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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Magnificent (Loathesome) Vetiver

By Marla, the Nerd Girl

Chrysopogon zizanioides is known to most perfumistas as Marvelous Vetiver. Or Stinky Vetiver. Depends on whether you love it (like I do), or loathe it (like a lot of other people do). It’s like patchouli-- a whiff of the ubiquitous khus elicits strong opinions! Vetiver used to have its own genus, but botanists decided it was actually close cousins to palmarosa and lemongrass, and it was chucked in with other “oil grass” -pogons. I hope its enjoying its new expanded family.

The grassy leaves are pretty much odorless, it’s the roots that are so fragrant (or smelly). They are distilled into medicines and perfumes, woven into fragrant mats and fans that became so popular during the Moghul Empire and Raj in India, and bundled into linen chests here in the Southern US to keep away fungi and buggles. You can even flavor your summer ice water with the roots! The top half, the grass, grows up to 8 feet tall. I’m growing some experimentally here on my sand dune. We’ve got big trouble with storm tide erosion and high winds and we need some special plants to buffer our living zone. Vetiver is being used on the islands to our east as just such a buffer, and it’s working out well. And its deep roots cleanse soils of various pollutants, too. My little pot of about 10 plants is nearly 2 feet high now. Alberto of Agriflora Tropicals, in Puerto Rico, specializes in vetiver, and he’s been a wealth of information on the lovely khus. He’s happy to ship some to anyone who wants to grow it themselves. (Disclosure—I get no commission from Alberto, I’m just a happy customer.)

My scent library contains several varieties of vetiver, some fractions and synthetics. They are:

1. Rhus Khus- traditional Indian attar, vetiver co-distilled with sandalwood. The strongest vetiver of the bunch! So strong it’s almost horse-radishy….

2. Bourbon vetiver- from Reunion Island. Supposedly the finest type, but I prefer the Sri Lankan.

3. Sri Lankan organic vetiver- softer and sweeter, with almost nutlike nuances.

4. Haitian vetiver- earthy and rooty with hints of fruit, the most grounding of the group. Rough and rugged!

5. Vetiverol- there are actually several of these patented out there with varying profiles. It’s usually considered a fraction of actual vetiver, but there’s controvery over whether it can be called a natural ingredient or not. To my nose, it has the simplest, and nuttiest profile of the group.

6. Vetiveryl acetate- a synthetic, a beloved aromachemical of Escentric Molecules (03 is allegedly composed of only this one.) Lighter and airier than the naturals.

There are many other varieties out there, and I’m always on the lookout to add more!

My favorite vetiver scents are an Indian attar of tuberose/vetiver, Lalique’s Encre Noir (the guy’s version), and the old standby, Guerlain’s Vetiver. Serge Lutens also makes a lovely vetiver potion, and Hove’ Parfumeur in New Orleans has a whole line of the softer, southern US type of vetiver- they even sell the root bundles for your linen chests. They won’t tell me what variety of vetiver they are using, but I suspect it’s a proprietary blend….

What are your favorite vetiver perfumes, types of vetiver, or fractions/synthetics? And if you’re in Zones 8-10, have you ever thought of growing it yourself??

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Blogger Dionne said...

I've recently decided to have a reference library myself to help develop my nose; Marla, what's the best way to go about that?

Encre Noir and Sycomore are fantastic on my other half, and I'm looking to have him try more vetivers. Growing them here is not an option though, as I'm Zone 3 ;)

12:05 PM EDT  
Blogger Laurinha said...

Vetyver Oriental, Encre Noire, Sycomore, Vetyver Tonka, Vetyver Extraordinaire, Guerlain Vetyver... I love them all! ^_^

12:54 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm in the middle of writing an article on starting a scent library. Should be up within a month. Hope it will be helpful!

2:14 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love all those you've mentioned, too, although it's been years since I tried the V. Extraordinaire, I still remember!

2:15 PM EDT  
Blogger Unknown said...

I will be looking forward to reading your vetiver library.
I love vetiver in ll its many forms. I am one of those people who think it is ever changing and versatile. My favourites (and each one ofr a different reason) are Route du Vetiver (the older version, I am sure it was full of Haitian vetiver), Encre Noire, Etro Vetiver, Annick Goutal Vetiver and KenzoAir

3:22 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd totally forgotten KenzoAir, and I even own a bottle (one of my favorite bottles when it's half-full, the light really plays with it). Gorgeous, underrated perfume, a fantastic vetiver!

3:29 PM EDT  
Blogger Mary LNU said...

