It’s official: patchouli fragrances are having a bit of a revival. The last time it was so popular was in the 1960s and 1970s when hippies and boho types wore patchouli oils, some experts claim, to disguise the smell of weed.
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In an interview with the UK’s Daily Mail, British perfumer Roja Dove reckons our Covid times echo the turbulence of those decades and helps explain the resurgence of patchouli.
“In the 1960s and 1970s, the British and American youth were the post-World War II and Vietnam War generation. They felt politics was rotten and mother earth was where the connection mattered,” he says.
According to the Maison Francis Kurkdjian website, Pogostemon cablin (its scientific name) had a demi-monde reputation in late 19th-century France as women of ill-repute wore it.
A member of the mint family, the herb is native to southeast Asia, with Indonesia being the largest producer.
In its natural form, the leaves are dried and fermented. They are then steam-distilled or CO2 extracted to produce a highly potent and rich essential oil with all the versatile qualities we’ve come to expect from the plant – earthy, woody, sweet, spicy, smoky – depending on how it’s used.
Due to the expense involved in producing the best-quality oils and environmental concerns about over-farming, synthetics (for example, Akigalawood) and substitutes (for example, Clearwood) are used to produce the same effect.
We’ve gone all out in this round-up to give you the full range of best patchouli fragrances.
Where known, the name of the perfumer is listed in brackets after the name of the fragrance.
Our Shortlist for The Best Patchouli Fragrances
Mugler A*Men EDT (Jacques Huclier)
Mugler A*Men EDT was not Jacques Huclier’s first perfume, but this love-it-or-hate-it classic was the one that made his name as a multi-talented perfumer.
It was also the French designer brand’s first male fragrance, launched after the tremendous success of the pioneering gourmand Mugler Angel.
Released in 1996, there was nothing like it at the time. There have been several attempts to copy it, but none have captured the uniqueness and audacity of the original with its lashings of patchouli, caramel and coffee.
The Mugler A*Men follow-ups, mostly created by Huclier and featuring varying qualities of patchouli, are one of those rare cases in which the flankers offer a new and surprising twist on the theme.
We’re usually weary of hyper-sweet fragrances but will always make an exception for Mugler A*Men.
Le Labo Patchouli 24 EDP (Annick Menardo)
Is this 2006 release from the NYC-based niche brand’s launch collection a leather or a patchouli scent? The company’s website even states “patchouli is not easy to detect in this formula.”
There’s certainly no missing the mega dose of birch in it. The oil from the bark of this hardwood tree (birch tar oil) is renowned for its smoky leather properties and it gives this EDP an almost burnt quality.
A hint of warm and spicy vanilla softens the harsh edges.
Yeah, but what about the patchouli? It pops up when you least expect it, earthy and medicinal, and then disappears.
Intriguing, challenging stuff…
Forget everything you think you know about Hugo Boss fragrances.
This 2011 release from the German brand’s private collection (not to be confused with its more recent range of the same name), inspired by key items in the modern man’s wardrobe, will surprise you with its elegant and subtle simplicity.
Patchouli is discernible from the get-go. It’s a clean and fresh take on the theme.
It’s not listed as a note, but we think there’s a good dose of the synthetic Cashmeran in the drydown. Its musky spiciness complements the patchouli in a cosy way.
Grab it while you can, as it’s becoming increasingly rare.
Heeley Hippie Rose EDP (James Heeley)
This 2011 release from the British, Paris-based perfumer is inspired by the love, peace and freedom of the hippie era. While nostalgic, it’s also thoroughly modern.
With notes of bergamot and green moss, the opening is almost bitter.
The popular combo of rose and patchouli has a warm spiciness here, without any sweetness.
It’s infused with the smokiness of incense and vetiver.
This highly recommended scent hits the olfactory spot every time with its earthiness and is a worthwhile alternative to more well-known patchouli-rose scents such as Frédéric Malle Portrait of a Lady and Diptyque Eau Capitale.
Orto Parisi Brutus Parfum (Alessandro Gualtieri)
Amsterdam-based Orto Parisi is one of those love it or hate it niche fragrance brands. And this 2014 release created by Alessandro Gualtieri will either do it for you in abundance or not.
As usual, he gives no notes to guide the consumer. But that doesn’t stop us from picking up a large dose of rough-around-the-edges patchouli.
Earthy, spicy and woody, it’s given a hint of freshness with citrus notes of bergamot and mandarin.
With its uncompromising boldness, it’s an acquired taste, so best give it time to work its charms.
Maison Francis Kurkdjian Masculin Pluriel EDT (Francis Kurkdjian)
While this 2014 release from the Paris-based niche brand is big on the lavender, it also features a beautifully earthy take on patchouli.
Showcasing the perfumer’s love for the fougère fragrance family, it opens with lavender absolute – the Provençal variety renowned for its smooth, slightly sweet, herbal properties.
