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Vetiver : a coveted raw material

Vetiver has been known and used since ancient times, and is a perennial plant native to South India, whose name is derived from the Tamil word "vettiveru".  Behind this strange name lies a fabulous root with a powerful and complex scent: woody, aromatic, green, earthy, smoky, very persistent, which gives it the status of an essential ingredient in perfumery.



What is Vetiver?

First of all, we currently know about a dozen species of Vetiver, including Vetiveria zizanioide, the variety commonly used in perfumery. Vetiver is a herbaceous plant, one to two metres high, found in tropical areas. It appears as large green clumps with roots that grow vertically to great depths. In order to create the famous Vetiver fragrance it is the dried root of the grass that is used and then distilled. Indeed, the remaining green herbs are generally used for livestock. Until the last century, this aromatic plant remained largely unknown in Western countries outside the world of perfumery. Its roots or rhizomes contain a resin, similar to that of myrrh, which is harvested to give Vetiver essential oil. Among the dozen or so species of Vetiver, we can observe a great diversity in the development patterns of the plant, in the orientation and thickness of its roots. The harvesting of Vetiver is called "digging" because the growers have to turn over the soil to extract the roots, which are then distilled to reveal the fragrance. The roots are extracted in a dry state when the plant is 2 or 3 years old.  The distillation process to harvest Vetiver oil takes more than 24 hours and requires a large amount of water. It takes place from August to December. After steam distillation of the washed, cut and sun-dried rhizomes, we can see that the vetiver root provides a very thick, yellowish resinous essence. The scent is fine and complex, combining a woody, aromatic, green, sometimes slightly smoky, and very persistent smell. If combined with other ingredients, it can enhance certain floral or chypre notes and also acts as an excellent fixative for volatile components.

The origins of Vetiver's use

Originally from the wild in Indonesia and the Indian peninsula, Vetiver has been introduced into many tropical countries. For example in Brazil, Reunion, China, Guatemala and Madagascar.  The main producers are Indonesia and Haiti.  The four types of Vetiver used in perfumery are: Bourbon Vetiver (from Reunion Island), Indian Vetiver, Haitian Vetiver and Java Vetiver. The favourite of perfumers remains the Bourbon Vetiver whose fine, earthy scent offers a rosy note, but it has become very rare. This aromatic plant was cultivated in Reunion Island from 1900 onwards for use in the perfume industry because the quality of the essential oil of Vetiver Bourbon was recognised as the best in the world. Currently, Vetiver essential oil is distilled mainly in Haiti, China and Java. Haiti is the world's largest exporter of Vetiver essential oil. On the world market, the demand for Vetiver is constantly growing due to its unique fragrance and very good solubility in alcohol.  In addition, no synthetic substitutes are available today, making this raw material a unique resource in perfumery. Nevertheless, this plant has had other functions, including in Reunion Island, where Vetiver has long been used as thatch for roofs. The non-aromatic properties of this perennial plant are also used, particularly in agriculture, as it is very effective in fixing soil and as an insecticide. Its roots were also used to weave curtains, screens and fans on which water was sprinkled to freshen the atmosphere and give it a delicious scent. Indeed, dry Vetiver is not very fragrant, it must be moistened again to find the initial smell of Vetiver, then the fresh and woody scents act a bit like air conditioning.  Finally, Vetiver essential oils have immuno-stimulant and relaxing properties. Used in aromatherapy, they help the body fight stress and have disease prevention benefits.

Vetiver, the star ingredient of the perfumer's palette

Within the perfumer's palette, Vetiver is regularly associated with the raw materials 

jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, neroli and patchouli. Vetiver, a bitter aromatic root, belongs to the woody olfactory family (vibrant woody). In general, the smell of Vetiver is quite fusing, fresh, with accents of hazelnut and fine smoky scents. The result is a resinous elixir with an intense, warm, rich and creamy fragrance. In addition, Vetiver essential oil is one of the most wooden scents among perfume plants. Vetiver oil is also used in leathery or Middle Eastern fragrances with the addition of frankincense which blends beautifully with the fragrant note of Vetiver. Vetiver is a base note that brings a warm, woody facet to fragrances, which easily combines with other woody notes and other base notes such as sandalwood and cedar. Since the late 1950s, more than 300 men's and women's fragrances have accustomed perfume lovers to the ever-recognisable woody note of Vetiver essence, even when its presence is limited to embellishing floral, spicy notes, to create olfactory works of art as pleasing as they are timeless. Many creators and perfumers have been and still are amazed by the richness of the nuances offered by this raw material whose multiple facets make vetiver a perfume in itself.

Moreover, Vetiver is a note traditionally associated with the masculine universe, especially in the early days of perfumery in Eaux de Cologne, where there is a large amount of citrus like bergamot and lemony notes like verbena. However, some women's fragrances have them, such as Guerlain's Vetiver for Her, which is now off the market. Guerlain's Vetiver fragrance, arguably the best known of the vetiver-containing perfumes, is this magnificent creation by Jean-Paul Guerlain, who has shown, through his 43 olfactory creations, an immoderate penchant for natural raw materials. In 1921, Molinard's first masterpiece, Habanita, revolutionised the world of perfumery and was a true olfactory feat. A scandalous and revolutionary fragrance, it marks the beginning of women's emancipation. Indeed, with its hint of Vetiver, previously reserved for men, it seduces women in search of freedom. Habanita is the first Vetiver-based fragrance for women in history. At the same time, the vetiver note is also present in women's fragrances such as Chanel n*5 by Chanel, one of the best-selling fragrances in the world, and Must by Cartier.  Nevertheless, famous perfumes such as Eaux Sauvage by Dior or TERRE D'Hermès by Hermès can also be found in men's perfumery. Furthermore, Vetiver has been used for decades as a top note fixative in perfumery. Until the day when the famous house of Carven decided to honour the notes of Vetiver by making it the master of a perfume bearing its name: "Vetiver". Released in 1957, the fragrance was a huge success, finally introducing Vetiver for its olfactory qualities and, what's more, launching the fashion for woody fragrances.


Vetiver Overdrive when Vetiver meets the Blues

Always looking for new challenges and wanting to bring the best to its customers by offering a unique sensory journey, L'Orchestre Parfum also sought to further introduce Vetiver into women's fragrance with a new unisex fragrance, Vetiver Overdrive. With Vetiver Overdrive, let yourself be transported from New Orleans to Nashville on a road trip, where a blues tune is playing on the radio and the day is just breaking over the Mississippi Delta. This fragrance, will make you feel an aromatic and luminous accord of bergamot, geranium and vetiver that lets you slip into deep, low frequencies.  You can also find deep frequencies such as the notes of cedar, ambroxan and musk leaving you with the smell of an amplified wood, sensual, carnal and electrifying all at once.