Photo Courtesy Givaudan: Vetiver at Baie des Cayes, Haiti
I have always loved vetiver, perhaps more than any other raw material. Something about its dry-edged green earthiness has always spoken to me. It recalls the mellow brown of a cigar or beautifully tanned leather, but there’s also a brightness to it, and a saltiness that makes me think of straw hats, beach mats, and sunshine.
When I was 16, my older sister introduced me to Carven’s ‘Vetiver’, and although I had no idea that vetiver was a raw material as well as the name of a perfume, it became my summertime fragrance, and one of the magnets that would eventually draw me to France. For me, ‘Vetiver’ was the equivalent of summer in France, and I could be there, at least in my mind, whenever I sprayed it on. After a while, all I had to do was look at the bottle and I was gone.
It wasn’t until I had been living in France and writing about fragrances that I learned what vetiver actually is: a dry grassy plant whose fragrant root is used in perfumery.
I also began to realize that the vetiver note was in many of the fragrances I liked best. ‘Jicky’, ‘Rive Gauche’, and ‘Sycomore’ immediately came to mind, but there were many more.
It was only recently, at an open house organized by Givaudan, one of the world’s largest essential oil producers, that I recognized the magnitude of vetiver’s importance in my life. For the event, Givaudan had asked its top noses to come up with a number of original vetiver fragrances to demonstrate the quality of its Haitian vetiver, and the many possibilities vetiver brings to perfumers’ palettes.
Usually in a situation like this, some or even most of the fragrances will not be to my liking. Not this time. To my surprise, fragrance after fragrance elicited an initial response of, ‘Oh yes, I like this,’; ‘Oh yes, I could wear that,’; or ‘Oh, I WANT this one!’. Favorites were: ‘Des Racines et Des Ailes’ an abstract vetiver by Shyamala Maisondieu, and ‘Stanley’ a sensual leather vetiver by Aurélien Guichard. I even liked ‘Baie des Cayes’, a vetiver marine blend by Olivier Pescheux, although marine fragrances usually don’t appeal to me. It seems that alone or in combination, I simply LOVE vetiver!
Upon reflection, I realize that every vetiver perfume I own, (and there are several) has called, spoken, or somehow signaled to me across crowded rooms, busy streets, or vast and open spaces. I also realize that vetiver’s voice is of many seasons, times, and places. It was on a summer afternoon, that YSL’s ‘Rive Gauche’ first sang out to me in husky Gallic tones from the terrace of a Latin Quarter café, and bade me stay in a city of mobylettes and metros. Only a few weeks later, Guerlain’s ‘Jicky’ literally drew me to her side and transformed me from a naïve college girl into a Parisienne. Later in the year, ‘Sycomore’ emerged like a shimmering fall afternoon from ‘Les Exculsifs’ at the Chanel Boutique on the Avenue Montaigne. And it was in the dead of winter that ‘Fat Electrician’ shamelessly flashed me and made me laugh out loud at the Etat Libre d’Orange boutique in the Marais, while only a few steps down the street, Atelier Cologne’s ‘Vetiver Fatal’ crept up on me like a gentleman thief, and took me for all I was worth. While collecting my thoughts among the early green shoots in a Burgundy vineyard, I heard ‘Terre d’Hermès’ speak my name in the deep voice of a straight talking man, earthy and linear. Later, while on a trip to New York, ‘Aedes de Venustas’ pursed her lips and winked at me from a sultry velvet corner of her West Village boutique. And, while wandering the aisles at Esxence, the Milan niche fragrance trade fair, Coquillete Paris’s ‘Herat’ warmed my spirit like a breeze off the Amalfi coast. Back home in Paris, exotic floral colors in Neela Vermeire’s ‘Ashoka’ sent me uplifting messages of hope and beauty from across seas, centuries, and the aisles of Jovoy. And most recently at a NOSE avant-premier, Ulrich Lang New York’s vetiver musk, ‘Aperture’, snapped me awake to an instant’s clear focus on a beauty that can only belong to tomorrow.
I doubt I’m alone in having a note that speaks to me above all others. Could you have a favorite note you don’t realize? Take a look at your own fragrances and what you like the best. What’s your absolute favorite? What are your all-time favorites? Then do a bit of research into their dominant notes and see what comes up. I’m betting that even if you’re a person who likes a lot of fragrances, you’ll be surprised by your fidelity to a specific note/raw material, or a small handful of notes. Let me know what you find out.
Meanwhile, another time I’ll tell you about how much I love — roses….
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