My Patchouli Challenge – by Nava

Most of you know I’m not particularly fond of patchouli. In fact, I’ve made it abundantly clear how much I can’t stand the stuff. Well, I’ve had a change of heart.

Last month I reviewed some amazing natural perfumes by perfumer Amanda Feeley, some of which contained natural patchouli in their blends. She sells her wonderful scents under the brand Esscentual Alchemy.

Shortly after my 2-part review appeared, I got a message from Monica Miller, one of my Facebook friends, and another natural perfumer at Perfume Pharmer. Monica wanted me to take part in her “Summer of Patchouli Love” as a “Patch Test Bunny”. After I’d sung the praises of Amanda’s compositions, I’d have been more of a crash test dummy after a 50 mile an hour impact in a SmartCar if I refused.

The idea was for a bunch of us perfume bloggers to blind-test 13 different natural patchouli based scents and pick our top 3. And these were no ordinary scents; they were composed by well known natural perfumers including Liz Zorn, Opus Oils, Dawn Spencer-Hurwitz, Amanda Feeley, Ambrosia Jones and others. The judges were nothing to sneeze at either: Marlon Elliot Harrison, Nathan Branch, Donna Hathaway, Felicia Hazzard, and some other well known bloggers. And me!

I have to admit I was a bit frightened by the task, since, well, the idea of patchouli used to make me want to hose myself down with a power washer. I now have to specify that it’s the patchouli found in mainstream scents, such as Angel, or those ubiquitous “fruitchoulis” that make many of us squirm. Natural patchouli is a totally different animal, and when it is blended with other ingredients by skillful perfumers like the ones who participated, it bears absolutely no resemblance to the stuff that makes me want to exfoliate myself with cement.

All the selections were 100 percent natural and contained at least 25 percent patchouli. Monica lovingly hand-decanted all the scents into vials and sent packages to all us judges. She created a Facebook group for all of us to share our thoughts. Now, here’s where things get interesting:

Monica mailed out all the samples around the second week in June, just before a postal strike/lockout was declared here in Canada. There were roving postal strikes in some Canadian cities before Canada Post decided to cease all mail delivery nationwide. My original package from Monica was hijacked by the strike.

As time wore on and there didn’t seem to be an end in site (the workers were finally legislated back to work by Parliament last Sunday), Monica decided I needed an alternate means of getting my sample package. She somehow managed to get more samples to another one of the judges, Cirque de Soleil casting advisor, Gillian Ferrabee, who happens to live in Montreal. So, my second set of samples were ferried from Gillian in Montreal via courier service to me in Toronto. I finally received them last Friday, and spent the better part of a week completely enrobed in patchouli. Laugh all you want, but it was fabulous. I am now a reformed patchouli hater.

The composers of each scent were finally revealed on Thursday, after I picked my final 3. Much to my delight, one of the compositions I chose was the Amanda Feeley scent, “Queen of Punk” that I loved so much. Remember, I had no information other than a numbered vial.

My other choices were a scent called “Happiness” by Ambrosia Jones (Perfume by Nature) and “Patchouli Paisley” by Lyn Ayre. Truthfully, all 13 compositions were fabulous, including one by Shelley Waddington, named “Go Ask Alice”, which was chosen by most of the other judges. It was absolutely stunning, but too strongly floral for my comfort level. For me, it is one of those compositions I could sniff forever, but never wear on my skin.

Speaking of judges, there is also a cadre of celebrity panelists waiting to be heard from: Singers Patti Austin, Mary J. Blige, actresses Kim Novak (!) and Jodie Foster, and some other well known industry people. Us bloggers were first, and now the celebs are poised to weigh in.

I am so grateful to Monica for giving me the opportunity to expand my fragrance horizons and I now appreciate the art of perfumery on a completely different level than what I’m used to. I’ve dabbled in natural fragrances before, but never in this setting, and it was a wonderful experience. I’m so impressed by the talents of these artists, as well as the dedication of the natural perfume community to spreading the word about their wonderful creations.

I’m looking forward to sniffing many more natural perfumes; look for another review from me in the coming weeks from another natural perfumer I’ve heard good things about.

Happy Canada Day and Happy Fourth of July to everyone! And remember: Peace, Love and Patchouli – or PLAP for short!

42 Comments

  1. :d You’ve been indoctrinated now Nava! Seeing the pictures of the individual vials is what impressed me. The range of colors that were represented, and the fact that all of them contained at least 25% patchouli! That’s a heap of patchouli.

