le Labo Patchouli 24, 2006

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Perfumer Annick Ménardo

A review of le Labo Patchouli 24, a salute to Bvlgari Black and, I suppose, a fan letter to Anick Ménardo.

If I find a genre of perfume that I like, I embrace it. I stock up. With Patchouli 24, I’ve cornered the market on the smokey-leather-tea-patchouli-resinous-vanilla genre. I already own two others in the category:  Bvlgari Black and Tauer Perfumes Lonestar Memories.

When comparing apples to apples, the small differences carry great weight, and decision making is easy. I wear all three perfumes regularly and never have the least difficulty choosing which one to wear on any given day.

Lonestar, Black and Patch 24 share a number of notes and in fact could look similar on paper. But notes and verbal descriptors have little to do with the experience of wearing these perfumes. Lonestar takes a sense of intention and deliberation to wear and when the stars align wearing Lonestar pays dividends. Bvlgari Black, less rough than Lonestar and more tailored than Patchouli 24, is the star of the three. Lonestar is rugged and Patchouli 24 is dense, but both perfumes result from the blending of their notes. (There was a television ad in the late 1970s for a dog treat that coined the repulsive phrase, “crun-chewy” thereby solving, I suppose, a millenia-long  dilemma in the canine world) By this logic the term for Patch 24 and Lonestar’s  synergy would be “am-birch-tar-y.”

But Black’s motivation isn’t blend. The notes don’t sacrifice their identities to the perfume. Black thrives on difference. The constituent parts complement each other but keep their boundaries intact. Ménardo’s model of abstraction, shown in both  Patchouli 24 and Black, favors execution over allusion and portrayal. It doesn’t create a harmony that smooths the lines between notes. The pleasure I feel wearing Black is like the reassurance of perfectly milled locks and keys. Weighted movement without friction and the satisfying click’ of perfect engineering.

I group these three perfumes together not simply for the notes they contain or the leather sub-genre they create. The line that runs through them is an unexpected sweetness. Black’s sweetness is the charm that results from amber, rubber and powder.  Inedible, delectable. In Lonestar’s the sharp edge of tar, blanched white florals and and uncut vanilla extract takes you 9/10 of the way to the satisfaction of sweetness and makes you complete the picture for yourself. Patchouli 24’s sweetness is the key to its affability. It triggers perceptions of lushness and the sense of having satisfied a craving, but it never once falls into gourmand territory. This sweetness is the reassurance of safety in a perfume that asks you to be comfortable in threatening territory. It lets you sit at the center of the perfume without fear of either falling into the gourmand trap or of  being bitten by the big, bad, tarry wolf.

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