Friday, October 24, 2008

Vetiver Tonka by Hermes: fragrance review and lucky draw

To bean or not to bean? The answer at Hermès is there is no bean counting in their pursuit for true luxury, but when it comes to perfumery, they go tonka bean all the way! What's the point of my word-play? That the delectable raw material of tonka beans has been utilised in the most delicious way paired with earthy vetiver in their mouthwatering fragrance Vétiver Tonka. Composed by in-house perfumer Jean Claude Ellena in 2004 as part of the original quartet for Hermès's exclusive collection for their boutiques, the Hermessences, Vétiver Tonka was meant to interpret the sensation of wool. (the other Hermessences also capture the drape of various fabrics). "Comfortable, fresh, affirmed" is how they chose to describe it themselves and I couldn't agree more.

Subtly edible notes with cigar-flavoured accents are folded into a classy amalgam by the genius light hand of a conjurer: Jean Claude Ellena's strongest suit. The warm smokiness that alludes to pouches of rich tobacco is an element that I am sorely missing in the current batches of the classic Vétiver by Guerlain where it was providing an inviting hug after the grassy delights, but happily the coumarin-rich smell of tonka beans remains intact. Guerlain's version is of course overall much more citrusy, vetiver in itself possessing an hesperidic facet that is often used as a springboard in composing masculine colognes around it. Jean Claude merely hints at that aspect of the exotic grass seguing on to "cleaner" notes that almost instantenously get the smothering treatment of an artistic flou via hazy notes, much like the flour part of his Bois Farine for L'artisan parfumeur.

Vétiver Tonka encompasses the tempered note of vetiver that re-appeared in Terre d'Hermès two years later ~also by Ellena. He seems to love the material, using the Haitian vetiver essential oil, vetiverol as well as vetyveryl acetate. Ever since Déclaration, a spicy masterpiece in my opinion, he has been using all those beloved materials in various incarnations, all the way to the specifically ordered vetiver extraction he procured for the intriguing and perplexing Un Jardin après la Mousson. That said, lovers of strong, dank, almost musty vetiver should rather look for it in Route de Vetiver by Maitre Parfumer et Gantier or Vétiver Extraordinaire by F.Malle.

The violet-like note of alpha isomethyl-ionone (which is sniffable in another Hermessence too, Paprika Brasil, where it takes almost an iris nuance) is the humorous touch that Jean Claude tricks us with: he did the same thing pairing beta ionone (also reminiscent of violets) with hedione to come up with the scent of tea in Bulgari's Eau parfumée au Thé Vert.
The dominant force however is tonka bean , which has a hay/caramel vanilla-ish scent, very soothing, very creamy. Smelling it from the bottle or on a blotter at first it seems a bit clashing ~to be excpected since the two elements are so antithetical on first reading, but on skin it is predominantly sweetish, velvety soft and nutty-oily, which I find sublimely comforting. The naturally dry and woody smell of vetiver as well as a slight bitterness inherent in tonka beans provide a counterpoint to the sweet float of the vanillic base, so the whole is perfectly balanced between dryness and comfort; which sets it one step ahead of the equally mouthwatering but much more gourmand Ambre Narguilé from the same line and for me personally makes it more wearable in warmer weather than the denser Vétiver Oriental by Serge Lutens. This charming duet dances in situ for hours with little change, but boredom never enters the equation as the combined efforts sing at an unheard of before frequency. Additionally there is an interplay of cool and warm facets which makes for stimulating results making Vétiver Tonka suitable for every climate and every season. It lasts very well for an eau de toilette, perhaps more than any other in the collection, is perfectly unisex and has moderate, elegant sillage.

So to answer my introductory word-play, I have been for the bean in a most decisive way ever since I first tried it: Reader, I have spent most of last summer in it!

For one lucky reader interested in a sample triad of the last three niche vetivers reviewed (Malle, Lutens, Hermes), plase state your interest in the comments.
Draw will run throughout the weekend.
Notes for Vétiver Tonka : bergamot, neroli, lily of the valley, cereal notes, dried fruit, tonka bean, vetiver, tobacco, sandalwood.

