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Bombay Duck London

The 12 Scents of Christmas No. 3: Etro Patchouly

The Scent Critic’s husband is probably partly to thank for this earthy Etro creation.  Once upon a time, long, long ago, he was the first person to import patchouli oil into the UK, catering to the hippies who all but drenched themselves in it – probably to disguise the aromas wafting from their Afghan coats, the trend for which he’s also somewhat bizarrely responsible for.  (The Afghans that my husband pioneeringly imported, in 1966, didn’t whiff.  They were actually the exquisitely-embroidered ones The Beatles wore on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, for your info.  But other less discerning importers swiftly followed suit, with the result that huge swathes of West London smelled mostly of goat – and patchouli – for some years.  By then, my husband had moved on to introducing those same hippies to brown rice, tamari and seaweed.  The Beatles liked those, too.)

Funnily enough, as a mere waif of a school-dodging teenager, I used to buy that self-same patchouli oil from Kensington Market, and I’ve been a sucker for its exoticism ever since.  I can’t say that Etro’s take on patchouli is that much more complex than that particular oil, at first whiff.  (Probably why I like it.)  There’s some wormwood (artemesia), which makes for a distinctive dryness.  A little grated orange peel of a note.  And there are other spices in there – indeterminate, maybe a hint of nutmeg or clove, a sort of mince-pie-esque air that makes this pretty seasonal, to me.  (Which is how come I’ve listed it for Christmas.)

Patchouly has been around for a while:  one of the creations from the Italian fashion house Etro, whose signature fabrics are beautifully-woven swirling paisley silks and wools.  Etro are all about clothes for the 21st century’s luxury vagabond:  the modern-day hippie who yes, heads to Rajasthan – but probably by private jet rather than VW bus.  So Patchouly is basically one part ashram, one part hip hotel.  (And I love the plain aesthetic of the bottle, too:  chunky glass, with an equally chunky silver top.  Very unisex, which this most definitely is – though actually, some websites categorise it as a men’s scent.  I disagree.)

For much of its lifespan on the skin, it’s overwhelmingly woody: think 100-year-old trunk hauled home from an Arabic souk.  There’s a slight mustiness as it segues through its different stages – but that’s characteristic of patchouli oil, too.  I’d say this is a bit of a forerunner to the current so-fashionable oud wood scents that are increasingly making their fragrant mark.  Then after a few hours, the woodsiness becomes an elusive memory.  It certainly exactly linger like the last drunken guest you can’t get rid of at a Christmas ‘do’:  it’s got its coat on sharpish and is out the door.  What’s left is a soft ambery quality, with a soupcon of sandalwood – almost a condensed-milkiness, actually.  Sweet, edible, nicely moreish, sophisticated and feminine.  Not boyish at all!

A tip on the web makes this fragrance even more interesting.  In my meanderings through cyberspace, I read that Etro Patchouly is great layered under – oh, just about any other scent.  So I tried it, and yes:  it basically ups the ‘mysteriousness’ of other perfumes.  Deepens them.  (Like adding black to a kid’s poster paints.)  How I found this out for myself is by spraying it onto a polo neck into which The Scent Critic’s first two Scents of Christmas had infused – and let me tell you, as the icing on a sweet, powdery cake of Shalimar Ode à la Vanille and Dana Tabu, it’s absolutely magnificent.  (I know it seems like sacrilege to play with perfumes like this – and most ‘noses’ would need smelling salts if you suggested such a thing – but it’s amazing the results you can get.)

Just in case you’re wondering, this also gets the thumbs-up from Mr. Patchouli himself – though he’s sticking to his precious oil.  There’s a bottle in our bathroom cupboard that dates back to the 60s, which occasionally gets dabbed behind an ear – just about his only foray into fragrance.  (The upside of this is plenty room in the bathroom for my array of bottles.)  Astonishingly, that patchouli smells just as good as it did back then.

And I’ll let you know, in oh, around 40 years, if the same is true of Etro’s version…

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