On Vetiver: Vétiver Oriental by Serge Lutens

I have never actually liked vetiver-centric perfumes. This is a subjective fault I am happy to admit, and in fact, it is something that I should admit to.

Readers would know that I place Malle’s Vetiver Extraordinaire, L’Artisan’s Timbuktu, and Chanel’s Sycomore in particularly high regard. Readers would also know that I have no liking for Guerlain’s Vetiver. Allow me to justify these positions:

Vetiver Extraordinaire is like a mathematical relation or a geometric axiom, it is a vetiver of theoretical deduction, beyond the context of time and space and simply a vetiver configured as a perfect square. It is of stupendous balance, of ultra fine tuned symmetry, and has an almost clinical coldness, with secret warmth at its heart that works so well. Vetiver is placed at the front of the composition, and that’s all you would ever really need to know. Anything deeper and you’re reaching critical analysis. Vetiver Extraordinaire is quite really a vetiver, and an extraordinary one at that.

If the Malle vetiver is a take on a single note moved and built to perfection, then Timbuktu and Sycomore are so much more than a vetiver, but accords with a crucial vetiver motif. Timbuktu merges the earthy root with the celestial oil-less quality of cypriol extract, thin incense and an exotic timbre through mango, pink peppercorn, and coffee. Every experience of Timbuktu reveals something new. It is the floating symphony from afar, the continually lucid scent with an ever-expanding quality with an undefinable base and thin boundary lines.

Sycomore is neoclassical, in that it retains a classical style with an intriguing, exciting accord of myrrh, violet, and vetiver within. Violet maintains a striking, sober aura, that moves further to earthly origins alongside a dark, quietly intense vetiver extract excited with tobacco. The cool foresty aromatics of juniper and cypress move with the antiseptic cool of myrrh, which gives base clashed against a herbaceous aspect of sandalwood. The style is well-defined and pyramidal, top-down in which transition isn’t so obvious. It is a vetiver of stages, all rigorously complimentary, that isn’t afraid to configure proportions to maintain interest. It is brilliant.

And what of Guerlain’s Vetiver? I appreciate its value, but I do not appreciate its almost disparate intensity of top to bottom, with a middle section that struggles to be somewhere between these two poles. The top is boldly lemon and stale breath, of perpetual ringing freshness and sizzling spice. The bottom is a desiccated melange of tobacco, vetiver, civet, and a sprinkling of dank. Often to remedy these poles we find a unique midway, as is the case in Sycomore, but here each note aligns itself to absolute dryness or an upwards ringing quality, and what results is a perfumed civil war on the skin. Pepper goes up, leather goes down, nutmeg goes up, and vetiver is the overbearing catalyst of conflict. To me, it is a style that has indeed improved through change as time has progressed (cf. Habit Rouge, which is rightfully eternal), and Guerlain’s Vetiver which is stuck wearing tweed with a flat saturation.

© 2017 Liam Sardea

But what of Vétiver Oriental? I think it is plainly brilliant – a take on vetiver that is beyond anything else I have ever had the fortune to visit and live with. Vetiver is captured in its smoky longness, in that it is smoky, earthy, and a camouflage green patterned horizontal line that fills the composition with a steady and comfortable saturation. As a general principle, the vetiver note moves into either clinically clean and pure, or deep and raw, and both aspects are worked into Vétiver Oriental. With particular focus on the latter, there is a soft echo of florality that introduces the fragrance, moving into adornments of dark, bitter chocolate, which picks up the earthy depth of vetiver; liquorice root, which picks up vetiver’s quiet salinity; and a combination of woods and incense that remind the wearer of vetiver’s affinity for woody stylings.

There too is a funky primary rawness of vetiver that Vétiver Oriental divulges on, giving away flecks of rubber (reminiscent of artificiality), tar-ish petrol-like undertones, spent matchsticks, and a greasy (but tamed) impression of something toasted and caramelised, akin to certain treatments of lavender; immortelle-like, and indubitably aided with a helping of labdanum. In my mind, vetiver is a bit like oud – pure yet challenging, full of deep aromas that are blanketed around each other. And yet, the only problem with this is the strong static block which situates itself deep in the core of the composition – not entirely problematic, but mildly restrictive. But, this can also be viewed as a strength, giving an adequate departure from cologne-like treatments of the note whilst retaining the clarity of its message and the convincing depth of its intention.

Therefore, considered that way, Vétiver Oriental is reminiscent of Sycomore done in a way that embraces spicy, culinary tones that only Serge is able to capture, and fixates on the features of vetiver that are often neglected. It is, quite really, a plunge into the orient, and it emerges as a piece of vetiver turned to velvet. “As viscous as wax!”

Dark Vetiver.

Subjective Rating: 4/5

Objective Rating: 4.5/5

2 thoughts on “On Vetiver: Vétiver Oriental by Serge Lutens

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