Sunday, June 26, 2011

Peace, Love, and Patchouli; or, How I Came to Love the Patch Without Really Trying

Where were you in the Summer of Love?

Where ARE you in the Summer of Patchouli Love?


Learning how to read.  (My mother reports my first word was B-A-R.  Which says more about the nightly route we took to pick up my father from work than my adult habits.  I think.)

Right here being a Patch Test Bunny.

Let the wild association ride begin.

First of all, you will recall that I have evolved in my relationship with bunnies in a manner not hospitable to things furry and occasionally named Harvey.  (To wit, I "went McGregor," as detailed here.)  So as cute and cuddly as that long eared creature in the lower right hand corner of the lovely logo is, I am perhaps better represented as a bunny with quills.  Wait a minute...if *I* am the bunny...shoot! I need to go McGregor on myself!!

Which, as it so happens, is just the metaphor for what my greatest fear involving patchouli involves.  I would not, you see, describe myself as a patchouli fan.  It would be on my Do Not Go There list.  Of course, vetiver used to be on the same list.  Then I found two perfumes that opened the door for me (Vetiver Dance and Vetiver Racinettes), and once the door was ajar, other vetiver scents found a way to happily enter my awareness.

So, when I was invited to join the bunnies in the patch(ouli), I accepted.  Because I knew that evolution happens.  Plus, despite the still strong memory of my first introduction to patchouli (a friend's older sibling saying it smelled really cool, PLUS it had the benefit of covering over other, non-parent sanctioned smells), I had already pushed the patchouli door open a bit thanks to Chanel's Coromandel.  Difficult, prickly, fascinating, siren-calling, multiple-wearing inducing, full of facets, eventually and quite precipitously smooth as a multi-varnished and buffed piece of warm wood, Coromandel had already taught me I could enjoy patchouli, in the right setting.

Therefore, I said yes.  And waited for thirteen interpretations, thirteen settings, thirteen couchings, thirteen portraits of patchouli.

Thus began my personal patchouli dismantling.

Each of the lovely little roll on samples you see there came individually wrapped, labeled only by number.  (The numbers, btw, skipped #9, so as to avoid 6 / 9 confusion, which I loved.)  Rather than unwrapping them all, and then selecting by juice, I simply reached in blindly, and picked one at a time.  Unwrap, roll apply, sniff, note, huff, note, wait, huff, note, repeat.

Day One.  Numbers 2, 10, 5, 1, 6, and 11, in that order.  Rare is the day when I will sample so many scents at once.  But fate impelled me, and my sniffer cycle was on my side.  I knew I was in a good place for multiple huffings, and with another eight scents to go, the combination of bare arm weather + not headache triggerable + deadline pressure pushed me to go forward.  And so I did.

I returned to former standards and practices, cracking open a blank journal and using the primitive self-drawn diagram + notes method that made an appearance here --gadzooks! time flies-- almost three years ago.  Check it, dude.  Participating in a project that evoked impressions of the free flowing summer of love forced me to get my [one of George Carlin's seven words] together again.  Who knew?  Wild, man.

Thus I proceeded through Days Two and Three of Round One, with five new scents on the second day, two new on the third.  Plus, I re-applied #13 (from day two) and #11 (from day one) later on in day two, because of a sub-category thing I was developing which I shall speak more of later.

Such was methodology.  Now, some context.  

copyright Robert Altman (the photographer, not the director)

This here is the summer of love in my mind.

Well, that, and:  Let The Sunshine.  Detroit riots.  People joining hands and liking the world to sing.  Unbelievable pain.  Nearly unfathomable joy.  

The summer of love, 1967, is a soft-focus at the edges concept, a philosophy that carried through an era which most people suggest didn't stop until 1973.  Which is when I got a pair of red white and blue bell bottomed hip hugger jeans which were SO cool and made me feel just like the groovy teenage girls who lived down the block.  I wasn't, but it was how I felt.

