Vetiver Voyages

“Art does not reproduce the visible, rather it makes visible,” wrote the cubist, surrealist and expressionist painter Paul Klee. The same could be said about perfumery, which is an art of intangible substances. The greatest fragrances conjure up the most complex of images, holding the artistic intent of their creators and offering a glimpse into their thoughts and memories. Just how perfumers achieve is what I explore in my recent article for my FT column, Vetiver Voyages. I use vetiver as an illustration.

One of my favourite examples is Lalique’s Encre Noire Pour Homme, released in 2006, which perfumer Nathalie Lorson composed with the intention of showing off the suave, languid character of vetiver – a note usually seen as bracing and cold. A type of grass originating in India, vetiver is grown to prevent soil erosion and produces a complex essential oil with accents of liquorice, bitter grapefruit peel, smoke and damp earth. To continue, please click here.

The other fragrances in the Modern Classic series were Serge Lutens’s Féminité du BoisLolita LempickaBulgari Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert, and Frédéric Malle Carnal Flower.

What are your favorite vetiver fragrances?

Image via FT

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76 Comments

  • Cornelia Blimber: I have fond memories of Vetiver by Carven, So often it refreshed me on hot days. Reformulated, a shadow of itself.

    Now I like Racine MPG. a rich, full bodied vetiver with a touch of citrus to enlighten the stuff (to my nose at last). My chosen perfume with a glass of Johny Walker Black Label and a cigar. October 9, 2017 at 7:44am Reply

    • Jillie: I have an amazing picture in my mind of you relaxing with your whisky and cigar! Hopefully with a cat on your lap …. October 9, 2017 at 10:55am Reply

      • Cornelia Blimber: Of course, there must be a cat! Same with you, i know.
        The cat has his own chair. October 9, 2017 at 3:51pm Reply

        • Jillie: …. and bed, and sofa etc – in fact the cat owns the house! October 10, 2017 at 1:05am Reply

      • Victoria: I was just thinking that too. October 10, 2017 at 11:37am Reply

    • Victoria: I love this image and its accompanying scent. October 10, 2017 at 11:34am Reply

  • Karen A: Sycomore is one of my all-time favorites, although I have not tried it in its EdP formula. Wears like casual elegance.

    In the summer I use Guerlain’s Vetiver layered with citrus as a bug spray. It’s a great combination, both fragrance-wise and as a bug deterrent. October 9, 2017 at 7:59am Reply

    • Victoria: Vetiver also makes me think of summer and India, because there they use curtains woven out of vetiver roots and sprinkled with water. Can you imagine how good the room smells! October 10, 2017 at 11:35am Reply

      • Karen A: Wow, very interesting! I wonder if it’s possible to get the roots outside of India, I’d love to weave something with them! Will do a search. It must have a wonderful effect.

        A few weeks ago when we were having some autumnal weather I went on a huge frankincense kick and was “fumigating” my clothes and some of our curtains with the incense smoke. It’s amazing how fragrance in fibers can be so powerful. (I also began thinking about how it must have also been used as an natural bug repellant when garments/household textiles were smoked – not sure of the proper term- with incense). October 10, 2017 at 11:55am Reply

        • Victoria: I’ve seen small bundles on Ebay, so it might be possible to find it. Not sure if the price will make it worthwhile to weave anything out of it, but I recommend getting at lest a few pieces and checking how they smell dry and wet. It’s such a beautiful scent. October 10, 2017 at 2:34pm Reply

          • Karen A: After reading your comment, I checked and found some on Etsy. Not *quite* sure how weavable it would be (looked like quite a pile of messy roots!), but definitely would be fun to have! October 10, 2017 at 3:51pm Reply

            • Victoria: The weaving kind of thinner, but yes, they don’t make fine weaves. October 16, 2017 at 11:23am Reply

        • Michael: I love spraying some of my favourite “skin scents” like Dan Tes Bras and Dries van Noten by Frederic Malle on my scarf in the autumn and winter. I also spray Le Petit Grain by Miller Harris on my work shirts because the scent would totally disappear on my skin after 30 mins or so. October 10, 2017 at 11:30pm Reply

  • Laura Sharples: I love Ormande Jayne Woman for this. It lasts forever on my skin and is great for me. Sycomore edp is a close second. October 9, 2017 at 8:39am Reply