It’s given sensual depth with a leather accord and woody notes of Virginian cedar, Haitian vetiver and Indonesian patchouli.
Kurkdjian makes the most of the latter in a smoky and musky style.
It all adds up to produce a scent that’s thoroughly elegant.
While this fragrance has a similar-ish name to Van Cleef & Arpels Moonlight Patchouli (see below), it couldn’t be more different.
A 2015 release from the Herrera Confidential private collection, it shows the American designer brand equally at home in haute parfumerie as it is in more commercial money-spinners.
Benzoin gives it vanilla-ish smoothness, while the patchouli is earthy and herbal in style.
The extra-large helping of cinnamon is given a touch of resinous depth with cistus labdanum.
If you’re looking for sweet take on the patchouli theme, this one’s for you.
Yves Saint Laurent Tuxedo EDP (Juliette Karagueuzoglou)
In 2015, the French luxury fashion brand launched its Le Vestiaire des Parfums private fragrance collection, inspired by iconic items associated with the couturier.
We’d forgotten how good Tuxedo is and how like its namesake from 1966, it blends the masculine with the feminine to perfection.
The coolness of cardamom is contrasted with the warmth of black pepper to create sensual spiciness. A hint of rose, with woody accents, adds to the allure.
The patchouli, smokiness on high, is paired with a musky ambergris-like accord and smooth spicy vanilla in the drydown.
Devastatingly chic and sexy, it’s one of the best YSL releases in recent years and well worth the extra expense compared to its more mainstream releases.
Chanel Coromandel EDP (Jacques Polge & Christopher Sheldrake)
From the French luxury brand’s Les Exclusifs de Chanel Collection, this 2016 release is inspired by Coco’s love for Chinese Coromandel lacquered screens, which decorated her Paris apartment.
From top to bottom, it presents an enchantingly exotic take on patchouli.
The citrus opening – bitter orange and neroli – leads the way to deep and dark patchouli. It has delicious chocolate accents without entering gourmand territory. There are light floral touches (rose, orris root, jasmine) in the background.
The exotic vibe is heightened with an amber accord featuring vanilla-ish benzoin and spicy frankincense.
It’s also available in a parfum concentration with added musk.
Van Cleef & Arpels Moonlight Patchouli EDP (Sonia Constant)
Gosh, isn’t this 2016 addition to the French luxury jewellery brand’s top-quality Collection Extraordinaire a treat!
It opens with a deep and woody interpretation of patchouli spiced with the warmth of cacao.
Bulgarian rose and iris contribute floral powderiness, while the drydown amplifies the sensual vibe with a combo of smooth leather and suede. There’s also a hint of fruitiness in the background.
From the above-mentioned cacao and fruity notes, it might sound like a gourmand, but Sonia Constant is too skilled a perfumer to go the obvious route. It’s also one of the best-value private range releases around.
Kilian Gold Knight EDP (Pascal Gaurin)
The Paris-based niche brand founded by the heir to the Hennessy fortune, Kilian Hennessy, doesn’t mess around when it comes to luxurious fragrances and prices.
This 2017 release from The Cellars Collection is deliciously enticing from the opening notes of faintly liquorice-ish anise and crisply citrus bergamot.
Honey and vanilla mingle to produce warm and smooth powderiness.
The refined sweetness is maintained in the dark earthiness of the patchouli drydown.
One of the house’s best releases, it justifies its price tag.
Byredo Velvet Haze EDP (Jérôme Epinette)
A 2017 release from the Swedish niche brand that’s not as crowd-friendly as some of its other fragrances such as Gypsy Water and Bal d’Afrique, and is all the better for it.
It debuts with the lightly tropical fruity tones of coconut water and then the patchouli – earthy, rich and perhaps too powerful for some – kicks in, in a big way.
When the patchouli subsides, it’s complemented by earthy cacao and wafts of musk.
There’s something BO-ish about this scent, not in an off-putting way, more seductive…
Dior Patchouli Impérial EDP (François Demachy)
This 2018 addition to the upmarket Maison Dior range goes the oriental route.
The barely there citrus intro – mandarin orange and bergamot – quickly gives way to the warm spice of cinnamon and coriander.
It comes into its own in the drydown. Patchouli, dusty and dark, is given extra oomph with smoke, an amber accord (featuring pronounced accents of benzoin, tonka bean and vanilla) and creamy sandalwood.
Although it doesn’t quite nail its inspiration – “like entering the fragrant back room of an apothecary in Asia,” according to the brand’s website – that doesn’t stop it from being beautifully mysterious.
Diptyque Tempo EDP (Olivier Pescheux)
Patchouli makes its presence felt in this 2018 release from the Paris-based niche brand right from the intro all the way through to the drydown.
In part, this is due to the three extracts of patchouli used by perfumer Olivier Pescheux. What makes this fragrance so special is the evolution of the note from slightly sweet to increasingly earthy as it progresses.
Mate, clary sage, and violet are also present in the mix and intensify the effect.
