Guerlain’s Vetiver (1959) may be considered the benchmark for men’s fragrances containing vetiver oil but I consider Frederic Malle’s Vetiver Extraordinaire the apogee of 21st century vetivers. Clean, sleek and with a sense of ease, it typifies the modern man’s approach to grooming, which needs to feel uncomplicated. Malle’s extraordinary take on vetiver rates highly and is hard to beat. Vetiver Extraordinaire is authored by one of the brand’s most prolific perfumers to date, Dominique Ropion, the French perfumer who has created five titles to date for Frederic Malle’s Editions de Parfums. Malle and Ropion met during the late 1980s at Laboratoires Roure Betrand, a producer of fine fragrances that has since merged with global producer, Givaudan. At Roure, a young Ropion gained reputation for his unconventional approach to perfumery. His compositions were often overdosed with powerful raw materials, which lead to successes such as the headstrong white floral Ysatis by Givenchy. Vetiver Extraordinaire maintains Ropion’s style containing a very large dose of vetiver (around 25%). The fragrance was born in 2002 following a conversation between Malle and Ropion. Frederic Malle remembered a woody accord Ropion had created back in the days of Roure and by chance the perfumer had a record of the formula. Part of the rediscovery of this accord was the introduction of a new Haitian vetiver essence. The essence had been stripped of its camphorous odour through molecular distillation to reveal a crisp, refreshing vetiver grass note. Frederic Malle set out to create the ideal vetiver perfume; 500 trials and 16 months later; the result is one of my favourite examples to date.
I remember the first time I smelt Vetiver Extraordianire. I was not conscious of my attraction to the grass’s unique odour. The first impression it gave me was one of cedar pencils and an odour I had no words to describe; it was vetiver. In 2004 I completed a questionnaire on the Frederic Malle website. A few weeks later a note was delivered to my mailbox informing me I had a parcel to collect. It was from Frederic Malle in Paris. One of his boutique assistants had enclosed a hand written note with three 5ml samples of perfumes they thought I should try. Vetiver Extraordinaire was one of them. In his book, On Perfume Making, Frederic Malle describes the fragrance as deceptively simple. Malle’s vetiver feels this way because of the high dose of natural essence. Once you look behind this dominant note you begin to see all of the other work that goes into exalting the vetiver base. A zesty opening helps build the virile masculine theme seen throughout the different paces of the fragrance. The fresh peppery spices add complexity. Malle says the base is built around five woody notes. Virginian cedar is the most prominent wood in this accord, smelling beautifully of pencil shavings on white paper. The fragrance is light and airy in comparison to other vetivers, which often stay low to the ground, smelling earthy and dank (in a good way). It is a matter of opinion, how you prefer your vetivers- for me it doesn’t get much better than this!
Vetiver Extraordinaire belongs to that rare group of men’s fragrances, which appeals to the cliquish world of perfume enthusiasts as well as appealing to men that simply love a good scent. The cost of Vetiver Extraordinaire will likely keep it in the hands of enthusiasts, as the second group for men will reach for something that requires less financial investment and in their eyes, serves the same purpose. In some ways it is like a Radiohead album. It’s top 20 stuff but still commands respect from aficionados. Malle’s limited distribution means men will need to do some searching for their vetiver fix. In that sense it is not like a Radiohead album; you won’t find it as easily as walking into your local HMV store to buy a CD. But for those men who persevere, a brilliant fragrance awaits you. This is assuming you like vetiver. If you don’t, I imagine you will be wondering what all the fuss is about. Although I could write pages about vetiver, I am aware of it’s polarising effect. It is simply one of those things you love or dislike.
Kenzo Air Pour Homme, Lalique Encre Noire Pour Homme, Honore des Pres Chaman’s Party, Chanel Sycomore, Guerlain Vetiver, Etro Vetiver, Miller Harris Vetiver Bourbon, Hermes Vetiver Tonka, Christian Dior Vetiver, Guerlain Vetiver Sport, Chanel Bleu de Chanel
Perfumer: Dominique Ropion (IFF)
Bottle designer: Frederic Malle
Release date: 2002
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Classical woods