    I know *I* had bunches of fun, and I think everyone else has too.

    PLAP on!

    • It was a blast Amanda. I’m so glad I participated!

  2. This sounds so cool – glad you were part of it, Nava! I’m now very curious about these scents and wonder if there will be some way to purchase a sample set?

    Also, speaking of patch, has anyone sniffed Heeley’s Hippie Rose yet?

      • Thank you, Nava! I surfed on over and started the order process. :-) I’m looking forward to trying these.

  3. Wow! So that’s what the Summer of Patchouli is all about! I’ve been watching it scroll through my Facebook feed for weeks. As a longtime patchaholic, I’m thrilled to read that you’re finally appreciating this fine scent! PLAP to you too, Nava!

    • Thanks Karen! I don’t think I’ll ever be a hardcore aficionado, but the natural stuff is where it’s at for me. 🙂

  4. Nava, I was very much like you with regard to my attitude toward patchouli, and my mind is changed too! I was simply amazed at the diversity of the perfumers’ creations. I felt very honored to be asked, but I thought perhaps I was not the right person for the “Bunny” job – however, Monica wanted people like us who were not big Patch fans and who could be objective about the testing.

    I also liked your top pick very much, and it almost made my top 3 cut. It was a tough decision with so many good ones!

    • It was very tough; at one point I was deciding between 9 of the 13 choices!

      I am really developing quite an appreciation for natural perfumery, and the fact that the patchouli I knew was a bastardized version of something that really is quite beautiful.

  5. What a fun post, Nava! Makes me want to investigate. And I love the name “Go Ask Alice.”

    • I know! When the name was revealed, what do you think I had an earworm of? :d

      It truly is a beautiful scent. Now I need to work on overcoming my reticence of big florals!

  6. As an aromatherapist, I first came to patchouli through essential oils and of course I loved it. Imagine my surprise when I never liked any patchouli perfumes. They bear little resemblance to “real” patchouli. I’ve been following this project on other blogs, and like others I’m *very* interested in obtaining a sample kit. Finally – patchouli scents I can love!

  7. At least 25% patchouli! I don’t think I could stomach thar much.

    I’m not 100% sure, but I think all patchouli used in perfumes is natural. They sometimes treat it to remove unwanted aspects of it, but there is no synthetic alternative remotely close to real patchouli and since the oil isn’t very expensive, perfumers go for the nataral stuff.

    I don’t have any scientific proof of this, so if anyone can prove me wrong or right, go ahead!

    • I just want to know why it smells so godawful in mainstream perfumery. I don’t understand what the appeal is of the composition in department store scents – I find the patch just overwhelms all the other notes.

  8. I usually stay away from Patchouli-centric perfumes (I used to live in Santa Cruz, CA – need I say more?), but your review makes it sound as if I should reconsider. I don’t have any trouble believing that in the hands of a skilled perfumer, almost any note can be made beautiful.

    • I’ve never been to Santa Cruz, so I’ll take your word for it. If it’s anything like driving through Gilroy and smelling the garlic, I totally get it! :d

  9. I’m a bit of a hobby perfumer and use both naturals and synthetics, and I have a very hard time with patchouli. It’s the strongest material nature can offer, and it seems to overwhelm all the other notes used. Getting away with using at least 25% is quite a feat, and I’d be interested in smelling them.

    I don’t know what the commercial perfumes use to make patchouli smell so overpoweringly synthetic. I’m talking about Angel, Prada, Flowerbomb etc. etc. here. Maybe they’re using cashmeran, an earthy, damp material that shows very different characteristics depending on how you use it.

    I think my favourite patchoili is Lush’s Karma, but the alcohol-based versions are way to strong for me. Even the weaker solid perfume is very strong to my nose. I love the soap and perfumed talc though.

    • I’ve always loved Lush Karma and actually wore it very briefly. It was one of the first patchouli-based scents I could tolerate.

      Cashmeran to my nose is much subtler than patch. Then again, I am not a perfumer.

      The 25% was not at all overwhelming in most of them – and I would be the first to run in other direction if it was!

      Go to Monica’s site – http://www.perfumepharmer.com to find out about samples. I’m not sure how she’ll be handling that since the requests are starting to pile up.

  10. I’m excited to try some of these! Would have ordered a few today if I hadn’t just gotten back from the post office where I mailed all my swap packages. Spent my mad money for the week on postage. Adding Queen of Punk and Go Ask Alice to my never ending list of Must Try Scents.

