How many people know what REAL patchouli smells like? It seems fewer and fewer perfumistas have smelled “dirty” natural patchouli. The patchouli most used in perfumes these days is clean and crease-less, its damp/dank, earthy/root-y character has been dimmed or eliminated. Brutish, chest-thumping patchouli has been replaced in designer fragrances with patchouli that could be characterized as either an elegant lady or a freshly laundered, cuddly teddy bear who has cocoa-scented breath, with a dab of vanilla extract behind each ear.
Tom Ford Patchouli Absolu doesn't go the ladylike or gourmand routes; its patchouli retains a natural “edge.” If real patchouli is Homo neanderthalensis and contemporary patchouli is Homo Catherine Deneuve, Tom Ford Patchouli (Absolu) is...Tom Ford himself (mature and well-groomed, certainly, but with a stubbled chin, and proudly displayed hairy chest and shirt unbuttoned to, almost, his bellybutton).
Patchouli Absolu goes on smelling like — natural patchouli (but dialed down a notch, and with, perhaps, a touch of moss). As the patchouli recedes, smokiness arrives (smelling of leather and charred spices and herb bundles). Under the smoke lies a sweet undercurrent of mildly vanillic amber notes and woods (gaiac with a touch of…cedar? I’m not quite sure). Cypriol is a listed note1 of Patchouli Absolu and it seems to play a major role in the composition with its woody-smoky-leather facets.
Unlike some other Tom Ford Private Blends, Patchouli Absolu smells “finished,” complete. It has no “fresh” element of Axe-type scents, the sea or ozone, so it may be a hard sell to younger men. When I tried Patchouli Absolu on paper I didn't like it much and it fell flat; on my skin, it came alive and smelled great. So: don’t judge it by a sniff on paper at the perfume counter. For all my appreciation of Patchouli Absolu, its price seems absolu(tely) extreme. In character, Patchouli Absolu reminds me of Bel Ami by Hermès, so you may want to compare these two perfumes before making a purchase (especially if you've never smelled Bel Ami).
Tom Ford Patchouli Absolu is available in 50 ml ($215), 100 ml ($295), and 250 ml ($525) Eau de Parfum.
1. I’m unsure of the “official” list of Patchouli Absolu fragrance notes; the best I've come up with, using numerous sources, is bay leaf, rosemary, patchouli, moss, cypriol/nagarmotha, gaiac and cashmere woods, musk, leather, tonka bean and amber.