If my perfume choices were limited to one type of fragrance with one note predominant, chances are I would opt for vetiver colognes. (I’d probably have to flip a coin: Sandalwood vs. Vetiver.) I love vetiver fragrances and have owned too many to list here. Recently, my introduction to Lalique Encre Noir, the reissue of Givenchy Vétyver and the debuts of Giorgio Armani's Vétiver Babylone and Chanel's Sycomore have made me very happy and ready to expand an already-overcrowded perfume collection.
Les Eaux Armani Privé Vétiver Babylone
Just as sparkling, fresh water sustained ancient Babylon’s (real or imaginary) fragrant hanging gardens, Vétiver Babylone’s vetiver, likewise sparkling and fresh, supports its other brisk ingredients — bergamot, citron, mandarin, green cardamom, coriander, pink pepper and patchouli.
Vétiver Babylone is a ‘cheerful’ and bright perfume; when I first sprayed it on, I was reminded a bit of Eau d’Italie Paestum Rose (but Paestum Rose served up with lots of crushed ice and lemon juice) and Annick Goutal Duel (diluted with effervescent mineral water). I love Paestum Rose and Duel, and I am currently infatuated with Vétiver Babylone.
Vétiver Babylone is simple, but satisfying; it opens with a delicious, and rich, citrus accord that, as it slowly “evaporates,” produces waves of freshness (thankfully not begot by ozone or marine notes, but by perky vetiver). The fragrance lightens and softens in mid-development, and I detect milky cardamom and a note that smells of sheerest vegetal musk (and perhaps a molecule or two of patchouli). The faint spicy-peppery base notes of Vétiver Babylone remind me of a fragrance a friend wore ages ago: Francesco Smalto for Men. Vétiver Babylone develops quickly and stays close to the body — you’ll need every drop of the 100 ml bottle ($115) to scent your way through summer. Vétiver Babylone lasts about 4 hours on my skin (with a 10-spritz application) but this is not a tragedy since I sometimes like to switch perfumes midday or reapply perfume on hot days to refresh myself.
For buying information, see the listing for Giorgio Armani under Perfume Houses.
Chanel Sycomore is a classic, and classy, take on vetiver. Sycomore was created by Jacques Polge and contains top-quality vetiver, sandalwood, cypress, juniper and pink pepper. Sycomore starts with savory vetiver and a glimmer of sandalwood, then comes an almost edible-smelling, nutty turn, and finally the fragrance darkens as cypress comes to the fore. I smell vetiver from beginning to end, and though its vetiver is smooth and clear, Sycomore’s wood notes provide an interesting “grain” or texture as the fragrance develops.
Unlike some of the other Les Exclusif fragrances, Sycomore (200 ml for $190) has very good lasting power; it would take me many years to go through such a large bottle of fragrance. Here’s hoping Chanel reduces the bottle size of Les Exclusifs to 100 ml and adds Eau de Parfum formulations for some of its more evanescent perfumes in the line (I’m looking at you, 28 La Pausa).
For buying information, see the listing for Chanel under Perfume Houses.
Note: first image of Ishtar Gate is by Josep Renalias at Wikimedia, some rights reserved. Second image is Vetiveria zizanoides roots sold in bunches (Réunion Island) © 2005 David Monniaux, also via Wikimedia.