Jean-Paul Guerlain 2004, reissue 2007, Carmen Le Bolshoï 2015
[veti'vɛ:r pu:r ɛl]
Family: floral, woody
Notes: orange, bergamot, neroli, lily of the valley, honeysuckle, jasmine, nutmeg, pink pepper, vetiver, tonka bean, cedarwood, white musk
White flowers on salty roots
Period: The haute cuisine years
Vetiver Pour Elle collection

Vetivers are perfumery's male equivalent to rose soliflores. Essential oil from the vetiver grass root has an archetypically masculine fragrance, earthy, smoky, outdoorsy, and it smells so wonderful in itself that all veteran perfume houses have sold it alone diluted in alcohol. Carven was the first to launch a proper cologne based on vetiver in 1957, and Jean-Paul Guerlain followed suit two years later. His Vetiver (with "Pour Homme" attached just to make sure men got the message) proved very successful, at once perfectly weathered and well-bred, and to many still the benchmark of the genre, despite reformulations. Women loved it too, on their men or on themselves. According to official annals, they often asked Jean-Paul Guerlain to create a real Pour Elle vetiver, but it wasn't until 2004, after a business trip to Shanghai, that he got the idea how to do it. The youthful and unceremonious vigour of the Asian megacity had inspired him, and it didn't take more than a few months to complete Vetiver Pour Elle. "I wanted a perfume of contrasts, energy and gentleness. Nothing contrived or niche," he explained. Broadly speaking, it was the men's Vetiver muffled to half volume and garnished with a feminine musky white-flower accord — honeysuckle, jasmine, neroli, lily of the valley. A simple, improvised fragrance that nonetheless smelled terrific, updating the Chant d'Arômes theme.

Jean-Paul Guerlain picked floral notes belonging to the fresh and spicy part of the palette, and they added new interesting aspects to the vetiver, sort of coloured it with a cheerful and spring-like shade of green that enhanced its bright saltiness. In return, the root neutralized the potential risk of a banal flower soap. And, just when you thought you'd had enough of smelling it, the beloved golden-ashy drydown from the men's Vetiver turned up, as if it knew you were hoping it would reveal itself. The perfume received a lot of attention, maybe to Guerlain's surprise, since it was only meant as a one-off eye-catcher limited to French duty-free shops. Its popularity earned it a place among the Parisiennes in 2007, strangely undercover given its versatile appeal. It's worth mentioning that Luca Turin's perfume guide described Vetiver Pour Elle as possibly the best current vetiver — and very wearable for men. Now sadly discontinued. In 2015, the scent briefly reappeared as the Moscow exclusive Carmen Le Bolshoï.

Bottle. The first edition was a smooth version of the classic heart-shaped stopper bottle, which was used for several duty-free Guerlain releases around that time. For the reissue in 2007, Vetiver Pour Elle came in the Parisienne bee bottle.

  We love: the simplicity of it

  Wear it like a simplified Mitsouko

  Your old Vetiver with a moving twist

Some images courtesy of

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