Happy Earth Day, you dirty hippie! (A discourse on patchouli)

It's Earth Day! I thought it would be a great day to talk about a nice earthy perfume ingredient. I hope you enjoy reading it. Happy Earth Day!


What do you think of when I say the word?

For years and years, when I heard the word "patchouli" I would cringe. If you asked me, it was one of the worst scents I'd ever encountered, second only to (and in my mind not dissimilar to) the smell of something wet and rotting.

My experiences with this stench went pretty much like you'd expect: I smelled it on hippie wannabes and in New Age shops.

I studied Fine Arts in college. I'm fairly certain part of the curriculum was donning long skirts and bell-laden anklets and listening to The Grateful Dead. I'm not sure that was in the course book, but I can't say with certainty because those years are kinda foggy.


Yes, I saw Jerry perform. Several times. What an experience Dead shows were! I almost preferred to go hang out in the parking lot to actually going into the arena. In part, this was because the real fun happened out there in the lot: people watching, shopping, meeting interesting characters, watching people dance with ribbons or fire, the friendlines and warm feelings... Definitely worth the price of getting onto the grounds with no ticket! Besides, by the time I got to Jerry he was forgetting his own lyrics. The songs were no longer nearly-endless due to the band blissfully losing themselves in the rhythm. Rather, Jerry and the boys seemed to get stuck in a song with no idea how to get out, like a needle in a record groove.

This aimlessness that seemed to only suit those who tripped their way into the show simply wasn't my thing. As sad as the decay of a once strong band was to me, worse was the stench of rumpled tie-dyed shirts as they ambled past. Each time one of those long-haired and vacant-eyed girls would spin, she'd kick up a cloud of rank and oily nastiness. I imagined the reason most of them twirled with their eyes shut was to stop them from tearing at their own stink.


To me, this was patchouli. Oily, high-pitched, shrill, and not smelling like any natural thing I'd ever smelled. This patchouli lay restlessly over unwashed skin, co-mingled with goodness-knows-what kind of cheap, synthetic musk oils, and rose in clouds that merged with cheap pot and incense sticks.

Patchouli. I wasn't a fan.


I seem to be rambling worse than Jerry in 1991, so let's flip the calendar a few years. Setting: 2008. I'm just starting to get "into" perfumes. Not a full-fledged perfumista yet, but writing a beauty blog has exposed me to new fragrances. The power of Google enabled me to quickly learn more about these pretty bottles coming my way.

I also searched for the notes on favorite perfumes I'd worn in the past. Imagine my surprise when a certain note kept coming up! What grounded the fruity blast of Belle en Rykiel (Sonia Rykiel), the peachy florals in Chinatown (Bond No. 9), the fresh explosion of my longtime love Colors de Benetton? Patchouli. What resided in the base of the oh-so-swoonworthy cologne wafting from most guys I knew in high school (I'm talking about Drakkar Noir, of course)? Patchouli.

In fact, patchouli is in quite a few perfumes. As in, a zillion. Many. Maybe even most! It's an essential piece of the chypre formula. It's in many perfumes in the oriental family of scents. It's earthy qualities pair well with florals and add a solid counterpoint to sweet scents.

Patchouli is an herb. A mint. The bush grows to two or three feet tall and sports small light pink blooms. Native to Asia, it's now cultivated in China, Indonesia, India, the Philippines, Vietnam and West Africa.

Patchouli, or "patch" as it's sometimes fondly called, was used long ago as a moth and bug repellant, tucked in-between cloth exported from India. In aromatherapy, it's used for balancing, mind clarification, and as an antidepressant. It may perform as an antifungal, cell rejuvenator, antiseptic, appetite-suppressant, and headache reliever.

Patchouli oil is extracted by steam distillation from either the dry leaves or from fresh. As the oil ages, it mellows and becomes more rounded, smoother. The scent profile for patchouli has been described beautifully on the blog Perfume by Nature, so I'll share it with you here:
Dark woody, sweet amber, earthy, musty with a touch of fruit and spice  (lighter in iron free version). Aged Patchouli is softer than fresh, which can have a sharp, biting by note to it.

So, what this all boils down to is an imense eye-opener for me! Patchouli doesn't have to evoke sweaty, bearded men who slather the oil into their dreadlocks. It doesn't belong only to those channeling the 60's or dancing under the influence of LSD dreams.

Flip the calender a few mote times and patchouli is present in my perfume collection in a prominent way.

