Hermes Hermessence Vetiver Tonka : Perfume Review

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Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.

Although I enjoy the airy softness of Osmanthe Yunnan and the smoldering sensation of Ambre Narguilé, the only fragrance from the Hermès’s Hermessence collection for which I truly feel strong affection is Vétiver Tonka. Created by Jean-Claude Ellena, this composition is a startling tender vetiver melody. The pungent and woody root is often made even richer and smokier as in Frédéric Malle Vétiver Extraordinaire or the original version of Guerlain Vétiver. Or, in another extreme, it can be rendered as weightless and fresh as in The Different Company Sel de Vétiver. Either treatment can accent the fascinating tonalities of this amazing material, yet it is rare to discover vetiver transformed into a velvety, enveloping veil. This is exactly what Vétiver Tonka succeeds in achieving. …

The fresh top note of Vétiver Tonka is framed by a plummy sweetness which intensifies as the fragrance develops. A toasted note almost makes me salivate, as it recalls for me the scent of genmai-cha, a Japanese green tea mixed with roasted rice grains. The characteristic grapefruit-like sharpness of vetiver is softened by rich violet and spicy notes; while its milky nuttiness is accented with roasted hazelnut. It is an excellent example of an abstract gourmand fragrance—the edible notes are woven so masterfully into the tapestry that nothing dominates the composition.

The delicate sweetness and the pronounced smokiness of Vétiver Tonka lend it an androgynous quality. Yet, even with the large dose of the quintessentially masculine note, the fragrance does not become too virile. It is elegant and classical in spirit, even though its execution is thoroughly modern. Like many of Ellena’s fragrance, Vétiver Tonka has a radiant chill about it, despite its warm and sweet accents. A genius fragrance!

Vétiver Tonka features notes of bergamot, neroli, cereal notes, dried fruit, tonka beans, vetiver, and hazelnut. Hermèssence range created by Ellena includes Rose Ikebana, Poivre Samarcande, Ambre Narguilé, Osmanthe Yunnan, and Paprika Brasil. Available at select Hermès boutiques.

Photo of vetiver roots from Osmoz (includes additional interesting information on this material frequently used in perfumery).

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38 Comments

  • Madelyn E: Dear Victoria ,
    Hello again ! I could not agree with you more regarding Hermes : Vetiver Tonka : a genius fragrance !! It is sensual,almost edible and may I add layers well with Poivre Samarkand – another member of the Hermessence set ! I , for one, am not a layering kind of girl —BUT – this magic combo seems to enhance the separate facets of each separate fragrance. In other words, Vetiver Tonka expresses itself better by the basenotes of Poive Samarkand 1 ( If you , dear Vic , can actually understand what I am trying to say .. you deserve a medal !
    What a great review as always. I think I may just wear it tomorrow – when I meet with my boss !!!!
    Best Scented Warm Regards–
    Madelyn E January 17, 2007 at 2:00am Reply

  • Dusan: My sentiment exactly! Although I quite like vetiver, I can’t say that I’m crazy about it (Malle’s VE doesn’t move me) – but Vetiver Tonka, ooh, ah, is a masterpiece, a genuine artwork of pure pleasure and enjoyment! *weeps at his long emptied sample vial*
    Great review, Vika, as always… 🙂 January 17, 2007 at 2:46am Reply

  • Karthik: Victoria,
    Thanks for the pointer to Vetiver-Tonka.
    You probably will enjoy Fragonard’s Vetyver a lot too. A distinctly individualistic, but delightful take on the note.
    My compliments too on a first-class blog that makes for very enjoyable and informative reading.
    Karthik. January 17, 2007 at 4:18am Reply

  • Leopoldo: I’ve been debating with myself about getting some VT – Hermes were kind enough to give me two of their sample vials. I already own and adore Ambre Narguilé (whilst not always the right scent, perfection when it is) and Poivre Samarcande (a true love): I will need to add VT at some point, to my credit card’s despair… January 17, 2007 at 4:18am Reply