    • Victoria: Beautiful choices to add to the list! October 10, 2017 at 11:35am Reply

  • sara levy: My favorites are L’Artisan’s Timbuktu and Ormonde Jayne Woman. October 9, 2017 at 10:08am Reply

    • Victoria: Perfect! October 10, 2017 at 11:36am Reply

    • zephyr: I’m going to break down and buy a full bottle of Timbuktu. I still have a tiny bit of a sample I received late last winter and I fell in love with it. I knew I wouldn’t like it so much in warm weather, but the cold is approaching. It’s time for Timbuktu in my fragrance wardrobe! October 10, 2017 at 11:40pm Reply

      • Victoria: I’m wearing Timbuktu today, and it’s such a beautiful perfume. October 16, 2017 at 11:25am Reply

        • zephyr: I’ve read here on your blog in the past that you like Timbuktu, Victoria. That, and the fact that I love it, is all the incentive I need to buy the full-size! October 16, 2017 at 5:48pm Reply

          • Victoria: I love that throughout the day it changes subtly, and as a result, it never loses its momentum. October 17, 2017 at 2:33am Reply

  • briony: My favourite is Hermes’ Vetiver Tonka. A beautiful gentle one. October 9, 2017 at 10:19am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, soft, suave, but with lots of character. October 10, 2017 at 11:36am Reply

  • Katya: Every time there is a “Recommend me a perfume” thread I inevitably recommend Vetyverio by Diptyque. I don’t know why, especially since I can never commit to a FB, but ever since a lady sprayed that on me in the John Lewis perfume counter, I have been thinking about it (it’s been nearly a year now. A year!) It’s such an odd one – the edt doesn’t have amazing lasting power and I’m not sure about the new edp yet, but it’s such a bright, cheerful fragrance. Bracing, yes, but also elegant and very unisex. In a world where the big marketing dollars go to fragrances that smell like the bottom of a saucepan after you burned the caramel and tried to wash it off with vanilla extract (yes, I’m looking at you, Scandal) it’s just so nice to try something that doesn’t try to make you smell like a confection. (Unless you want to smell like a confection. In which case Vetyverio is probably not the one, but I hear good things about Eau Duelle.) October 9, 2017 at 10:22am Reply

    • JillS: Katya, you recommended Vetyeiro to me and I love it. Thinking of a fb. October 9, 2017 at 3:21pm Reply

      • Katya: I really need to get a FB for myself, shouldn’t I? *le sigh* maybe next payday. October 9, 2017 at 3:26pm Reply

    • Victoria: Eau Duelle makes me think of a modern Shalimar. Very good, especially the EDP version. October 10, 2017 at 11:37am Reply

      • Katya: See I never smelled it but now I want to! Shalimar is one of those fragrances I cannot make up my mind over. October 10, 2017 at 12:46pm Reply

  • Kaleidoscope: I quite like Terre d’Hermès, which you mention in your article. For me, the fragrance is an unusual combination of bracing yet soft, like the feeling you get when walking in an unknown forest~ October 9, 2017 at 10:25am Reply

    • Victoria: Its contrasts are the best part. October 10, 2017 at 11:37am Reply

  • Jillie: I’ve lamented before the demise of Crabtree & Evelyn’s Vetiver, which was my ideal summer refresher – it’s that soapy, clean element that vetiver can conjure that I liked so much in it. I thought that Guerlain’s Vetiver might be a suitable replacement, but I find it has an unpleasant note that doesn’t suit me. Maybe I’ll try Cornelia Blimber’s Racine! October 9, 2017 at 11:00am Reply

    • Victoria: Have you tried Dior’s Vetiver? It’s expensive, though, but it’s very close to the original Guerlain Vetiver. October 10, 2017 at 11:38am Reply

      • Jillie: I didn’t even know that Dior had a Vetiver! Thank you, I will seek it out. October 10, 2017 at 11:48am Reply

        • Victoria: It’s in their Collection Prive. October 10, 2017 at 11:50am Reply

  • Geraldine Ethen: Victoria, I love how your writing demonstrates increased evocative power! Keep up the good work! October 9, 2017 at 11:12am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much, Geraldine! October 10, 2017 at 11:38am Reply

