The rich earthiness of vetiver never fails to attract me, even in its less palatable interpretations (straight vetiver essential oil, for example, is incredibly powerful and basically unpleasant to smell. It has to be significantly diluted for use in perfumery…still I am drawn in). I have smelled many now (and there are many to smell – there was a good guide to vetivers on Perfume Posse a bit ago) and really two stand out for me well above the rest. The first is Guerlain Vetiver (1961), which is a clean, unclouded, classic vetiver, crisp and bright with an effect not unlike that of citrus while being so much more interesting than citrus. Wonderful on anyone, especially on me this summer.
The second is Vétiver Tonka from the Hermessence line by Hermès in-house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena (of whom I am a great admirer). This is simply one of the best smelling things I have come across. Here the earthy quality of vetiver is offset by the sweet caramel of tonka bean, which I often think of as a mild, toasted vanilla scent. Scent is subjective, so it may just be the perfect storm of hazelnut, vetiver, and a touch of sweetness that makes this smell, for me, like that of some gorgeous otherworldly fruit at the moment of ripened perfection. My reaction is the biological opposite of our instincts to avoid the poisonous and the rotten. I want to approach it, to move ever closer to it, to consume it. It is me. The experience of smelling something you find without fault, something you truly like, without any effort or doubt, is a moment of recognition. It is me with the edges softened and sweetened, rather me shown truly as I am and not as I seem.
But you might like it, too.
The longevity is not excellent but I reason, trusting in Jean-Claude, that this is because if it were any better, the result wouldn’t smell as good. So I don’t care.
If you are near an Hermès boutique, investigate. Many of the other fragrances are wonderful as well. They give generous samples, which will comfort you when you learn the price. I plan to get the discovery set one of these days, with all four slots given to Vétiver Tonka.