Watch out, the 70s have just walked into the room. Or have they? The first thing that attacks you from Tom Ford's latest Private Blend is, appropriately enough, a bell-bottom-wearing, disco-ball-swinging, heavily-permed patchouli. It's brown, muddy and unashamedly unwashed. But then it changes. It ditches the dirt, boogies into the nearest wormhole and hurtles towards the 21st century. When it arrives, it seems to be radiating light from every single facet that had been caked with earth mere seconds ago. Suddenly, it's clean and gleaming. Indeed, this is Patchouli Absolu's most remarkable feature: it manages to retain the distinct, recognisable personality of its star material, but it also strips it of all the allegedly negative associations with the past.
However, this feat of olfactory ingenuity comes at a price. According to my reading of the scent, the weightlessness and luminosity have been achieved through the use of large quantities of camphoraceous materials, mainly bay leaf. The result is that the patchouli - scrubbed to within an inch of its debauched life - runs the risk of smelling excessively raw and synthetic. That's precisely what Madame Persolaise was picking up on when she declared she didn't want me coming anywhere near her whilst wearing this stuff: its strident, chemical sterility reminded her of futile attempts to cover up a nasty stench with bucket-loads of detergents. Oh, and she didn't care for the abrasive woods in the drydown either.
That said, I should mention that a few people went out of their way to tell me they enjoyed smelling this on me. I can't say I'm surprised: 'cleanliness' is a divisive area in perfume appreciation (you could argue the dividing line is called the Atlantic Ocean) so it's reasonable to predict that Patchouli Absolu will find as many fans as detractors. However, I confess I wasn't comfortable in it. As an exercise in retro-perfumery, I found it interesting and I admired its attempts to achieve its objectives, but ultimately, its relentless, attention-seeking self-consciousness grew wearying. With its blaring, take-no-prisoners insistence on spotlessness, it ended up verging on the offensive, which is why I grew rather reluctant to give it too many public outings. What can I say? I guess this is one groove I just couldn't learn to dig.
[Review based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by Tom Ford in 2014.]