Vetiver, the natural woody elegance

Vetiver is a tropical root with a woody and smoky essence

Do you know vetiver, the raw material that you can smell in alõ‘s base note? If its name doesn’t ring a bell, its woody and smoky scent has probably already tickled your nose! This tropical root has a powerful essence and is very appreciated by perfumers. Discover its history and olfactory profile.

Vetiver, a root with great powers

Origin and botany

This tropical plant originating from India takes its name from the Tamil word vettiveru. It has been introduced for several years in many countries with tropical climates such as Haiti, Java, Reunion, Brazil or China. It is a perennial plant which takes the form of large green clumps, with long and fine leaves, which remind our grasses.

But it is the roots of the plant that interest the perfumers more. Immersed up to 3 meters deep, its roots also called rhizomes, contain a precious resin. This plant has been used by the Indians for thousands of years for its aromatic virtues and medicinal properties.

© La Canopée

Four perfumed species

There are different species of vetiver but in perfumery, only four varieties are used: Haitian vetiver, the Java one, Indian vetiver and the Bourbon, grown on Reunion Island. It is from the 1900’s that vetiver is implanted in Reunion to cultivate it. This essence is very quickly recognized as the best, the finest and the most perfumed. However, its production has decreased enormously in recent years due to a lack of manpower. The biggest producers today are Indonesia and Haiti. This country is the most important exporter of vetiver essential oil, ensuring almost 50% of the world production.

The history of vetiver in perfumery

The beginnings

Vetiver made a rather late appearance in Western perfumery. It was not until the 19th century that the fragrant root arrived in Europe. In fact, its arrival strongly resembles that of patchouli. At the time, its rhizomes were known and used to repel insects. While cashmere was wrapped in patchouli leaves to repel moths, Indian muslin was scented with vetiver roots. This bewitching smell will quickly charm the noses, and the roots will be soon employed to perfume the interior. Curtains, screens or fans were woven with the roots’ fiber, which were then sprayed with water to diffuse a delicious perfume.

Star of fragrances

In perfumery, vetiver oil is more often used as a fixative rather than for its smell. However, in 1957, Carven launched a men’s fragrance called Vetiver, built around this mysterious ingredient. This composition will meet a phenomenal success, making discover the olfactory properties of vetiver to all. It will also open the way to the fashion of woody perfumes, and will dethrone for a time the fern accords. During the 60’s, all men sprayed themselves copiously with this typical scent, which became a flagship ingredient in men’s compositions. Little by little, vetiver was also invited in women’s juices, revealing its warm and leathery facets.

From the root to the perfume

Extraction of the precious essence

The plant can be used when it reaches 2 or 3 years of age. For the perfumery, it is only the roots which will be extracted. The leaves will be used for the cattle. The harvest of the roots is called “excavation” because it is necessary to really turn over the soil to collect the dense and entangled roots of the plant, and to remove all the ground which they contain. This harvest takes place from August to December. Once collected, the rhizomes are washed, cut and dried in the sun. They are then distilled with steam for more than 24 hours to deliver a resinous essence with a thick consistency and an amber color.

It is this essential oil with a powerful smell that will finally be integrated into the compositions by the perfumer. It is necessary to know that it takes approximately 150kg of dried roots to obtain 1 kg of essence, even if the outputs differ from one country to another.

The vibrant scent of vetiver

Vetiver reveals a woody fragrance with smoky accents and warm, aromatic tones. Depending on its origin, the essence can have different olfactory specificities. Bourbon vetiver reveals an earthy and spicy smell. It is a refined fragrance that evokes hazelnut with a slightly rosy facet. Its essence is very similar to that of Indian vetiver. The Java one is more bitter with very strong smoky notes. Finally, the Haitian vetiver has a more vegetal and warm aspect, with nuances of iris. Overall, this ingredient has a very identifiable smell: green, earthy, warm and smoky, reminiscent of undergrowth, but also of incense and sometimes peanuts!

Its use in perfumery

We find the essence of vetiver in many woody compositions, but also in oriental accords. In a chypre fragrance, vetiver combines wonderfully with oakmoss and patchouli. Its essence can also enhance floral bouquets and improve the hold of a fragrance. Indeed, this very tenacious ingredient acts as an excellent fixative for the more volatile notes. It is a note that is usually found at the base note of the olfactory pyramid to provide a warm and woody wake. Vetiver is thus combined with other woody ingredients such as cedar or sandalwood.

Vetiver & Carrément Belle

pink berries bring a real olfactory boost and a spicy facet to alo

Marine thrill, woody wake

In the eau de parfum alõ, vetiver settles in the base note after a citrusy start and a marine heart. The fresh and invigorating flight of the fragrance gives way to a marine scent that is as invigorating as it is restful, like the sea calms down after a storm. Finally, it is a warm and woody wake that tickles the nose, thanks to vetiver associated with clary sage and a light touch of patchouli. What to stimulate all your senses, the time of an olfactory journey that will stick to your skin for hours and hours…

Did you know vetiver, this root with a woody smell?


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