Patchouli 24 (Le Labo)

Composed by Annick Ménardo of Bulgari Black fame, Patchouli 24 is an infernal little haiku on the subject of brimstone and treacle. To begin with, its star ingredient (a rich ganache variety of the usual hippie pong) has been joined to a huge, sooty mesquite note alchemically forged between birch and cade tars. It's not often that patchouli gets married to leather or smoke-- let alone both at the same time. Makes you wonder if the ceremony took place at a lonesome crossroads at the stroke of midnight.

According to Julia Lawless' Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, cade (Juniperus oxycedrus) is a European variant of the worldwide juniper family whose tar is rich in both guaiacol and cresol. Once rectified, it produces a smoky 'leather' scent comparable to that of Russian birch tar, with which it is paired here. The phenolic duet these two play is saved from harshness by a nice, deep vanilla accord buried in Patchouli 24's base, which sends up riffs of tamarind candy and sweet liqueur whenever things start charring black around the edges.

The light amber color of the sample I'm wearing (provided to me by the wonderful Suzanne) indicates that it is a recent vintage. Earlier incarnations of Patchouli 24 contained crude cade oil, which lent the perfume a deep amber tone. In its disclaimer, Le Labo maintains that it would have preferred to stick with the crude cade for both its scent and its hue and declares the change heartbreaking but necessary. (In their words, "we have no choice".) However, they also assure us that the switch to a fully rectified cade oil guarantees a bump in overall purity and very little change in scent, and -- one imagines -- enough of a health safeguard to satisfy those who see the ghosts of toxicity hiding behind every curtain.

The upshot? Patchouli 24 is at once sweet, sour, spicy, warm, bizarrely medicinal, and singularly sensual. It wears like an aromatic ointment of ancient make, unearthed and found to be as fresh as the day it was bottled a millenium ago. Everything rests on what you divine its purpose to have been-- on one day, it seems it could have been made solely to comfort; on another day, to arouse and inflame.

With characteristic concision -- sancta simplicitas! -- Ménardo has liberated patchouli from the usual morass of clichés and released it into a diabolical new realm of associations.

Scent Elements: Patchouli, cade, birch tar, styrax, vanilla