  • Richard Goller: These are all great vetivers, Victoria. My personal favourite has to be Lalique Encre Noire. Such a dark and dirty take on vetiver. I must try the female one. Thanks. R October 9, 2017 at 11:18am Reply

    • Victoria: I still like the first one more, but the feminine version is also memorable. October 10, 2017 at 11:39am Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: Well, obviously the vintage Guerlain “Vetiver” comes to mind. Yet my last bottle was used up a decade ago, and I’m not familiar with the current, reformulated version.
    Truth be told, I don’t have a favourite. I sniff here and there — hmm, that’s nice –, yet nothing really captures me.
    Strange, as I really do like vetiver.
    Come to think of it: perhaps the current perfumes I test are too reticent or shy to make full use of that rich, green, earthy scent? October 9, 2017 at 11:36am Reply

    • Cornelia Blimber: Hi Onwingsofsaffron!
      Speaking of rich, earthy: do you know Route du Vetiver, MPG? October 9, 2017 at 11:50am Reply

      • OnWingsofSaffron: No! Is it so? Then I’ll try and find it.
        Thanks for your tip. October 9, 2017 at 11:52am Reply

    • Victoria: Perhaps, that’s true. One idea also is to find a good vetiver attar and take it from there. October 10, 2017 at 11:39am Reply

  • Patricia: My most recent vetiver love is Givenchy’s Vetyver, full of citrus and woods. It is very elegant and easy to wear. October 9, 2017 at 12:08pm Reply

    • Victoria: One of the classics, for sure. October 10, 2017 at 11:40am Reply

  • Alicia: I have two favorites: Guerlain’s and Chanel Sycomore. I tend to wear the Guerlain during the day, and Sycamore from afternoon on. Can’t say which one I Iike best.I love both. Haven’t even explore Encre noire, which I should, and very likely will, but as it is,I am perfectly satisfied with my two old friends. Forgot to mentioned that a couple of years ago I bought a bottle of Goutal’s vetiver, and like it, but eventually gave it away to colleague who fell in love with it by smelling it on me. I continue to wear my Guerlain,and didn’t miss Goutal, which is indeed excellent. October 9, 2017 at 12:13pm Reply

    • Victoria: Goutal’s Vetiver used to be one of my favorites, but in the end, I also don’t miss it that much. Too many other beautiful vetivers to occupy me. October 10, 2017 at 11:41am Reply

  • Severine: Vetiver is called khus in India. I am not sure it is the same thing as kewra – which is added in South Asian cuisine….? What do you think?
    Vetivers I have taken a liking for:
    Etro Palais Jamais. Woe it is reformulated….SJP Stash. You probably missed the sample or maybe you didn’t… October 9, 2017 at 1:57pm Reply

    • Victoria: Kewra is distilled from the flowers of another plant, pandanus tectorius. The smell is very different, but like vetiver, it can also be used for an attar. October 10, 2017 at 11:43am Reply

  • Mariann: I like vetiver but often it seems too green or smoky for me or in the case of Dzongka an absolute scrubber 😱. My favorite so far is unfortunately Guerlains Vetiver pour Elle. Hopefully they’ll bring it back at one point. I do like the regular one too. I should really try Sycamore and Encre Noir on skin. October 9, 2017 at 7:59pm Reply

    • Victoria: Vetiver with a whisper of jasmine. I also hope that Vetiver pour Elle will return. October 10, 2017 at 11:45am Reply

  • Michael: I’m really envious of people who can wear vetiver fragrances. This is the one ingredient that doesn’t agree with my skin. Every time I try a fragrance with a considerable amount of vetiver in it, I get that distinctly sour smell after awhile. I do like quite a few vetiver fragrances on the blotter, but it all goes downhill whenever I apply them to my skin. 🙁

    My favourites include Frederic Malle’s Vetiver Extraordinaire, Tom Ford’s Grey Vetiver and Chanel Les Exclusifs Sycomore. I actually quite liked Diptyque’s Vetyverio as I find it quite refreshing and quite unlike the other vetiver fragrances I’ve encountered, but I haven’t tried the newly released EDP version yet. October 9, 2017 at 11:45pm Reply

    • Victoria: I like the new EDP even more, but I wonder if it may not behave the same way on you as all others, because it’s heavier on vetiver. October 10, 2017 at 11:46am Reply

