Saturday, 23 July 2011

Vetiver



L'Artisan Parfumeur, Coeur de Vétiver Sacré

*** Put that in your orange and smoke it


Well, this is a pain. Guy Davenport once remarked that English is a Romance language in the same way that a porpoise is a fish, or a bat a bird. This gives you a nice sense of the degree to which Karine Vinchon's new fragrance works as a vetiver only if you squint at it. Full of ideas and potentially subtle, it doesn't quite come off.

Vetiver oil is extracted from the root of a fragrant tropical grass, which points to some of its fascinating qualities. Simultaneously earthy and airy, it has both a liquorice aspect and something of the autumnal cleanness of well-rotted compost after a crisp frost. Vinchon's fragrance is billed as an attempt to deconstruct the raw material's wonderful cool, grassy smokiness into a citrus~spice~smoke accord, the three core notes set in a frame of black tea which suits all of them. I can see the thinking---hey, vetiver smells kinda like lapsang souchong!---but sense a misparsing of the natural here. Vetiver possesses clean/rubbery and citric angles to go with its dry, earthy vaporousness, but trying to do that with orange and bergamot falls flat here. The concept's not actually a bad one, as aged vetiver oil can smell strikingly like single malt---see Profumum Roma's Fumidus---and whisky in marmalade is of course delicious. But to make the most of the ingredients, Vinchon should have turned the orange down fifty decibels and turned up the peat to compensate, but I suspect L'Artisan's noses fretted that the result would be too austere and make women less likely to buy the fragrance. (Everyone knows women like candied sweet things, don't they? Meh.)

The cod-hermetic blurb ('an offering to the gods', 'a mystical journey from East to West') and a glug of incense sidling around make me strongly suspect that Vinchon is attempting to replicate the structure of Bertrand Duchaufour's Bhutan-inspired Dzongkha (also for L'Artisan), but using vetiver instead of the latter's iris. Again, it's a good, literate idea: vetiver and iris are both cool, introverted materials, and the snowy Himalayan spirituality of Dzongkha shows how well warm spice and tea notes can work in such a composition. The problem is that what vetiver does best is melancholy, not solemnity; it's the more worldly-wise sister of chirpy lemongrass (a botanical relative). The actual vetiver here keeps sliding off the back of the fragrance---an effect like glimpsing, though the tipsy crush of a house-party, a sad-eyed, Modigliani-faced girl all by herself in the kitchen.

Coeur de Vétiver Sacré is an interesting idea and full marks for effort, but the overall effect is of a slightly-off pomander. Buy Andy Tauer's Orange Star if you want the kippered fruit aspect, or get Tom Ford's excellent, soapy Grey Vetiver if the other side appeals.

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