“The Happy Hippie King” in a bright Hawaiian shirt, smiling and affable in his patchouli warmth. The sweetness of white flowers, laced with darkness and spices, then encased in amber. Those are two very different images, but they are both parts of Patchouliful, a paradoxical scent that starts out as one thing before transitioning into another. It’s almost as if the fragrance were split in two, first echoing a true patchouli scent like Santa Maria Novella‘s Patchouli before turning into a very close replica of the orange blossom, tobacco, myrrh fragrance inspired by George Sand, Jardins d’Ecrivains‘ George. Regardless of the split focus (or identity), all of it is beautifully done with Italian polish in a smooth, high quality, and very appealing scent from a house that has really piqued my interest.
Patchouliful is an eau de parfum from Laboratorio Olfattivo, an Italian house based in Rome that was founded in 2010 by Roberto Drago. We saw his hand yesterday in Van-ile, the wonderful vanilla scent from Jacques Zolty, a brand which Mr. Drago took over in 2014. So far, I’m impressed with the results of his creative direction because all the things he puts out are very wearable, easygoing, good quality, and reasonably priced. (A third fragrance called Kashnoir that I hope to review soon caught my breath as a wonderful cousin to vintage Shalimar with all the latter’s former smooth beauty, and none of the hideous screeching synthetics of the modern version.)
Spicy, brown patchouli isn’t always the easiest note for people and it has a terrible reputation left over from the 1970s, which may be one reason why Mr. Drago did not want Patchouliful to be a hardcore soliflore, but a refined, “bright” interpretation where the main note ebbs and flows like a wave, and where the scent as a whole feels like “The Happy Hippie King.” On its website, Laboratorio Olfattivo has a long description of the scent, but it is in Italian with no English counterpart. However, Mr. Drago spoke in detail about the scent in an interview with Fragrantica, and I think his comments are significant. For one thing, they accurately describe Patchouliful’s unusual movement on my skin. Long before I ever read that interview, my notes for Patchouliful are filled with references to how the patchouli waxes and wanes like a wave, often playing peekaboo and feeling almost like a mirage at times in the opening moments. Apparently, all of that was intentional:
I wanted the royal patchouli with a happy spirit, the really happy one. Not rough and earthy, but luminous, refined and happy. The bright fragrance you can see through, not The Patchouli Wall. And the image I created for it—The Happy Hippie King.
I like a patchouli note and tried many patchouli-based perfumes, but never liked the fragrances of other brands created around it. […][¶]
I feel the perfume like a wave—it never stands still, it breathes, it changes every time you pay attention to it. You smell patchouli that plays hide and seek with other notes, it hides away and you feel the other notes, and then it appears again in different accords. It’s always undergoing some never-ending evolution.
The starting point for the scent turns out to be an entry in the Urban Dictionary, where Mr. Drago found the word “Patchouliful” which supposedly means “More than beautiful” in English slang. (I’ve never heard that.) He worked on the scent with several perfumers for more than two years. Cécile Zakorian was one of the noses and she eventually created the Goldilocks version that fit Mr. Drago’s vision, a scent where the patchouli was not too heavy and powerful, but not too diluted, either:
[W]e were working with Cecile, but she was not the only perfumer who was on the charge. And we got different takes on the idea, but some of them were too patchouli-centered, and others were so different from patchouli, masked by other notes. My vision was right in the middle of the two approaches—I need The King of Patchouli, with a bright, open Hawaiian shirt, bearded and smiling, easy-going happiness.
Patchouliful was released in 2014, and is an eau de parfum with 15% concentration. Its notes are:
Bergamot, Cinnamon, Cloves, Frangipani, Iris, Patchouli, Cedarwood, Cistus [labdanum amber], Musks.
Patchouliful opens on my skin with a clean, refined, smooth patchouli infused with warm, almost toffee’d labdanum amber that is surprisingly luminous for all its richness. The conjoined notes are blanketed by a thick layer of sweet cinnamon, sprinkled with a pinch of cloves, then placed between two strong book-ends: on the one side, bergamot that smells exactly like the aromatic sort in Earl Grey Tea; on the other, a balanced, aromatic, and fresh cedar note. From afar, Patchouliful is a stunningly beautiful, spicy woody patchouli with cinnamon and Earl Grey tea, all within a gold-red cocoon. Yet, something about the titular note truly does seem to shimmer like a bit of a mirage, just as Mr. Drago described in his Fragrantica interview. It’s not merely the fact that the patchouli is incredibly airy (but robust); it’s that it seems to billow and weave in and out of the notes, playing peekaboo behind the bergamot and spices.
