Review: Hermès Vétiver Tonka — 4.5 points

Whereas most vetiver compositions tend to dominate with its smoky, earthy woods, few resort to the less explored facets of grapefruit as that in Sel de Vétiver (The Different Company, 2006) or of roasted nuts as in Vétiver Tonka (Hermès, 2004). Here, perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena showcases vetiver in a most interesting light. Enamoured of this handsome material, he wanted to bring out its warm enveloping side. He chose to contrast the woods with the nutty facet, and this duel between woods and nutty sweetness forms the central idea of Vétiver Tonka.

vet tonka

In keeping with this concise, clear-cut idea, there is no need, then, for an elaborate introduction. A touch of simple fresh notes mixing grapefruit, lemon, and a bit of bergamot will do, and the choice is a clever one. Not only does the grapefruit link to the grapefruit-facet of vetiver, but the citrus also contrast well with woods. It is fresh, yet simple and straight to the point of being a vetiver.

From then on, it is the woody impression of vetiver, but its intensely bitter and smoky character needs to be tempered. The use of cedarwood is ideal here. The dry woody and ambery character of cedarwood naturally enhances the woody notes of vetiver whist softening its bitter roughness. Filed and polished, the composition is smooth, but does not detract from the woody character.

At the same time, the delicious nutty facet of vetiver is played up to contrast the rough-hewn beauty of its woods. An accord that recalls glazed roasted nuts is befitting. The sweetness of coumarin, and the caramelic suggestion ethyl maltol, too, push this gourmand suggestion. The interaction between sweetness and woody bitterness gives a vetiver that possesses its much-loved classical woody note and a warm sensual side. And, the nutty sweetness of vetiver lingers from dawn till dusk.

The coarse wood is made cosy and enveloping, whilst the caramelic sweetness is tamed by bitter smoky woods. The composition strikes a perfect balance. I often associate vetiver with crisp white shirts, tailored suits, and all things of classical elegance, but here it has a surprisingly easy-going and relaxed side. The sum feels like a smart casual, but its versatile character will fit just about any outfit for me. Its portrayal of vetiver as smoky firewood and roasted cashews is a most tempting combination.


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