Frédéric Malle Vétiver Extraordinaire by perfumer Dominique Ropion is said to contain 25% vetiver—the most on the market where this herbal, grassy note is a frequently the principal note in men’s fragrances. Depending on which facets the perfumer has illuminated, vetiver can be sweet, dry, smoky, bitter, fruity, peppery, and woody. In Vétiver Extraordinaire, the note is freed like a balloon by ozone, which gives it a fresh airiness in opposition to more earthbound vetivers (like Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier’s earthy Route du Vétiver or Serge Lutens’ root-y Vétiver Oriental).
Vetiver is a grass that is native to India but is also grown in Haiti, Indonesia, China, Java, and Reunion. For perfumery purposes, oil is extracted from the roots. The damp, woody scent of vetiver is so complex that it can be a perfume on its own. The note is used as a drydown accent or it can be treated as a main theme. It’s traditionally associated with masculine fragrances like Guerlain Vetiver, but it also appears with regularity in the bases of feminine perfumes like Chanel No 19 or Guerlain Chamade.
Fragrances featuring vetiver tend to have strong and distinct personalities. Ropion strips his of most of the bitterness sometimes associated with vetiver and replaces it with a feeling of knife-sharp clean. Tart bergamot sparkles as a topnote, followed immediately by crisp, peppery, and very dry vetiver. The bergamot, which smells of lemon, is exuberant and it flashes very briefly before vanishing into what smells like ozone. It is an atmospheric note of an interesting dimension and in Vétiver Extraordinaire it blanks out dampness and muddiness and replaces it with a smell not unlike what follows a thunderstorm, with a minor hint of something being burnt.
Once it settles, the remainder of the fragrance is primarily vetiver, with a spice note (nutmeg) that lends Vétiver Extraordinaire a slightly raffish elegance. Sometimes this note reads close to cumin, another spice that can lend a sweaty, human element to a blend. That type of association doesn’t occur here, mostly because the musk notes of the base, provided by two different synthetics that veer closely to freshly aired laundry. I used to find Vétiver Extraordinaire smokier than I do now, and I will confess to struggling a bit with the difficult relationship of ozone to my skin.
Nevertheless, Vetiver Extraordinaire is my favorite all-vetiver fragrance. The opening, which I wish lasted far longer than it does, is magical, and it smells like moss and woods lit by lemony sunshine. Traversing the fragrance with ozone keeps it firmly in the outdoors, although it is undeniably a scent elegant enough for a soiree. It has coolness suitable to the wearing of evening attire as well as burly flannels, and it’s almost perfection against an autumnal backdrop.
Frédéric Malle Vétiver Extraordinaire includes notes of bergamot, bitter orange, pink pepper, cloves, vetiver, sandalwood, cedar, oakmoss, myrhh, and musk. Available at Barneys, Aedes and directly at www.fredericmalle.com.
Photograph by Kumaravel via Flickr, some rights reserved