT + DIRT.

At our perfume boutique we offer custom perfumery services, where customers can create their own natural perfume at our scent bar.  No other essence triggers a more colorful emphatic response than patchouli.  As we pass the bottles of oils to the customer to sniff, they become alarmed at the mere idea of smelling patchouli.

"That's O.K. I don't need to smell the patchouli-I already know I don't like it. It reminds me of  . . . "

"Oh no!  Don't make me smell patchouli!  I HATE it. I remember my college roommate . . . "

"I don't need to smell all the base notes, right?  Because I know I don't like patchouli--so we can skip that one.  I had this boyfriend once who followed the band Phish and . . . "

Ironically, those who profess a hatred for the scent of patchouli will often change their mind and request a quick sniff, just to see if it's as terrible as they remember.  Frequently they'll comment reluctantly, "Well, it's not as bad as I expected.  You must have a really good patchouli?"



Now, I understand the scent of patchouli is intolerable to some.  Really I do.  I wasn't always a fan of patchouli myself.  But as a perfumer, one has to understand the importance of patchouli.  Patchouli is an excellent fixative.  Just a few drops of patchouli added to a perfume deepen and add richness.  Let us not forget that patchouli is a member of the mint family.  Just as a tiny amount of mint goes a very long way in a perfume so can patchouli.  Patchouli blends easily with other base notes and is an inexpensive extender.  Patchouli is indispensable to perfumery.  Yes, indispensable.  

While some may shy away from the aroma of patchouli straight up, they enjoy perfumes with small and even large amounts of patchouli.  List patchouli as one of the perfume notes and the reaction is alarm.  Veiled patchouli disclosure is imperative.  This reminds me of my childhood dinners and my little brother, the picky eater.  Growing up my brother professed a hatred for a number of foods.  I remember my mother brandishing a fork speared with a brussel sprout imploring, "Try it!  Just try it.  You'll like it."  Eventually my mother discovered that if she covered the brussel sprouts with a cheese sauce my picky little brother would eat his veggies.  As the years progressed, my mother learned to disguise the foods my brother refused to eat.  Neatly tucking these reviled greens into stews or purees.  My brother happily ate his dinner never realizing he was eating his dreaded sprouts.




As a perfumer, my patchouli blues stem from the stigma that patchouli possesses and the general populace's reluctance to try patchouli.  Hear Ye, Hear Ye: Not all patchouli smells the same.  There's iron free patchouli, light patchouli, dark patchouli, old patchouli, new patchouli and they posses characteristics that differentiate their aroma and the way they present in a perfume.

Patchouli improves in quality and value as it ages, becoming smoother, and richer almost like single malt scotch.  Aged patchouli is mellow, with a round hint of fruitiness that works wonderfully in all styles of perfume.  Patchouli CO2 is lighter and fresher than the essential oil, and possesses a more fleeting top note quality.  Patchouli absolute is less complex than the essential oil and linear in my opinion, easy to tuck into a perfume undetected.  My preference is for aged patchouli, but all distillations are useful in perfumery.  In the words of the perfumer Alec Lawless in his book Artisan Perfumery or Being Led By The Nose, [Patchouli is . . ] "Absolutely one of the most useful of all essential oils in perfumery.  Goes with everything, including people who don't like it."



Try these harmonious patchouli combinations!

aged patchouli + oud = deep velvet wine base

patchouli CO2 + sandalwood = light, warm wood

patchouli + saffron abs. = leather love

patchouli + rose abs. = a synergistic pairing. The rose amplifies the patchouli, the patchouli amplifies the rose.

aged patchouli + honey abs. = musky, sexy & warm

patchouli + tonka + lavender + oakmoss = deep forest foùgere.

patchouli + jasmine grandiflorum + ylang ylang = classic Aveda

patchouli + raspberry compound + bergamot = fresh raspberry plant



How to Smell and Evaluate a Natural Perfume

A post titled "how to smell" may illicit some eye rolling.  I know how to smell you may say, and I would counter with the question, "Ah, but do you know how to smell natural fragrances?"


