Tom Ford Private Blend Purple Patchouli

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, 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.

  • Connie says:

    Hi Nava:

    I’m late to the party in thanking you for the lovely review. I think I may have to go and give it a sniff as I love Coromandel and LL Patchouli 24. So many talented writers here … bowing to all of you, Patty, March, Lee, Musette and Nava. ^:)^

    I also want to mention a little something about the film … I saw it 2 weeks ago. It is a breathtaking film. Colin Firth’s nuanced, elegant performance should be nominated for an Oscar, in my opinion. The film is visually stunning … gorgeous cinematography and the soundtrack is achingly beautiful. Even if you do not like TF you should see it for the aesthetics alone. It is the film I have most enjoyed in a long time. =d>

    I won’t spoil it for you but there many subtle (and not so subtle) references to perfume.

    Going to hear the soundtrack again for the 387539473th time … it is gorgeous!

    (Gee, I wonder how she really feels?) 😉

    • Nava says:

      Thanks, Connie.

      A film like that is a welcome alternative to all the, um, I think you know where I’m going with that. I am definitely planning on seeing it. 🙂

  • Kristina Light Blue says:

    Partouchli 😮 Yeah, I also wonder wth an orchid smells like… I’ve only ever smelled roses, and trees -.-‘ But this perfume sounds wonderful!

  • Robin R. says:

    Yay, Nava!!! Finally SOMEBODY’s givin’ PP a little bitta lovin’. :d/

    But this whole fruitchouli thing is really confusing me, my darling. You have, let’s see, how many? FOUR green Icky faces after “Orange and patch?” and I feel compelled to gently point out that among the official list of notes in PP is . . . get ready . . . CITRUS. Last time I checked, citrus included orange. And you note that in your review, and go on to say that your skin really pulls the citrus from this scent.

    Pray tell what the dilly is going ON? Am I missing some piece of logic that would make this make any sense at all, sweet N? @-)

    • Nava says:

      Holy contradiction, Batman!

      I think of citrus in fragrance more in terms of lemon, grapefruit or bergamot, ie. Annick Goutal Eau d’Hadrien and that ilk. I do also like neroli (TF’s Neroli Portofino, particularly); what I describe as “fruitchouli” doesn’t contain any orange notes. The ones I can’t stomach are the patch/berry combos like Angel, Bond Bryant Park, etc. That seems to be the most popular trend. PP is not a dirty patchouli which is why I like it so much. The health food store body oil is, well, from the health food store. I’m not literally turning my nose up at it. Maybe 4 barfy faces was a little overstated.

      Hope that clears it up for you. 🙂

      • Robin R. says:

        It does, Nava. Cool. And hey, if you ever want to try a very nice orange and patch scent, Karma by Lush is lovely. 😡

  • Nava says:

    Thanks. And I’m sure your boots are lovely. 🙂

  • Tara C says:

    I’ve tried PP a few times from a sample sprayer vial, but it just turns powdery on me and doesn’t smell like patchouli at all (and I like patchouli). It was okay, but not purchase-worthy for me. My favorites are Tobacco Vanille, Japon Noir, Oud Wood and Tuscan Leather.

  • Melissa says:

    For some reason, this fragrance has slipped right past me. Probably because it has the word patchouli in its name. :d

    My feelings about patch are ambivalent at best, although a good rose and patchouli combination can make my heart sing. Lumiere Noire pour Femme comes to mind. Straight up patchouli is just too…. I dunno, patchy for me. And the modern patchoulis (including the dreaded fruitchoulis) are too neutered and or/sweetened. But add rose and wonderful things can happen.

  • Ally says:

    Thank you for reviewing my beloved PP! I’ve read so many negative reviews of it that it was a bit of a shock to find out how beautiful and wearable this stuff is:). My other faves from the Private Blend line are Velvet Gardenia and Noir de Noir – Mr. Ford does know how to inject glamour into anything he touches… probably that’s why I love his overall aesthetic. He can sometimes be rather tacky, but he’ll never, ever be boring.:)

    • Nava says:

      I guess if anyone is willing to embrace a scent like PP, it would be me – the woman who turns her nose up at (most of) the classics.

      I’m always on the hunt for a scent that doesn’t smell like 50 other scents I’ve smelled before, and this is definitely one of them.

  • dleep says:

    I loved your review. I LOVE patchouli but haven’t tried the PP. I have White Patchouli and I have worn it, maybe, twice. It was not what I was expecting. I have to try it again. I agree about the mixture of patch and fruit – smells rancid to me. My local health food store carries several body oils with a combo of patch and orange. Just yuck.

  • grizzlesnort says:

    “potting soil coulis”–this is why I read this blog. Don’t ever stop. Admit it, though: Tom Ford can be pretty tacky at times, particularly when he is going for high-end sleaze; it’s a bit tired and Versace had so much more fun doing it. His stuff does all glitter but it ain’t all golden. His perfumes are (very)derivative of, or perhaps if you prefer, an improvement on things that are already out there. I like the ones I’ve managed to sniff but not at the price he wants. Anyway, I can’t wait to get my nostrils on some Profumum, which seems to epitomize the sort of stuff I’m not allowed to wear if I am to remain in my marriage.

    • Nava says:

      If you want to hole up in a cave with a few hibernating bears, then go with God and Profumum Patchouly.

