Are you familiar with Haitian Vetiver, known for its both woody and smoky scent with subtle green and vegetal nuances? Its surprising – one in a million – scent also possesses nutty and grapefruit facets.
We can say Chrysopogon zizanioides, funny scientific name isn’t it, is a magical plant… Why? Because having proved to be a precious ingredient in perfumery, and help in various fields, it’s gifted with an enchanting essence.
It goes without saying that this exotic raw material – native to Asia – is a must in the perfumer's organ and no less than six of Olfactive Studio’s fragrances!
This plant isn’t one of our team’s favorite natural ingredients for no reason…
VETIVER IN OLFACTIVE STUDIO PERFUMES
Four fragrances from Olfactive Studio's Black Collection, Flash Back, Flash Back in New York, Ombre Indigo, and Autoportrait, feature the delicacy of Vetiver. The Sepia Collection of “extraits de parfum” also explores the freshness behind this elegant raw material in two of its fragrances Leather Shot and Iris Shot.
These scented compositions unveil the different allures that the precious Vetiver can offer.
In February’s favorite citrus-woody fragrance, Flash Back, we are enveloped in a vaporous cloud of smoky Haitian Vetiver essence (Chrysopogon zizanioides).
In this fragrance the Vetiver is vibrant! Why? Because it’s preceded by top notes bursting with freshness and vitality. The essences of Red Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi) and Orange (Citrus sinensis) – sparkling citrus notes – are combined to a Rhubarb Accord whose green notes recall the rhubarb pie of our childhood. Together they bring a joyful fruity facet to Flash Back!
The heart is adorned with a so-called cold spice, whose unique scent possesses both floral and fruity facets, the one and only exotic essence of Pink Berries (Schinus molle).
As for the base of Flash Back, it allies the essence of Vetiver to Cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana). Vetiver’s peculiar smoky facet – reminiscent of grilled hazelnut – marries Cedar’s dry-woody facet. They are rounded out by soft Musks, and warm ambery notes which also bring a mineral facet – yes we’re referring to the scent of mineral matter as stone.
The contrast between Vetiver’s wetness and Cedarwood’s dryness is a real stroll through the mists of a undergrowth – take a walk into the woods…
The variety of notes in Flash Back is such that they seem to juggle under our nose, juxtaposing each other along the rhythm of its fragrant composition.
FLASH BACK IN NEW YORK
In this leathery-woody-spicy fragrance, warm spices combined with the lavender-like and aromatic freshness of Clary Sage (Salvia oficinalis) – due to its linalool molecule - caress our nostrils at first scent. These are Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) – powerful and so characteristic of leathery perfumes – with its powdery and cinnamic facets, and the precious Saffron (Crocus sativus) subtly leathery and fruity. The White Linen accord refers to Musks that are both soft and floral.
The spices of Flash Back in New York are combined with a floral heart marked by the richness of the Egyptian Jasmine Absolute (Jasminum grandiflorum) with its animalistic and fruity side, and by the powdery-iris facet of the Violet accord - intended to be flowery in this fragrance and not green like its leaf. This accord as well as the leathery notes in the heart are combined with Cumin in the top of the fragrance, often associated with floral-powdery notes.
The base feels warm and comforting, with its predominantly woody and smoky facets. These are due to the presence of two raw materials emblematic of leathery perfumes: Birch Smoke essence (Betula alba) and Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanoide). The first is very smoky - even reminiscent of the smell of barbecue - and tobacco-like, providing an incense effect (despite the absence of this ingredient), and the second also smoky - more finely - possesses an earthy side. Added to this attractive base is the Tonka Bean Absolute (Dipterix odorata) rounding out the whole, a balsamic raw material revealing honeyed, almondy and tobacco facets.
Composed by New York perfumer Jérôme Epinette, Flash Back in New York surprises noses with its olfactory contrasts, just as this city surprises those who discover it for the first time.
In Autoportrait, mister Vetiver (Chrysopogon zizanioides) is earthy and tender. In the perfume's discreet and subtle opening notes, we can distinguish the zesty facet of Bergamot essence (Citrus bergamia) and the peppery-fresh facet of Elemi essence (Canarium luzonicum) – a spicy raw material with woody and resinous facets already distinguishable among the top notes!
The olfactive structure of Autoportrait allows the woody-balsamic heart and base to reveal themselves very quickly.
The spicy facet found in the top notes persists in the heart of the perfume with the Benzoin Siam (Styrax tonkinensis), since this ingredient also possesses a spicy-cinnamic aspect. Indeed cinnamic as in cinnamon is the adjective to describe a spicy cinnamon-like scent! As for the gourmand facet of Benzoin – with its vanilla and caramel accents – it wraps us in a warm sweet haze. We perceive Frankincense (Boswellia carterii), whose powerful resinous-woody facet brings a reassuring sensation – just like Autoportrait.
