A closeup of two green leaves.
Courtesy International Flavors & Fragrances

Renowned Perfumer Jean-Marc Chaillan’s Patchouli Obsession

By Aileen Kwun
January 4, 2020
1 minute read

The scent of patchouli may be redolent of head shops and college dorm rooms, canonized as the pothead’s perennial choice of potpourri in American pop culture. Which makes it all the more surprising that the musky, earthy note should be the all-time favorite of renowned perfumer Jean-Marc Chaillan, who knows his way around a fragrance. Raised in Grasse, France—the perfume capital of the world—he’s also the son of legendary perfumer Raymond Chaillan, who made Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium, and the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree. “Patchouli is the most sexy, sweet, and supernatural product I know,” says Jean-Marc, for whom the scent holds the power of Proust’s madeleine, hard-wired into a formative childhood memory that has continued to color his work.

“I love using it; it’s a game changer in any fragrance design. It has so much character that no matter how much of it you use, it will make an impact,” he says, likening its staple versatility to a primary color among a painter’s palette. While there are multiple variations, naturals, and fractions of patchouli to use, Jean-Marc notes, “It has always remained elemental. It’s part earth, air, water, and fire. For me, it’s a composition of all the earth’s elements: mystical, mesmerizing, and completely intoxicating.”