      His Tom Ford for Men ads were undoubtedly at the pinnacle of raunchiness, but nowhere near as schmaltzy as Versace in his heyday. As I said to Lee, there’s just something about that man that does it for me. Just add it to the list of things I am unable to explain. :d

  • Lee says:

    Lovely to read you, as ever, N. I tested this one back when these first came out as a set of 20 000 or however many it was. And I gave them all short shrift.

    And unlike you, I’m not a Tom Ford fan, even if the film looks good. He, for some reason, makes my skin crawl.

    Anyway, this is a roundabout way of saying that I wasn’t a fan of PP. I won’t go into details – you can have my portion though!

    • Nava says:

      Honestly, Lee, I don’t know what it is about that man that attracts me so. I assure you he is just the antithesis of what I normally go for. For example: Russell Crowe/Tom Ford… no logic there.

      As for his scents, there are a handful of them that send me running, particularly Moss Breches, but to my nose, some of them are pretty impressive. The others I like are Neroli Portofino and Noir de Noir. The new musks were very meh, and I haven’t smelled the more recent PBs.

    • Musette says:


      You, too? TF is, if nothing else, a marketing genius (though I suspect there’s a whole lot more to him than that) but I can’t get past the snakeoiliness of him. I did listen to the NPR interview though (for the film) and it does sound very watchable. Colin Firth is becoming way mor interesting as an actor.

      The only TF I’ve cottoned to is the Japon one (I simply haven’t the energy to look up the correct name, sorry!) I almost thought Tuscan Leather and I were in love – but it was just a fling, alas!

      xoxo >-)

  • Disteza says:

    I’m a fan of the non-neutered patchoulis, where the patch is recognizable and, um, potent. Not stinky or skanky, but definitely recognizable. That was my biggest complaint against the Le Labo; while it smelled of many things, patch wasn’t one of ’em. I’ll gladly take in any unwanted Borneo 1834, CB IHP Patchouli Empire, or your dreaded Profumum up there. On an aside, I feel like I’m the only one who has any love for Profumum; their stronger, manlier stuff just blooms so wonderfully on me.

    • Nava says:

      I love Borneo, but the others just go all B.O. and nasty on me. Especially Profumum’s It’s off-the-chart nasty. 😮

    • E says:

      Oh my god, Patchouli Empire. Phenomenal. I still remember the first time I smelled it in-store, and literally almost fell over. That scent is single-handedly responsible for turning me into a patch hag. I thought I didn’t like patchouli before that (ha! Think again. I adore the stuff.).

      I think I’m anosmic to “fruitchouli.” Other people identify them left and right, and I inevitably either can’t smell the fruit or the patchouli in the scent under discussion.

      Borneo 1834 made me sad. I thought I’d love it, but the camphor blast at the beginning was too much for me :((.

  • cathleen56 says:

    I love patchouli straight up from the headshop bottle, so I am skeptical about this one, but always willing to try.

    Can someone please explain what “orchid” smells like? I ask because I grow orchids and most have no smell at all, but the ones that are scented smell wildly different from each other. I’ve never understood this note. I’m, well….skeptical.

    • Nava says:

      I’m no expert by any means, but orchid may be a lab-created creation, although I’m not 100% certain. Ford’s Black Orchid note was made specifically for that fragrance, but I don’t know what type of orchid is in Purple Patchouli. I’m just ass-u-me-ing that it is the floral note I’m getting, because it is the only distinctly floral note in the composition.

  • Kate says:


    so the new swag disclosure regulations require disclosure of clever fragrance related terms coined by Melissa? heh!

    I must ask you to consider George Sand the Histoires de Parfums version in a list of gorgeous patch scents.

    • Nava says:

      Nah, but my conscience demanded it!

      I’ve sampled George Sand, but sadly, it’s a no-go for me. But, I never rule out a re-sniff. That’s what gets me into trouble a lot of times. 🙂

  • Rappleyea says:

    LOL! I love patchouli and have avoided this one as everyone says that it doesn’t actually smell like patchouli! Great review and I totally agree with the prohibiting of “fruitchouli” – the combination of fruit and patchouli is sick making. :-&

  • rockrose says:

    Love the review! I think our Saks may have this one to test. As far as patchouli goes I have a favorite – L’Ombre Fauve by Parfumerie Generale.

    • Nava says:

      I so wanted to like L’Ombre Fauve, but it is too heavy on the patch for my liking. The PG patch I do like is Intrigant Patchouli, which I have been known to refer to as “Indigent Patchouli”, or “Indignant Patchouli”. :d

  • Sara K says:

    This sounds pretty interesting – I like patchouli in theory, but it usually smells pretty awful on my skin. PP sounds like it might actually smell decent on me, not just in the bottle!

  • Eric says:

    When I found out my local Nieman Marcus had the PB’s, after I picked up my jaw, I set about spraying each one on a card. I decided I had to try this one and, um… some other one.

    First, I discovered that PP is the first and insofar as I know, only, fragrance to give me an allergic reaction. Itchy red bumps. But the smell! The smell! I try to forget it but sometimes I think long and hard about how I could wear it and get around the reaction. Really, this one had me counting my pennies. x3x

    • zeezee says:

      That’s interesting: the only fragrance that has given me an allergic reaction (also itchy bumps) so far is TF *White* Patchouli.

    • Nava says:

      The most violent reaction to a scent for me was L’Artisan Vanilia. And it is a scent I adore. There was no getting around it though, and it breaks my heart. :((