Vétiver Tonka by Hermès (2004) forms part of the Hermessences exclusive collection, sold at their boutiques in spartan bottle with leather-covered caps. It comes in either 100ml/2.4oz or a set of 4x15ml/0.5oz travel set sprayers. (There is also the option of getting it in a set of pre-selected 15ml travel sprayers along with 3 other Hermessences for the uniform price of 150 euros).

For a comprehensive analysis of vetiver fragrances click Vetiver Series.

Pic of Ralph Fiennes courtesy of Evy Nef at photobucket. Bottle pic through Fragrantica.


  1. Anonymous14:00

    Wow, wow, and-wow!

    How did you decide to choose Jeremy Irons for VO? I recently watched Damage, and loved it. Now I will associate his tortured character in that film with the earthy opulence of VO. And as for choosing one of the fine Fiennes-you're blowing my mind :)

    I have not tried Vetiver Tonka. My brother, who has great taste, didn't care for it. I'm willing to try it based on your reviews. You have not steered me wrong yet: I've purchased a few things blind, based on your reviews.

    May I please be entered in your Vetiver draw? I hope you have a pleasant weekend,



    ps-don't you think the net is am amazing tool? you have readers from all over the world coming together to discuss topics of interest. How else would some one like me, living on the east coast of Canada, be able to communicate with another perfume lover, across the world. It amazes me.

  2. Helg, you have a knack for choosing irresistable pics of beautiful men! Who wouldn't want to try this, now, after your beautiful review (and while staring at Ralph, of course).

    Would love to try these -- please enter me in the draw!

  3. Interesting reading! Please include me in the vetiver draw :)

  4. Hello, E -- lovely review, and thanks for including the photo of the fine Ralph Fiennes. What a find that was! (apologies for my lame attempt at word play).

    Yes, Vétiver Tonka is a masterpiece to me. Interesting what you say about the ionones, but upon reflection, they must be somewhat responsible for injecting an airiness and transparent sheen into the composition.

    I have been living off samples of this, but may have to secure a full bottle sooner rather than later.

  5. I am very very very interested in the Vetiver sample drawing. Love this blog!

  6. Just making me want to smell this even more! Please enter me in the drawing. Of course as luck would have it the Hermes I really like and wear well on me are the Hermessences: Ambre Narguile (you were so very right about this one Helg) and Osmanthe Yunnan (everyone seems to love this one one me). And since trying these I have been wanting to try Vetiver Tonka; utterly intrigued by a gourmand vetiver.

  7. dleep17:38

    Great review! Thanks. Please include me in your drawing.

  8. Thank you! Vetiver remains one of my favorites notes, and your description of Vetiver Tonka is spot on. Both fresh and warm at the same time. Please enter me in your drawing, I am an avid reader of your blog, it's a part of my morning routine, like coffee, and just as addictive.
    Best, Scott from San Francisco

  9. maitreyi197800:52

    Please enter me in the draw. Thanks.

  10. Ooh, that sounds so gorgeous. I'm just getting into perfumes, and I would so, so love to smell all of these. Please do enter me in the draw!

  11. Carole,

    thank you so much for your enthusiasm and your very interesting comments! (yes, I agree, the internet provides an amazing connection for like-minded people which is phenomenal and unprecedented)

    How I came up with the Irons pic...well, I remembered the jungle image my friend Gaia liked, jungle and its dangers brought to mind wild animals, wild animals brought to mind lions and which lion but Scar (who was voice-overed by Irons, the perfect voice for that thing) could impersonate the suave but rather dangerous Vetiver Oriental? ;-)

    You're in the drawing, of course, best of luck and have a fabulous weekend!

  12. A,

    awww, thanks. I have a thing for superb thespians I guess ;-)

    Thank you for your compliment and I have included you in the drawing: they're all sample-worthy for sure.

  13. Terjegj,

    thank you and welcome. You're in! Good luck!

  14. Anonymous10:56

    Wonderful articles on vetiver. Thank You!
    And please include me in the vetiver draw.

  15. J,

    hi there! Thanks for the kind words and your word-play is not worse than mine, surely! (it's very difficult to do one in another language which is why I sometimes cringe a bit with my efforts).

