Vetiver Eau de Toilette by Guerlain Review
Vetiver is not some sort of vetiver quasi-soliflor, but, rather, a well-balanced and ingenious flourish, filled with different notes that each accentuates a facet of vetiver. It’s not just a clever art piece on a theme, however; Vetiver actually smells good and performs well, and this, not the cleverness of the note pyramid, is what makes it a classic.
The first impression, which carries the opening of the fragrance, is the scent of hot grass, alive and green and trimmed on the weekends. This opening accord carries much of the sharpness and perceived masculinity of the fragrance. It is a sweltering green, not bright, not dark, but pungent. It is grass that is half shouting with life and half devastatingly dried.
Vetiver is brashly loud and grassy for the first few minutes as the titular note introduces itself with the face everyone knows. (Ask anyone what vetiver smells like, and the standard answer is “Like grass on a hot summer day.”)
The screaming brightness of the living grass — which sounds more like a title for a horrendous arthouse spinoff of Plants vs. Zombies than a fragrance description — is a clever trick of lemon. It’s so expertly blended it doesn’t come across as citrus at all unless you know what you’re looking for; it just feels like an incredibly fresh green thing, grassy and sunny and brazen.
In the opening, Vetiver is confident and cocksure, swaggering and loud. But he does it all in this incredibly classy old-fashioned way. This is a bold young man of the Belle Époque, leaning in to place a bet or join an argument or flirt with a girl in a nice tavern. He smokes pipe tobacco and laughs loudly, tucking his handkerchief into his pocket with a rakish grin.
And then, just as you’ve decided you’ve had enough of this Vetiver character, he starts showing off his many other faces.
Something sparkles in this, particularly towards the top. It’s like a fleck of pyrite or mica in the grass under the scorching sun. It’s likely the freshness of the bergamot, which is blended more like a green thing than a fruit. There are glimmers of lemon and mandarin orange in here past the opening, but they aren’t at all prominent on me.
The lemon adds to the dry, green, unsweet nature of the citrus accord. It’s an underripe, greenish sort of lemon, almost lime-like. That green aura blends pleasantly with the vetiver and other greenish notes floating behind it. There’s a sharp, biting sort of sour edge to it that makes your mouth water. That spark of sourness is quickly absorbed into the clouds of aromatics and tobacco making up the body of the fragrance. It’s most apparent in the first moments of the opening, before fading into an Earl Grey sort of soft, smoky bergamot.
Yes, Earl Grey. The bergamot lends itself to the fascinating heart of this fragrance — the olfactory accident, so to speak — that takes this from fine to effervescent, which, on me, is… tea.
There’s no tea listed in the note pyramid, but Vetiver is cut dry grass and the freshest tea you’ve ever smelled. The bright green sparkle of the bergamot doubtless contributes to a subtle sour earl grey vibe, but the tannin-y bitterness that makes up the heart of this fragrance is more than a splash of bergamot.
In its heart, Vetiver is hot, green, and bitter, with an aromatic sour edge and a dusty spice-and-tobacco cabinet in the background. It’s tea without a hint of sweetness, enjoyed after mowing the arid summer lawn. (Yes, you’re drinking hot tea on a hot summer day. It makes you sweat. It cools you down.) It’s an earl grey that’s dark and bitter and over-steeped, decorated with a faint bergamot whisper, worn away by each day past its shelf life.
The oakmoss here doesn’t take up a predominant spot like it does in a chypre. Instead, it lurks in the background, building out the overall dry, bitter tea aura of the fragrance. It’s subtle. Vetiver doesn’t come out and yell “mossy.” Instead, the oakmoss adds fullness and body to the exquisitely-blended skeleton of the scent. It helps the fragrance stay cohesive and gives it some good longevity.
The oakmoss is aided by some other subtle herbal flourishes. A sprig of silvery sage adds something aromatic and slightly heady to the heart of the fragrance that blends exquisitely with the soft cloud of tobacco.
A pinch of carnation, on the other hand, blends with the sharper side of Vetiver, the peppery spices and sour citrus notes. It’s spicy in a fresh herbal way, a crisp whisper in the middle of the scent.
In the verdant Vetiver love letter to classic colognes, this fresh-spicy-aromatic accord, too, is a reference to classic masculine fragrances. That carnation-and-sage center has appeared in everything from historical fougères to contemporary blue scents, and now it’s here in Vetiver, albeit very faint.
There’s a whisper of floral sweetness on the other side of the coin: the faintest suggestion of neroli, soft and just a little bit green. It bounces around in the soft, almost-powdery space occuppied by fluffy tobacco, lending a lifting hint of sweetness to the whole concoction.
Just a hint of a contemplative sort of resin echoes in the hallowed halls of Vetiver. It brings forth the meditative and almost-folk-medicinal side of traditional vetiver oil; there’s something of an old-fashioned apothecary in here. It’s myrrh, aromatic and intriguing, clean like a homemade herbal dressing on a bandage. “Medicinal” is often a term thrown around disparagingly, but this is one of my favorite facets of Vetiver. From about ten minutes in onward, it sticks around straightening everybody’s ties and keeping anything from getting too dirty.
This is the smell of a lovable young doctor, a beam of light hitting the good-boy-who-loves-his-mama side of Vetiver. It makes it clear to us that even our devil-may-care main character goes to church on Sundays.
There is a softness in Vetiver that fills your mouth with ether, first from the dirty-sweet tobacco, and, later on, from the soft woody, rooty powders of orris root and sandalwood. The tobacco brings heat, daring, and a touch of smog into the room, while the soft suggestions of powdery sweet dust in the drydown remind you that you are, in fact, smelling a Guerlain, and that you might have a cookie to savor with your tea somewhere if you look.
