The trajectory of the use of patchouli in perfume is a sad one. Most associate the earthy, oily and sour smell of the note with the hippy head shops in the 1970s however, one would find it almost impossible to come across such an impression in a modern fragrance, as it seems that all of the mirk and filth has been extracted from today’s perfumery landscape, leaving behind a sea of sanitised patchouli notes that are nice, but certainly not a patch on the real thing.
Tom Ford is a man that likes patchouli. Since he launched Tom Ford Beauty with Black Orchid in 2006 he has treated us to not one, not two, but three patchouli-based fragrances. His patchoulis, Purple Patchouli (2007), White Patchouli (2008) and the latest, Patchouli Absolu, present a diverse array of blends that showcase the marvelous versatility of an age-old note. Whether he be showcasing the sweet and fruity tones of Purple Patchouli or the high-class floral tones of White Patchouli, Tom Ford refuses to offer up a clean or unrealistic take on the note, and for that he must be applauded.
Patchouli Absolu takes patchouli back to its roots and displays a multi-faceted take on the note that it is extremely complex and thoroughly modern. At the core sits a trio of patchouli ingredients – Patchouli Oil, which gives a “raw and primal texture”, Patchouli Coeur, the “absolute extract of the plant” that provides a “refined earthiness”, and a “breakthrough iteration of patchouli” called Clearwood, that offers a pure rendition of patchouli. Patchouli Absolu is a true patchouli delivered in the signature opulence and luxury of Tom Ford’s Private Collection.
“Patchouli Absolu is Tom Ford’s personal ode to an ingredient that is intertwined with his own story. The iconic olfactive note of the 1970s, it evokes louche sensuality and after-dark glamour, as well as the heady blending of masculine and feminine that defined the era. This Eastern oil perfumed the skin of late seventies’ glitterati and bohemians alike, pervading the air of jet-set parties with a provocative, dark glamour. Patchouli fragranced the world that was to shape Tom Ford’s singular vision of style.”
Bay Leaf, Rosemary, Moss, Patchouli Oil, Patchouli Coeur, Clearwood, Guaiacwood, Cypriol, Violet Wood, Cashmere Wood, Tonka Bean, Amber, Musks and Leather
How Does it Smell?
Patchouli Absolu opens with the familiarly earthy and oily odour of patchouli, as one would hope. In the initial stages it is at its fruitiest and most floral, displaying a wine-like fruitiness atop a transparent veil of woods. There’s also a satisfying sense of powderiness that is reminiscent of big ’80s masculines however, as with all things Tom Ford, Patchouli Absolu looks forward as much as it does back, and this nod to the big and bold masculines of the past is a subtle undertone to the richness of the modern woods that contrast the triumvirate of patchouli that grace the fragrance.
The patchouli at the heart of Patchouli Absolu is rugged, butch and bear-like, so much so in fact, that I’ve nicknamed it ‘butchouli’. It comes with all of the required facets one would expect with patchouli (everything except a chocolate-y, gourmand nuance) – there’s earthiness, a rich wine-like sourness and plenty of dark dampness, but there’s also a clear woodiness and metallic sort-of freshness that feels contrastingly clean. Smelling the fragrance I picture a handsome, rugged and hair manly man that is effortlessly stylish and also a bit of a tease, with one two many shirt buttons undone. It’s an attractive picture, for sure.
Patchouli Absolu is a masterfully complex composition that manages to be so many things at once, but never feels too much. It is both light and robust, rugged and soft, athletic and sensual, and light and dark. It has remarkably strong sillage but it projects a thin veil, not a cloying cloud and works well on hot summer days and cool winter nights. Out of all of the unisex launches this year, it has perhaps impressed me the most and even though it makes me think of rugged, hairy and bear-like men I, being the absolute opposite of these things, don’t feel silly wearing it – in fact, I feel perfectly comfortable.
Patchouli Absolu is part of Tom Ford’s Private Blend Collection and is available in 50ml (£142), 100ml (£215) and 250ml (£339) Eau de Parfum.
Sample, notes and quotes via Tom Ford. Image 1 via tomoffinlandfoundation.org. Image 2 via tomford.com [three images combined].