There is another player behind which the patchouli hides as well: a quiet booziness that seems almost fruity, like a citrus-orange cognac. In my first test, it appeared right from the start, and overshadowed the patchouli quite often. In other tests, though, it took longer for the note to show up, 20 minutes on occasion, sometimes longer in a truly concrete, distinct way. In all cases, however, the patchouli waxes and wanes, surging back into view as solid and strong as incoming tides before retreating back out to sea to let the other notes shine briefly. All of this is happening in a scent with paradoxical contrasts. Patchouliful is airy and rich; light but strong; perfectly balanced between all the main notes, while also focused clearly on the patchouli.
The deft treatment draws me back again and again, as I revel in the absolutely beautiful combination of cinnamon and patchouli, or in a citrus note that is my ideal version of bergamot. In my experience, Earl Grey is an incredibly rare sort of bergamot aroma. All too often, I find the note in modern perfumery to be either screechy or too much like sharp, acidic lemons. (Guerlain’s bergamot is so hideously cheap, thin, and unpleasant these days, it’s ruined quite a number of their classics releases for me. I’ve heard Thierry Wasser is unhappy with the quality as well but LVMH wants to keep costs low.) Very few have the aromatic quality that is the signature scent of Earl Grey tea. I suspect this version is a very refined bergamot that is probably quite expensive.
And one thing that I’m noticing again and again from all the fragrances coming out of Mr. Drago’s direction is that the ingredients consistently smell expensive or are very good quality. They are all smooth, refined, and without the chemical twinges of cheap synthetics. Every time I try one of his creations (whether from the Laboratorio Olfattivo line or from Jacques Zolty), I keep wondering how on earth they are priced between €89 and €94?! Given all the cheap, heavily synthetic crap that I keep testing for $200 and up, I’m amazed and thoroughly impressed. Really, I want to say here and now to Mr. Drago: “Bravo! Your perfumes are clearly derived from a love of perfumery, not greed.”
Patchouliful’s bouquet is filled with great pairings. The Earl Grey bergamot is lavished in spades, and works well with the cinnamon as well as the patchouli. The latter is ideal with both the cinnamon and the cedar, particularly because of how refined the patchouli is here. True, original, brown patchouli (as opposed to the revolting fruitchouli purple crap that is so common in commercial fragrances) has a number of different, potential facets, from smoky and spicy, to earthy tobacco’d, leathery, camphorous and medicinal, dusty, oily, green, woody, boozy, and/or chocolate-like. Here, it is primarily spicy, sweetened, lightly boozy, and flecked with the faintest suggestion of smoky woods. There is no dustiness akin to an old box in an ancient attic, no mentholated greenness, oily blackness, or hippie earthiness. It is a heavily filtered patchouli that feels wonderfully smooth and positively supple, like red-gold suede. Much of that has to do with the labdanum, I think, which adds warmth and just enough sweetness to trigger the cognac. The latter is initially quite mild, and nothing as profound as the booziness in Oriza‘s Horizon or Jovoy‘s Psychedelique, though it does eventually grow stronger.
Roughly 30 minutes into its development, Patchouliful suddenly changes gears. The patchouli’s waxing and waning peekaboo game ends, and the fragrance turns into a full-on patchouli soliflore that is thoroughly infused with Earl Grey bergamot, boozy cognac, and cinnamon, flecked with tiny slivers of cedar, then nestled within a warm, golden embrace. Despite the mix of other elements, what the fragrance reminds me of is the late stages of Santa Maria Novella‘s Patchouli, only this one is slightly fruity, more ambered, a hair sweeter, and warmer. I think it’s the refined depth, smoothness, and richness of the patchouli that triggers the thought, something about the way that Patchouliful envelops you in a shimmering red-gold cocoon, just as the SMN does. It’s beautiful, and compulsively sniffable, leading me to wonder a few times at this point if I should get a full bottle.