      • Michael: I’m guessing it probably would. Unfortunately. I also like Chanel 1932 from the Les Exclusifs range but the vetiver in the drydown is quite prominent on my skin. Strangely enough, Ormonde Jayne Woman was my signature scent sometime ago. I remember trying to decide between the Man and Woman at Linda Pilkington’s store on Old Bond Street, unable to make the choice. After smelling both her scents on me, she recommended that I take the Woman because it smelled better on me. I can’t seem to remember smelling a strong veviter note on my skin though … October 10, 2017 at 11:35pm Reply

        • Victoria: Still, it’s worth trying. Have you tried wearing vetiver perfumes on fabric? October 16, 2017 at 11:24am Reply

          • Michael: Yes, but somehow the ones that I like don’t end up lasting very long on my work shirts. Or maybe I haven’t sprayed enough of the fragrance on the material.

            There was a really beautiful (but now discontinued) Miller Harris fragrance named Le Petit Grain, which smelled amazing on the testing stick but would vanish on my skin after 30 mins. I loved the fusion of herbs and citrus so it was one of the few fragrances I actually sprayed on fabric. Nothing beats having the fragrance on my skin though … October 16, 2017 at 11:22pm Reply

  • Cody Childers: Sycomore EDT and Mona Di Orio’s vetyver are both very refined and elegant. I also love Le Vetiver by Lubin for a dark green, smoky, foresty vetiver. October 10, 2017 at 1:57am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for mentioning these extra ones. I forgot about Le Vetiver de Lubin. October 10, 2017 at 11:46am Reply

  • Figuier: Lovely article, Victoria! Vetiver is one of the most gorgeous smells; I’ve liked pretty much all and every vetiver scent I’ve come across. The one I own (shared with DH) is Sycomore, but I also like Guerlain, Encre Noire, Vetyverio.

    It’s definitely a unisex note, but I do think Sycomore smells even better on my husband than on me. It also lasts about 3 times as long on him. October 10, 2017 at 8:16am Reply

    • Victoria: I love when my husband wears it. Another vetiver that smells good on him is one of the citrusy flankers to Terre d’Hermes. He had strangers compliment him. October 10, 2017 at 11:47am Reply

  • Brainfodder: Thanks for this opportunity to think about vetiver – it appears I like vetiver even more than I thought I did…

    I love wearing Encre Noir – bought the Pour Home version (having read positive reviews here) and the plan was to try it out on my husband… ah well, never mind! For me, it perfectly straddles the mid ground between feminine and masculine scents. It’s so versatile – I can happily wear it any time, anywhere.

    True love is reserved for FM’s Vetiver Extraordinaire – bright, bracing, crisp, unique, addictive – it makes me shiver! Good for me at any time… but utter perfection under a cool cotton on a hot summer’s day. Price is the only factor holding me back, and I’m eternally grateful to all who provide a sampling service, and allow people with a love of perfume to explore all those wondrous concoctions.

    And for the past month it’s been another absolute favourite – Ormande Woman – though I admit to not having registered the vetiver element – I thought it was all about a forest of spruce warmed by spice and amber. I’ve had the bottle for 5 years, and it’s at this time of year (September to November – when the English summer ends, and autumn sets in) when I wear it. Not sure why, but it’s so wonderful at this time of year, and then it goes back into the drawer… October 10, 2017 at 9:25am Reply

  • spe: Vetiver fragrances are lovely – part sporty, part elegant. I like them least when smokey (Sycamore) or sweet (Vetiver Oriental, Vetiver Tonka) but even those I’d happily wear. Just yesterday I found a small, perfectly preserved metal cannister of Chanel 19 parfum. The iris – vetiver beauty is going strong for over 12 hours.

    I’m curious to know what you think of Vetiver Chantecaille, Victoria. Have you had an opportunity to try that fragrance? Thank you for any input. October 10, 2017 at 10:40am Reply

    • Victoria: I tried it and liked it, but I remember thinking that for the price, it wasn’t quite there. It also didn’t last well on me. October 10, 2017 at 11:50am Reply

  • Avni: Lalique encre noir is my favourite and signature vetiver perfume…after that terre d hermes and guerain vetiver are also nice vetiver perfumes.. kindly suggest more..Thanks October 10, 2017 at 2:47pm Reply

    • Victoria: Dior and Givenchy also have great vetivers. October 16, 2017 at 11:22am Reply

  • Rose: I live in India so I love the smell and usefulness of Vetiver. We have a quite brand less Vetiver perfumes sold in shops everywhere and some of them are incredibly good.

