Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Vetiver Racinettes by Ayala Moriel: fragrance review

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 D├ęclaration 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 V├ętiver.
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.


  1. What a pleasant stop on the vetiver journey! Very much appreciate the clear discussion of natural perfumery, how it is indeed perfumery and not aromatherapy, and the specific look at Ayala Moriel's perfumes.

    You are taking me much further into vetiver than I expected to be able to go...and quite happily so, I might add.

  2. Took another vetiver bath last night and it occurs to me that Vetiver Racinettes would be beautiful in a bath, the scent is so refreshing and cooling.

  3. Thanks S! I appreciate your warm words.
    You know, there are many perceptions going around in perfume lala-land and not all of them are true: and I mean that on both ends of the spectrum. I like to be fair as much as possible :-)
    Glad you like the vetiver journey so far!

  4. J,

    I haven't tried that specific indulgence, but you're giving me ideas!

  5. I was, most happily, one of the ten to receive a sample of Vetiver Racinettes :)

    It arrived today and I am loving it! I'm fascinated at how it is developing on my skin, sometimes the spices are at the front and then I'll sniff again a little later and find the earthy woods predominate. I can't stop sniffing to tell the truth.

    I'm looking forward to my husband trying it out, as a girl who usually likes heavy white florals I don't know if VR would be in my wardrobe, but I think it is going to be spectacular on him.

    Though it is so interesting and keeps calling me back for another sniff I may just have to apply when I have that 'need' for vetiver that Ayala describes. I understand completely!

    My thanks for Perfume Shrine and to Ayala for the sample.

  6. Flannerygrace,

    I am overjoyed you were one of the lucky ones and that you're enjoying it!
    Thanks for participating :-)


Type your comment in the box, choose the Profile option you prefer from the drop down menu, below text box (Anonymous is fine too!) and hit Publish.
And you're set!

This Month's Popular Posts on Perfume Shrine