From about half an hour in, the tobacco is just a little bit smoky. Or is it just hot? Who can tell where the smell of a pipe left out in the sun ends and that of one that’s lit begins? There’s no dark gray or black smoke here, just an airy herbal essence of tobacco leaves. It floats as if it’s a gas made of pure green leaves, no burning or charred black smells anywhere in sight.
Some warm spices mingle in here with the soft and sweet powdery notes. Coriander, cardamom, nutmeg and black pepper add just a hint of piquancy and sharp spicy crispness to the fragrance. They add to the gourmand suggestion of the latent warm sweetness and then sharply subtract from it: a little bit of any one of these spices might work in a sweet baked treat, but any large quantity of all of them is weird.
There is too much coriander, cardamom, nutmeg, and black pepper in here for cookies to really make sense as an association. This is an artful way to hide the suggestion of a classic Guerlain gourmand in the bottom of Vetiver without making it significantly sweet in any capacity.
Somehow, the combination of spices and tea-like vetiver doesn’t come together into anything like spiced chai. It’s too dry, not nearly creamy enough. Instead, these are spices in dozens of little old shakers. Everything around them is lightly dusted with their contents. Just a bit of the pepperiness of — well — black pepper and nutmeg, the greenish warmth of coriander and cardamom. They add to an aura of warmth in the drydown while preserving a crisp masculine edge to Vetiver.
In the late drydown, the bitterness of the tea turns dry and dusty, elusively a tiny bit rancid… walnuts. You’ve gotten most of the grass and dirt off of yourself, and now the faint scents of old walnuts and leftover dried soil and crumbs keep you company.
It’s the smell of the dust that’s left at the bottom of a bag of walnuts once you’ve eaten all the nuts: slightly sour, slightly bitter, slightly stale, yet light and nutty and almost powdery. It’s dusty like an old walnut wood cabinet, stale and creaking. Perhaps this is where the spices in the cabin are stored.
This is the antithesis to the sweet powdery dust of orris root, sandalwood, and tobacco. It balances out that faint dessert-like impression with a sour aftertaste, leading you to take more gulps of your bitter hot tea.
I’m not sure what in Vetiver is giving me this walnut impression. It might just be another facet of the titular central note that I haven’t appreciated in isolation like this before, dry in a way that makes your mouth beg for water.
If there’s any leather in Vetiver, it’s a clean, plain, simple suede hidden somewhere in the base notes. It adds to the general old-fashioned aura as it lurks in the base notes, recalling spiced, smoky leather chypres of days past.
It is so refreshing — literally — that there isn’t a stifling obligtory amber-musk mixture hiding at the end of Vetiver as in so many fragrances. If there’s any amber at all, it very faintly accentuates the natural sweetness of the sandalwood, providing a cozy background for the peppery spices to come in.
There’s something a touch animalic in this late stage of Vetiver that I adore. After the cut grass and dry tea, it’s a whiff of something living again. Perhaps it’s a squirrel or some other little animal watching you from the windowsill, or a whiff of sweat in your shirt. It’s civet, deep and erotic and musky, lurking in the underbrush of Vetiver.
I’d love to get more of that slightly dirty, sensual, human sort of smell, but it wafts in through the windows as it pleases, bowing to the whims of no one.
The performance and longevity of Vetiver is quite impressive for an Eau de Toilette, especially for one that lends itself to incredibly hot weather. On me, it sticks around for at least six, perhaps up to eight hours on a sweltering summer day — no small feat!
I think the high heat is much of what makes Vetiver feel like tea to me. In a cool and air-conditioned room, the components of the illusion are much more obvious and clearly vetiver-centered. When things are less heated up, the green, dry, almost-woody nuances of the note shine through more than the tannin-like, bitter, almost-smoky ones.
This is an expansive vetiver for tea lovers. It’s a bit sharp and bitter and I don’t know that it suits me. There is, however, such unexpected pleasure in this perfect cup of imperfect vetiver-grass tea, and it’s one of the only fragrances in my collection that truly works (and lasts) in summer.
Guerlain’s Vetiver is an incredibly versatile traditionally masculine scent. Not only is it perfectly acceptable for everything from a trip to the grocery store to a fancy night out, but its environmental versatility is also impressive. It doesn’t have any muskiness, sweet amber, or bright blue calone freshness, making it uniquely suitable for all weather. Vetiver won’t get stuffy in sweltering heat. In fact, intense heat accentuates many of its facets, emphasizing the textures of hot dry grass, smoky tea, and tobacco.
This is a modern classic and a go-to vetiver cologne for a reason. Guerlain’s Vetiver is balanced, classy, and versatile. It contains numerous rich accords built around an overarching structure: a love letter to vetiver grass. The result is a vetiver that is larger than real-life vetiver in every direction: warmer, earthier, smokier, drier, sparklier, dustier, just a little bit sweeter…
The blending is extraordinarily smooth and cohesive. The experience is simple, pleasant, and clean, while carrying very faint bad-boy hints of animalics and earthiness. Vetiver fills a simple niche extraordinarily well. It’s a well-rounded casual pleasure.
This is a great candidate for the man who wants to have one fragrance just to have something that smells like, doesn’t care much what it is, and appreciates a little bit of old-fashioned style. It’s also perfectly suited for someone with much more interest and experience in fragrance.
Vetiver is an accessible and simultaneously impressively complex delight. If you enjoy vetiver colognes, you’d be remiss not to try this one.