Aloha, Marla,
Anyone who's a friend of Alberto's is a friend of mine! Ditto to everyone interested in Vetiver's many fragrance applications. I must tell you that, of the group of Vetiver frags listed, some, including Annick Goutal and Givenchy are my particular favorites. I am not a fan of the Madagascar/Bourbon/Reunion Islands Vetiver, however, which is featured in Encre Noir, the newer Sycomore, and Bourbon Vetiver, among others. Chanel's Perfumer, Jacques Polge, who developed Sycomore, initially used Haitian Vetiver in his formulation. I became practically giddy as soon as I smelled it; it was remarkably true to the just-harvested smell of Vetiver roots. I must admit that I tarried--knowing that I had not one, but two Chanel boutique sources in Honolulu, I decided to postpone my separation from $200. My loss. In the year it took me to swallow hard and purchase a bottle, Polge had replaced the Haitian V with Bourbon V!!! Blech!! It now smells like Encre Noir, which, too, languishes among my bottles. I'll be eager to follow your blogs as they explore the use of Vetiver in fragrance.
Mary A. Wilkowski, Vetiver Systems Hawaii

5:43 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mary,
Thank you for writing! I'm glad you did, as I'm just not a big fan of Bourbon vetiver, either. My faves are the Sri Lankan, and the Haitian. I have a bottle of Haitian vetiver that can simply be diluted in perfumer's alcohol and worn on its own, its so beautiful and complex....

7:02 PM EDT  
Anonymous Suzanne said...

Wonderful post, Marla. I hope you have good luck growing your vetiver. My favorite vetiver frags are Vero Profumo Onda, Amouage Tribute, Serge Lutens Vetiver Oriental, Lalique Encre Noir (men's version). I think of both DSH Bancha Extreme and La Via del Profumo Hindu Kush as vetiver scents, though there's a lot of other things going on in those two compositions, so perhaps I shouldn't identify them as such, but I really love both of those too.

Oddly enough, Guerlain Vetiver doesn't appeal to me ... much too dry and astringent, at least in the vintage formulation.

9:43 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fascinating as ever, Marla! I came late to vetiver love, but when I fell, I fell hard.

I'm the proud owner of a Hove Vetiver soap, which is lovely, and several of their samples. Nicely done, just a bit more clean musk than I love.

My favorite vetivers include SMN's Eva, Onda (extrait or EdP), Atelier's Oolong Infini, and KenzoAir. Weirdly, these seem to work well in awful 100F+ heat and humidity. I look forward to your scent library article. Be well.

11:54 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Suzanne and Hemlock Sillage,
Onda! That name keeps popping up, and I've never tried it. I will start looking for some, I have the feeling I'm going to like it...a lot.

6:47 AM EDT  
Anonymous Catherine@scentofchoice said...

Vetiver roots were used in sachets or just tied up in ribbon to scent linen cupboards and banish insects when I grew up in Mauritius. That would have been vetiver from Reunion island next door so vetiver Bourbon (the old name for Reunion)-
In terms of perfumes, don't forget the Givenchy Vetiver which vanished for years then came back as one of the Parfums Mythiques in the rather uninspiring frosted glass bottles. This has remained my reference vetiver but the dark and pungent Etro one is also to look out for. Vetiver Extraordinaire by Dominque Ropion for Frederic Malle is also worth smelling - this is too thin and severe for me. Also, in L'Artisan's Vetiver Sacre there's (unsurprisingly! a lot of vetiver alongside the vanilla, the incense, the spices. It's not a powerful vetiver perhaps a good introduction but you'd also have to like incense. The Lorenzo Villoresi vetiver has a lot of patchouli which takes over in my view.

7:12 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do you remember the Bourbon vetiver smelling? Especially compared to Haitian? I really like L'Artisan's Vetiver Sacre'- it's actually on the delicate side, very nuanced and beautiful.

8:16 AM EDT  
Anonymous Kurt said...

Story form Paul Smith, simple clean little vetiver. Bonus: it starts with a really nice citrus.

9:50 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember trying that in London and really liking it. Thanks for reminding me, we're getting quite a Master List of vetivers here!

10:51 AM EDT  
Anonymous Dick said...

What Islands do you refer to when commenting that vetiver is used to protect erosion from the sea


5:52 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They are using vetiver in the Bahamas and Puerto Rico, and experimentally in places as far flung as Los Angeles!

6:39 PM EDT  
Anonymous Catherine@scent of choice said...

Hi Marla
I've never smelled Haitian vetiver (consciously at any rate!) so can't compare but have a little linen cupboard sachet of the Bourbon which I'm smelling now and would describe it as soft and gentle - not earthy and not woody. I could send you one if you'd like. (I'm assuming this isn't grown in Mauritius but can't swear to that - will try to check).

2:18 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll email you, we can exchange vetivers!

6:47 AM EDT  
Anonymous said...

thanks Marla. Looking forward to hearing from you.

8:08 PM EDT  

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