This rich woody aspect of Autoportrait is highlighted in the base of the fragrance by several raw materials. Cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana) in all naturalness with its dry aspect reminds our nostrils of pencils’ lead, and master Vetiver brings a refined smoky note – one of a kind.
The Oakmoss Absolute (Evernia prunastri) with its woody-mossy facet and its earthy aspect accompanies the Cedar and Vetiver, while giving a chypre dimension to the fragrance – olfactive family characterized by the association of Oakmoss and Vetiver. As for the Musks, they bring a creamy yet modern effect – so smooth!
Autoportrait is not only deep and elegant, but also a truly carnal fragrance with a mesmerizing trail.
The perfume Ombre Indigo has a subtle top because it is mainly composed of heart and base notes. Nevertheless, we perceive a discreet sour-citrus side given by the Petitgrain Bigarade (Citrus aurantium) with its aromatic facet reminiscent of lavender (given by their common component linalyl acetate).
This fragrant composition is immediately sensed as spicy and incense-like, characterized by strong base notes. The predominant facets, which mark the perfume since its first notes are the woody, amber, and leathery facets. However, we do not escape the floral-opulent side given by the Tuberose Absolute (Polianthes tuberosa), a heady Tuberose, typical of white flowers, slightly honeyed, and with its singular side reminiscent of vegetables. The Tuberose goes perfectly with the fruity facet of the Plum accord through its sweet honey facet, as well as with the Leather accord it embellishes.
The spicy Saffron (Crocus sativus) matches the Plum accord through its fruity side, which has a liqueur-like facet reminiscent of fruit liqueurs. The latter accord recalls the “prunol” base, both fruity, lactonic and balmy, which gives complexity to Ombre Indigo (famous base used at the beginning of the 1900's for plum notes).
Vetiver (Chrysopogon zizanoide) is distinguishable by its smoky side that accompanies its woody-mossy main facet with earthy notes. Papyrus (Cyperus scariosus), from which the fragrant rhizome is extracted (like Vetiver) brings a spicy facet to the base of the fragrance, while matching Vetiver by their common earthy and smoky facets. The Leather accord has a very pronounced animalistic facet underlining the base dominated by Incense.
Incense (Boswellia carteri), the star of the fragrance is very resinous, woody, and omnipresent because it is sensed from the top! It is also bewitching by its so pronounced smoky facet, underlined by the smoky Vetiver and Papyrus. The mystical effect given by Incense transports us to an "old church".
Benzoin (Styrax tonkinensis) appears through its gourmand facet with caramel notes. Its ambery side goes hand in hand with the amber notes of the fragrance. Together with Musks, it gives depth and volume to this powerful fragrance. The result is a woody-floral-incense scent with a truly striking smoky and ambery aspect!
Ombre Indigo is a fragrance combining the opulence of a flower of character, Tuberose, with a sweet Plum accord, and a bewitching Incense whose woody and smoky facets keep fascinating us.
At the top of Leather Shot we immediately feel the citrus, acidic facet of the Orange Bigarade! Also known as Sweet Orange (Citrus aurantium), this one matches perfectly the zesty, lemon-like facet of Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum). This spice so appreciated by fine fragrance also has a peppery side that gives an aromatic dimension to the perfume top notes.
In the heart of the fragrance, another spice is found, none other than Cumin (Cuminum cyminum), more discreet but distinguishable by the Femme de Rochas effect it provides and its sensual facet, with leathery accents. The mythical spicy-fruity fragrance created in 1944 by Edmond Roudnitska was born from an overdose of cumin!
No need to wait for the base of Leather Shot to perceive the leathery notes, reminiscent of a smooth leather. The Iris (Iris pallida) with its woody-dry facet is felt in the heart and persists in the base. Black Tea absolute (Camellia sinensis) evoking the characteristic Ceylon tea offers a natural effect and compliments the leathery facet. The base of the fragrance nicely holds the leathery heart, a modern and reinvented leather.
Sandalwood (Santalum album) and Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) intermingle in a strong woody base with Vetiver (Chrysopogon zizanoide). If the first is lactonic and rich, with a facet reminiscent of yellow flowers and orientals, the second stands out for its naturalness recalling the great cedar forests of Virginia. The Driftwood accord goes hand in hand with its woody peers and Vetiver does not go unnoticed with its nutty and smoky facet, which blends very well with the leathery notes.
The combination is very harmonious, offering a persistent freshness throughout the evaporation of the different raw materials.
Leather Shot is a leathery fragrance, both spicy and woody, with a touch of citrus and powdery notes, that confer a very elegant allure to it.