As I have assembled that era and assimilated it into my life -- and I did, for though I wasn't fully cognizant when it happened, I was most essentially a child of it, in that I was raised in and through it.  I can't fathom an attitude other than equality, I smile when I see long hair, I know what a certain waft across a concert crowd or over my backyard fence is, I know the difference between the implications of that waft coming from the Vietnam vet living next door and the teenager at a Phish concert and the well coiffed older woman suddenly letting it all hang out at a Nora Jones performance.  

The Summer of Love can be forever immediate and young in my mind, and yet never attached to any particular something or someone, because it is not specifically attached to me, but it is in me.

So patchouli is/was the head shops, and kind of fun crazy but a little scary friends stopping by to chat with parents or friends of older siblings.  Patchouli is/was the smell of a beautiful older sister, who was so smart, and so cool, and who left and was never heard from again.  Patchouli is the smell of a nearly foul oil sold in the kiosk of a shopping mall on the decline.  Patchouli is a plant.  Patchouli is the smell inside two kinds of VW's, a wildly painted van and a love bug.  Patchouli is the smell of a smooth luxury perfume. 

Patchouli, you might think, is a hot mess in my mind.  But no; patchouli is a patchwork of impressions and styles and eras.  Which turns out is/was just the right background for approaching the thirteen liquids in the box, and being ready to meet their portraits of patch.

I opened my mind.  I tuned in, but I didn't drop out.  

I smellwatched patchouli that made an appearance after a sunny opening act.  I smellsaw unapologetic patchouli that greeted me from the first whiff and never left until the whole performance was over.  I smellglanced a dusty plant patchouli that was a somewhat rough but always interesting mistress.  I met patches of various stripes and hues and personalities.  I enjoyed making the acquaintance of every one.

If this were an unorchestrated summer of patchouli love, I'd hop on a bus with all of them, and document our travels along the way.  I wouldn't pick one or three of the pack; I'd just coexist, finding myself waking up with one or the other as whimsy and circumstance made appropriate.

But this is free love with a telos.  I need to push myself through with purpose.  

When I'm done, though, I might come back for a magical mystery tour.

When I next emerge from the patch, I will introduce you to the three scents I selected as finalists, with all of the hows/whys/gyrations involved.  You may find other bunnies as you travel the perfumed interwebz.  Many of them have already made their selections.  If you would like to keep track of the various nodes in the project -- "noses," celebrities, and perfumers -- Monica Miller is keeping it all straight for us over at the Perfume Pharmer.  See this post which lists the perfumers, the perfumes, the sniffers, and various posts about the project.

If you are just starting out, Donna's post on patchouli in perfume ("The Story of the Green Monster") is a handy review of the plant, the note, and perfumes that use it.

Summer of Love logo created by Elizabeth Whelan
photos of vials and journal, author's own
Robert Altman's photography on his Summer of Love webpage; see also his lovely books


Anonymous said...

I love it! There are so many different memories/experiences of this scent. I have really enjoyed reading all of the sniffers thoughts and feelings on Patchouli.


Monica said...

many smiles from me reading your patch story!I'm SO enjoying the patchouli ride! Xo Monica

ScentScelf said...


I, too, love that there are such varying memories/experiences coming out of the Patch patch. It makes sense, of course, and it reflects one of the things that fascinates me about the process of various noses receiving the very same molecular shape. (Though I know it causes conniption fits among certain olfactory scientists...)

Hmmm, I look up the spelling of "conniption," and I find it is a word of uncertain etymology. Which is a fun thing to discover. And probably applicable to the paragraph above.

No doubt I shall digress on that further... :)

Thanks for stopping by.

ScentScelf said...

Always a nice thing to check my inbox and find it full of smiles. Thank you, Monica. :)

JoAnne Bassett said...

I loved your post..I had the bell bottom hip huggers..that I sewed the 6 inches of flowered cotton material to had to match the flowered cotton triangle top..tied with yarn..looking forward to your further posts..let the magical mystery tour begin...groovy...peace brother

ScentScelf said...


I remember a costume designer once complaining that people always forgot about the addendum hems, and going on a scouting run to get strips of fabric for just that purpose.

