Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Vetiver Extraordinaire by Frederic Malle: fragrance review

If in vetiver veritas you pledge your allegiance, look no further. The whooping percentage of pure unadulterated vetiver essence in Vétiver Extraordinaire for Editions des Parfums Frédéric Malle goes for indubitably maximum overload for hardcore vetiver fans: you'd be hard-pressed to find one that contains more Haïtain vetiver out there (an alleged 25%) or is less devoid of the oily decorations of other contenstants.
Luca Turin praised perfumer Dominique Ropion's work here by saying that "lead-pencil cedar notes and a touch of lemon [...] act as makeup to hollow the cheeks of perfumery vetiver and give it back some of the striking bone structure of the starting material". I will go further and say that Vétiver Extraordinaire with its raw, wet cobblestones intensity recalls craggy faces of gaunt figures in chain-mail armor, shaded and revealed alternatively by a bright white light before they suddenly strike with a gigantic sword out of a dense dank forest.

The background story on its 2002 creation is caprivating: Frédéric Malle and Dominique Ropion had collaborated at Roure Bertrand Dupont in the past where Ropion had created an unusual exotic woody accord that Malle remembered fondly. When Ropion received a new extraction of vetiver that highlighted the qualitative nuances of the material in an unprecedented way, Malle had the idea to combine it with the old unfinished woody base and thus after extensive twinkering, the finished modern classic emerged. Ropion is well known for his style of overornate, dense, baroque signature, as evidenced in Ysatis or Amarige by Givenchy but also the intriguing Une Fleur de Cassie also for Frédéric Malle and it seems fitting that he achieved the painful intensity of extreme accuracy by addition instead of substraction using "a new essence of Vetiver, stripped of its bitter edge, which he matches with five woody notes to play up the scent's various facets".

Compared with soapy or citrusy vetivers like Vétiver by Guerlain or sweet, licorice-like vetivers such as Vétiver Oriental by Lutens, Vétiver Extraordinaire seems like a challenge: It lacks the light smoky refinement of Chanel's Sycomore, the nutty flou of Vetiver Tonka by Hermès or the spicy sexiness of Tauer's Vetiver Dance, elements which all contribute to easier acceptance. It should therefore be approached only when searching for something bitterly wet yet with a peppery, fresh herbaceous and earthy scent that will draw out a little savagery misleadingly dressed in bohemian clothing. The rooty, cardboard opening emphasizes the more difficult aspects of the genre but the overall character makes it delightfully panseasonal. The lasting power is excellent and the sillage moderate. Perhaps the closest to it is Encre Noire by Lalique which utilizes the same concept minus the foresty mossy tones, so those who have no access to the former, might find a pleasing alternative in the latter suggestion.

Notes for Vetiver Extraordinaire:Bergamot, Bigarade Orange, Pink pepper, Nutmeg, Floralozone*, Haïtain vetyver, Sandalwood, cedarwood, Oak moss, Myrrh, Cashmeran, Musketone**, Tonalide**.

Available in 10ml, 50ml and 100ml spray bottles and as shower gel at Barneys, Les Senteurs, and directly from Frédéric Malle boutiques and their site.

For a comprehensive analysis of vetiver fragrances click Vetiver Series.

*Florazone is a synthetic ozone muguet note patented by IFF with a fresh aldehydic floral profile reminiscent of ocean breezes.
**Musketone and Tonalide are synthesized musk variants.

Photograph of Hugh Laurie by Justin Stephens(Corbis). Bottle pic through F.Malle


  1. Hello, dear E -- what a great review of Vétiver Extraordinaire, and that photo of Hugh Laurie was just perfect. Funny that you should make the comparison to Lalique Encre Noire -- I just reached the same conclusion a couple of days ago, when describing Encre Noire to a friend (I said it has a similar austere character to Vétiver Extraordinaire, but that that Vétiver Extraordinaire has a certain brutality to it).

    I wonder how much Cashmeran there is in this formula -- it feels like it might be a hefty dose. I have been thinking a lot about Cashmeran as I test Dans Tes Bras. (I did buy a bottle yesterday, and, coincidentally, got to meet Frédéric Malle, who was in the store -- we had a great conversation about the connections Dans Tes Bras has to L'Eau D'Hiver and Une Fleur de Cassie, as well as going way back to Après L'Ondée...)

  2. Thank you dear J for your kind words.
    I love Hugh Laurie and his cragginess (especially as shaded and highlighted in this IMO superb photo) seemed apt. I had been saving this photo for exactly that kind of scent for months!
    Encre Noire has been compared to a pure vetiver quite often, so I can't purport to have coined the comparison myself: very perceptive of you to describe it in such terms: yes, austere but not quite brutal). VE has a sort of fresh and dank interplay which I find very true to the nature of vetiver essence as well: in a way it's the attenuation of nature to extremis.
    I'd venture that there is quite a bit of Cashmeran to manage to soften so much vetiver. The pure uncut essential oil is terrifically, almost scarily pungent and musty: it needs tincturing rather than dosaging in that form if one is to be able to use it.