    By the way, I would like to ask you a little question. My apologies if this is the wrong place. I’m looking to invest in a bottle of perfume…what I’m looking for is to capture the enchanted forest smell in a bottle. The perfume ‘Tramp’ by Lush is my favorite but it has been discontinued. It had oakmoss and patchouli in it. I’ve asked around for oakmoss recommendations and I’ve received two suggestions: Mitsouko by Guerlain and Knowing by Estee Lauder. Which one of these would you recommend? I’m confused by some calling Mitsouko “dark and earthly” and others calling it “fruity”. Thank you and lovely blog!

    Regards,
    Rose. October 11, 2017 at 12:03pm Reply

    • Victoria: Mitsouko is both fruity and earthy, and if you’re looking for something green, then I recommend Mitsuoko EDT. But it’s quite an unusual perfume, and I definitely recommend trying it on skin first. Please let me know how it goes. October 16, 2017 at 11:28am Reply

      • Rose: Thank you. I placed an order for Mitsouko and Knowing. I’m crazy about Jasmine and I am really spoiled by the choices available in South India…I do also buy fresh Jasmine garlands every week. However, I’ve been intrigued by Serges Lutens’ A La Nuit ever since I read your review so I ordered that too! I will keep you posted!

        Rose. October 16, 2017 at 3:42pm Reply

  • Rose: *quite a few* October 11, 2017 at 12:03pm Reply

  • SFSteve: Do I like vetiver or don’t I? I can’t figure it out. I love and regularly wear Guerlain’s (and the EDP of Sycomore smells quite similar to me), while I blind bought a bottle of Encre Noire and not only gave it away immediately, I had to dispose of anything it had touched (I almost said “contaminated”). As for Terre d’Hermes, I don’t detect any vetiver in that, only Iso E Super. Just call me puzzled. October 11, 2017 at 7:08pm Reply

    • Victoria: It also contains Iso E Super. Vetiver is there too, though. October 16, 2017 at 11:29am Reply

  • Aurora: What an interesting article, I feel that vetiver is a bit like lavender working hard in the background and not often celebrated.

    I enjoy the vetiver in Donna Karan Woman (the one in the very unpractical bottle), I don’t think it was a commercial success.

    PS I apologize I haven’t been commenting lately and am looking forward to catching up. October 12, 2017 at 5:47am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, I agree! Not the most successful commercially, but definitely is a good perfume.

      I love your description of vetiver. 🙂 October 16, 2017 at 11:30am Reply

  • Klaas: Hello all, I am a big Vetiver fan, for all the reasons Victoria puts forward in het article. It is such a versatile ingredient, and can go so many directions. There is Vetiver for summer, for winter, for happy days, for sad ones…….

    I have very fond memories of Guerlain’s classic Vetiver. I don’t use it anymore, the reformulated version lacks in depth and punch. I love to wear Keiko Mecheri’s Vetiver Velours now the weather is turning colder. It’s a luxuriously warm, plush and alomst oriental vetiver, smoldering with labdanum and woody notes. Very compelling. For contrast, Veti Vert by Miller Harris is the opposit: stark, gritty and dry. Like walking on gravel. A great, modern vetiver in my opinion.

    Special mention for Ellena’s Vetiver Tonka. And for his daughter’s Sel de Vetiver (The Different Company). Very beautiful as well. October 12, 2017 at 3:09pm Reply

    • Victoria: Such great perfumes to add to the list. I like your choices. October 16, 2017 at 11:31am Reply

  • Austenfan: Loved reading this. It reminded me of how Encre Noir was one of many successful blind buys based on your review and Robin’s of NST. I can never quite make up my mind which of my Vetivers is no.1 in my collection, but Encre Noire is definitely one of them. October 12, 2017 at 4:41pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s really hard to pick for me too, but if I had to keep only one vetiver, it would be Encre Noire. October 16, 2017 at 11:32am Reply

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