  • aryse: Victoria, I completely agree with the description of vetiver tonka. What I especially noted is the remarkable harmony between vetiver and hazel nut.
    However on my skin this fragrance takes rather a long time to develop. I also noted that one finds the note of vetiver tonka in Terre d’Hermès (by JC Ellena too). January 17, 2007 at 4:59am Reply

  • Judith: It took me some time to come around to VT–and to vetivers in general (AN was my first pick from this line), but now I love the note (although as you point out, it can be presented very differently in different fragrances), and I adore Vetiver Tonka. One of my favorite vetivers, certainly–and an infinitely comforting fragrance! Thanks so much for your brilliant review! January 17, 2007 at 6:55am Reply

  • Elle: My immediate favorite was Poivre Samarcande, followed by Ambre Narguile. I only very recently realized how glorious VT is. It’s nice to be surprised like this. 🙂 January 17, 2007 at 8:05am Reply

  • newproducts: I found Vetiver Tonka most unusual, but I need to try it again to see if I really like it. Lovely review!

    By the way, I made the mussels in pink pepper and tomato sauce last night, and my DH and I enjoyed it immensely. Thank you for the recipe! January 17, 2007 at 8:33am Reply

  • Marina: It is a wonderful scent, I adore it. This days though, I think, my favorite Hermessence is Poivre Samarcande. I was so looking forward to Paprika Brasil, but, alas, it left me stone-cold. 🙁 January 17, 2007 at 9:02am Reply

  • k-amber: Absolutely beautiful scent. Vetiver Tonka makes me relax and now I know the reason, its roasted note (as
    victoria pointed outGenmai- cha.)My another favorite is Ambre Narguile, which is one of my all time favorite cold weather fragrance. I don’t know how to express my love for those scents…

    Kaori January 17, 2007 at 9:20am Reply

  • Flor: The roasted, nutty quality of it makes it for me a comfort scent. The only kind of gourmand scent I like is the abstract gourmand, and this one is done masterfully. Your description is perfect! Thanks for the great review. January 17, 2007 at 10:52am Reply

  • violetnoir: Spot on, V! Spot on! This is the only vetiver fragrance that I really adore. I love the Guerlain, but it’s a bit too masculine for me.

    I really wanted to wear this recently, but I can’t find it. 🙁 Maybe it’s time to spring for a new bottle?

    Hugs! January 17, 2007 at 11:45am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Madelyn, you are definitely right on layering them together. They make for a superb combination. I am now thinking of layering Rose Ikebana with Poivre Samarcande and seeing what happens. January 17, 2007 at 11:46am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Dusan, I have grown to like vetiver more, but before it was not among my favourite notes. In fact, the first time I tried Vetiver Tonka, I was a bit taken aback. Now, it is love all the way. January 17, 2007 at 11:47am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Karthik, thank you very much! I will look into the recommendation. I do not recall Fragonard’s Vetyver, but perhaps I have missed it. The line stopped being distributed in the US, unfortunately. January 17, 2007 at 11:48am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Leopoldo, I agree on Ambre Narguilé. It does not always work for me, but when it does, it is perfect. I think that you need to toss a coin. 🙂 January 17, 2007 at 11:49am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Aryse, that is a great observation. I find the same note in Terre d’Hermes, which I enjoy very much. However, Encre Noire has become my new vetiver favourite on a man. January 17, 2007 at 11:50am Reply

  • Robin: Wish you’d stop mentioning that Encre Noire, I am itching to buy it unsniffed…and that impulse is rare these days. January 17, 2007 at 12:26pm Reply

  • Patty: I compltely adore this scent — it’s one of a handful of perfums I will always need to have. January 17, 2007 at 12:33pm Reply