My next bottle purchase will be Calamity J, a smooth patchouli + iris, amber, musk, and "vanilla infusion" by Juliette Has a Gun. I've torn through 3 samples and it's still bewitching me; I use it to de-stress and relax. I also adore patchouli in Chinatown, which is going to show up in my house as a bottle once my seemingly endless stash of Bond's "bonbon" samples is gone. 

Similarly, I'm repeatedly reaching for my vials of a few others:
  1. Coromandel* (Chanel) - clean and elegant patch
  2. Borneo 1834* (Serge Lutens) - dirty patch with cocoa
  3. Patchouli Patch (L'Artisan) - velvety patch
  4. Voleur de Roses* (L'Artisan) - thick and fluffy patch wrapped around a red rose
  5. Karma (Lush) - orange and spicy patch, somewhat of a throwback headshop scent, updated (I prefer the soap but the solid is nice, too)
  6. Patchouli 24 (Le Labo) - Leathery patch
  7. Angel (Thierry Mugler) - chocolate-dipped praline patch

    *full bottle-worthy

It's also in these favorites: Dune (Christian Dior), Miss Dior (Christian Dior), Jicky (Guerlain), Enjoy (Jean Patou), Prada (the original), Musks Kublai Khan (Lutens), Flowerbomb (Viktor and Rolf), and countless others.

Am I showing too much New Age-y touchy feeliness when I say that a well-executed perfume with a creamy, aged patchouli really speaks to me? Am I a having a flashback when I nuzzle my wrist to get another sniff of an earthy, clod-of-dirt-bearing patch? Is it the munchies making me crave more of patchouli's chocolatey facet? I don't know the answer, but as long as the patchouli isn't that cheap crap that I remember (and can still be found in some New Age or "health food" shops), well, sign me up! I dream of trying an aged patchouli oil.

Jerry Garcia has moved on to the great big gig in the sky, and I'm long past my flirtation with the hippie way of life. What I have now, though, is an affinity for deep, earthy scents; mellow music; tie-dye; and long-winded rambling. And, apparently, patchouli.

Do you patchouli? Which are your favorites? Which should I try next? What's your favorite Dead song?

header image via; Dead montage image sources: peace hippie, hippie hands, proud hippie, love hippies, The Dead.


Trésor by Lancome: Treasure or Tragedy? (a perfume review)

Trésor has been around a long time. I've been around longer, so how come I've never tried it?

I have no good answer for that, but at least now I've rectified the situation.

Despite never having spritzed this well-known scent, it turns out I was quite familiar with it! I must be the only woman I know who didn't partake at the Lancôme counter. At first sample I was struck by that "oh, that's what I was smelling" feeling. There's no specific woman on whom I can pin this scent. More likely it's the scent of the masses - those faceless women you pass in crowds, stand next to in the elevator, and hold the door for at the mall.

That's not a rant, by the way. Familiarity doesn't equal "bad" -  at least not all the time. I mean, many of us recognize Chanel No. 5 and Shalimar when they walk by, and those perfumes aren't exactly shlubs.

Back to Trésor... On me, it's mostly two phases. The first is an apricot-peach layered over rose. This lasts an hour or so. The next phase is a powdered peachy amber, which is a lot better than it sounds.

How does it wear, you ask? Long and hard! If you spray heavily, you will find yourself surrounded by people suffering 90's flashbacks. Injuries may be incurred. Sillage is formidable at these higher doses, and not too shabby when Trésor is administered judiciously. Tenacity ranks in the "eons" range.

I am a fan of powdery ambers, and the peachy nuance is a nice twist compared to others in my collection. My sample was of the modern Trésor, which is apparently not nearly as nice as the vintage. What is?

If I had to pinpoint a mood for Trésor , I'd probably use the trite label "romantic". Personally, I look forward to wearing it on my next antique-hunting date with hubby. It feels lighthearted and flirty to me, though I'm sure the powdery aspect (with rose, no less) gets this one the dreaded (and stupid) Old Lady label from some. Meh - their loss!

Do you treasure Trésor? What are your feelings about peach notes and ambery drydowns? Do you like peach cobbler?

House: Lancôme
Perfume: Trésor
Perfumer: Sophia Grojsman
Notes: apricot blossom, rose, lilac, iris, peach, amber, sandalwood, musk, vanilla
Released: 1990
Sample: sample provided by friend

Final Word: A real peach.

images: a; b

Happy Spring! Seven Lilacs (perfume reviews)

Lilacs are my favorite part of Spring. As mentioned before, I'm a bit of an idiot because even though I am riotously allergic to them, I sniff them constantly when they're in bloom! When I am near a large lilac bush, I happily clip big bunches of the blossoms and display them all over the house. And take a lot of antihistamines!

