Frédéric Malle Vetiver Extraordinaire, 2002

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(image Randolph Scott and Cary Grant)

Perfumer Dominique Ropion.

Vetiver root has been used in perfumery since day one, but the eponymous masculine Vetivers fixate on it with a particular reverence. Vetiver isn’t simply the masculine equivalent of the feminine white floral. It’s become a ceremonial totem of male toiletry, ranking with the fougère as a masculine olfactory reference. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Big Three (Carven, Guerlain, Givenchy) boosted vetiver from a fixative and a basenote material to the center of the discussion.

The Maculine Vetiver became safe harbor in the 1960s-1970s when the underpinnings of masculinity were up for discussion. More vetiver fragrances than you can shake a stick at followed. Some kept close to the scent of the vetiver root itself (eg. Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier Route du Vetiver, Etro Vetiver, Lalique Encre Noire) while others strayed a bit further, riffing on a particular quality of the root (Annick Goutal Vetiver’s salty iodine, Serge Lutens’s chocolate Vetiver Oriental, ELDO Fat Electrician’s plastic and vinyl.) 

Vetiver Extraordinaire falls into the conservative camp of Vetiver perfumes and The Big Three are its specific predecessors. All four are sweeping, classical perfumes that balance broad splashes and nuanced choices. Malle and Ropion are too well-versed in composition and history not to have understood the importance of the Big Three, but they chose to rival them rather than to imitate them. Malle also takes advantage of the of the fetishism surrounding the material, and fumies dutifully cite the 25% of vetiver oil used in the composition.

Ropion’s approach is to take vetiver to finishing school. After the dazzling citrus punch of the first sniff, he employs a  swirling floral topnote to accentuate vetiver’s inherent thumping bass range. The liveliness of the topenotes have hints of lipstick and makeup and Vetiver Extraordinaire barely skirts the scandalous ‘Old Lady Perfume’ territory. The topnotes are ‘perfumey’ and remind me that Ropion known for his over-the-top perfumey feminine florals (Givenchy Amarige and Ysatis, Malle’s own Carnal Flower). Vetiver Extraordinaire eventually settles into a more traditionally masculine woody range, albeit with a dandy flourish. 

Vetiver Extraordinaire captures the sensibility of the Frédéric Malle line perfectly. It is a superlative contemporary spin on a traditional form. Though not nearly as ubiquitous, Vetiver Extraordinaire rivals Guerlain Vetiver as the standard-bearer of the genre among vetiver enthusiasts.

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