  • Dusan: Vika, I just tried Encre Noir and you were absolutely right: it is absolutely beautiful. I can’t help the association with KenzoAir, which however is more airy and comforting. EN is indeed noir, sort of like a deeper, sexier, (abstractly) gourmand and darker rendition of Malle’s VE.
    I’d like to bring to your attention a fragrance I foolishly dismissed at first sniff – Ferre’s newest for men, simply called Ferre. It is a crisp, dark, peppery and a bit austere Iris tinged with bittersweet anise, on a bed of pale woods. I couldn’t find any information about the notes, but I’m 100% certain that iris and pepper are there. It is absolutely enchanting and well worth exploring and I’d love to hear your impressions.
    Hugs
    P.S. I reviewed Arpège PH on Sunday 😉 January 17, 2007 at 2:49pm Reply

  • Dusan: Seems like Ferre’s got cumin, too, but I don’t mind it in the least bit as it adds an interesting, spicy twist. 🙂 January 17, 2007 at 2:54pm Reply

  • March: I poked around a bit, looking — have you weighed in yet on Paprika Brasil? January 17, 2007 at 5:00pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: March, check out the link in the penultimate paragraph of my review. 🙂 In one word, disappointment. No, make it two–major disappointment. January 17, 2007 at 6:04pm Reply

  • March: V — right there in front of my face, sorry! I *thought* I remembered you reviewing it, then couldn’t find the link… (slinks off) (slinks back) It’s a perfectly nice iris, though. If you’re expecting something completely different than a fragrance called “Paprika Brasil”… I do wonder about skin reactions, I actually found it quite strong on me, much more than, say, OY or Rose Ikebana. January 17, 2007 at 8:25pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Judith, you put it so well! It is very comforting, and it is not a trait I have discovered in many vetiver fragrances. I also did not start out liking vetiver that much, but it really grew on me. January 17, 2007 at 9:53pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Elle, isn’t that the truth! I also like to be surprised like this very much. All in all, I would be happy wearing only Vetiver Tonka from the Hermessence collection. January 17, 2007 at 9:55pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Newproducts, I am so glad to hear that you liked mussels! It is a very easy dish, but it offers so much in terms of flavour and appearance. January 17, 2007 at 9:56pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Marina, I am with you on Paprika Brasil. It was just disappointing. January 17, 2007 at 9:56pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Kaori, they have a very ethereal quality, yet many are quite substantial. I enjoy this counterplay. Just now, I put on Ambre Narguile, and it is working so beautifully that I want to take back my words about wearing only Vetiver Tonka from Hermessence collection. 🙂 January 17, 2007 at 9:58pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Flor, thank you! I like gourmand notes, but only when they are woven in with a light hand. Otherwise, they begin to grow tiresome. January 17, 2007 at 9:59pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R (violetnoir), sounds like it is that time! 🙂 January 17, 2007 at 9:59pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Robin, it is really quite beautiful. I wish I still had my sample. January 17, 2007 at 10:00pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Patty, I cannot agree more! It is in that same list for me as well. January 17, 2007 at 10:01pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Dusan, oh, thank you so much for sharing your impressions. It is a beautiful fragrance, isn’t it?

    I have not tried Ferre for men yet, but now I know that I should asap. January 17, 2007 at 10:02pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Dusan, I am not frightened by cumin. I like this note, but yes, I do prefer it in subtle doses. Sounds like the new Ferre is worth trying. January 17, 2007 at 10:02pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: March, no need to slink away! 🙂 I think that JCE has done a similar iris already (TDC Bois d’Iris), so yet another similar iris seems unnecessary. It is not awful, but for something described as paprika and Brasil, it is strangely limpid. January 17, 2007 at 10:04pm Reply

  • Karthik: Victoria,
    Fragonard is back in the USA:
    http://usa.fragonard.com/@en-us/shop/

    In the event you decide to request samples, ensure you ask for the Santal too. Vetyver and Santal are my favourites from them, and I hope you’ll find them as enjoyable.
    Karthik. January 18, 2007 at 3:12am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Karthik, thank you! Off to research it. January 22, 2007 at 2:35pm Reply

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