Vetiver is a material so complex it can be considered a perfume in itself. There is a rich profusion of vetiver fragrances to honour this material since, perhaps, the debut of Vétiver by Carven (1957) and Guerlain (1959). But when asked for some of the modern classics of vetiver, Encre Noire (Lalique, 2006) immediately comes to mind. Its dusky monolith of woods and musk — at one time rugged, at others suave — has much to behold.
Perfumer Nathalie Lorson created it with the intention of breaking away from the more classical use of vetiver in citrus colognes. Instead, she wanted to draw attention solely to its woods. But in any good fragrance, there must be a contrast that keeps the main theme lively, and unless it is something as striking as woods and citrus, it is going to be challenging. Despite that, the polished inky woods of Encre Noire is proof of her skills and creativity.
What comes out of the black square flacon is, first, a glinting note of cypress. Its combination fresh pines and woods is the prefect prelude to vetiver. It is an introduction that not only provides a bright contrast, but also remains true to the woody focus.
A rich combination of vetiver and musk soon takes over. It recalls wood shavings and damp earth. The vetiver, moreover, has a rugged, guttural layer, which lends a dusky element to the composition, but which can also feel rough. However, when paired with the velvety musk, it acquires a polished character. This appeal of both rough-hewn woods and smooth musk is what keeps me coming back to explore the paradoxical duality of Encre Noire.
The clear-cut framework of rich vetiver and tempering musk is memorable. Its dense, no-frill style is minimalism at its best. It is the perfect fragrance if you love the rugged yet noble quality of vetiver as it highlights both sides of the woody material. If Encre Noire were an ink, it would be an atramentum of vetiver.
Sources: rlalique.com, basenotes.net