Tempo doesn’t play down the patchouli. This winner of the Best New Men’s Fragrance at The Fragrance Foundation Awards UK 2019 maximizes it to present a beautifully sophisticated vibe.
Christian Provenzano Patchouli Noir EDP (Christian Provenzano)
Before the global director of Dubai-based CPL Aromas launched his own company, Christian Provenzano Parfums, in 2018, he’d produced highly regarded work for brands such as Agent Provocateur, Jo Malone, Kilian, Penhaligon’s and Boadicea The Victorious.
Part of his launch collection, Patchouli Noir opens with red fruit and pink peppercorn notes. It’s sweet, sharp and spicy at the same time.
Turkish rose and osmanthus develop the fruitiness of the intro with their floral intensity.
True to the name of this scent, the patchouli is dark and earthy, with cistus labdanum and an amber accord bolstering its depth.
We’re not surprised it won the Best Niche Fragrance Award at the Pure Beauty Global Awards 2018.
Patchouli Noir Intense, from the brand’s Universal Collection, is also worth sniffing out.
Montblanc Explorer EDP (Jórdi Fernandez, Antoine Maisondieu & Olivier Pescheux)
A trio of top perfumers collaborated on this 2019 release. They were specifically chosen for their expertise in the three key notes of Montblanc Explorer: Calabrian bergamot (Maisondieu), Haitian vetiver (Pescheux) and Indonesian patchouli (Fernandez).
The Calabrian bergamot note sets the scene with its fresh, sunny and uplifting character. Notes of clary sage and pink pepper add aromatic interest.
The Haitian vetiver brings the unmistakeable qualities of earth, grass and smoke. This is supported by a hint of leather.
The earthy character is emphasised by a double dose of warming patchouli and the patchouli-like synthetic Akigalawood.
We won’t get bogged down in the debate on whether this scent is a Creed Aventus clone. We can tell you, though, it’s a highly versatile crowd-pleaser.
Bvlgari Splendida Patchouli Tentation EDP (Sophie Labbé)
The luxury Italian jewellery brand can always be relied upon to deliver seemingly effortless elegance.
This 2020 addition to their Splendida range does that with a trio of layered patchouli in the expert hands of Sophie Labbe, who also created Jasmin Noir and Tubereuse Mystique for the company.
The opening is clean and pure, thanks to patchouli oil from Flores (an Indonesian island) and softly fruity peach.
The powderiness of the peach evolves with orris. The iris root is perfectly paired with patchouli at this stage for an earthy effect.
The drydown displays the musky side of patchouli together with white musk.
It’s officially a female fragrance, but 100% unisex, so don’t miss out on this smooth and artful beauty.
Guerlain Patchouli Ardent EDP (Thierry Wasser)
The most recent addition (2020) to the French brand’s superb Les Absolus d’Orient Collection maintains the top quality we’ve become accustomed to from other releases such as Musc Noble, Santal Royal and Cuir Intense.
The into is a gentle mix of fruit and spices (figs, black and pink pepper).
Thierry Wasser wanted a bright rendition of patchouli (instead of dark and mysterious) and he realizes that by combining it with a fresh and lemon-y rose.
It gathers sensual depth in the drydown, featuring a pronounced leather accord, with support from musks.
The overall effect is potent and suitably oriental in style.
Let’s put aside the name, shall we? And savour this 2020 release that’s apparently inspired by Tom Ford’s private rose garden. You’re not the only one trying to picture it.
It’s all earthy spiciness in the opening, with notes of black pepper and turmeric grabbing the attention.
Three varieties of rose – May, Turkish, Bulgarian – display the queen of florals at her most voluptuous and diverse.
Rose-patchouli is a popular combo and the herb gives this scent a dirty, musky edge.
Not as wild as its name suggests (where are the prickly thorns?), it’s nevertheless beautiful stuff.
Ex Nihilo the Hedonist EDP (Jordi Fernández)
When we first saw the name of the latest release (2021) from the Paris-based niche brand, Ex Nihilo The Hedonist, our minds started racing in all sorts of boozy, gourmand-ish directions.
Perhaps that’s why we didn’t click with this EDP from the Iconoclaste Collection at first. We were expecting something decadent, whereas it’s more about connecting with the joys of nature. Now that we’ve spent more time with it, we’re loving its distinctive simplicity.
It opens with fresh ‘n spicy notes of bergamot and ginger. And then gets really interesting with a large dose of Akigalawood. Perfumer Jordi Fernandez maximises the spicy-musky patchouli qualities of the synthetic Givaudan captive molecule with impressive results.
A fresh rendition of vetiver and cedar closes the tight and cohesive composition with style.
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Richard Goller is a fragrance and grooming blogger. His blog is called Fragroom. A senior editor with 20 years' experience, his blog allows him to combine two of his passions: engaging content and the always-intriguing world of fragrances. When he isn't blogging, you'll find Richard indulging in his newly found passion for balcony gardening.