Guerlain’s Vetiver signifies the start of my love affair with this delectable grass. I wrote briefly about my introduction to Guerlain Vetiver in a post on my visit to their maison at 68 Champs-Elysees in Paris. Many years ago I remember that although the brand looked dowdy and conservative to my immature eyes, my hand would still settle on the Vetiver tester when I wandered the perfume counters of department stores. I found the fragrance pleasant and comforting, but at the age I was then, I was intent on smelling like Dior Higher, a fruity pear fougere and DKNY men, another modern fougere. With age comes understanding and I now regard Guerlain’s Vetiver as one of my all time favourites, not only because of the scent, but also because of the story of the fragrance and the Guerlain family. A very young Jean-Paul Guerlain created the scent in 1959. Up until that point, with the exception of two perfumes, the Guerlain catalogue was entirely feminine. French couturier, Madame Carven was experiencing success with her Vetiver, which she launched in 1957. Jean-Pierre Guerlain decided the house could also appeal to the masculine perfume market and gave the brief to his 22-year-old nephew, Jean-Paul Guerlain. Thus, Vetiver was born. Originally it was planned only for the Latin American market however Jean-Paul’s creation was so highly regarded, the company thought it would be a shame not to share it with the world. To create Vetiver, it is said Jean-Paul Guerlain was inspired by the scent of the gardener, the smell of tobacco and soil. The beginning of the fragrance is the fresh morning fog that engulfs the countryside, only to lift with the sun as it rises. The perfume’s glass casing has evolved with time. After the creation of Habit Rouge, Vetiver has since been associated with the colour green. In 2000 designer Robert Granai created a chic bottle of alternating frosted and transparent glass layers that signified the layers of a man’s life. Recently this bottle was discontinued and Vetiver has returned to the design Granai created for the house in 1988. A shame since the 2000 design is my favourite. With the change taking place earlier this year, these older bottles are still available online or with discount stores. The 200ml splash bottles make great decorative pieces in bathrooms.
Could a blend of citrus, spices and plants be so perfect? Vetiver begins as Jean-Paul Guerlain intended. It is the morning. I feel I am in a citrus orchard surrounded by lemons, oranges and bergamot. Within minutes neroli is the bridge between the fading citrus notes towards the developing spices. Peppers and nutmeg score the edges of the composition creating a gritty texture to what would otherwise be like a smooth pebble. As vetiver gradually builds, the tobacco note permeates rather than wafts. For me it is more the scent of tobacco left in a jacket pocket, rather than the scent of a freshly lit cigarette. Tonka bean is sweet and powdery, rounding out the composition in a classic Guerlain style.
Men and woman have worn Vetiver for decades. I hope this doesn’t change. It does have a slightly dated feel. Thankfully at the moment dated is in fashion. As one of the world’s great masculine’s this is definitely one of the fragrances I would stockpile in my fall-out shelter should there be a threat of nuclear war. Men can wear Vetiver on weekends or at work. It is a great all rounder that I have a personal preference for wearing in the summer months.
Guerlain Vetiver Sport, Guerlain Vetiver Pour Elle, Christian Dior Vetiver, Givenchy Vetyver, Carven Vetiver, Lubin Le Vetyver, Guerlain Vetiver Extreme, Frederic Malle Vetiver Extraordinaire, Lalique Encre Noire.
Perfumer: Jean-Paul Guerlain
Bottle designer: Robert Granai
Release date: 1959
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Woods