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Guerlain Vetiver – Just for men? I don’t think so. (May 4, 2012 New Fragrance Listing)


Photo - Wikipedia - Vetiver by Guerlain - Glass flacon design by Robert Granai, 2000 - by Thomso, May 2006

We’ve written about the vetiver note since we started this blog, so you know all about vetiver by now – right? How it’s a fragrant grass grown in hot countries, distilled into oil and used in perfumes for its incredible scent and fixative properties. How vetiver can smell green, earthy, woody, dirty, deep, dark, smoky or bitter. You can read our descriptions of Vetiver Oriental by Serge Lutens, Encre Noire by Lalique, Couer de Vetiver Sacré from L’Artisan Parfumeur – they’re all stunning scents featuring vetiver as the star ingredient.

But if you haven’t gotten around to sniffing those frags yet, and experiencing the joy of vetiver, or bought a vetiver frag, then here’s the place you should really start – Guerlain Vetiver. It’s the benchmark.

Jean-Paul Guerlain was a young 22 year-old perfumer making his mark in the family business in 1959 when he developed a men’s fragrance for the Mexican and South American markets. Vetiver was the first modern men’s scent released by Guerlain, and it was so good that Guerlain rolled it out globally, and it’s been a best-seller ever since, even after a re-formulation and re-launch in 2000. The scent was born out of “The scent of earth after the rain, the cool breeze of an early morning, the aroma of tobacco…each of these was a source of inspiration which gave rise to my first perfume, VETIVER.” (Quote by Jean-Paul Guerlain, on the back of the Guerlain Vetiver perfume box).

Why should this particular vetiver be regarded as the benchmark? When you look at the notes, Guerlain Vetiver appears quite simple: orange, lemon, bergamot, pepper, coriander, nutmeg, oakmoss, vetiver, tobacco, and tonka bean. When you smell it, and experience the drydown, however, the magic is revealed.

Out of the bottle there’s a burst of citrus, especially lemon and bitter zest, like grapefruit. I also get the wonderful green rooty vetiver right from the start, and then for the next fifteen minutes the vetiver and citrus mix with the peppery spices. It’s a swirl of bright fresh aromatic notes that almost vibrates with intensity. Into the heart the tobacco appears, but it reminds me of sweet tobacco in a pouch rather than tobacco burning in a pipe – an almost floral sweetness rather than dense smokiness.

Vetiver and oakmoss in the base blend into a dark green woodiness, which expands with the merest hints of earthy vanilla from the black tonka bean. And that’s Vetiver - perfectly balanced - fresh, clean and bright, but mossy, earthy, warm and dark all at the same time – reflecting the perfect dichotomy of nature.

Guerlain Vetiver seems like a simple classic scent, but I think it feels cutting edge and modern - classic is reborn and updated, thank you Matthew Weiner and Mad Men. What I love about it, and what sets it apart from other newer vetivers which have followed in its wake, is that Jean-Paul Guerlain composed this perfume so that nothing distracts from the vetiver story. There are no extra notes, like florals, or licorice, or mint, to distract from the basic nature of the unique vetiver scent, but at the same time he tells his vetiver story in such a brilliant way. Soft nuanced accords and facets are revealed and transition seamlessly - flashes of bright citrus and spice, wafts of green mossiness, a flicker of dark sweet tobacco. The Guerlain Vetiver story unfolds on my skin throughout the day, the sillage is soft and refined, the feeling is calm and serene, the scent is beyond beautiful.

Guerlain Vetiver. Just for men? I don’t think so.

Guerlain Vetiver is listed in our Decant Store. Decants are $5.00 for 1 ml.