Yet, as I noted at the start, Patchouliful has a dual focus, almost as if it were two, very different fragrances in one bottle. The second half of the story begins at the start of the 2nd hour when the plumeria (frangipani) arrives. At first, it smells abstract, merely like white flowers with sweetness. Still, it changes the direction of Patchouliful, moving it far away from a traditional patchouli soliflore. What surprises me is that something about the combination of the flowers with the boozy fruitiness results in the smell of syrupy orange blossoms, rather than frangipani with its humid, almost buttery, tropical and pastel liquidity. Even more surprising is that the effect of such patchouli-spiced “orange blossoms” is to suddenly turn Patchouliful into a really close cousin of Jardin d’Ecrivains‘ George and, then, later, into its identical twin.
George is a fragrance inspired by George Sand, the famous 19th century female writer who dressed like a man, and it is not a patchouli scent at all. Rather, it has neroli orange blossoms, bergamot, “coffee,” and tobacco, laced with smoky myrrh and heliotrope, atop a Peru balsam base. Many of those notes share common facets with the notes in Patchouliful, from the smoky and spiced to the leathery, woody, and resinously warm — and it is the only explanation I have for why a patchouli, woody, amber scent is virtually identical to one without those elements. I’ve tested Patchouliful three times and, each time, when the second stage kicked in, I thought immediately of George. I own a bottle of the latter, so I did a side by side test, and the two fragrances were virtually indistinguishable from their middle stages onwards. Perhaps things would be different if Patchouliful’s frangipani note manifested itself clearly on my skin, but it simply doesn’t. It mixes with the other notes to create a sweet, slightly syrupy, fruited floralcy that reads purely as “orange blossom.”
At the start of the third hour, Patchouliful is a smooth, polished mix of spicy, clean patchouli and sweet “orange blossoms” atop a lightly boozy, ambered, resinous base. The cedar and cinnamon are fully fused within the patchouli which is now emitting a slightly smoky darkness as well. Hints of suede-like softness and vaguely rooty creaminess appear in the background, but they don’t actually smell like iris. All they do is to strengthen the similarity to George whose leather was more akin to suede and tonka-coumarin creaminess. The difference is that Patchouliful’s floral, dark, boozy, and creamy notes are constantly fluctuating in both their intensity and prominence, while they stayed more level in George.
An hour later, Patchouliful has turned into George’s identical twin. There is even a slightly powdered, almost candied floral element that, in George, stemmed from the heliotrope and, in Patchouliful, must come from the iris. From afar, the perfume smells primarily like a spicy, lightly smoky, “orange blossom” patchouli with resinous, golden warmth. Up close, the individual notes are more noticeable, but not by much because everything is starting to fuse into one. The base seems to have the most layers, emitting a darkness that smells quite a bit like tobacco as well as resinous quality similar to Tolu balsam. Up top, the floral note is very sweet now, though it is not precisely syrupy in nature. The patchouli is turning hazier and thinner. Actually, the perfume feels thinner and lighter as a whole and, 4.25 hours in, it is almost a skin scent.
Patchouliful mirrors George all the way through to its final moments. The creaminess grows stronger, feeling exactly like tonka more than anything to do with iris, and starts to swallow up the floral “orange blossom.” As the perfume’s floral side fades, so does the individual clarity of the patchouli and labdanum. They melt into one, resulting in a blurry haze of spicy, warm sweetness with a vestige of patchouli-ish woodiness about it. In its final moments, Patchouliful is merely a sliver of spiced, sweet, golden creaminess.
Patchouliful has very good longevity, sillage, and projection. Using 3 large smears equal to 2 sprays from an actual bottle, the perfume opened with 4 inches of projection but about half a foot of sillage. The cloud felt airy but strong, and sent out tendrils even when I didn’t move. The projection dropped to 2 inches after 2.5 hours, and became a skin scent 4.5 hours into Patchouliful’s development. However, it was still easy to detect the fragrance up close at the end of the 7th hour. All in all, Patchouliful consistently lasted between 10.5 and 11.5 hours, depending on whether I sprayed or dabbed. My atomiser was difficult to use and seemed to spray very wide off the mark, so I’m giving you the more precise quantity estimates from my test when I smeared the fragrance, rather than sprayed it.