Smelling and evaluating natural fragrance is different than the typical perfume sampling experience, just as natural perfumes are different from synthetic perfumes.  A common scenario may involve a trip to the local fragrance counter where one casually picks up bottles and quickly sniffs the atomizer or a slightly more involved process of spritzing the fragrance on a blotter strip that is hastily brought to the nose and evaluated.  Unfortunately neither of these options works when evaluating natural perfume.  

While mainstream perfumes are mostly synthetic and contain very little (if any) natural essences, they DO transfer very well to the blotter.  These perfumes smell almost exactly the same on your skin as they do on the tester strip.  This is not true of natural perfumes, hence the fact we must smell and evaluate them in a different manner.



Natural perfumes are complex and multifaceted and evolve with wear as they travel from the top, middle and base notes.  They have life and character and oftentimes this vibrancy is lost on a paper blotter.  Natural perfumes wear best on skin and should always be evaluated this way.  So, what to do?  

  1. Never try to evaluate a natural perfume by smelling the bottle.  This doesn't work.  The scent isn't usually strong enough to smell from a capped bottle and you will miss the beautiful nuances that natural perfumes possess.  You MUST spray the perfume onto a blotter or your skin.

  2. Be patient.  Once you've spritzed your natural scent wait a full minute to begin evaluating.  Resist the urge to sniff immediately.  This gives time for the alcohol to begin evaporating and the top notes to settle in.

  3. Evaluate the fragrance through all stages of the perfume.  In other words, to fully understand the transitions the perfume may go through it's important to smell after a minute or so, again 10 minutes later, and again a full hour later.

  4. Natural perfumes can be less linear than synthetic perfumes.  It is important to reserve judgement until you've been able to smell the perfume through it's entire cycle.  You may be amazed at how different a natural perfume smells after a few minutes.

  5. Whenever possible, it's always best to evaluate a perfume on your skin.  I recommend spraying natural perfumes onto perfume blotters, deciding which ones seem most interesting, and then applying one or two (never more than two) to opposite wrists for example.  Go for a walk, get some fresh air and decide which scent smells best on your skin.

  6. Don't pigeonhole yourself when sampling natural perfumes.  Many people claim they don't like florals but they've never smelled real rose or gorgeous jasmine.  Natural perfumes often contain beautiful rare essences that most are unfamiliar with.  Just because you've loathed a mainstream perfume that claims to contain rose doesn't mean you hate all rose scents. 


Follow these tips, you can expect to get a more thorough evaluation of a natural perfume.  Remember, 100% natural perfumes need a few moments to settle in.  They don't smell exactly the same on the blotter as they do on your skin.  Don't rush your sniffing experience and don't forget to revisit your scent strip.  Magical notes are slowly revealing themselves to you.


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Providence Perfume Co. 301 Wickenden St, Providence, RI 02903 (401) 455-2325

Introducing NEW Beauty Elixir Oil with gratitude to Madame Dumas!


When my great grandmother Madame Dumas spoke on beauty, people listened.  Madame Dumas, pictured here at age 68, was a former model and possessed a confidence that was apparent to all.  Those who met her quickly realized that Madame Dumas knew best.

A first generation American, she embraced her French heritage while raising thirteen children and looked impeccable while doing so.  One of the most elegant woman of her day, Madame Dumas was famous for her flawless complexion and lustrous hair expertly coiffed in her signature chignon.  

My arrière grand-mère attributed her appearance to daily applications of her magic “beauty oil.”  Ah, the beauty oil!  A secret family formula passed down for generations.   She prescribed her beauty oil for any and all cosmetic ailments.  Hair looking dull?  Beauty oil.  Hands dry and chapped from dish washing?  Beauty Oil.  Despite pleading requests , Madame Dumas never revealed the formula for her handmade beauty elixir. After her passing, it was left to the seven daughters to reunite and piece the formula together, essence by essence.  

Our Beauty Elixir Oil is based on this century old secret family formula for beautiful hair and nails.  The fragrance is all our own, and 100% natural.  We invite you to experience the healing power of organic essences blended with the intoxicating aroma of orange blossom, jasmine and neroli.  Remember, when it comes to beauty, Madame Dumas knows best.             





Providence Perfume Co. 301 Wickenden St, Providence, RI 02903 (401) 455-2325