If you open the wardrobe where I keep my collection of perfumes you should notice a theme of vetiver fragrances. After almost a year of perfume blogging, writing about all of the scented creations that I have the pleasure and fortune of choosing from every morning, I have not written about every vetiver scent that my wardrobe contains. I do not help my predicament by adding new vetiver scents to my perfume wardrobe as new bottles find their way into my restless hands. I guess this is not a bad predicament to be in! I have often thought of what it is about the native Indian grass that I find so attractive. I believe it has something to do with the complexity of the scent, the paradox of its radiant green character and dense earthiness. Its ultra suave masculine personality that can change gender when paired with seductive floral notes. Vetiver is the chameleon note that adapts to the perfumer’s hand. The grass has been used for centuries, in perfumery and for medicinal purposes. Oil is distilled from the plant’s roots and contains no less than one hundred different molecules, a testimony to its complexity. Vetiver (Vetiveria Zizanioides) was not botanically defined until 1896 when western botanists worked to unearth the plant’s myth. Without today’s modern technologies, early explorations by scientists unearthed aromatic oil from the plant’s roots. Previous to this the plant was used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine and scented household items. From the 1930s-50s vetiver oil was produced almost solely in Java, Indonesia. In time oil produced in the Reunion Islands (Bourbon) and Haiti has become renown for its individual quality and character. Adding to this, the distiller’s process has a marked effect on the final product. For example, steam distillation produces viscous amber coloured oil, using copper equipment with conventional slow fire stills produces dark green oil. In more recent times, molecular extraction using liquid carbon dioxide is being favoured. The quality of the final product depends not only on the plant, its environment and how the rhizomes were prepared for distillation but also on the distillation process and how skilled the distiller is to remove any unwanted trace elements that unnecessarily add to the oil’s olfactive qualities. It has been estimated that vetiver is a note in 36% of all western perfumes and used in 20% of all men’s perfumes. In 2010 perfumer, Geza Schoen launched the next duo in his series of Escentric Molecules, a range dedicated to the scent of a singular molecule. His first series paid homage to the wonder wood molecule, Iso E Super. In 2008 it was synthetic ambergris molecule, Ambroxan and now vetiveryl acetate, which is a molecule that can be separated from vetiver oil by fractional distillation. It is further acetylated making it suitable as a perfume ingredient. Schoen always creates two fragrances. Molecule 03 is simply a blend of vetiveryl acetate in alcohol. Escentric 03 is a perfume in the classical sense of having other notes that work in harmony with the main ingredient, vetiveryl acetate. Without question, vetiveryl acetate is the most important ingredient in a vetiver cologne or perfume. So much so I think it is fair to say many of today’s vetiver fragrances smell more of the vetiver derived acetate than of the natural oil itself. Not to say that one is better than the other, they both serve different purposes.
Is a semi viscous liquid. Diluted with alcohol it is a light greenish yellow colour. It smells fresh, green with wood and fresh nut nuances. It is elegant and pure. One can easily see how this ingredient can so easily pair with flowers such as rose or gardenia, or orris butter. There is also a clean citrus or pine element lingering in the top that is quite masculine.
Vetiver Oil (Javanese):
Is a viscous brown oil. I find the natural oil can be diluted at a higher alcohol to oil ratio and that this assists in releasing the oil’s beauty. In dilution it colours the alcohol with a golden brown hue. The scent is complex with notes of vetiver, tobacco, molasses and hay.
After researching for this blog entry I have a newfound appreciation for perfumers who work with naturals, particularly highly complex naturals such as vetiver. Not only do you require skill to formulate with these highly complex and sometimes unpredictable ingredients, but you face the difficulty of finding a supplier who can guarantee a consistent level of raw material over time. You can easily see how a change in supplier who has slightly different production methods using plants that may originate from a different geography could have a noticeable effect on a perfume formula. Guerlain’s in-house perfumer, Thierry Wasser commented in an interview that regardless of IFRA regulations, even if he wanted to recreate the Guerlain masterpieces of the past he could not do so as many of the suppliers to the house have gone out of business. Even with the family’s formula books in hand, the ingredients of a century ago simply no longer exist. I am thinking how fun it would be to create a perfume time machine!