Not your 1960’s Patchouli!

Among aroma-chemicals and essential oils, Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin) has to be the one that has gotten the worst reputation. When bringing up Patchouli in conversation, I have gotten responses from “I hate it” to “isn’t that what the Hippies wore in the 1960’s?” Why has patchouli gotten such a bad rap? One of the reasons is that in the 1960’s and 1970’s, indeed, it was the go-to Hippie and Hare Krishna scent. The problem was that most of the Patchouli used by hippies was a bad synthetic impostor. Also, too much of a good thing is not always a good thing. I may love chocolate cake, but if I eat a whole chocolate cake I may soon find myself not liking it as much. Same with scent. The association of patchouli with the hippie culture finally resulted in misperception of this raw material, and for most of us today, patchouli is just a synonym for too heady, too overwhelming and too common fragrance. [1]

Because of this, some might be surprised to know that Patchouli appears, unrecognized, in a large amount of perfumes on the market. Patchouli features in perfumes like Gucci by Gucci, Angel by Thierry Mugler, Coco Mademoiselle by Chanel, Voleur de Roses by L’Artisan Parfumeur, Opium by Yves Saint Lurent, Trésor by Lancôme, Michael for Men by Michael Kors, Pure Turquoise by Ralph Lauren, to name a few, and you may be hard pressed to recognize it. Patchouli also forms the frame of the Chypre family of perfumes. You may thoroughly dislike Patchouli, but chances are you may be wearing it right now!

Below, a sample Chypre base formula [2] shows how Patchouli is used alongside other components to create a beautiful base to further develop into a perfume:

Chypre perfume base

100.00hydroxycitronellal
80.00bergamot oil bergaptene reduced
80.00hedione
80.00alpha-hexyl cinnamaldehyde
80.00phenyl ethyl alcohol
40.00treemoss absolute (colourless)
40.00patchouli oil
40.00linalool
40.00alpha-ionone
40.00musk ketone
20.00vetiver oil haiti
20.00sandalwood oil
20.00benzyl acetate
5.00styrallyl acetate
5.00aldehyde C-14
5.00aldehyde C-11 undecylic 10%
5.00civet oil 10%
200.00DIPG
900.00Total
Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin)

As is the case with many perfume materials, Patchouli is found in various forms such as light, dark, aged, double distilled, etc. and from origins such as India and Indonesia. These can smell heady or light, smoky or woodsy, depending on distillation and origin. But also, as is the case with any perfume material, Patchouli in a perfume does not work alone. Patchouli adds its uniqueness to a fragrance when in conjunction with other elements. It is not unusual to find Patchouli in a perfume being modified by other materials such as Sandalwood and Cedrol as complimentary; Bergamot, Amyl Salicylate, Linalyl Acetate to add lift and freshness; Geraniol, Linalool, Phenyl Ethyl Alcohol to enhance Patchouli’s floral notes; Ionones and Aldehydes, such as C-10, C-12 and Cinnamic, to enhance Patchouli’s nuances and Musks, Myrrh and Civet to enhance Patchouli’s excellent fixative properties.

Guerlain Cuir de Russie

Patchouli first became known in Europe in the beginning of the 19th century, as a scent of cashmere shawls imported from India. Later, Patchouli became a popular fragrance on its own. The material is a component of such traditional fragrances as AmbreChypre, Cuir de RussieFougèreFoin CoupéShalimarTabu and Tobacco, to name a few. [3] Patchouli also finds application in creams, lipsticks, powders, shampoos, shaving creams, hair oils and soap perfumes.

Patchouli finds its way into perfumes of all types, including perfumes created around the scent of Roses where, along with Phenyl Ethyl Alcohol, Geraniol, Citronellol and linalool, contributes a beautiful sweet, woodsy, slightly earthy note. The following sample White Rose Perfume formula [4] demonstrates how Patchouli, used in large dosages, contributes to a Rose perfume:

Rose blanche (perfume)

13.50rose no. 1 (extended)
6.30sandalwood oil
6.30patchouli oil
5.50Tuberose no. 1 base
5.00Tubereuse (Synarome)
5.00orris rhizome resinoid
3.50jasmonis (Givaudan)
2.00benzyl acetate
12.00geraniol
9.00lorena (Firmenich)
11.00phenethyl alcohol
9.00iraldein 100%
11.50rhodinol P (Rhone-Poulenc)
0.10aldehyde C-9
0.15aldehyde C-10
0.15aldehyde C-12 lauric
100.00Total

It does not take long into one’s perfumery journey for any misconceptions one might have had about Patchouli to be dispelled and quickly realize its importance in the craft. I originally learned perfumery in great part by following established vintage formulas, which use great amounts of Patchouli. I soon discovered how Patchouli not only blended exceptionally well, but its unique scent was far from overpowering, playing nicely with all other elements. When starting to venture on my own, creating my own formulas, I no longer feared incorporating Patchouli into the mix, and I loved getting to know this aromatic material in its various forms and from different origins such as India and Indonesia. For me, Patchouli now represents a giant in the perfumery material roster, certainly not one’s idea of 1960’s Patchouli!

References

  • [1] Fragantica.
  • [2] Givaudan Corporation
  • [3] Perfume & Flavorist Vol. 32, September 2007, pg. 34 via The Good Scents Company.
  • [4] Perfumery Technology, Art-Science-Industry, second revised edition, F.V. Wells and M. Billot, 1981, Ellis Horwood Limited, pg. 203 – via The Good Scents Company.

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