It's always wise when exploring a certain material to come to the source. In the case of vetiver, the natural essences themselves. And what better way of discovering the exciting facets of unadulterated vetiver than going the natural way? Natural perfumers have long been maligned because they have been erroneously mixed up with aromatherapists whose higher priority is rather to provide healing than sensory pleasure. Their compositions have been called "invertebrae" and accused of having "the bone structure of a sea cucumber". But natural perfumers are not interested in effect before beauty, any less than traditional perfumers are, nor do not they target the fadish hoi polloi, unlike some of the latter. Instead they produce small batches that aim at the discerning consumer who seeks an almost alchemical path to olfactory revelation and the intimate knowledge of raw materials. "This is how pepper really smells like", you exclaim as you sniff tentatively; "here is a twist of ambrette seeds and what are they anyway?" you progess with entusiasm. "Hey, is that how natural ambergris really smells like? Wow!".
In this path of discovery and thanks to the wonders of the Internet I came across Ayala Moriel who has been producing her small artisanal line of natural perfumes for some years now.
Gigi has been her latest gardenia soliflore which I reviewed some months ago, while Sahleb reminded me of the sweet milky drink of the streets of Istanbul. On another vein, Film Noir has been my idea of a perfect deep and dirty patchouli ever since I first tried it. Which brings us to today's fragrance: Vetiver Racinettes.
Vetiver came prominently to the fore a few years ago in a roundabout way: Perfume houses were starting to significantly lower oakmoss levels to conform with European restrictions, often replacing it with vetiver and patchouli as a base in the new "modern chypres."
Ayala Moriel has been an inquisive soul which takes her craft seriously and in tandem with her own personal needs she began a Sir Richard Burton exploration into the uncharted territories of vetiver creation .
As she confessed for us this was part a personal journey :
"Last year, I had a deep need for [vetiver's] therapeutic qualities and cooling effect and I have become aware of vetiver's many virtues and its particular connection to the well being of the people and the planet in present day. Vetiver is a purifying, sacred root with a woody aroma, and in many ways I feel that it takes on a similar role that was once reserved to sacred woods such as sandal and oud. One thing lead to another, and after 4 different vetiver versions, I have finally arrived at a destination that I have never quite planned to find - my very own signature vetiver scent: Vetiver
Vetiver Racinettes thus fleshes out the rooty aroma of vetiver into a summation and recapitualtion of all the aspects which caught Ayala's interest in her route to vetiver exploration. After going through a spare mod (Vetiver Blanc), one with the baked earth note of Attar Mitti (Wylde Vetiver), and another with coffee (Vetiver Noir), she arrived at the spicy amalgam which is Vetiver Racinettes.
Racinette comes from the French, code name for root beer and it is indeed the reminiscence of it which Ayala utilized: the earthy feel of "thousand rootlets in deep dirt with the sweetness of refreshing root beer".
Vetiver Racinettes combines both peppery and sweet spices, of which I perceive cardamom more prominently, allied to the musty, pungent aroma of the roots. The cardamom touch recalls a similar treatment in Déclaration for Cartier, in which the spice is evoking a refreshing drink with a tangy citrusy bite above the vetiver. Here the citrus tang comes from Kaffir Lime leaf, a succulent note which is especially perceptible in the heat of summer after the first few minutes on the skin as well as the fresher feel of Haitian vetiver which is the prominent note in Guerlain's classic Vétiver.
The opening of the fragrance is quite intense with the mustiness of vetiver roots in primo piano singing both overture and aria while a metal gong is echoing, while as it melds on the skin slowly, the lime leaf, cardamom and a sweet vibe like licorice are appearing like supporting actors from the wings rounding it out and providing comfort.
Vetiver Racinettes smells at once woody and orientalised: the cooling feel of water drunk from a clay pot, its muddy bitterness still perceptible, the secret fire of spice and the intimate touch of sweet and mushroomy-earthy notes which last very well.
Top: Black Pepper, Fresh Ginger, Cardamom, Kaffir Lime Leaf
Heart: Haitian Vetiver, Nutmeg Asbolute, Coffee, Spikenard
Base: Ruh Khus*, Indonesian Vetiver, Vetiver Bourbon, Attar Mitti (baked earth), Tarragon Absolute, Cepes.
Vetiver Racinettes is a limited edition fragrance that will be available throughout Summer 2008. Advance orders are available through the website and will be shipped on a first-come first-serve basis.
The fragrance is available in 9ml parfum extrait(alcohol based)flacon ($110), Perfumed Pendant($125)with an option of refill, 10ml perfume-oil(jojoba based)in roll-on bottle($130) and 5ml perfume-oil roll-on bottle($65).
Ayala was gracious enough to offer 10 free samples for Perfume Shrine readers (normally these retail at 8$ each!): contact Ayala with codename "Perfume Shrine Vetiver Racinettes" to get your sample now!
Pic of Vetiver Racinettes, vetiver roots, nutmeg and cardamom pods by Ayala Moriel used with permission.
*Rhus Khus is produced in the north of India, distilled from wild-growing vetiver. Untypically blueish green in shade due to its being distilled in copper cauldrons, the traditional way. For more on vetiver varieties, read here.