“Oh, that cr*p stinks patchouli!”, “smells like a dirty hippie at a New Age shop” - these glorious reviews you can spot now and then at perfume forums, mostly written by rookie perfumistas, and mostly by those who neither ever encountered the essential oil of patchouli, nor any real (even pretty much clean) hippies. But hey, it’s all good - the earthy scent of patchouli has always been followed by a special reputation. And just like reckless Joan Jett, it most likely never gave a damn about it.
Well, even the original purpose of using patchouli was sort of rebellious: in India, the homeland of the patchouli plant, its aromatic leaves were used to…repel moth. And that was exactly the reason why patchouli arrived in Europe in the 19th century. While transporting exotic cashmere shawls from India to England and France by boat, the merchants had to place patchouli leaves between them. Otherwise, the long journey would leave the moth plenty of time to feast on delicious (and damn expensive!) fabric.
But from here the story takes an unexpected twist: surprisingly, the patchouli-scented shawls gained huge popularity among the customers, who would gladly even pay a little bit extra to get a “scented” version rather than a plain one. Hello, the olfactory marketing! Just a few decades later patchouli became the most popular odourant: it was mostly used on handkerchiefs (not always on the skin directly), and even got plenty of noble mentions in contemporary literature. The new trend was born, desirable for some and odious for others (moth included).
But this wasn’t a happy end. As it happens to many fashion trends, slowly but surely, patchouli’s reputation was going downhill. Closer to the end of the 19th century, patchouli was associated with the certain type of decadent mistresses who would use the strong scent to “mark” their victims (so the wives knew exactly where the spouses spent the last night) and French prostitutes. Nope, the well-respected lady couldn’t smell like sultry patchouli or animal musk - quelle indécence! - only violets, iris, and roses. Patchouli became an aphrodisiac - provoking, forbidden, and almost forgotten. Until the late ’60s when the aromatic potion was rediscovered again.
The 1960s and Flower Power movement was a time of huge interest in spiritual practices. More and more young people were turning their heads towards the East, searching for inspiration and new spiritual experiences. Once a group of young American travelers returned from one of those spiritual trips to Nepal with their backpacks full of patchouli and marijuana. Both patchouli (as burning incense or aromatherapy) and marijuana (as weed), were quickly adopted by the growing hippie community. One became impossible without another - two equal elements of one self-discovery journey. And with the growing interest in DIY as a part of the new counterculture, patchouli oil was commonly used as a component for “mix it yourself” perfumes. Even when combined with other essential oils (like rose or vanilla), potent and concentrated patchouli oil won’t let them stand a chance, totally stealing the scene. Hence it quickly became that signature “hippie scent”, associated exclusively with the young representers of the counterculture. And, according to the memories of the witnesses, the whole Woodstock’69 was smelling patchouli…
Repellent, Aphrodisiac, Counterculture - patchouli has done it all and still keeps on rocking. What a cocky bastard, huh? And that’s exactly why we love it - you’ll feel a sweet punch of patchouli in most of Room 1015 fragrances, maybe not as a solo, but like a damn good bassline. So don’t be afraid of the “hippie scent” - embrace it and party like it’s 1969 again. Peace.