When is patchouli not patchouli? When Tom Ford puts his name on the bottle.
I´ve made no secret of my stormy relationship with patchouli, and I don´t think we’ll ever achieve the sort of détente that will allow me to completely embrace the full-on sweaty, stinking glory of it. But, I do appreciate it when it´s done right. Tom Ford seems to do everything right; including direct movies. I am dying to see “A Single Man”, mostly because I love Colin Firth, but mainly because Tom Ford is one of those individuals for whom whatever he touches turns to gold. Does vicarious proximity to someone like that result in a reversal of fortune? God, I hope so. Hang on…I need to check the movie listings.
Here´s some important criteria I consider before wearing a scent containing patchouli:
- The fragrance in question must not contain fruit. See my recent review of Ricci Ricci by Nina Ricci. “Fruitchouli” should be outlawed, thereby banning all sales of Angel, Bond No. 9 Bryant Park and any other scent that dares to smell like fruit and two week old laundry.
- Patchouli must be paired with things that are inherently complimentary, like vanilla, amber, labdanum, tonka; stuff that sweetens it up, but doesn´t make it smell like chocolate cake served with a potting soil coulis. The one exception to this would be Profumum Patchouly, which is quite possibly the dirtiest patchouli scent out there. The listing of four harmless notes – patchouli, amber, sandalwood and incense should mean it would smell good, right? WRONG. This stuff is a “two weeks since my last shower, haven´t done laundry in months, poured a sack of ground cumin over my head, lost my stick of deodorant, atomic body odour bomb”. One spritz of this in a crowded gym would clear the place out for days.
- Those who want respect, give respect; these are the scents containing patchouli deserving of accolades (in my opinion): Chanel Coromandel, Le Labo Patchouli 24, Etat Libre d´Orange Nombril Immense, and the scent du jour, Purple Patchouli. There are a few others, but in the interest of staying focused, I´ll stop here.
Purple Patchouli was love-at-first-sniff for me. And that´s saying something, considering the first time I smelled it was at Bergdorf Goodman during the 2007 Sniffapalooza Spring Fling. It´s very easy to overwhelm your sense of smell at the big Sniffapalooza events, but Purple Patchouli left such an impression on me, that I bought a bottle of Tobacco Vanille instead. I fell for Tobacco Vanille because I sampled it on my skin. I only sniffed Purple Patchouli, and rationalized that it was one of those, “smells great in the bottle, but goes all hideous once it hits your skin” scents. As we all know, the first impression isn´t always the correct impression. It was over the summer that I went back to Bergdorf´s to give it another shot, bee-lining for the bottle and trying it on without anything else on my skin to alter my perception. Now, I sheepishly admit it was the second impression that totally won me over.
This is yet another scent I find challenging to articulate. I´ve recognized a pattern, here: the more well done a scent is, the more trouble I seem to have putting what I like about it into words. I had this issue last week when I wrote about Andy Warhol Silver Factory, and I´m experiencing it again now. Tom Ford has pretty much changed the landscape of fashion over the last two decades and is still finding ways to reinvent himself. Even though he is an American, he doesn´t fit into the same category as Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein. That can be said about his fashions, as well as his fragrances and accessories. Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein have something for everyone, but Tom Ford has managed to hang on to a certain aesthetic which clearly states his wares are not for the masses. That includes his fragrances. The Private Blends are not widely available, and are expensive to boot, but there is something special about them. Love them or hate them, they are exquisitely crafted scents. It would be impossible to love or even like them all, considering there are now 20, including the White Musk Collection and the latest Private Blend, Bois Marocain. And, it takes a certain degree of confidence and good, old fashioned cojones to even consider trotting out a line of that many scents. After all, he´s not Guerlain, Caron, or even Annick Goutal.
What I love most about Purple Patchouli is that it doesn´t smell like any one of its individual notes. According to TomFord.com, the notes are Orchid Accord, citrus notes, Noir Leather, Signature Patchouli Accord, exotic spices, amber, patchouli, Peru Balsam and Vetiver. My skin pulls out a lot of citrus and orchid, some slight spice, the balsam and vetiver. I get no leather whatsoever, and nothing that I could accurately describe as patchouli. This is the ultimate no-patchouli, patchouli, but it definitely has that devil-may-care, headshoppy quality that makes it fun and easy to wear. I´m sticking with that description, but there´s a little voice inside me whispering, “This stuff smells exactly like Erno Laszlo Light Controlling Lotion”. Since I haven´t used that product on my face in close to 20 years, I´m telling my little voice to shut the @#$& up.
Disclosure: The bottle of Purple Patchouli reviewed in this essay is from my own collection. The term “fruitchouli” was coined by Melissa, a frequent Posse commentator, and a real sweetheart.