Vétiver, strength or elegance?
I like vetiver only moderately. I say "only moderately" because I have never been an ardent lover of herbaceous and green fragrances. However, I may be broadening my horizons so far with a manifest preference for intense, woody, dark and resinous oriental perfumes. The vetiver note usually has earthy and woody nuances that make it very sympathetic despite its green and herbaceous undertone that until recently left me indifferent. The aroma of vetiver is usually complex and persistent, being quite aromatic, green or dark green, medium woody and sometimes reasonably smoky.
The use of the vetiver plant was widespread in ancient times, originating in southern India. Its name is derived from the Tamil word "vettiveru". The Indians were the first to recognise its aromatic power and medicinal properties over 3.000 years ago.
Until the last century, this tropical aromatic plant remained largely unknown to the Western market. In fact, the word vetiver did not appear in the French language until the beginning of the 19th century. In 1809 the first chemical analysis of vetiver oil was made in France using root extracts brought from Reunion Island, which at that time was still known as Bourbon Island.
This island located in the South Indian Ocean (see picture on the left) was discovered in 1505 by the Portuguese navigator Pedro de Mascarenhas. In 1638, a French ship of the Company of the Indies took possession of the island. Despite this, the French did not settle there permanently until 1663 and claimed it as a French colony which was named after the French royal house of Bourbon. The island changed its name to Reunion during the French revolution, but the original name remains in some use to this day.
In perfumery, the distilled essences of three main varieties of vetiver root are used:
- Haitian vetiver,
- Javanese vetiver,
- and Bourbon vetiver.
* The latter (Bourbon) is the cleanest. Usually, it is considered to have the best quality and it is the more expensive. Bourbon vetiver essence scent stands out due to its soft notes of earthy, spices, leather and hazelnut tones. It also shows the undertones of the rose flower.
* Javanese vetiver essence scent is quite earthy, bitter, dusty and extremely smoky. It is usually the less expensive one, but also the one I like the most.
* Haitian vetiver essence scent is usually clean, ethereal, green, slightly woody and just very moderately smoky. It probably has the widest use in perfumery.
Although renowned for its quality, Bourbon vetiver production has become marginal due to its low yield and reduction in planted fields, with Reunion Island vetiver having been dethroned commercially by Haitian vetiver.
In the perfumer's palette, vetiver is often combined with ingredients such as jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, neroli, patchouli and, more rarely, musk.
I confess that I prefer my vetiver fairly earthy, woody, with smoky nuances and full of patchouli. I have a very special love for perfumes like Étui Noir (my signature fragrance), Incident Diplomatique, Terre d'Hermès Eau de Toilette, Timbuktu, Encre Noire Eau de Toilette and Sycomore (2008) Eau de Toilette. These six works of art must have been responsible for my growing interest in the vetiver scent.
After the huge success of "Encre Noir", the Lalique "Maison" even created two flankers around its original "black ink" perfume. One of them is darker, resinous and smoky (Javanese vetiver of course) and is clearly my favourite: Encre Noire à L'Extrême! The other, Encre Noire Sport, opened my appetite for perfumes with a strong note of powerful vetiver, but with the ability to face the heat. A few years ago, I also started to appreciate other perfumes with intense vetiver, but cleaner and more elegant. Of these I give the example of the timeless Vétiver (1957) Eau de Toilette, Vetiver Eau de Toilette and Infusion de Vétiver (2010). They are a real delight both in spring and autumn.
Recently I came across three very clean and fresh vetiver perfumes that I quite appreciated. On top of it, they are all very inexpensive. They are Sunrise Vetiver, Les Parfums Matières - Bois de Vétiver and Zara Emotions N°01 - Vetiver Pamplemousse. I think I am really expanding my criteria to accept the different "shades" of vetiver essences. Despite the charm of the vetiver scent experienced through the superbly manifested dark strength when using a Javanese essence, the cleaner vetiver scents are progressively winning me over with their deep elegance. Moreover, they are an excellent alternative to citrus scents when you want to wear a fresh summer perfume. For this purpose, several perfumers even propose combinations of both types of notes.
Quoting Karl Lagerfeld:
"Elegance is an intrinsic quality. If one does not have it, one will never have it. Elegance is neither a question of having expensive clothes nor a question of having money."
Last updated 10.05.2022 - 02:50 PM