I have a theory that it is impossible not to appreciate the note of vetiver. After all, few fragrant materials smell as distinct and complex as this one does and even though it is often used within the kingdom of masculine fragrances, the note itself is entirely genderless and lends itself to wide range of interpretations. Vetiver’s success lies within the fact that it is a flexible and versatile ingredient that works exceptionally well as the star of as a composition, as well as a subtle supporting act.
But what exactly is it and how does it actually smell? Well, the answer is very simple – vetiver (or ‘chrysopogonzizanioides’ to use its posh name) is a perennial grass of the Poaceae family that smells salty, earthy, rooty, smoky, sour and balsamic. The many facets of vetiver can lend a wide range of nuances to a fragrance, and for this reason it is commonly used in a huge number of mainstream and niche perfumes.
Whilst vetiver is used as a perfumer’s staple, there are also a number of vetiver-centric fragrances that showcase the diverse olfactory profile of the ingredient. This mini-guide has been put together to take you on a short tour of the world of vetiver fragrances, taking three brief stops to look at classic, modern and contemporary interpretations of one of perfumery’s most important ingredients. It should be an enjoyable ride!
The Classic Vetiver
No guide to vetiver should start without mentioning the very best of all vetivers. I am of course, referring to Guerlain’s appropriately named ‘Vetiver’ – the greatest example of the note to have ever graced the noses of perfume lovers across the globe. But what makes Vetiver such a fascinating and enjoyable take on the perennial grass? Is it the fragrance’s unbeatable freshness, perhaps? Or is the subtle fizz of ginger in the top notes that really makes this one stand out from the crowd?
To my nose, Vetiver is successful for two reasons; balance and quality. The vetiver note that lies at the heart of the fragrance is impeccably well rounded and of exceptionally high quality. Citrus, spice, greenery and ashy tobacco all accent the vetiver, creating a nuanced fragrance that very much is ‘a vetiver’ through and through. Launched way back in 1969, Vetiver is still going strong today, serving a legion of fans, and there’s a very good reason for its longevity – it is simply very good stuff.
The Modern Vetiver
Sticking with the house of Guerlain, one of my favourite modern vetivers is Homme L’Eau Boisée, created by Guerlain in-house perfumer, Thierry Wasser. L’Eau Boisée is a flanker to the now-discontinued Homme L’Eau, which is itself a flanker to 2008’s Homme. Confusing lineage aside, L’Eau Boisée is an excellent example of a modern fragrance with a subtle, yet pleasing vetiver twist.
L’Eau Boisée takes the mojito notes of the original (crushed mint, sugar syrup and tons of tart lime juice) and adds a liqourice-like vetiver note that is both sweet and earthy, creating a black and almost treacle-esque base for the thirst quenching cocktail that is Guerlain’s (rather underrated) Homme. The result is s stealthy vetiver that acts as a subtle nod to the past, tipping its cap to Jean-Paul Guerlain’s Vetiver, and presents the note as a supporting act to a very well pieced together fragrance.
The Contemporary Vetiver
Whenever I piece together a mini guide, the house of Etat Libre d’Orange tends to enter each respective list under the heading of ‘The Contemporary’. This is due to the fact that they are perhaps the most fearless perfume brand on the planet, never shying away from controversy – in fact they actively court the dirty, the bizarre and the novel. What makes them even more exciting as a perfume brand is the simple fact that their perfumes never come across as gimmicky and one can always rely on Etat Libre d’Orange to come up with scents that are interesting AND well made.
Their vetiver is called Fat Electrician and is described as a ‘semi-modern vetiver’. Its inspiration comes from the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy and it is a fragrance that attempts to evoke through scent, the idea of lost beauty, telling the strory of our protagonist’s transition from handsome cowboy to New Jersey-based fat electrician. This change from beautiful freedom to the monotony of every-day life translates into the smokiest, saltiest and most resinous of vetivers that is shrouded in waves of vanilla and myrrh. It’s an incredibly comforting effect that feels ever so slightly sexy, almost capturing the amorous twinkle in the eye of that unassuming electrician.
Join the Discussion & Further Reading
Tell me, what are your favourite vetiver fragrances?