Patchouli 24 / Patchouly 1974

Le Labo Patchouli 24 oil.

  Le Labo’s Patchouli 24 oil. Just because you can’t see the bonfire, the brushfire, and the burned-down house, doesn’t mean they’re not there.

Well, here I am again – late for the second time in just three attempts to blog in an advent calendar format.  Only a month of Primrose’s samples to go!  I did actually sniff #3 yesterday.  I had all day to think about the mind-blowing results, too.

For my third scent from Primrose, I chose Patchouli 24 oil, from Le Labo.  Before smelling this, I remembered that the fragrance had gotten a lot of discussion on Basenotes.  What I failed to remember was the nature of that discussion.

Having compared Santal 33 to Spiritual Sky Sandalwood Perfume Oil yesterday, I thought it might be nice to compare Patchouli 24 to Spiritual Sky Patchouly Perfume Oil today.  So, when I gave the latter the first sniff, it was with the idea of smelling “reference patchouli”, before sniffing what I expected to be greater grandeur.

Spiritual Sky Patchouly Perfume Oil.  Kinda like 1974 in a bottle.

Shocked.  Shocked, I say.  Shocked, that my hippie patchouli oil – aged in the console of two rusted-out Ford trucks – is now one of the greatest fragrances I have ever smelled.

Yes.  Patchouli 24 may be considered a great scent, but if so, then there is no justice while Spiritual Sky Patchouly Perfume Oil goes unrecognized.  My astonishment at the latter was only confirmed by the former.  Patchouli 24 is considered a “challenging” scent, and that would be an understatement.  I have only smelled one scent that was more challenging in a burned-out building sort of way, and that would be Neil Morris’ Cathedral, which is supposed to smell like 1000 censers burning at the same time.  Without a doubt, Cathedral outdoes any other scent in terms of a “wall of smoke” effect.  But I have to say – Patchouli 24 is close.  Very, very close.  Something is clearly burning down there.

I didn’t realize that Patchouli 24 is the creation of Annick Ménardo.  It was once said by somebody that Ménardo is great because she is angry.  I never understood that until now.  Without a doubt, Patchouli 24 is one of the angriest scents I have ever smelled.  This is patchouli with a black beret and a machine gun, taking revenge for every crime ever committed by humanity.

Which is not to say – by any means – that such overt anger is typical of Ménardo’s work.  She had me at the smoky but cerebral Bulgari Black – one of the greatest scents ever created, in my opinion.  Actually, she had me even earlier – with the apple-earnest Boss Bottled.  And later, with the smooth but kinky Body Kouros.

But if the famed Ménardo is to be credited for something with the delicious spite of Patchouli 24, then some unknown perfumers – if there even were any – need to be credited with a fragrance with the grace of Spiritual Sky Patchouly.  For where Patchouli 24 is the carnage of Gettysburg, Spiritual Sky is the healing words said in its aftermath.

I’m not sure why my puny bottle of Spiritual Sky Patchouly smells like a full-blown, top-shelf chypre, but it comes closer to the great fragrances of the past than any single component has a right to.  It fills my mind with a thousand questions.

Is the greatness of this oil merely the greatness of patchouli itself?  If so, then it means that patchouli already has the bones of the chypre in it.  That is an astounding thing.  It leads me to speculate that the creation of the chypre itself was not a random act – some lucky accident on the shores of Cyprus – but a knowing attempt to replicate a far-away component using European raw materials.  And that has multiple additional implications for the role of patchouli in the chypre, as well as for the nature of chypre itself.  Suddenly I understand why the mathematical mind of Jean-Marc Chaillan is obsessed with patchouli.  How these two objects relate is not only an oft-debated topic of fragrance theory – it has very practical consequences in perfumery.

Or is this the work of a perfumer who knew how to bring out the greatness of patchouli?  If so, then some nameless oil-mixer had some real talent.  He/she/they may never get credit for what they did, but then let this one blog post serve to let them know that decades of economic success are not the only recognition that the original Spiritual Sky got in this universe.

Or is Spiritual Sky Patchouly great because it aged for decades in the consoles of two redneck trucks?  Was a combination of photolysis, thermolysis and slow-aging sufficient to age “patchouly” like whiskey, rather than degrading it like the very trucks that dissolved around it?  If so, then perhaps highly aged patchouli is the component of the ages – the next orris.  And that has implications for the “fast aging” of patchouli, as a way to cheat nature, and give this great fragrance to everybody.

Whatever the reason that this little bit of patchouli oil is so great, I had to track it down and see if it still existed in commerce.  First of all, it’s difficult to differentiate all the forms of oil that are called “Spiritual Sky”.  But I got lucky, and found this page, which describes the history of the actual brand that I have.  Mine was made in Visalia, California, by a company called “aromax”, and that fits with the story here.  And if you follow the link from that page, you are led to this page, which offers the exact same scent for sale, as well as this explanation:

Due to price increases in your Patchouly oil, Spiritual Sky Patchouly Oil is not as strong or concentrated as the original formula from many years ago.  Pure patchouly oil is still used in the formula.

Spiritual Sky Patchouly Oil

Found it! Exactly the same as my old bottle.

So is my vial of the stuff so great just because it’s old and concentrated?  Possibly.  Spiritual Sky is apparently rather legendary, as stated on this page:

A favorite of old hippies, Spiritual Sky Patchouly perfume oil is a legend in it’s own time!

Well, whatever the reason, I am led full-circle to this realization.  Patchouli is great because patchouli is great.  We can do angry things to it, we can do sublime things to it, and we can do nothing at all.  Whatever we do, something good seems to have been there to begin with.  Ah, yes.  My old signature.

Fiat odore.

Hmmm.  Guess they don’t call it Spiritual Sky for nothin’.


Only $395 a bottle. Whoops. I mean $3.95

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