    It's simply great that you met with Malle and conversed. I do share this view that the lovely Une Fleur de Cassie owes a debt to Après L'Ondée (but it also reminds me a bit of Madame Rochas, which is perhaps fodder for another post later on) but L'eau d'Hiver is also drawing inspiration from the same source. As I had mentioned in my review last month, I find Dans tes Bras more in touch with Une Fleur de Cassie than with Après L'Ondée, however, because the latter is not as much earthy violets as DTB.
    It's truly great that there is this "dialogue" between scents, I find. You know how Eco used to say "books talk about other books" etc. There is really no parthenogenesis in art and this is no bad thing IMO ;-)

  3. Anonymous16:00

    Amazing review of one of my favorite fragrances. The photo is superbe!

    Normally I like really feminine scents but there was something so crisp and earthy about this-it's wonderful. The sillage is minimal, for sure, but it really lasts. Even 24 hours later I can still smell it.

    Thank you, Helg, for this charming post,



  4. Anonymous19:27

    I think I just fell in love...
    Your choice of photos/sounds/art and scents is nothing sort of magical.
    Thank you for brightening my day with that dark image ;-)

  5. Anonymous23:00

    So here's the thing:

    On my skin, Vetiver Extraordinaire is VERY ozonic, so I am certain it is the Florazone.

    But instead of smelling aquatic and gross (like L'Eau d'Issey Pour Homme or Bulgari Aqua) it smells like warm plastic and sea water. We've discussed this on Basenotes before: it smells like plastic swim goggles worn in the ocean and then left in the hot sun (or in the backseat of a hot car) to dry. That smell!

    Of course, I smell the vetiver (and lot's of it) but the florazone note never fades the entire time. It gives it a unique and edgy feel to me. Very modern IMO and extremely unique.

    I am also at the very end of my VE bottle. Probably 2 more wearings and then it's gone. :(

  6. Carole,

    you're very welcome, I have to thank you for your lovely compliment and for chimming in and offering your views! Especially since you love it so.
    Yes, it's certainly quite masculine, yet it is so "true" it commands attention and often capitulation too.

  7. Sue,

    awww, did I? Thank you for your generosity in saying so.

  8. Your image choice *is* perfect. I love it and I love Vetiver Extraordinaire which you reviewed so beautifully. I haven't tried Tauer's Vetiver Dance yet and I can't wait.

  9. I luuuuurve VE. But I have no defenses when it comes to vetiver. UFdC, depending on the stage at which I sniff, seems like Apres L'Ondee or L'Heuere Bleue; it's almost as if those two relative fragrances were joined together by the coherence of a mimosa-cassie core and something very smooth to buff away the sharp edges--the cashmeran?

  10. Mike,

    I hadn't thought of goggles, but it makes perfect sense!! There is definitely that fresh and dank combo like I mentioned that is weird (but also close to the essential oil's character: it's musty but also rather "cool" if diluted heavily)

  11. Abigail,

    thank you :-)
    Vetiver Dance is highly recommended: it's quite sexy and perfectly suitable for women too.

  12. D,

    vetiver is addictive! For those who are really into, I guess VE is the truest choice (although I hear excellent things about the Carlo Corinto one)
    Of course UFDC owes to both, it's just that to me LHB is also quite anisic, which makes for a different feeling (more culinary, also more wistful).
    I am sure that Cashmeran can smooth the edges of many things which is why it is widely used, although I can't say I find UFDC needing smoothing: it's flowers aren't sharp (unless you didn't mean those and I completely misunderstoo ~not impropable!LOL).

  13. Anonymous08:52

    I'm another one who finds the picture perfect, but then again I always like the choices here, what I don't really like is this perfume. It's too masculine and too bitter for me, I woulnd't think women would really like it, but then again it seems some of you do, so I am in the minority it seems, hehehe, not the first time.

  14. Aline,

    tastes of course differ, but you shouldn't feel like you're in the minority because I have heard this being labeled as too masculine by many: it's certainly not traditionally feminine by any means.
    And thanks for the kind words.

  15. Anonymous03:33

    I keep meaning to sample this so on my wish list it goes.

    For fans of Hugh Laurie, go to YouTube and search for “A Bit of Fry and Laurie”

    He's also an accomplished pianist and author. (Check Amazon)

  16. Oh F, thank you! I didn't know he was a pianist as well :O Multi-talented!
    (and Fry is excellent too)

    VE is definitely sample-worthy exactly because it's so rugged: it either enchants or repels, but there is no way it leaves you indifferent :-)

  17. Helg,
    I like the sparseness of Vetiver Extraordinaire but I think one of my favourites remains Vetiver Tonka.

    On another note, I would like to invite you for a little game-of-tag, in hopes that this way more less-known blogs will be exposed to your readers, and also - more readers will learn about Perfume Shrine and get to read your fascinating and well-written perfume commentary.

    Warmest regards,


  18. Dear Ayala,

    thank you so much for stopping by and commenting (I know how busy you are!). Yes, we agree that Vetiver Tonka is really great and very wearable (no mean feat).

    Thank you so much for the tag! Although I've been tagged before I will find a way to play along after your most kind invitation and indeed spread the word on those worthy blogs you mention (and how fun to learn more about you!)

  19. Anonymous05:56

    THIS SCENT IS NASTY! I have smelled it and it smells like a dusty old suit case! Its gross, Its pure vetiver with mud and earthy overtones. Its gross!


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