Patchouli is a famous ingredient in the history of perfumery, and it is intimately linked to the one of Carrément Belle. Coming from Indonesia, this plant fascinates and inspires the greatest perfumers for several decades. Filled with myths and symbol of love and freedom, this essence is revealed in a thousand and one ways in fragrant compositions. Discover the origin of patchouli, its journey through the centuries and the secrets of this iconic raw material…
The origin of patchouli
A perfume coming from far away
The history of patchouli is made of travel. Native to Indonesia and Malaysia, patchouli is a plant that resembles a shrub about one meter high. Carried by a hairy stem, this plant is adorned with white flowers with purple shades. It also has large, fluffy, mint like leaves. Fresh, the plant is almost odorless. You will need to dry its leaves to start smelling its characteristic fragrance. Patchouli is used for medicinal purposes, in cooking and even in magic to help you succeed financially or in love! Still today, it is cultivated in Indonesia but also in China and the Philippines.
From the leaf to the essence
Patchouli essence is one of the most widely used natural raw materials in perfumery along with citrus fruits. Each year, the world production of patchouli essential oil is around 1500 tons, 90% of which comes directly from Indonesia. To obtain this precious essence, the first step is to dry the leaves of the plant for a few days in the shade, making sure that they do not ferment. Once dry, the leaves are treated by steam distillation for several hours. It takes 250 kg of fresh leaves to obtain 50 kg of dry patchouli, from which 1 kg of essential oil can be extracted. The oil extracted from the leaf is concentrated to about 40% of an odorous molecule: patchoulol.
But what is behind this molecule? A woody note, of course, but also earthy and moist emanations coming from its roots. Patchouli can evoke hints of mildew, reminiscent of over-ripe apples or wine corks. So, for perfumers, it is all about dosage and combination to bring out these different facets in a composition.
The journey of patchouli
Patchouli, origin of a sensual perfume
The origin of patchouli in perfumery is quite surprising. Thanks to their anti-moth and anti-vermin properties, patchouli leaves are imported to Europe through the Silk Road. From the middle of the 19th century, it was thus introduced in England and quickly seduced the bourgeoisie. The dried leaves become one of the main elements used in the making of potpourri during the Victorian era. At this time, perfuming your interior was the height of refinement!
In France during the Second Empire, the demand for silk became more and more important and precious fabrics began to be imported from India and Indonesia. To protect them from moths during their long travels by boat, the shawls are wrapped in patchouli leaves. Then, there are presented in the most beautiful Parisian boutiques. Some shawls having more success than others, we finally understand that women choose them not because of their patterns, but because of their smell, purchasing those impregnated with the smell of patchouli leaf!
Patchouli then entered the perfume industry. It was quickly associated with the « demi-mondaines », these women called “cocottes” and who were looked after by wealthy Parisians. Sometimes too heavily dosed, but above all very daring, patchouli will remain for a long time associated with the expression “ça cocotte” in French, to denigrate its olfactory power, but above all the women who wore it! Very quickly, it became the perfume of seduction thanks to its bewitching scent.
From Coty to the hippies
Perfumers use patchouli as a fixative for more volatile notes, thanks to its power of stability. By fear of making their compositions too heavy, patchouli is never on the foreground. It was not until 1917, when François Coty put patchouli in the spotlight in his famous Chypre, which paved the way for a new olfactory family. Patchouli is found alongside bergamot and oak moss in particular.
But it was really in the 60s and 70s that patchouli became iconic. The entire hippie generation bought small glass bottles filled with patchouli essence, often of poor quality and generally very powerful. If it embodies a new spirituality coming from the East and sexual liberation, its extract is often used to cover the emanations of another well-known herb of the time… Subversive and seductive, it becomes the symbol of all this youthful rebellion that advocates peace, freedom and all kind of travels. Hippies men and women perfume themselves with patchouli fragrances, and the patchouli flower embodies the “flower power”.
Disenchantment and great comeback
Overdosed, the woody and earthy scents of this overpowering patchouli will eventually make people bored. It will almost disappear from the compositions to make way for fresher, more marine smells in the 80s. But this tropical plant certainly had not said its last word. It will make its great comeback in the early 90s. This time again, perfumers think patchouli outside the box and combine it with more gourmand ingredients. It becomes the central accord in magnificent creations for women and men alike. Even today, patchouli remains an ingredient that leaves no one indifferent.
Patchouli at Carrément Belle
Since the creation of Carrément Belle, patchouli has been an ingredient that sticks to our skin and is rich in memories. That’s how the first fragrance in our Collection was born in 1988: ippi patchouli. Its woody and earthy fragrance will take you back in time with this “ippi” generation. Behind its resinous notes, you will discover sweet, floral nuances and a deliciously musky base. A trail that will turn all heads! 30 years later, to pay tribute to this fragrance that has become an icon in our little history, we unveiled ippi patchouli clair. Patchouli is still there, soften by citrusy and gourmand shades. In between, we’ve created kilim, a floral, oriental patchouli that will take you to the gates of the Orient. Things always come in threes.
Did you know the origin of patchouli? Do you like fragrances built around this ingredient?