    VT is glorious and very wearable, how could I disagree? I believe JCE does this ionones play quite a bit: he uses them to evoke various things paired with a couple of other ingredients (he even creates a framboise note out of them).
    He also likes to exhibit this perfume magic quite a bit! ;-)

  16. Thank you Regina! Hope to hear from you often.
    You're included in the drawing of course!

  17. Jen,

    sooooo glad I was right about Ambre Narguile! I was prepared to swear this would be exactly your taste and it is. Osmanth Yunnan is also very wearable although to me perhaps a little fleeting :-(
    I think you might like Vetiver Tonka too, although that would depend on a couple of factors.

    From Hermes, have you tried Elixir des Merveilles? (the orange-hued gourmand one in the same bottle as the regular Eau de Merveilles?) I believe that one also stands a good chance to win you over. ;-)

  18. Dleep,

    thanks and of course you're in. Good luck!

  19. Scott,

    you honor me: It's highly complimentary to be as addictive as morning coffee :-))
    Glad you like the VT and of course you're in the drawing, so best of luck :-)

  20. M,

    rest assured you're included. Best of luck!

  21. Tessa,

    sticking around will pose some threat to your wallet, perfume is a dangerous, decadent desire, LOL!
    But thank you for stopping by and I welcome your comments on anything that strikes your fancy.
    I have included you, so best of luck! :-)

  22. Maltesia,

    thanks so much for stopping by and complimenting the Vetiver Series, I appreciate it. You're in the draw!

  23. Oooh! Please include me in the draw. I'm a vetiver freak.

    Thanks for the opportunity and as always, the great read.


  24. M,

    you're very welcome and best of luck in the drawing!

  25. It's one of the two Hermessences I've never sniffed, and it seems to be the most captivating of them too. I'd love to be entered in the drawing.

  26. Elizabeth21:22

    I love Malle's VE, but I would love to try the others two vetivers. Thanks for the articles, and especially the photos of Hugh Laurie and Henry Cavill. :-) Please enter me in the drawing!

  27. stella polaris21:56

    Join the group saying wow, your pick of men (generally!) really is great, and your description and interpretations of the scents also. Smelled the Vetiver Tonka not long ago and it was very tempting, and that reinforced after this reading. The Vetiver Oriental although, I have never smelled, but that is even more tempting. Like the idea of an oriental setting, and the sap & iris.. :)
    So: please enter me in the draw!

  28. rachael01:23

    I suspect a lot of people read your blog with the same dedication as their morning coffee: the promise of coffee and perfume blog updates are all that get me out of bed some mornings! I would love to be included in the draw, I'm still looking for the right vetiver fragrance.

  29. You've made my week all the nicer, what with another cluster of interesting review reads, accompanied by such enjoyable, erm, illustrations. This capstone, the Vetiver Tonka review, has me imagining the L'Heure Bleu on my wrist with some vetiver hanging over it...but which one?...

    ...in hopes of finding out, and perhaps correcting my anticipation altogether, please enter me in the draw!

  30. Helg, I am not a "vetiver" girl - I love lemon verbena much more - its a sweeter green but this Hermes one has me fascinated. I will try to hunt it down here and give a sniff - I do find Hermes waay too expensive here for what they are. Do you think so too?

  31. E,

    it's certainly very worthwhile. It's my favourite of the Hermessences along with Poivre Samarkande. I was wondering which one you haven't tried of them.
    You're in the draw! :-)

  32. Elizabeth,

    I hope you get your chance to try the other two, then! They're all different, which is why I reviewed them in succession to highlight their differences.
    Glad you liked the pics (hopefully there will be more!) :-)

  33. S,

    LOL, I have one great real one by my side too, so I pride myself on that point :-)
    Thanks for the kind comments on the reviews. I have included you of course and best of luck!

  34. Rachael,

    I am flattered if it's reason enough for anyone to take a peek here. You honour me.
    Best of luck in the draw and hope you find the right vetiver!

  35. Oh elven one,

    am I happy your week has been brightened by my writing and, erm, illustrations (lol)! (you're all giving me bad incentive here to continue on this delightful course...)
    Indeed I wish you best of luck and hope you find out about the vetiver and its rapport with L'heure Bleue.

  36. M,

    I can imagine that verbena will be delightfully crispy and cool in the coming summer months: I highly recommend the original Eau de Guerlain if you aren't familiar with it (lots of citrus and a chyprish base, will review it shortly).

