digging (into) vintage: Carven Vetiver Dry, 1988

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(image, The Smithsonian Institution)

1988. Perfumer unknown.

Carven make one of the better known vetiver fragrances. It’s been around since 1957 and has stood shoulder to shoulder over the years with the other ‘classic’ vetivers that followed on its heels, namely Guerlain Vetiver (1961), Givenchy Vetyver (1959). Reformulations aside, these are Paris’s masculine Big Three of from the era.

In 1988 Carven released a new fragrance called Vetiver Dry. The name of the perfume denotes 1980s-styled overachieving sensibility. Vetiver itself, the botanical substance, is as dry as a bone, and typically keeps most vetiver compositions at the far end of the spectrum of dryness. The name, though. It’s just two words, but they suggest something out of whack. Is it overachievement? Is its competitiveness? Is it simply a misunderstanding of the material? Maybe it’s an ironic tautology, as in water is wet.

Unfortunately, smelling the perfume doesn’t answer any of the questions. Vetiver Dry, despite the name, is an aromatic fougère. Oh, there’s some vetiver in there. More’s the pity, though. Vetiver and the fougère accord don’t enhance each other, the point reinforced by the dearth of vetiver fougères available.

The top notes are recognizable and are characteristically herbal/soapy in the fougère manner. But where the other late 80s aromatic Fougères seem bright, sharp, inventive, Vetiver Dry seems muddy and blurred. Whether or not it is the vetiver that muddies the perfume, Vetiver Dry feels like it was composed with a dull pencil.

There’s a struggle within this bottle, and it makes for a confusing progression. Conflicting notes vie for precedence, and the topnotes, though blurry, are strong. The dry-down is murky, suggestion the conflict of notes ends in an unsatisfying draw. But to reach drydown, there’s no avoiding the heart notes, which are more unpleasant than vague, with a scent of rising dough that makes me want to open a window.

There is a reason perfume wearers who ‘layer’ perfumes have never suggested the combination of Drakkar Noir and Bois Farine. Vetiver Dry serves as the cautionary tale.

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