The lovelies over at Basenotes did another sample pass (remember the 30 Roses?), this time with lilac perfumes. Did I want in? And how!!

I reviewed 5 scents from that pass and added two others here from my own collection.

  • Highland Lilac of Rochester - pretty damn authentic lilac. A bit of greenness, maybe a a bit of spice? Smells closest to the real deal.

  • French Lilac (Pacifica)- strong lilac. Dabbed it's much more subtle - sprayed it's heady, intense, easily overdone. I have a spray bottle and it's best sprayed and walked through in my opinion, though I enjoyed it dabbed- maybe I'll decant some. Confession: I spray this on my curtain sheers when the window is open!

    Notes: Lilac, Magnolia Leaves, Heliotrope, Ylang Ylang, Hyacinth and subtle notes of Nectarine.
  • After My Own Heart (Ineke) - Soapy lilac and...? It's light and airy. I don't get "raspberry" but this is a slightly fruitier lilac than the others. A little more shrill than the others and turned a bit sour after awhile.
    Notes: bergamot, raspberry, green foliage, lilac, sandalwood, heliotrope and musk.

  • Lilac (Demeter) - like the Pacifica, but softer and a bit more rounded; pretty darned good!

  • Lilas (Cote Bastide) - this one is pretty soft unless really layered on. I wonder if that changes if you spray it (vs. dabbing from tester)? When applied fairly heavily, a somewhat spicy, sultry nuance is apparent. A dirty lilac? Who would have guessed?!

  • Lilac (Elizabeth W) - sour lilac; green underthing. Green fades to bring a more authentic lilac forward. A higher pitched scent than the others, though.
    Notes: A single note from boughs of springtime lilacs brightened with subtle hints of jasmine, neroli, and freesia.

  • En Passant (Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle) - soft and fresh lilac with a watery nuance and a bit of yeasty depth. Not bread, really. Yeast. It opens the scent up and makes it light and airy. (My earlier review)
    Notes: lilac, orange leaves, cucumber and absolute wheat.
    Perfumer: Olivia Giacobetti

Final Thoughts:

The En Passant is definitely my favorite. I find that I tire fairly quickly of a straight-up soliflore of any kind. Adding a little something (that yeasty note and wet, open feeling in EP, the spice and darkness in Lilas) seems to be the key in my opinion. The Demeter was my favorite straight-up lilac, and the Highland Lilac was the most authentic. I may try to find the Lilas somewhere and add it to the collection; the En Passant is a sure thing. It's one of those "stays on your mind" perfumes for me.

Do you like lilacs? Which is your fave?
How do you feel about soliflores?
Which is your favorite flower (perfume or real)?

Note: The pictures on this post are of my lilac, which is young and small (they grow so slowly) and not quite in bloom yet.

Disclosure: the Elizabeth W scent was a bottle provided to me by the company
a few years ago for my other blog (here's the review I did at the time);
the En Passant was a sample vial purchased by me;
the other samples are part of the swap and were consequently
mailed to another Basenotes member after I finished sniffing them.

Going green!!!! Vert pour Madame (Dawn Spencer Hurwitz: Parfums des Beaux Arts

I won a dram bottle of DSH's newest (limited edition) scent Vert pour Madame. It's green. It's a chypre. It's stunningly gorgeous!

Galbanum opens the show but hyacinth steps in too. The rest of the florals are, to my nose, well-blended to the point that I can't distinguish each note. Not that I'm trying yet; I'm still enjoying our introduction.

Lower and later: sandalwood, moss. Fresh, earthy and natural. Surprise late-game players are musk and civet which add a lovely nuance to the drydown. This earthy muskiness brings Vert pour Madame into my skin, melting.
Vert pour Madame is as striking as most green chypres I've tried, but she's a bit more sexy. Her galbanum is never shrill or pushy, even when at it's peak. Nor is it icy, bitter, or terribly grassy.

This madame may have started the night in an elegant and formal LBD, but by the end of the evening she's shaken out her chignon, ditched the heels, and slipped into something a little more comfortable. She's a natural beauty made all the more gorgeous by being oblivious to her own power.

Inspired by the utterly chic and sophisticated style of the late 1970's and early 1980's classic green floral chypre, Vert pour Madame has power but more than that, she has depth. She's achieved it. As well, Vert pour Madame is the perfect harbinger of Spring with notes of hyacinth, jonquil and lily of the valley sewn into the earth with cedarwood, patchouli and moss.

Are you a fan of green chypres? DSH? I am (of both) so this prize has made me a happy girl. Which are your favorite chypres? Green scents? DSH scents? What would you like to see next from DSH?