    The main Hermes line (not the Hermessences which I get at the boutique) is sold at regular department stores here so I never saw them as anything different than the rest price-wise or placement-wise (they have them right next to Guerlain, Narciso Rodriguez and Gaultier to be exact). I don't know if they have uniform prices there too.

    The Hermessences are a bit elevated in price, true, but they do have a high percentage of expensive materials (JCE works with many good quality naturals); some of them are better value than others, for instance Poivre and Osmanthe are terribly fleeting on me, so the price isn't justified, whereas Vetiver Tonka stays very well, so I can justify the expense in my mind (LOL!)

  37. I never realised that I enjoy vetiver until I came across vetiver tonka. I havn't looked back ever since.

    Please enter me in the draw

  38. Thanks for stopping by Kanashimi Blue and welcome to Perfume Shrine.
    It seems Vetiver Tonka has LOTS of fans so they're better never discontinue it huh?
    Of course you're in the draw! Good luck!

  39. I loved the vetiver series, and would also love to be entered in the draw! Thank you!

  40. Stephan15:13

    Thanks for the interesting articles on the many vetiver fragrances. Of the three, I only know the one from Malle, so it would be great for me to participate in the draw.

  41. Excellent! I'm such a hopeless vetiver junkie. I own Lutens, but do not know the others, my favorite being Villoresi's, which may become a x-mas present for myself. Tauer's V. Dance is a very good perfume, but I'd prefer more of the root in it, actually. In any event, please do sign me up for the chance to win that delicious prize.

  42. Love the Hermes and would like to try the others if I win your samples! Helg, I like it when you describe the bottle sizes available and where they are sold. Very helpful. Enjoying all your vetiver reviews.

  43. I haven't tried any of the Hermessences, for some reason, and Vetiver Tonka sounds like my kind of thing--two notes I love, for starters, plus tobacco. I'd love to be in the sample drawing.

  44. BenA23:36

    I love vetiver, but have yet to sample any of these three. Please put me in the drawing!

  45. Helg , went out to find that Hermes but - not here. Mmmmm

  46. Noy, you're in (and thanks) :-)

  47. Stephan, you're welcome. Best of luck!

  48. Duke,

    best of luck! The rootiest is the Malle out of the three, to be sure.

  49. Ggs,

    thank you for stopping by and for being so nice about my work here. It warms my heart to hear it's useful to perfume lovers.
    Good luck!

  50. P,

    it's very good. You're in of course!

  51. M,

    ah...did you go to an Hermes boutique? That's the only place that carries them (mail me if you can't find them)

  52. Anonymous13:47

    On to another Vetiver-

    found Lanvin Vetiver at a discount store this weekend. It smelled like aftershave-green aftershave. It had more in common with Creed Green Irish Tweed than anything. The bottle was beautiful: deep green, and beautifully round. The cap was genius: a beautiful slver clasp which slipped off to allow the user to remove the cap over the sprayer. It was nice, but not earth shattering. There was no dirt at all, which was a shame.


  53. Thank you Carole for your most interesting and helpful comment.
    I had noticed the beautiful bottles of the masculines in the Lanvin range, this one is really inviting to the touch.
    I think the Vetyver one has been reformulated around 2003 to be a fresh, almost aquatic masculine, which might account for your less than expected enthusiasm. At least this is what I recall... :/

  54. Anonymous20:49

    Another wonderful review!!!! Reading you is always a pleasure. I have Vetiver Tonka, I adore it, I wear it a lot!!!!! for me it has lots of character but it´s not difficult to wear.
    ...And photographs of two of my favourite actors, Ralph Fiennes and Jeremy Irons...

  55. Thank you for your most kind compliment :-)
    Indeed VT is eminently wearable: it never poses any doubt as to suitability or to the pleasure derived from it. I always reach for it when I want instant and prolonged gratification both!

    And what a good taste in actors we both have, huh? :D

  56. Anonymous18:23

    many years late to the party, but thank you for this review. vetiver tonka is the only hermessence i have yet left to try, and now i feel i must get to the nearest hermes boutique at once.

  57. Anon,

    never too late to discover a great fragrance. This is one is at once comforting and cooling, a very fine equilibrium. Do try it at your nearest hermes boutique! And let me know when you have what you thought. :-)


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