The triangle top! Yes, that; my mom made me a few, and I got to pick the colors of the edging/ties. She also made me a blouson halter to go with the USA jeans; white background, blue doves that said "peace," red buttons. I, yes, I was pretty sure I was all that and a BIG bag of chips.

See you in the future.

Musette said...

Oh, JoAnne - I 'so' remember the bellbottoms. I was a few years too young and way too protected to embark on a Summer of Anything Other than Going on Vacation with My Parents - but we boarded my cat in Chicago's Old Town - as exotic a place back then as you could get! Real 'hippies' in bellbottoms with fabric sewn onto the hems. Ever. Stinkin. One. Of. Them. So individualistic. I adored it all!

Still hate patchouli, though. Or maybe it's the lavender/patch combo I hate...hmmm...

Great post, SS!

xo A

Vanessa said...

Ah, you have cracked open a seam of memories with this post! I do had the bell bottoms and took great pride in sewing on embroidered motifs - strawberry, other fruit, and the Loch Ness Monster is also ringing a bell, possibly because I first sported them in Glasgow in the summer of 1972.

Patchouli is strange isn't it? It is a foul oil as well as being sensual and uplifting. I certainly hate my aromaterapy bottle of the stuff! Look forward to hearing what makes your shortlist. My favourite patch scents are probably Kenzo Flower Oriental and L'Ombre Fauve, also Bvlgari Black, if it has patch in it, which it may not!

Vanessa said...

I too!! Aromatherapy!! it is very hot in my office...

ScentScelf said...

Lavender/patch? Okay, I like lavender...but...are you talking hippy oil or Angel? Either way, I can see how it is a risky proposition, Musette.

Exotic Old Town...kind of like saying "seedy Times Square," right?

::exits left so that JoAnn and Musette can continue on::


ScentScelf said...

Arrrr! A "seam" of memories! Nice. I'll need to work in a reference to my grandmother's seam ripper next time I do this... ;)

...and why I use pirate-speak to indicate my har har-ing along, I do not know...

Precisely! About the patch, I mean, Vanessa. For it can be foul, and it can be uplifting. One of these....#12, I believe...plays with the dark parts in a Dark Arts sort of way. Won't let you forget it's a plant, introduces a measure of dust somehow...we'll see if I get it sussed out.

Oooh, L'Ombre Fauve! Now *there's* a dark and stormy something I like to cozy up with...because it ends up purring. Never occurred to me to attribute that to patch. (Turns in perfume license for 30-day suspension.) Bulgari Black? That is simply an oddball vanilla on me, bicycle tire or Keds shoe bottom, but no patch.

(Again, as with my lacksadaisical paying attention to notes in perfume, more an indication of an opinion to be taken with a grain of salt than anything else, perhaps? ;) )

Musette said...

In the early70s Old Town was THE place for cool hippies. Head shops, coffeehouses, pretty much the original architecture still in place with rough(ish) housing and artists' lofts - with artists in them (do you now the Burton St buildings with the intriguing tilework? Those were all artists' work/live studios back then)... for a Girl from the Land of Manicured Lawns....oh, it was sooo cool.

There are a couple of lavender/patch combos (I think Jules is one) and they're okay but I find lavender is best on its own - at least for me.


ScentScelf said...

Personally, I like "harsh" lavender, aka the leaf. Such as Andy Tauer uses so dramatically in Reverie au Jardin. It reminds me of orris root, in how it can seem like a tough row to hoe...but settles into something rich and lovely.

But add in patch? Tricky business. Would have to decide how/when to weave the different aspects, given patchouli's ability to be one or the other. *If* one chose to use both/all aspects, of course. I'm going to pay attention and see if I detect any lavender in any of these 13.

I guess I'm to the point where I can stop imagining my future might involve living in an artist's loft. Maybe. As for Land Of Manicured Lawns...did your neighborhood include Crazy Evergreen Space Topiary? I'll never forget first coming across that when I moved here. Three balls on a stick, a saucer leaning into a picture window, a parallelogram with a knob on top...wowza. All in a perfectly edged supremely coiffed expanse of weed-killed to Mars grass. Wowsie wow wow wow.