The start possesses a bursting and metallic facet attributed to Iris aldehydes. We immediately perceive the Iris (Iris pallida), modern and powdery, as usual. Its woody-dry, earthy, almost dusty side radiates the fragrance from the heart.
The top is also very spicy, offering us the finesse of the essence of Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum), both fresh by its zesty and aromatic side which does not escape us, and warm by its cinnamic and oriental facet.
The " queen of spices ", marries its colder but equally delicious mate, the Pink berry of Madagascar (Schinus molle), which doubles the aromatic facet with its peppery side. It also merges the top and the heart of this soliflore through its floral aspect. Blackcurrant Bud absolute (Ribes nigrum), a natural raw material of the green family with a distinctive sulfuric side, brings vitality and naturalness to the ensemble.
Iris Shot is a consistent and linear Iris, faithful to its precious rhizomes, whose scent can only be extracted after 6 years (three years of cultivation and three years of drying).
The Almond milk accord is gradually revealed by its soft and almondy facet, reminiscent of unctuous flavored desserts. This balsamic note rounds out the proud Iris to sweetly envelop it. The essence of Carrot Seed (Daucus carota), accentuates the beautiful Iris even more as both ingredients share a woody, earthy facet, truly rooted in the soil.
Very "heart" fragrance by its star flower, the base still finds its place as Virginian Cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana), brings a different woody dimension, more resinous, evoking the bark of the American tree. The Haitian Vetiver (Chrysopogon zizanoïde), brings a moist touch contrasting with the dry character of the other ingredients, as well as a smoky facet of its own!
Ambroxan, which appropriately bears its name, brings a powerful ambery note to the base, contributing to the fragrance's substantivity.
An elegant and cocoon-like fragrance, Iris Shot explores genres by bringing back to life a beautiful flower, long associated with rice powders and lipsticks in cosmetics.
BACK TO THE (ASIAN) ROOTS
Scientifically named Chrysopogon zizanioides, from Greek, the word “vetiver” is itself derived from the Tamil word "vettiveru". Nowadays the appellation "Vetiveria zizanioides" is also commonly employed.
You’re probably wondering “ok its name is peculiar but what does it look like?”, well it’s actually an herb – a tall one – which grows in 1.5 to 2 meters high clumps. And that’s not it! We can only see the tip of the iceberg, as its roots are able to go 3 meters deep into the ground!
So this more-under-than-over-ground perennial plant (twice as much) grows in the humid soils of tropical and subtropical lowlands, especially in swamps and flood plains.
Now you’re thinking “where are those?”. In its birthplace: Southern India – where vetiver is called “khus khus”. But not only as it’s also found in Indonesia, the rest of the Indian Ocean, Haiti (of course), and China; and is grown as far as Guatemala and Brazil!
Vetiver has been widely used and appreciated since ancient times in all these regions of the world – mainly concentrated in Asia!
Botanically speaking, it belongs to the Poaceae family and the Chrysopogon genus. Although the species Chrysopogon zizanioides supplies the modern perfume industry, another dozen species of Chrysopogon exist throughout mother nature.
To cite two other cousin species, Chrysopogon nigritanus is found in Southern Africa and Chrysopogon nemoralis in South East Asia.
As we mentioned in our introduction, vetiver has super powers, magical powers, all of them actually! What do we mean by that? You’re about to find out…
Vetiver is an amazing multipurpose plant, it’s also used in agriculture as a very good fertilizer and soil fixer, which it protects from erosion.
Moreover, its grassy part (leaves) are used to feed animals in the rural areas forming the species’ habitat. They are also employed as thatch for the roofs on the French Island of La Reunion, to make mats, and even accessories like bags!
In the food industry it’s used to flavor drinks, and as soda syrup in its native South India. Vetiver comes in handy as an insect repellent as well!
Now, did you get a hint of the profitability of these crops? Its extensive uses have made it an extremely advantageous ingredient.
VETIVER IN PERFUMERY
This raw material belonging to the woody olfactive family is full of surprises as its rhizomes – outer roots – contain a myrrh-like (Commiphora myrrha) resin aspect-wise.
When the plant is two to three years old her roots are harvested, processed, and dried to produce the famous Vetiver essential oil from their resin. As the harvesting requires turning over the soil – to extract the roots – it’s referred to as "digging". During such, the roots are shaked using a fork-like tool until they’re soil-free.
More precisely the rhizomes are washed, cut, sun-dried, then undergo hydrodistillation, or steam distillation, for around eight hours (if one ton is distilled). The product obtained is a very thick, yellowish, resinous essence.
Calendar-wise, 12 months of culture are required before it can be exploited, and the distillation process takes place from August to December, and yield-wise it takes about 100-150 kilograms of dried roots to produce 1-1.5 kilograms of essential oil.