      • Nava I’m really glad to see natural perfumes getting more credit and mention in non-green oriented blogs. I’ve been able to phase all my other beauty products, (Including shampoo and deodorant now that I’ve finally found products that work.) to the green zone but can’t quite let go off all the perfumes I love that aren’t natural. Despite that I’ve found many natural perfumers who are truly masters of the craft and make beautiful fragrances. I don’t think I’ll ever be ready to let go completely of commercial scents but I love that the natural market is growing and expanding and getting notice.

        • I can’t find Go Ask Alice on Shelley Waddington’s page. I hope she makes it available for the public.

          • Joanna,

            I don’t know when she’s planning to make it available; I would e-mail her and ask. It’s been quite popular among the Bunnies, and some of them have requested more than a sample.

    • Hi Nava, great post. I, too, am a bit of a patchophobe (waves to Mals above), but these do sound tempting. I do enjoy Lush’s Karma once in a while and I adore the elegance of Coromandel, so guess there’s hope for me yet …

  11. Hi, Nava, I’ve enjoyed reading your blog post and all the comments. I want to thank you for choosing Patchouli Paisley as one of your top threes; that made me feel very good indeed.
    I’m very grateful our Postal System is delivering again as I had quite a few perfume orders waiting to go out. But what a time to have them go on strike. I thought Monica showed great creativity in getting the samples to you.
    Warmly, Lyn Ayre

    • Hi Lyn,

      Yes, Monica did exhibit great creativity in getting another set of samples out to me. And by the way – the original package is still M.I.A.! There is never a convenient time for a postal strike.

      Patchouli Paisley is a wonderful scent! 🙂

  12. Nava,

    Could you steer me to where the perfumers and their specific compositions have been revealed? I checked Monica’s web page, but didn’t find the reveal. (Hmmm…shuffle off to check Facebook.)

    • Taffy, I clicked on the Summer of Love poster logo on Monica’s website, and that took me to a page with a lot more info on PLAP.

  13. Patchouli and Paisley … makes me think of these guys:

    This thread’s giving me a contact high.

  14. I don’t want to go too off topic here, but I wish the “natural community” and the “synthetic community” would just give each other a big hug. And if anyone wants to dip their toes in aromachemicals I’d recommend a musk or two (Velvione smells very warm and “natural”), and Hedione, a part of natural jasmine that is very airy and fresh and adds succulent moistness to any composition. Those two will never smell artificial and would give endless new opportunities.

    Another thing, does anyone know what “aged patchouli” oil is? I have a really old bottle of oil, but it smells as fresh, if you can call patch fresh, as the day I bought it.

    PLAP on you all!

    • Des Esseintes, patchouli is one of essential oil that actually gets BETTER as it age….it seems to lose it’s sharp edges and the middiness will often become clearer….
      You wiull find similar with both sandalwood and vetiver essential oils too.

      I used a delightful aged patchouli from Indonesia for my “Happiness”, which Nava picked as one of her top 3 to my delight!

  15. I have a slightly off topic question about natural versus non natural scents and it has come up, more than once, in discussions of patchouli. I live in Portland, OR which is a pretty west coast-y scent phobic kind of town anyhow, and this horrible man who was giving me a ride to a conference we were both attending, spent twenty minutes harassing me about my perfume (which was incidentally, only day old dry down on my bra of 31 Rue Cambon, not even a fresh apply) in which he compared me to the Monsanto Corporation poisoning the fields of organic farmers. He then went on to mention that his wife wore patchouli, and that didn’t “bother” him at all. I love patchouli, both my Coromandel and the cheap stuff from the head shop even from time to time, and I don’t experience any difference between natural and non natural scents, except complexity.
    Is this guy just a douche bag with some enviro-righteous misogyny thrown in, or is there really a difference?

    • Wendy, if you’ve only ever smelld patcholi in the “cheap oils” from head shops, you probably haven’t actually smelt real patchouli at all. The cheap oils are alwyas synthetic.

      And yes, there is a huge difference between natural patchouli and it’s synthetic counterparts.

    • Ugh sounds like a greenie douche to me Wendy. I always striving to go greener but I don’t think it’s my place or anyone else’s to hand out enviro-sermons to other people. Natural patchouli is a completely different animal from the synthetic but that’s besides the point. I can’t believe he compared you to Monsanto!

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