The fascination of patchouli is the contradiction between its bright, green, delicate leaves and tiny flowers and its powerful, deep, dark, earthy, sweet, spicy woody scent that you would normally expect to find in roots and woods.
The name comes from the old Tamil words patchai (‘green’) and ellai (‘leaf’). It originated in India, Malaysia and Indonesia and made its way to the Middle East via the Silk Route. Throughout history it has been used in incense, insect repellant, teas, pot pourri, chewing tobacco, medicine and of course scented essential oils.
Patchouli (botanical name: Pogostemon Cablin) is a species of flowering plant in the family of the mint or dead-nettle family with pale pink to purple flowers, usually growing up to about a metre.
From seduction to subcultures
First used by the Tamils of Southern India for its medicinal, repellent and culinary purposes, patchouli leaves were then used in the mid 19th Century layered in between the fine silk shawls to preserve them from moths whilst being transported in boats from the East to the exclusive salons and boutiques of Paris.
Thus associated with fashion and finery, patchouli soon made its way into the perfume industry where it was heavily used by cocottes (paid ‘mistresses’ of the aristocracy) and became the heady scent of seduction.
The quality of patchouli perfumes varies hugely, the best quality oils being extracted from the top pinch of leaves on the plant with the highest concentration of oils, with only a few distilleries producing to the quality sought by the finest noses. At the other end of the spectrum the entire plant and twigs are mass produced into cheap oils.
During the 60s the growing sub-culture of sexual liberation, peace, freedom and travelling these cheaper patchouli oils found their way to a new generation: along with drugs, fashion, colour, spiritual and music influences coming from India and the East. Its strong odour was used to mask hashish and it became the scent of rebellion for the hippie generation, the olfactory embodiment of flower power.
For me, patchouli scent conjures the cornucopia of Kensington Market in the London of the late 80s and 90s. Patchouli was woven into fabric of the sprawling maze that was a creative haven for fashion, hair stylist, body arts, fashion, craft and accessories and thus set the olfactory tone for the iconic home of subcultures from punks, new romantics, ravers and goths.
Patchouli in perfumery
Patchouli can be overwhelmingly powerful, but used with care it adds richness and stability to other ingredients and is a key ingredient for perfumers. Traditionally it was used in chypres and powdery perfumes alongside ingredients like vetyver, oakmoss, bergamot, lavender, sandalwood, clove, clary sage and labdanum and used alongside rose to fix its longevity and sweetness. Patchouli and sandalwood are also commonly used together.
Patchouli of the Underworld and Persephone’s Patchouli
Our two new patchouli scents explore the dichotomy of patchouli, its earthy connection to the underground and to verdant floribunda. The myth of Pluto and Persephone perfectly mirror that duality for us, so we worked with two perfumers to explore a single ingredient through very different lenses.
The result is two unique but interdependent fragrances exploring the dark opulence of Pluto’s underworld and the abundance of nature, purity and beauty of Persephone. To be worn individually or layered.
By Christian Provenzano
This delightful woody amber enters with a fresh and elegant cardamon, lightly laced with plum and pomegranate before opening into a heart of Egyptian jasmine, a fresh, aromatic, clean patchouli and a tint of rose. The light woods of sandalwood and cedar combined with a light musk and amber notes make this a light, sensuous and very versatile scent.
“I used patchouli heart which is a cleaner patchouli note and enriched with musky and ambery textures. On top, I added fresh spicy elements, notably Cardamom from Guatemala. I combined the patchouli character with floral notes of Bulgarian rose. To enhance the fruity part of the rose, I added a note of plum that also goes really well with the warmth of the patchouli. For the floral heart, I used responsibly-sourced jasmine from Egypt for its richness. I added a gourmand twist with honey and a touch of coffee. This is rounded by a creamy facet with sandalwood notes and blond woods. And of course 6 pomegranate seeds.”
Pluto of the Underworld
By Kévin Mathys
The perfume is a dark carnal patchouli with references to musky sexuality, power, opulence. It captures the darkness of the underworld and the hidden riches of the earth below with glimpses of the light above the surface.
“The idea was to build a black patchouli, with a furry texture as black as the panther.
It starts with pink and black pepper blended with citruses (Bergamot and Mandarin) to create a fresh dark top note enhancing the camphor notes of patchouli. I played with a suede leather accord of Mate Absolute, Birch and a smoky twist with cade and rich smoked precious woods to create a synergy between resins and woods and strengthen the character of musk.
I softened that with a blend of Cistus & Labdanum extracts and other Amber materials to give the furry and smooth signature. Bits of carnation (spicy rose character) and other floral elements are enriching the fragrance to give it depth and structure.”
Introducing CONSORT Collection…
To CONSORT is to fraternise, to collaborate, to partner
“ Perfume is our playground so this is a really exciting new collection. It expresses our desire to explore the relationship between different notes, different perfumers and to explore collaborations with creatives in different fields.
Our first two fragrances to launch in this collection are an exploration of a single central note through two very different lenses within the same story: that of the Persephone and Pluto, King of the Underworld. Our central note is patchouli: for us the duality of its verdant abundance and its dark earthy notes perfectly represents both lightness and dark and the confluence of nature and the underworld.
It has been a pleasure to work with such talented perfumers on this collaboration. Christian Provenzano and Kevin Mathys have both brought their meticulous, creative and thoughtful responses to create a dynamic pair of daring and decadent Patchouli perfumes.”
Claire Sokell Thompson, Creative Director