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Bombay Duck London

Honoré des Prés Chaman's Party

Photographed against the cover of Hippie by Barry Miles

Vetiver-lovers, get ready to party.  This is a corker of a vetiver.  And, to paraphrase the title of one of my favourite movies this year, It’s Not Complicated – because this is pretty much vetiver, pure and simple, from the first whoosh right through till the moment it fades into a Haitian sunset.  (Which makes me wonder:  while obviously the impact of the devastating earthquake on the Haitian vetiver harvest takes about seven gazillionth place on the list of priorities to worrying about homelessness and disease, has anyone any idea what the effect of 7.0 on the Richter scale will be on supplies of this inimitable natural ingredient…?)

Maybe that poignant reflection makes my enjoyment of this all the more precious – but this is definitely another for vetiver junkies (you may know by now I am at the top of that list) to thrill to. It doesn’t have the cologne-y citrus elements of Guerlain Vetiver’s overture, or the cypress/incense/dark chocolate undertones of Chanel Sycomore.   Instead, it’s pure fragrant earth, with that sack-of-potatoes element Jean Kerléo evoked for me in his Jean Patou lab all those years ago and which I’ve mentioned before.  (Fact:  I will never smell vetiver without remembering that gently humorous and gentlemanly perfumer, whose creations include the sensational 1000, the lesser-known of Patou’s masterpieces.)

Chaman’s Party is like the very best crumbly soil that you’ve been working on your allotment for years, piling on the leaf-mould to produce the most bounteous of harvests.  In fact, it always amazes me that vetiver is a grass – when this kind of depth and strength by rights ought to be derived from a root, or a wood.  (I have a little box of vetiver drawer fresheners, BTW:  they’re like little smudge sticks of tightly-bound grass.  And three years after I bought them – in a Parisian boutique, as I recall – they’re as intensely vetiver-y as on that first day.  And meanwhile, they’ve imparted that scent to a great deal of lingerie.)

Honoré des Prés, for those of you don’t know, is an exclusive French scent brand created by Olivia Giacobetti, which has taken up the challenge of creating fabulous organic perfumes.  (I have smelled many a ‘natural’ perfume and while they’re getting better all the time – and The Scent Critic is particularly excited about a quartet of UK natural fragrances which I’ll be able to review here soon – there are some true horrors.)   Actually, composing a high-quality, wearable, durable natural perfume is pretty much the fragrance equivalent of climbing Kilimanjaro without a guide, of sailing round the world single-handed, or making and icing your own wedding cake.  In other words:  it can be done, but it ain’t easy and deserves a great deal of admiration.  There’s much more to bottling a natural vetiver composition than tipping in a vial of essential oil and shaking it up with some alcohol.  It’s the staying power that’s the real problem with many organic fragrances:  it’s the synthetics which seem to anchor them to the skin.  (But since as a raw material vetiver is naturally deep and dark and blessed with excellent powers of endurance, this overcomes that challenge.)

For me, Chaman’s Party is as grounding as a weekend of yin yoga.  And as a true vetiverophile, I personally find it sexy as a new lover’s first kiss, too.  There’s a soupcon of clove, warming the darkness, a waft of campfire smoke (nothing like as intense as Lonestar Memories), with a hint of cedar that brings to mind the blocks that protect my cashmeres against becoming a mothfest – but it’s basically vetiver-a-go-go.  I can’t make up my mind if – with a name like Chaman’s Party – it ought truly to be enjoyed while listening to a backing track of Booker T & The MGs’ Green Onion, The Doors, or Native American drumming, but any would work.

So:  I seem to have been on a lucky streak with fragrances just lately, stumbling upon some real treasures after – well, kissing a lot of fragrance frogs.  This is another treasure – and only requires the teensiest apology that it’s the third full-on vetiver that The Scent Critic has critiqued in as many months.  But indulge me.  I’ll really try and keep it girly for the next few reviews.  Lest I am forced to change the name of this blog to www.thevetivercritic.com…

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