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We often talk about ‘notes’ or materials in fragrances and how they come together to create a multi-faceted composition. But these materials are incredibly nuanced themselves and each one brings not one, not two, but a multitude of different things to fragrance, meaning that there is always a lot to learn when one goes back to the source materials. I always think that the best way to understand a perfume material is to break it down into facets and that’s exactly what these olfactory deconstruction pieces are for – to dissect each material into little parts so we can really understand what makes it tick, and what makes it smell so good.

Perfume is like a giant jigsaw puzzle. Each fragrance is made up of specifically shaped pieces that lock together. Perfumers match up the pieces, locking them together facet-to-facet, tessellating each nuance to either enhance or contrast them, or in some cases, create something entirely new. The great thing is that, unlike jigsaw puzzles, where there is one way of piecing things together, perfumery is open-ended and the perfumer can tie things together in whichever way they see fit. This means that the picture at the end can be whatever they dream up. There are endless possibilities and to me, that’s pretty damn exciting.

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Raw. Elemental. Encre Noire À L'Extrême.
Raw. Elemental. Encre Noire À L’Extrême.

I like vetiver but I don’t own many vetiver fragrances.  A brief sweep of my collection highlights the truth that I only own four vetiver-centric scents; Grey Vetiver by Tom Ford in Eau de Parfum and Eau de Toilette concentrations, Carven’s reissued Vetiver and a bottle of Guerlain’s Vetiver (a must for any card carrying perfume nut).  In fact, that’s not the truth at all because all four of these technically belong to my husband who, for the record, does enjoy a good vetiver.  So why the vetiver snubbing at Candy Perfume Towers?  In all honesty, I do not know.  Perhaps I’m too busy focusing on my florals and macerating over my Muglers to really allowed vetiver to show me its veritas. Who knows?!

There is a new vetiver in town though, that may just sway my opinion.  Well, I say new, but once again I am being creative with the truth.  This vetiver is a flanker to a cult vetiver and I have to admit that it’s rather blinking good.  Most of you will be familiar with Lalique’s famous Encre Noire (Nathalie Lorson; 2006), a dark and brooding vetiver that is often regarded as one of the very best the genre has to offer.  Well now, Encre Noire has spawned a child – an intense and more raw version of itself that has one mission, and one mission only: to smell damn good.

The scent is called Encre Noire À L’Extrême and it is pretty much what you would expect from a fragrance boasting that sort of name: a richer, more intense and more extreme version of the original. To celebrate the tenth anniversary of Encre Noire, perfumer Nathalie Lorson has reinterpreted the iconic vetiver fragrance, or as Lalique put it Lorson pens “a new chapter in the saga”. Pushing the signature of the original “to its limits”Encre Noire À L’Extrême is a fragrance that “plays on contrasts to express every facet of masculinity through powerful, seductive accords.” I’d say that it does a pretty good job of it too!

The Carven Man
The Carven Man

A few weeks back I slapped on some of Tom Ford’s Grey Vetiver (the Eau de Parfum) and commented on my instragram, that “when in doubt, go for vetiver”.  A flippant comment for sure, but it is one that seems to ring true, and let’s face it: you really can’t go wrong with vetiver.  Vetiver, a fragrant perennial grass native to India, is so successful as a perfume ingredient because it is so distinct – there isn’t really much else that smells like it.  Of course, being distinct does mean that it is less versatile as a note than some others (rose, for example), but many perfumers have found interesting ways to utilise the ingredient as a main feature or a supporting act.  I like vetiver very much and when one is in the mood for something clean, sharp and dashingly dapper, there’s not much else that can beat it.

There are many excellent vetiver fragrances out there, many of which are aimed predominately at men.  Classics such as Guerlain’s Vetiver (Jean-Paul Guerlain; 1961) immediately spring to mind, but one can’t ignore wonderful modern interpretations such as the aforementioned Grey Vetiver (Harry Fremont; 2009), Etat Libre d’Orange’s Fat Electrician (Antoine Maisondieu; 2009), Lalique’s Encre Noire (Nathalie Lorson; 2006) and Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle’s Vétiver Extraordinaire (Dominique Ropion; 2002), to name but a few.  Each one does something entirely different with this incredibly familiar note, whether it be amping it up to the armpit-like spice of the Malle or pairing it with gorgeously creamy and smoky resins as the Etat Libre d’Orange does.  Vetiver may not be a shape-shifting material, but it certainly does have an element of range.

One vetiver that doesn’t get a huge amount of press is Carven’s.  Now, this may be due to the fact that it has been in and out of production since its launch in 1957, but now its back and should be considered as a serious contender for any vetiver afficiando.  Housed within a new and gorgeously modern bottle, coloured with the most attractive shade of green Carven’s Vétiver, is that rare thing – a casual vetiver.  This is not a vetiver fragrance to be worn with a sharp suit or a crisp white shirt, no, no, no.  This is a vetiver to pair with a chunky piece of knitwear in muted, earth tones.  It’s a relaxed vetiver to cuddle up with – to explore softly and quietly – a vetiver that salutes introspection rather than attention seeking ostentation.

A Vetiver Mini Guide
A Vetiver Mini Guide

Is there any perfume ingredient more enjoyable than vetiver? I mean, sure, floral notes can be great, and oriental materials are often sumptuous and exotic, but vetiver is consistently good as well as being completely distinct. As a celebration of this most important and most beautiful ingredient, I compiled a mini-guide of vetiver fragrances for my Escentual column last week. The guide takes a look at a classic, modern and contemporary example of vetiver and is an essential peek at the world of perfumery’s staple ingredient. Click here to head on over to Escentual to read the guide, and don’t forget to let me know about your vetiver fragrances whilst you’re there!

Mr. Butterworth & Mr. Ford
Two Handsome Men

Mr. Butterworth, my rather lovely partner-in-crime and Mr. Ford, the dashing designer behind Tom Ford go hand-in-hand. Well, not literally of course. I know that you know that I’d never allow that kind of shenanigans! What I mean is that, whilst not being a fumenerd like you are I, Mr. Butterworth does have a certain penchant for fragrances bearing Mr. Ford’s name.

If you were to take a peek into mine and Mr. Butterworth’s bathroom you would find a big collection of perfumes and although we share a lot of scents there is most definitely a ‘his ‘n’ hers’ thing going on. So if you look hard enough you will see a small contingent of masculine fragrances that belong solely to the Butterworth (although I do occasionally raid his stash), and three of his favourites are by Tom Ford.

Tom Ford currently has four masculine fragrances and about a million unisex private blends to choose from. Mr. Butterworth, with his ever-discerning taste, has found love for Tom Ford for Men, Oud Wood and Grey Vetiver, you could say that he’s a little bit obsessed. Should I be worried? Let’s just say that I will be keeping a close eye on him next time we’re near the Tom Ford counter