Suzanne's Perfume Journal

March 7, 2012

Serge Lutens Vetiver Oriental eau de parfum can be purchased from the official Serge Lutens website, where a 75-ml cloche-style bottle is currently $300, or from LuckyScent.com, where a 50-ml bottle like the one pictured above is currently priced at $200.


​My review is based on a decant of Vetiver Oriental sent to me by a lovely reader (thanks, Karen!). I ended up loving it so much that I purchased a bottle when I visited the Serge Lutens boutique in Paris in 2012.


Photos: Mick Jagger (and Marianne Faithfull) image is from Gettyimages.com; bottle images is from LuckyScent.com.

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The Vetiver Equivalent of Fine Threads:

Serge Lutens Vetiver Oriental

Because I intimated in last week’s post that I was trying to cultivate a certain air of refinement, naturally, this week’s post is threatening to take the form of a setback. Isn’t that the way it always is?

I’m blaming this on a certain someone (why, hellooo Karen from British Columbia!) who sent me a package containing all manner of perfume fabulosity, half of which is still unexplored because of this little catnip number she tossed in the bag that goes by the name of Serge Lutens Vetiver Oriental.

It hardly matters that Vetiver Oriental doesn’t have a single dirty note; when you smell it you will spend the next day and a half thinking about the sexiest man or woman you know, dressed up, British rockstar-style, in a velvet suit. And if, by day three, you haven’t had the common sense to change fragrances and snap out of it, you might just find yourself resembling a character out of Seinfeld and (no longer caring whether it is or is not socially acceptable) draping yourself in velvet.

(Or you might just find yourself writing a perfume review which reveals that anything previously cultivated in terms of refinement has just been torn asunder and you have to start over from scratch.)

Now that you’ve been warned, let’s get on with the review, shall we?

Vetiver is a note which taunts me so! Its grassy-woody-earthy greenness usually cuts a stern figure in a fragrance—something I find irresistible, as its sleekness has a sexual energy to it, and its historic use as a signature note in many pour homme fragrances sends up an association of everything “male.” When vetiver is good, it is very, very good: it sizzles, it slinks, and then again … sometimes it just marches straight in the door, nails your back to the wall and puts a whole new spin on the words “Daddy’s home.” But there are times when vetiver cuts too stern a figure, and then all fun and games are off. In certain fragrances, vetiver is so astringent it’s the olfactory equivalent of alum to my nose. I don’t mind a bracing vetiver every now and again (in fact, I rather like it), but a dry and sour vetiver is not appealing at all.

The wonderful thing about Serge Lutens Vetiver Oriental is that, not only is it at farthest remove from anything astringent, it is strikingly sexy precisely because its vetiver note doesn’t cut a stern figure—in fact, it refuses to—and that is what makes this scent unique. Here is vetiver gone baroque; here is vetiver gone Vegas or, more likely, LA, Paris, and London Town. Here is vetiver that is loose-limbed and able to move, but which is decked out in all kinds of plush finery such that it has a very androgynous quality to it. Groove with me baby, Vetiver Oriental seems to say but doesn’t try too hard to get your attention, as if it has the easy awareness that there is nowhere else for your attention to go. In the same way that a rock star who has made the scene knows he is the scene—and acts and dresses accordingly—Vetiver Oriental has an opulence it wears like a second skin, in a way that’s natural and organic rather than stilted.

The list of fragrance notes for Vetiver Oriental include: sap, iris pallida, undergrowth notes, vetiver, gaiac wood, chocolate, musk, amber, mosses, sandalwood and labdanum. Though not forceful, the vetiver note in Vetiver Oriental is the first thing I smell and is most prominent in the top notes stage of the fragrance and during the first half-hour of wear. It is sleek when it arrives on the scene—there is that sense of “maleness” about it, enhanced by the green sap notes and the way it entwines with rooty iris—but even so, it’s far more pretty boy than macho. Beneath the surface of that green sleekness, there is a dark, bittersweet note that at first I thought was an espresso note (but which I would later learn is chocolate), producing a sooty, sultry undertone that has the effect of giving this vetiver bedroom-eyes. Depending on what the weather is like when I wear Vetiver Oriental, this stage lasts for either quite a while or hardly at all before the oriental base notes begin to swirl about and swaddle vetiver’s lean frame in a cloak of softly billowing creaminess. Amber and sandalwood are two of the most prominent aspects of this fragrance; they provide a sweet and golden olfactory hue, a sense of cushiness, and a nice amount of sillage. At the same time (perhaps because they are counterbalanced by vetiver), they don’t weigh the scent down but are suave and fluid accoutrements. As the scent enters the far drydown stage, the iris in it becomes very lightly powdery and the chocolate note becomes sweeter and creamier, though you might have to wear your fragrance under the covers to detect it, as it’s a nuanced facet of the scent rather than an overt one.

It always seems to me that the sexiest rock stars are androgynous creatures, and Vetiver Oriental balances masculine and feminine elements in such a way that you can imagine it swinging both ways (in terms of its wearability, dear reader.) This is one of the easiest vetiver fragrances I’ve ever worn, but also the most luxurious and sensual. I can’t imagine a woman who wouldn’t want to wear it or, at the very least, to smell it on her partner. And I think that any man who knows how to dress in more than jeans and a t-shirt would enjoy having a bottle of this in his wardrobe.

Naturally, those expecting a stronger, more traditional version of vetiver will be left wanting, but to them I say, there are plenty of those scents around. Enjoy them, but if you really want to take a walk on the wild side, try putting on something a little more velvety and soft. True, the vetiver in Vetiver Oriental won’t throw anyone up against a wall, but it’s smart enough to know that they don’t call it “gender bending” for nothing.