Like steak tartare and designer logos, patchouli fragrances are something you either love or hate. If you’re in the latter camp, you might want to check out the newer, “cleaner” versions of patchouli, which smell significantly less overpowering than the heavy scents of yore, thanks to the addition of lighter notes such as fruits and flowers. Shiseido, for example, blends blue rose, grapefruit and peach with patchouli, resulting in the aptly named, calming fragrance Zen. Bond No. 9 adds patchouli to a creamy mix of sandalwood, spicy cardamom and sweet roasted almond for its softly sexy Lexington Avenue, the latest in its Andy Warhol series. Among patchouli’s biggest fans is Tom Ford, an avid user in his two years as a fragrance hawker. For his latest, he combined patchouli orpur (an amalgam of the words “origin” and “purity”) with rose, jasmine and peony to create the most ladylike patchouli-based scent ever: White Patchouli.
Revisiting the Orient
After a few years on the sidelines, spicy orientals are back. With bases of amber, musk or sandalwood, these potent scents call to mind ancient ruins or Moroccan markets. Mixed with fragrant flowers, they become floral orientals, which have also returned in full force. Calvin Klein Secret Obsession, Miller Harris Fleur Oriental, Ralph Lauren Notorious and Lancôme Magnifique all mix various flower notes with the spicy mainstays. Bulgari blends the night-blooming Sambac jasmine with woody notes, giving its Jasmin Noir a nuzzlingly sexy warmth. Those who’d rather have fewer flowers and more spice need look no further than the four new scents from Annick Goutal: Ambre Fetiche, Myrrhe Ardente, Musc Nomade and the smoky Encens Flamboyant, which pairs frankincense with black pepper and rose berry.
Devising a scent that appeals to both genders is harder than you might think: CK One is considered the rare success story, and it was launched 14 years ago. But now Salvatore Ferragamo has taken up the challenge with Tuscan Soul, mixing fig tree wood with the lemony Petit Grain to create a clean, zesty scent reminiscent of unisex hits like Eau d’Hermès and Acqua di Parma. Banana Republic, on the other hand, added cedarwood and teak to Classic, its 13-year-old original scent for women, and rejiggered some of its ingredients to give its new Limited Edition Classic a bolder allure. Frédéric Malle, founder of the eponymous Editions de Parfums, observes that the fragrance world has always experimented with notions of masculine and feminine. “Miss Dior is more than 50 years old, and it’s full of very masculine notes,” he says. “When perfumers want to portray classic elegance, they go into this slightly masculine world, use those wooden notes, then dress them up with softer things, like musk and vanilla. Estée Lauder’s new Sensuous is a perfect example of this. The notes are mostly cedar and sandalwood, but then they added a bit of musk and some sweeter notes.” He likens fragrance to fashion: “Saint Laurent didn’t exactly do men’s suits, but he changed the collars, made the lines more frail and the pants more free-floating, and suddenly, it became a woman’s suit.”