Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Route du Vetiver and how reformulation works

The first scent that got me stuck in niche perfumes was Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier, Route du Vetiver. But it was more of a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde experience… I was still only sampling when the name caught my eye: the root of vetiver… “Quite promising!” I thought. So I ordered my sample and when it arrived…. It was heaven! Or should I say Underworld…? A dark, earthy scent that smelled exactly as the name promised, the smell of dirt hanging from the roots of a plant just pulled out of the earth! I have never smelled a vetiver plant, but these dirty roots I was smelling were definitely vetiver roots. It was love at first smell. I knew I had to have a bottle of this so I ordered it from the same online shop that I ordered the sample from.

The days of waiting just heightened the anticipation. My first niche buy, the best fragrance I had ever smelled up to then (and probably until today), I just couldn’t wait. And then the bottle came in the post. And it was so…. different. I must admit that I tried to convince myself, day after day, wearing after wearing that what was coming out of the bottle appealed to me as much as the scent that was coming out of the sample vial. I really tried hard to convince myself that it was the same smell. You see I hadn’t started reading Basenotes’ forums yet and the term “reformulation” sounded like a science experiment at the time. But there comes a time where one has to face denial and come to terms with it. I started searching around, read every thread on vetiver on Basenotes and finally came to terms with the simple fact that RdV was not what it used to be. It wasn’t my idea. The juice didn’t smell the same any more. Most of MP&G fragrances had been reformulated, got a new bottle and carried the names of their ancestors, others proudly, but from what I was reading RdV was the apple that had fallen furthest from the tree.

I felt like someone was playing with my mind. I had found my Holly Grail and they decided to melt it down and sell it for good luck charms. I wrote an angry e-mail to the online shop and let them know what I was thinking about someone who gives out a little taste of something they cannot deliver. Of course I offered to buy the rest of their tester since it wouldn’t make any sense selling samples from a tester that was different from the actual bottles it was supposed to promote. To my astonishment the extremely professional people of the online shop apologized and offered to send me the tester, free of charge. At the end of the day, I had my first love in my hands as well as the her botox-ed little sister. A happy ending.

Side by side

Vintage: Sharp, metallic, diluent. Ink, much like the ink in Encre Noire, only more upfront, more confident, in your face. As the fragrance warms up on the skin the harsh, cool, almost minty top disappears. Berries start adding some thickness. The vetiver starts to become prominent. It is green with a cold, detached earthiness. The vetiver is always underlined by this cold diluent note but now the earthiness starts to grow stronger. It is now the smell of soil after the rain, the smell of a dump basement. You can smell the wet walls but you can also hear the chains rattle. Gothic, dark shiny metal. The earthiness doesn’t bring nature to mind but a man-made situation. A cell, a dungeon in a castle. Not a prison but a hideaway for the owner of the castle. Nothing involuntary in his presence in this cell. On the contrary it is his favorite place in the castle, where he comes to be free of conventions. Woody notes start anchoring the scent in more comfortable domains. It sits on the skin like shiny black panther fur.

Current: White flowers against green background. The white flowers start to subside and a berry note adds sweetness. Now the flowers smell almost like tuberose. The diluent note appears pulling the leash on the white flowers. The flowers keep coming down. A creamy dimension kicks in. The vetiver starts becoming more obvious at long last. Musk forms the base. It sits on the skin like an aqua colored velvet glove, definitely more feminine than the vintage version. A flamboyant elegance of an effeminate dandy.

After about half an hour the two versions come so close that it seems like a magician’s trick. The current juice still boasts a creamy sweetness and a stronger jasmine that forces one to categorize it as a floral vetiver. The vintage version however is somewhere in a land of its own: a mineral vetiver? A metallic vetiver? No sweetness at all, not a hint of musk.

All in all the vintage version is a masterpiece. No other vetiver has managed to put wet earth in the forefront but still keeping the fragrance “clean”, metallic, distilled. The new version is humbled by the comparison but in fact if it had been released as “Fleur du Vetiver” (Vetiver Flower) it might now be considered a classic. Well this is a story we have seen many times: it’s not good enough to be good, you have to be good enough to fill the shoes you are given.


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About Christos

Scientifically minded but obsessed with the subjective aspect of things. Photos copyright of MemoryOfScent, with special thanks to Pantelis Makkas http://pantelismakkas.blogspot.com/. You are welcome to link to my blog but you are definitely not allowed to copy text or use the photos without my permission. All text and main photos are originals and property of MemoryOfScent All perfumes are from my collection unless stated otherwise.

19 comments

  1. You have a very interesting blog! And the photos are amazing! I am glad I found it.
    I never tried Route de Vetiver, and from your sad story it is probably not worth bothering with the new version knowing there was once something so much better.
    Great thing you got the tester, though! :)

    • Thank you !
      Actually the new version isn’t bad and I really tried to make that point in the end. It is just that the reformulation moved in exactly the opposite direction.
      I got the tester and I also hunted down another vintage bottle so I guess I have stocked for life (not a signature scent believer here….).

  2. Sounds like this was one of the lucky reformulations that didn’t end up being a whisper of an imitation.

    Wish they’d be that way more often.

  3. I am crazy about Encre Noire. That said…I would love to hear your impressions on Vétyver by Mona di Orio.
    I loved your blog! really nice :-) .
    and since you have a quotation, I have one myself:

    “Life is like perfumes, volatile but beautiful! “- ME
    XXX

    • Encre Noire is the one of the two perfumes I managed to go through an entire bottle. That says a lot I guess! I love vetiver because of its versatility. It can be cool and dark, green and black, cool and deep at the same time. I haven’t worked my way to Mona di Orio’s rendition but I believe I am goining to love it judging from other MdO fragrances that I have tried. And those bottles….!

  4. Mona’s Vétyver is drier than the others. This characteristic makes it unique. I have made a huge review and published, but blogger had technical issues and I had to erase it. I might try to publish it again. It is very elegant.
    Her new Tubereuse is also fantastic.
    I am linking you in my blog roll because I simply loved this unique place to read about fragrances and olfactive memories.

  5. I think you have described every fragrance fanatics nightmare; thank goodness you got the tester! I liked reading the side-by-side comparison, too.

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