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What the * is Vetiver?

Countless notes are used as perfume ingredients. From roses to lavender, from cinnamon to vanilla, and so on and so forth. Fragrance notes such as these are familiar to most: you know what scent family the ingredient belongs to (flowers, spices, etc.) and what it smells like. In addition to these familiar notes, many perfume ingredients are less well-known. You have heard of them, but what they smell like is a mystery. Think ozonic, musk, benzoin... In the series 'Vague perfume ingredients', we highlight one vague perfume ingredient at a time.

What is Vetiver?

Vetiver is a tropical grass originally from India and Sri Lanka. It grows best in a moist, warm climate and often grows around swampy terraces and riverbanks. When the grass comes into contact with water, it releases its distinctive aroma. This complex and distinct scent is popular in perfumes and is closest in scent to cedar. There are different types of Vetiver used in perfumery. Bourbon Vetiver originally grew on an island east of Madagascar (Reunion) and smells complex and salty. The Haitian variety has a greener scent with earthy undertones. Vetiver from Java has a smoky character. As a perfume ingredient, it is predominately used in green, woody and 'oriental' perfumes.

How is Vetiver converted into a perfume ingredient?

In its original form as a herb, it can grow up to one and a half metres high. A complex network of roots grows underground, enabling it to establish itself in the damp banks and marshlands. These roots sometimes grow up to 3 metres deep. The fragrant roots of the grass are washed and then dried in the sun. Afterwards, these dried roots are distilled with steam, releasing the essential oil that is extracted as an absolute. For 1 kilo of essential oil, as many as 1000 kilos of dried roots are needed. Vetiver oil is precious and very unique and therefore cannot be replaced or imitated synthetically. Vetiver is a natural and clean perfume ingredient.

What does Vetiver smell like?

The smell of vetiver is akin to dried grass but woodier, earthy, smoky and salty. So all-around better. It has a rich fragrance that is sometimes described as masculine. In addition to woody notes, it combines well with spicy, floral, fresh or citrus scents. Vetiver reminds some of incense and cigars, while others describe it as woody and even a little sweet. It is this complexity and versatility that makes it so popular. So popular, in fact, that it is said to be used in no less than 20% of all men's fragrances. High time to add a perfume with a vetiver to your perfume calendar!

Perfumes with Vetiver


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VetiverDaniel Josier