…THEN CHILL OUT
Vetiver is not only a low-maintenance plant, it also doesn’t need too much water, extra care, nor suffers from particular diseases that would require an important use of pesticides. It seems like the perfect plant-pal, doesn’t it?
A PRETTY RECENT INGREDIENT
It’s only in the twentieth century that Vetiver began to be exploited for its essential oil in perfumery, not previously. The world production of this raw material was of one ton during the early 21st century, and it reached 250 tons at the end of the 1970’s! Can you believe that?
Nowadays, about 130 tons are produced worldwide and the biggest exporters of its essential oil are the Island of Haiti, followed by China and the Island of Java (Indonesia).
Despite a smaller scaled production, India is also part of the main producing countries. Moreover it’s not surprising that France, one of the cradles of modern perfumery – and still leading country in the field – comes first in terms of demand for this essence.
In perfumery Vetiver essence exists in several qualities, the Bourbon Vetiver being the most precious but also the rarest and almost impossible to find nowadays because of its very limited supply.
It was cultivated on the French Island of La Reunion – formerly known as the Bourbon Island – where it was introduced in 1864. The delicacy of its scent with rosy, earthy and spicy facets, is highly prized by perfumers.
SPOILING US WITH A FASCINATING AROMA…
We just mentioned the unique scent of Haitian Vetiver, and since good things always come in threes…its cousins from Java and India each possess their own particular aroma!
Vetiver Java has a powerful and very smoky scent. The latter can be so strong, some even find it reminiscent of the smell of burnt!
There is also Indian Vetiver, of lesser quality, which can be determined by measuring the clarity of its yellowish essential oil, ranging from slightly colored to dark.
Thus, the characteristic scent of this ingredient is both delicate and complex. As a raw material, it's easily recognizable by its singular woody, earthy, nutty and smoky facets.
Vetiver is defined as a "base note" – a deeper, heavier note with little volatility that develops over time and persists through the sillage of a fragrance. However, on an olfactive level, it still modifies the top and heart of a perfume!
…AND IMPRESSIVE MOLECULES!
Composed mainly of beta vetivenes, vetivones, khusimol and isovalencenol, researchers have managed to extract such molecules from Vetiver’s essential oil. This is the case of vetyverols, vetiverone, as well as vetyveryl acetate. All three compounds are used as raw materials themselves in fine fragrance (luxury perfumery segment opposed to functional perfumery).
Vetyveryl acetate is a mixture of esters derived from Vetiver Haiti or Vetiver Java. This synthetic raw material reveals an elegant aroma purer and more tonic than its precursor (Vetiver), making it prized by perfumers and more expensive!
In aromatherapy it is the sesquiterpenols, sesquiterpenes, and ketones (vetivones) contained in the essential oil that grant it immunostimulant properties along with arterial, venous and lymphatic tonic functions. Vetiver essence also has fungicidal properties.
A BELOVED INGREDIENT IN FINE FRAGRANCE
Many classic perfumes feature the subtlety of Vetiver among their base notes. The ingredient had its age of glory and rose to become a star raw material in the twentieth century, when many Vetiver “solinotes” were created – perfumes built and whose scent is focused on a single raw material
This raw material has long been used in woody perfumes, and is still used nowadays in the famous Vetiver solinotes we just mentioned. It also acts as an excellent fixative for top notes. It is also found in chypre and leathery notes.
HISTORICALLY USED IN MEN’S PERFUMES
The first Vetiver solinote created was Vetiver de Carven, composed in 1957 by Firmenich for the brand. It was the first fragrance for men to really focus on this raw material, and it had a woody and delicate scent. Carven later created a feminine version. In 1959, Jean-Paul Guerlain signed one of the most famous Vetiver fragrances known until now. Vetiver de Guerlain is a woody-spicy perfume still sold on the market 80 years later!
Other brands like Givenchy, Lanvin and Le Galion followed the trend and each composed their solinote fragrance, respectively in 1959, 1964, and 1969. These three woody fragrances were also sold for men. Yes you guessed it, back in the days Vetiver was a masculine ingredient – or considered so. If some still believe that, we personally find it genderless like all raw materials!
AND WHAT ABOUT FEMININE VETIVERS?
The first perfume for women containing its essence in its base notes is no other than Chanel n°5, a floral-aldehydic fragrance composed in 1921 by Ernest Beaux. In 1927 André Fraysse incorporated Vetiver in his latest creation Arpège de Lanvin, another floral-aldehydic following the trend of Chanel n°5.
TO MAKE IT SHORT AND SCENTED
Vetiver is without a doubt a fascinating species whose versatile properties and unequaled scent found in various famous fragrances, make it so hard to forget!
Anna Grézaud-Tostain for Olfactive Studio