Vetiver Oriental: the olfactory oxymoron

the vetiver at the end of the scope

Vetiver is one of my favourite notes. It is part of the base of more perfumes than one can detect. It gives a warm, woody facet to them. But it can also shine as the star in many performances. It can play the fresh, young, casual, lemony vetiver in Mugler Cologne or Paul Smith Story. It can also be the sophisticated, reserved vetiver of Guerlain or Vetiver Extraordinaire. It can bring on the darkness of Route du Vetiver and it can also play the Devil himself as in Lorenzo Villoresi’s rendition.

All this versatility seems to have an invisible barrier: the oriental family. It seems quite difficult to build an oriental perfume based on the earthy, smoky, woody vetiver. So when Serge Lutens decides to come up with Oriental Vetiver, this sounds a little pretentious and very interesting!

And in fact it is! Being a hardcore vetiver fan I had a really hard time finding the vetiver in this one. Once I did though, I realized that this wasn’t because it was discretely blended but because it was in such unlikely company that the surrounding notes distracted me. Unlike any other vetiver fragrance it opens with a sweet, velvety accord. I can smell the iris and the tonka, the expensive tonka, the one with the slight bitter almond note. It is sticky sweet with a powdery hue. There is a point in the development where vetiver breaks through the vale of thick and sweet notes to reveal its rubbery, rooty character. Think for a moment Vetiver Extraordinaire blended at equal volumes with La Guerlinade.

I cannot help thinking of Habit Rouge whenever I smell VO. It is not clear to me exactly why. It is not the similarity in notes per se but I believe it must be the intricate use of many different ingredients from across the spectrum of notes. Everything but the kitchen sink struggles inside the bottle for dominance and when they hit the skin hell breaks loose. A sweet hell. In fact Vetiver Oriental smells like the potion the Evil Queen soaked the Apple in for Snow White to eat. The intense edible  sweetness seems to be there just to conceal the deleterious bitterness of vetiver and labdanum. It feels like danger in a bottle. But its elegance is undeniable. Every contradiction is under control in this composition. It wears like a green velvet frock coat: it is definitely something out of grandpa’s closet but worn in today’s context is totally eccentric.

Notes from fragrantica:  herbal green juices, iris, woodsy notes of branches, vetiver root, Guaiac wood, chocolate, musk, amber, sandalwood and labdanum

Notes from my nose: tonka, iris, rubber, almond, magic potion, labdanum

tonka, iris, rubber, almond, magic potion, labdanum


About Christos

Scientifically minded but obsessed with the subjective aspect of things. Photos copyright of MemoryOfScent, with special thanks to Pantelis Makkas 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.


  1. Nice picture! Yours?

    I’m not familiar with most SL’s creations yet but I’ll get there.

    Do you consider this perfume to be unisex or is it more masculine?

  2. The photo is taken by a friend, Pantelis Makkas, who is an artist.

    VO is as unisex as a vetiver can get. The most easily wearable by a woman vetiver in my collection. Whatever you know about vetiver as a main note in a perfume, forget it!

    Birgit has a sample so I am sure she can comment on this when she has some time.

  3. hedonist222

    Lovely article.

    I read on luckyscent one day a review that said “Vetiver Oriental, also known as Where is the Vetiver” and for a few days I agreed with her but now I disagree.
    The vetiver is there but as you said. accompanied by such a medley of companions that it is not a simple task to recognize it. One must be very familiar with vetiver, in all tis facets, to thoroughly detect and enjoy it.

    I do!

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