It’s downright weird how one fragrance can lead you to another, like a sort of olfactory tennis-elbow-foot game. The Scent Critic would have put money on Dior’s Vétiver – the second in the Collection Privée that I’ll be reviewing – taking me in the direction of, say, Guerlain’s legendary Vétiver, or maybe the bestselling Grey Vetiver from so-sexy Tom Ford.
But no. What François Demachy’s creation ever-so-slightly reminds me of – and don’t scuttle away at the mention – is none other than that love-it-or-hate-it Dior blockbuster Poison, which (together with Giorgio Beverly Hills) created an entire category of rather scary scents, in the 80s: the ‘room-rocker’.
Until I smelled Dior Vétiver, I never realised there was – well, quite so much of this grassy ingredient in Poison itself. Then I looked it up, and voilà! There’s the vetiver. So as I breathed this new creation, I realised: vetiver totally underpins Poison. Which I thought I hated…
Now, technically, Dior Vétiver is a masculine fragrance. But I know lots of women who are so drawn to this ingredient they’re perfectly happy to drench themselves in anything vetiverous (in my case, Chanel Sycomore until this point), and will be pleased to discover Dior’s exclusive (and accordingly) pricy vetiver offering.
It’s pretty much vetiver, pure and simple. OK, there’s a twist of bitter grapefruit – and I get bergamot and lemon – in the very first cologne-y whoosh. Then the vetiver sways stylishly in and hangs around like a gentleman snoozing in his club, after lunch, and who’s still there when the last glass of Port’s been passed around and the cleaners are lurking keenly by the green baize door with the Dyson. Staying power? This has it in spades. I could still distinctly make it out 24 hours after spritzing.
Vetiver – Vetiveria zizaniodes - is a fascinating note in itself. Smells woody, yet it’s a grass. Grows a couple of metres tall, with rhizomatous roots that look a bit like couchgrass. (Oh, if only couchgrass had a scent, how happy we gardeners would be…) In folk magic terms, it’s said to provide safety, sealing you off from negative energies – and increasing wealth. It certainly has a ‘grounding’ quality – and as for wealth…? Well, Mr. Ford and Messieurs Guerlain haven’t done so badly out of vetiver. In perfumery, vetiver also a first-class fixative (hence the Duracell bunny staying power of this).
Here, all that Demachy’s done to deepen the vetiver is add an espresso-strong jolt of robusta coffee, though that disappears pretty smartish. There are softening elements, too, albeit officially unidentified: a little musk, maybe a smidgen of amber, and something (iris?) which rounds and sweetens the smooth woody dryness, slightly. Overall, though, I’d call it a soliflore – a single note scent. (Although that description applies to floral notes, so would this be a soliherbe, perhaps…?)
But after it’s been on the skin awhile, my tennis-elbow-nostril exercise returns me to those whispers of Poison. To be fair – or rather, unfair – I’ve got good reasons to have taken against Poison, which has little to do with the scent itself. Back in the 80s, when The Scent Critic was editor of a glossy magazine for teens (by the name of Honey), I went to Poison’s launch. We were stacked in tiers in The Hippodrome, to watch an interminable ballet marking the scent’s debut, an art form on which the company’s president, Maurice Roger, was very keen. (There was another a year or so later, for the launch of Dior Fahrenheit, on a freezing summer’s evening in pre-Canary Wharf moonscape Docklands, at which canapés were served out of bowls of dry ice, in a draughty tent, while we bare-legged journos – who’d been taken there on the open deck of a breeze-tossed boat – shivered with collective hypothermia. Happily, we all held the Dior PR in huge affection and were happy to jump through flaming hoops for her. Which, on reflection, would have been rather handy on that frigid night.)
Throughout the Poisonous ballet – I’m still trying to figure out what it meant, 30 years on – this olfactory innovation was pumped intoxicatingly into the air. As we left, we were given Poison-drenched hankies. By then, I had the mother of all headaches and have given it a wide berth since. Now, knowing that within its smoky depths there lurks a large dollop of vetiver, I’m going to have to go back to Poison with an open mind.
And – well, this is a turn-up for the book – I actively want to. That is so not where I thought I’d end up, when first I spritzed this. But once again – aided by a little grass – I’m reminded of fragrance’s magical-mystery-tour powers.
The grass, in my case, being vetiver.