Yes, I know: I wrote a short while ago that I didn’t want to smell like a place. And here I go, falling in love with just that sort of scent. Go figure. It’s a bit like when you say you can’t stand a guy, but then you discover you’ve got a massive crush on him. Perfume-loving as rom-com?
So last Friday, I pulled out a sample of Patchouli 24, Guerlain Bois d’Arménie’s evil twin, out of the untested samples box – and, lo-and-behold, spent the day elated. I worship at the altar of Annick Menardo’s Bulgari Black, one of the uncanniest mainstream masterpieces of the past decade, but somehow, I never gave more than a cursory sniff to her Le Labo offering – quite possibly because the dedicated counter of Colette, their Paris point of sale, is overseen by young ladies who are positively miserly with scent strips. Let’s not even mention samples (I’ve got to thank LuckyScent for that).
In The Guide, Luca Turin compares Patchouli 24 to the smell of a Russian scientific library filled with specimen jars brimming with toxic juices. I can’t say I’ve had the same experience, but I agree the scent exudes that deep, smoky, intoxicating vanilla smell you get from old books – not surprisingly since vanillin can be extracted from wood pulp. The delicious tarriness of guaiacol – a product present in wood smoke and obtained from beechwood tar, and the currently preferred source for the extraction of vanillin – adds a cosy books-by-the-fireplace glow to the blend. As for patchouli, its phenolic fumes feel a little buried in the smoke, but then, everybody’s said it already: the names of the Le Labo scents don’t mean much.
Whatever the 24 materials used in Patchouli 24 may be, they run the whole chain from the sweet balsamic (vanilla, styrax) to smoky (vanillin, guaiacol), on to medicinal (patchouli) and leathery (birch tar) to downright animalic (castoreum).
Patchouli 24 hovers between the edible quality of a slightly burnt caramel and the ballsiness of an aromatic chemistry demonstration. But then, Annick Menardo, the closest thing we’ve got to Germaine Cellier nowadays, is nothing if not one of the ballsiest perfume composers around.
Image: Photograph by Francesca Woodman, a remarkable artist who left us prematurely: I can only urge you to look up her evocative work.
Ah, lovely review.RépondreSupprimer
Great review! I've resisted Le Labo, but now that LuckyScent is carrying the line, I feel compelled to order some samples. I normally don't like patchouli, but since it doesn't seem to play a starring role in this, it just might work. Now, if only they'd release those darn City Exclusives...RépondreSupprimer
Dain: Thank you!RépondreSupprimer
Suzanne: the patchouli is really fleeting here, so you might want to give it a try.RépondreSupprimer
I'd love to try the city exclusives too, especially the musk and the gaïac (I wonder how it's treated: the gaïac in this Patchouli 24 makes a pretty strong appearance!).
Great review. Amazing photos--thank you for bringing the artist to our attention.RépondreSupprimer
I went sniffing at Le Labo once with a woman who put this on, breathed deeply and then said, with a beatific smile: "This is the exact smell of my pot-smoking college boyfriend's Indian bedspread." And I have smelled it thus, ever since.
Alyssa... Hm. Don't know if it would attract me, seen like that. Maybe it's because I never had a pot-smoking boyfriend... with a bedspread?RépondreSupprimer
Francesca Woodman's work is deeply compelling. Sadly, the dark mood of her photographs reflected her own state of mind and she took her own life in 1981. I plan to feature more of her amazing images: I've downloaded quite a few.
I felt a bit sad when I read your earlier post about not wanting to smell like a place, so to read this today made me smile. Now I'm dying to sample this one, too...you make it sound so intriguing!RépondreSupprimer
Hello, D! As you know, I love this Pachouli 24 -- it's probably my favourite so far out of the Le Labo line. I love that phenolic smell (but I grew up in and out of my father's lab, so that's not so surprising). However, it definitely smells more like a place than like a person...RépondreSupprimer
SuzanneK, it only goes to show... never say never with foods or perfumery!RépondreSupprimer
Jarvis, I'm the daughter of a scientist too... Could this be Oedipal? ;-)RépondreSupprimer
Well, I'm the son of a factory worker (oh, how lightly I wear my proletariat roots...;-)), but I love this too. I have a bottle which best not turn, as I only want to wear it a couple of times a year. It's often a little too much. But I grew up washing in coal tar soap, so perhaps that is the root of my love for this.RépondreSupprimer
You know, I have a little of the Gaiac somewhere if you want it, and a whole bottle of the Poivre. Contact me!
I'm not offering the bottle of Poivre - ha! - just a sample. I'm generous spirited, just not that generous spirited!RépondreSupprimer
Lee - not proletarian roots here, but go back a couple of generations and you'll find nothing but farmers, lumberjacks and railway workers. I'm a peasant, really!RépondreSupprimer
I think Patchouli 24 probably elicits strong emotional responses. And I agree it's not everyday wear. I'll contact you for the samples, thank you ever so much!
Annick Menardo rocks. Patch 24 is truly fabulous. Always happy to hear a good word said about her and her scents. And I am impressed by Le Labo generally, not everything is for me but almost all their scents are worthwhile. Thumbs up !!!RépondreSupprimer
Silvia, I am only now, belatedly, exploring the collection a little more seriously. I've always been a little annoyed with their "mix the oil with the alcohol in the shop" policy. It just doesn't make sense to me. And when I'm annoyed, well, I sulk... ;-)RépondreSupprimer
Denyse- I always think of it as the contemporary counterpart of Shalimar extrait. It is a masterpiece, and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else.RépondreSupprimer
C., I'd have said that was Bulgari Black. Can it be both? I'd actually much rather wear either than Shalimar, which is definitely overdone in this part of the world (though I can think of much worse best-sellers).RépondreSupprimer
Hi D, I've always wanted to love Black, but there's something in it that makes me sneeze, so I'm happy to hear that Patch 24, which I've loved (but also wear infrequently) for a couple of years now. It is the only LL offering I have any connection to, and it seems I'm not the only one. Do you detect any Patch in there, or is it just the spirit of Patchouli do you think???RépondreSupprimer
Wendy, there's some patch, just not a hell of a lot.RépondreSupprimer