With Vétiver, Jean-Paul Guerlain did a seemingly simple thing—he emphasized each facet of the natural raw material, vetiver oil, to create an abstract, modern fragrance. Even though Vétiver de Guerlain has been in existence since 1959 and along with Carven Vétiver engendered a whole family of classical woods, it possesses a timeless elegance that has come to define masculine perfumery. Therefore, it continues to inspire new fragrances based around the dark, green woody note of vetiver, the latest of which is Christian Dior Vétiver.
Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.
The beautiful quality of Vétiver de Guerlain is its blend of abstraction and classicism, of simplicity and nuance. Jean-Paul Guerlain’s style, relying on strong accents and contrasts, is evident in Vétiver de Guerlain, where the elements in the natural oil are enhanced and highlighted. The bitter grapefruit facet of vetiver is made brighter and sharper with a brilliant accord of different citrus notes and a touch of mint. The licorice undertone is likewise pushed into a sweet spicy direction, while the natural woody base of vetiver is amplified by soft woody notes and tobacco. In a sense, Jean-Paul Guerlain did with Vétiver what Christopher Sheldrake and Serge Lutens would pursue together: starting with natural raw materials and accenting their facets to the point of complete abstraction.
While the starting point of Vétiver de Guerlain is the earthy, woody raw material, the effect of the fragrance is airy and bright. It has a beautiful floral quality that is created by the interplay of jasmine notes and clove. The smooth transition between accords gives it a wonderful softness which makes the fragrance bloom on the skin.
Dior Vétiver, in comparison, is closer to natural vetiver, reflecting contemporary trends in niche perfumery, which favors nature-like qualities and a strong emphasis on a single raw material. Yet, its essential structure makes me think of Vétiver de Guerlain—the bright citrus and mint prelude, the spicy-smoky main accent and the smooth woody drydown. I find it to be a very classical and polished take on vetiver, but with a pleasant earthy and nutty roughness that makes vetiver so appealing. In contrast to the smoky Chanel Sycomore and the dark musky Frédéric Malle Vétiver Extraordinaire, Dior Vétiver is green and citrusy, and even a dose of coffee absolute does not darken it too much. Although marketed as a masculine, like Vétiver de Guerlain, it would appeal to those women who love woods.
If Vétiver de Guerlain did not exist, Dior Vétiver would have been close to my ideal vetiver fragrance. It is a very good quality vetiver, and I enjoy wearing it. However, there is no surprise in it, no novelty, especially when we have so many interesting and unusual woody fragrances available, both in the prestige and the niche lines. It is pleasant, but to me, nonessential. By contrast, I cannot imagine my perfume wardrobe without Vétiver de Guerlain. Moreover, it is one of those classics upon which one simply cannot improve.
def: vetiver — frequently used in perfumery, vetiver oil is steam distilled from the rootlets of the grass Vetiveria Zizanoides. Classified as a woody note, it has a dark green earthy aroma, with a grapefruit bitterness and a touch of anise-like sweet spiciness. Depending on the distillation process, vetiver can have a smoky note as well.
Guerlain Vétiver includes notes of bergamot, lemon, orange, nutmeg, pepper, vetiver, tobacco, and tonka bean. Available from Guerlain boutiques and most department store masculine fragrance counters.
Dior La Collection Vétiver includes note of grapefruit, coffee, and Haitian vetiver. It is available from Dior boutiques. Both are in the woods family of fragrances.
Samples: my own acquisition