PS: A special thank you to DSH, not only for the contest and great perfume, but also for the sweet handwritten card, a few samples, and the replacement sample of The Afternoon (definitely getting a bigger size of this sweet, happy, casual floral with the amazing mimosa note!).

Perfume Review: High Line (Bond No. 9). And the search for A Big Floral.


I am looking for A Big Floral. Well, ok, if you want to be picky: another big floral.

I don't want a rose. I don't want elegant white flowers. I want pretty. Colorful. Happy! I want to douse myself in floral joy (but not the floral, Joy.)

I have Paris (YSL, vintage), so rose + violet is covered. Amaranthine (Penhaligon's) is a huge favorite. Her ylang-ylang, orange blossom and jasmine with a kick of milky banana (better than it sounds) have my tropical needs covered. I adore Chinatown (Bond No. 9) which is a mixed floral over patchouli and sandalwood that, on me, is mostly patchouli. Still lovely, but not it's not hitting the spot I'm aiming for.

Also tried: Amouage Gold, regal, glorious, spendy!; Joy (Patou), vintage and modern so, so lovely but not The One; Chamade (Guerlain), I adore it, but it's not the happy colorful scent I'm craving; Daisy (Marc Jacobs), I like it, but it's not for me; Ralph Lauren Romance, used to be my "signature scent" long ago - too clean, too pretty, too been-there-done-that; Flowerbomb (Viktor & Rolf ), too foody to be my floral; Chanel No. 5, just isn't me.

There are others, but I won't bore you with the longer list. I love quite a few florals and wear them happily, but...


I want A Floral ! Bright, pretty, colorful, happy flowers. I want bottled cheer. White florals are great; I own a few. Tropicals are dreamy, but not what I'm talking about here. I want a riot of different flowers. Tumbling, smiling, happy flowers.

It's one of those "I'll know it when I find it" things.

Which brings us to Bond No. 9's High Line.

A floral. "A scent that conveys a whiff of urban wildflowers... An androgenous floral-marine bouquet..." (from the company's spiel). The bottle looks promising: the familiar Bond No. 9 star silkscreened with bright yellow-green grass and contrasting fuchsia tulips.

Quick background on the name of this perfume
The High Line is actually an elevated neighborhood in New York City. Elevated. As in not on the ground.

In the 1930's, a large area of train rail was lifted above Manhattan, a nifty 30 feet above the hustle and bustle of the industry and crowds below. The trains carried food and manufactured goods across the 13 miles of track through the city (sometimes with trains going directly into buildings!).

Trains stopped running on the High Line in the early 80's and the line was scheduled to be demolished in the 90's. A group of activists formed Friends of the High Line, which -to make a long story short- converted a portion of the tracks into an elevated park that is 1.45 miles long. The High Line Park is owned by the City of New York. It runs above the Meatpacking District, West Chelsea and Hell's Kitchen.


According to the Bond No. 9 blog, the High Line park "literally hums with over 210 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees."

210 species. That's a lot of plantlife!  During the 20-some years the tracks lay abandoned, grasses naturally developed along the strip. The High Line park has been planted with those grasses and some other species native to the area.

This scent could go anywhere! Wildflowers! Grasses! The scent of the meatpacking district of yore! Er...

So what did Bond No. 9 go with? What did they do to celebrate this clever concept and urban park?

They say it's bergamot, purple love grass, Indian rhubarb, red leaf rose, orange flower water, tulip, grape hyacinth, sea moss, teakwood, musk and bur oak. In reality...

They made a very synthetic grass and water perfume.

High Line is inexplicably sodden. Water-logged. And not in that fresh dew glistening on the flower petals kinda way. Nope. High Line is wet in a quite fake, synthetic way. I think the aromachemical used here (with a heavy hand) is called Calone. It's used to make a Fresh and Aquatic nuance. Here, it overlays a
comic book version of grass.

Mix the in-your-face fresh water with plastic grass and some unidentifiable flowers and Voila! High Line!

Or, as I like to imagine: Florist Barbie in a snowglobe.

Yes, it's a harsh critique, and I know High Line has its fans. Great! It's just that for $145 for 50ml, I expected more. Especially considering how fun the concept of the High Line park project is.

House: Bond No. 9
Perfume: High Line
Perfumer: Laurent Le Guernec
Notes: bergamot, purple love grass, Indian rhubarb, red leaf rose, orange flower water, tulip, grape hyacinth, sea moss, teakwood, musk and bur oak.
Released: 2010
Sample: press samlle provided by brand

Final Word: Barbie's Dream Scent!!

So, I'm still looking for that cheerful, in yer face floral.
Got any favorites?