On Vetiver: Vétiver Extraordinaire for Frederic Malle

Vétiver Extraordinaire manages to exist in vetiver purgatory, where the namesake note floats as just a vetiver. As a note it appears eagerly on the palette, omnipresent and stark with a general attention to its adornments. Present at the front and detracting into the mid and back of a composition, vetiver is easily detected within a fragrance. As an alternative to playing and enhancing a single facet of vetiver, Vétiver Extraordinaire reduces and paradoxically enhances the expression of vetiver with an emphasis on purity, demonstrating what is expected of the root while retaining its wholesome quality.

While the vetiver note generally exists just off centre with a focus on one of its many varied facets, Dominique Ropion manages to recalibrate it, moving the framework of the composition back into a perfectly balanced centre where its many facets are completely legible. The liquorice quality of vetiver is present as an overtone, with the earthy and smoky rawness found at the base, then washed with a clinical crisp whiteness at the back – nothing at the centre other than vetiver. With great technical configuration, Ropion’s take offers an elucidation of all that is expected of a vetiver-centric fragrance. Completely true to its wide form while remaining completely unlike any other vetiver. Uniquely effervescent, lifted strategically with a well-placed cocktail of synthetics, yet equally grounded with supporting wood notes.

The treatment of vetiver often finds itself conforming to a style dictated by the chosen facet. For instance, Chanel’s Sycomore plays with smoke with an intelligent addition of violet and tobacco, moving the vetiver into a dark yet delicate textural weave. Grey Vetiver is clinical and appropriate for doctors, whereas Fat Electrician utilises the gourmand and delectable aspects of the note with an amiable combination of vanilla, opoponax, and chestnut. Extraordinaire avoids that and wholly explores vetiver with a wider lens capturing a larger gamut.

Vet Ext by Malle © 2016 Liam Sardea

© 2016 Liam Sardea


It is unique smelling the technical maximalist Dominique Ropion work with a note that is at once narrow in profile yet wonderfully complimentary. Working within the self-defined confines of vetiver is indeed a technical challenge, however, it is not a maximalist one. In that respect, was Malle right in having Ropion create the vetiver for his range? Bourdon’s French Lover contains vetiver and is delightfully acrobatic, fiery with appropriate levels of zeal. His perfumery style tackles vetiver with a scythe, carving large chunks from raw materials rather than mere definition through precision (see Kouros, Feminite du Bois, and Cool Water, to name a few).

Ropion excels in the baroque, composing symphonies on an outrageous scale defined by balance, avoiding crassness. Une Fleur de Cassie, Portrait of a Lady, Carnal Flower – all Malle’s signed by Ropion, use classical florals (mimosa, rose, tuberose respectively) that sing when given the maximal treatment. His works for Givenchy are also a testament to that fact. When reduced perfumes are created, Vétiver Extraordinaire being one of them, it reads as slightly unconvincing. Vetiver (the note) for me cannot be grandiose, instead remaining resolutely crisp, clean and fresh rather than symphonic, ultimately coming across as strange under Ropion.

For demonstrations sake, Ellena – he plays with the note in his Vetiver Tonka (2004), which registers as unconvincing, nice but not exemplary, for the simple reason that I don’t think vetiver needs to be made transparent. Even then, Vetiver Tonka plays with the nutty aspects of vetiver, readjusting the focus and adding an overarching sense of direction to the fragrance.

Thinking in this manner, Vétiver Extraordinaire can appear as a ball of intense creative energy wasted on a note not so welcoming to metamorphosis. Building a floral oriental atop of the woody Extraordinaire playing with floral-woody gender boundaries seems totally possible, creating the necessary element of highlighted tension that is absent here. Yet, while I lament over vetiver’s general lack of baroqueness, the perfumer’s technical brilliance manages to shine through in Vétiver Extraordinaire – constructing an olfactory square of well-defined vetiver proportions; evenly faceted.

By shading the work with austere, dry woods at the base (cedar is obvious), a piquant touch of lemon at the top with a searing thin spice of clove, then offset with the bitterness of myrrh, this olfactory square is expanded in size,  allowing the vetiver to become more and more prominent, moved and carried with a brisk gust of fresh, lightly green air. Delightful.

Recalibrated Vetiver.

Subjective rating : 4/5

Objective rating: 4/5

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2 thoughts on “On Vetiver: Vétiver Extraordinaire for Frederic Malle

  1. Vetiver is in my Top 10 fave smells and has been recently eclipsed on my olfactory turntable (i.e. my nebulizing diffusers) by agarwood. I have begun exploring the commercial fragrance side of these essential oils since reading your blog as I wish to wear them in social outings. I am very keen to smell the item reviewed here and if you have a recommendation as to where I can do so in Melbourne I would appreciate it.

    BTW, is the Vetiver Tonka you mentioned a blend of Vetiver and Tonka Bean? I am thinking of mixing this up now for my diffuser . . . .

    • Hey Setken,

      This vetiver can be smelled at Mecca. The two stores that I know that stocks them (and I am assuming there are others) is South Yarra and Myer on Bourke St.

      Vetiver Tonka from Hermes is indeed a blend of the two, however, I suspect the perfumer added waxy elements of hazelnuts, soft murmurs of sweet tobacco, chocolate-y praline accords, and an impression of rum and associated lactones. I would recommend turning your duo into a trio with an addition of tobacco or at least hay!

      Thanks for reading as always.

      Kindest Regards,

      Liam.

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