Laboratorio Olfattivo isn’t a brand that seems to get much attention, but there are a few positive reviews for Patchouliful out there. Mark Behnke of Colognoisseur really appreciated the shimmering quality of the titular note, writing in part:
Mme Zarokian starts Patchouliful off with a beautifully balanced spicy duet of cinnamon and clove. She keeps them floating on the surface of things and once you see underneath you are greeted by orris, frangipani and the expected patchouli. The clove, in particular, persists into the floral heart. The orris and frangipani form a slightly green floral bouquet. The patchouli is added in such a way that it seems to be playing hide and seek in among the spices and flowers. For quite a while it never seems like the patchouli will gain the upper hand. Later on in the development it does and it lands on a base of cedar, labdanum, and musk. Mme Zarokian leaves the ending as opaque as the middle phase of development was.
There is a different take on the scent from Serguey Borisov of Fragrantica, who ended his interview with Roberto Drago by sharing some of his impressions:
I feel Patchouliful Laboratorio Olfattivo like an easy breezy patchouli that starts with fresh citrus mixed with the spicy eugenol of cinnamon-clove. Then powdery notes of orris make it gray, cloudy and ambrein-ambrox-like—think of animalic ambergris on steroids. Powdery patchouli is a great idea—it smells like morning in an old charming Venetian palace after a masquerade last night. Like old woods and dusty stones. Or, sometimes that old luxurious feeling changes into the cuddly feel of a cup of hot chocolate, made unsweetened.
Also, when you warm it up with your breath or with physical training, Patchouliful chooses a hot, resinous amber road (cistus+patchouli+vanilla = oriental amber), and one can smell powdery clove and hot fiery cinnamon when they make their returns upon the ambery sillage. And then suddenly appear cold dusty bags of flour and wet sawdust, and then maybe warm bricks of steps to sit down and enjoy a sunset in Mumbai. And maybe an old cognac barrel smell or some dark chocolate powder.
On Patchouliful’s Fragrantica page, there is a third, completely different interpretation of the scent. It is in Italian and, using Google Translate, the gist seems to be that this is a beautiful fragrance for those who don’t actually like patchouli, not only because it is a highly refined note here but also because the perfume is primarily a frangipani patchouli scent. The translation is:
A patchouli for those who do not like patchouli.
And ‘that is a patchouli unorthodox, that will not appeal to the “purists” … It’ a patchouli which was taken off the bumps, each pungent earthiness, each plug … It ‘been sanded and made smiling frangipani, cinnamon and cloves.
Perfume dolcefiorito, energetic, effervescent.
A patchouli rejuvenated, refreshed by cedar.
For those who live waiting for spring, capturing a small advance..
I agree that Patchouliful may not assuage a purist’s hunger for a hardcore treatment of the main note, first because it has been very refined with a lot of its grit filtered out and, second, because the perfume has quite a significant bright, sweet floralcy for much of its life. That makes it more of an oriental (or floriental?) than a true patchouli soliflore, in my opinion.
While I’m a hardcore patch head, I didn’t mind at all. I thought Patchouliful was so lovely that I would have bought a bottle for myself if I didn’t already own George. For me, Patchouliful is just too similar from the third hour onwards. That said, it is so appealing from start to finish that I do think you should give a try if you are a patchouli lover. I say that even if you own George because, on your skin, perhaps it won’t turn into a twin and may have more differences.
If you aren’t a hardcore patch head, you may be still be pleasantly surprised by Patchouliful because this is not a dirty, hippie, grungy patchouli from the Woodstock era. As the Fragrantica poster said, this is a patchouli for those who usually hate the note. I think it is for people like you that Patchouli has its shimmering quality, as well as the first two hours with the superb Earl Grey bergamot and the copious cinnamon in its ambered cocoon. The subsequent (brief) similarity to Santa Maria Novella’s Patchouli is as lovely as the main heart stage where the spicy patchouli vies with floral sweetness and creamy suede atop a darker, resinous base. It may not be the most distinctive, original, edgy fragrance around, but I don’t think that was Roberto Drago’s goal — and there is nothing wrong with enjoyable easiness and, in this case, a happy, sweet disposition, so long as the price and quality match.
Here, as with Van-ile, they do. Patchouliful is reasonably priced for its size, quality, and smoothness. A large 100 ml bottle costs €94 or $140. (At the current Euro levels, it may be cheaper to buy it from Europe where the 19% VAT tax is deducted to make the perfume roughly €76 before currency conversion.) Okay, samples aren’t the easiest to obtain, but First in Fragrance offers a very generous 2.5 or 3 ml mini atomiser for only €4. So, if you’re a patch head or someone who loves spicy, ambered floral orientals, I hope you will consider giving Patchouliful a try.