The last two fragrances in Sammarco‘s collection are Vitrum and Alter. The former is an impressive and mesmerizing vetiver that showcases its main note in all its many facets, accompanied by streaks of incense and, occasionally, a delicate pink rose. The latter is an indolic jasmine joined by woody myrrh, civet, and, for a short time, a heady mimosa, fruity rose, and something resembling honeysuckle. So, let’s get straight to it.
Vitrum is a pure parfum that Sammarco originally made as a bespoke fragrance for a journalist. It’s an all-natural fragrance whose notes are:
Vetiver, rose, black pepper, incense, oakmoss, bergamot.
Vitrum opens on my skin with an incredibly rich, deep, chewy vetiver that evokes the darkest depths of a forest. It does for vetiver what Slumberhouse‘s Norne did for pine, recreating its particular version of verdancy from the ground all the way up. What I love most about the vetiver is its immense earthiness in the first 15 minutes. Yes, it’s woody, quietly smoky, brightly plush, and even a bit mossy at times, but it’s the earthiness that entrances me the most. It’s as though the loamy, wet, vegetation-strewn, black soil had injected its darkest depths into the plant. The second most notable trait in the opening minutes is the vetiver’s rootiness which bears almost a dried nuttiness to it at times.
There are some surprising aspects to the opening bouquet as well. Every time I’ve tried Vitrum, the earliest minutes wafted something that consistently smelt like a coniferous accord of aromatic pine and its sap, as well as a birch-like tarry smokiness and patchouli-like earthiness, spiciness, and something almost camphorous. Something about the vetiver in the opening minutes here really smells as though both pine and a few drops of an oily, almost diesel-like patchouli were subsumed inside of it.
The latter fades away after about 10 minutes, but the former slowly coalesces and takes shape as a wonderfully authentic, high quality frankincense resin whose natural, innate facets are on full display, from its pine-y freshness to its sap-like sweetness, followed shortly by faintly lemony, resinous aromas, woodiness, a slight dustiness, and a Church-like liturgical incense. All of them are woven into the vetiver so seamlessly that they turn it into a multi-dimensional note that feels like “Vetiver-Plus,” rather than just simple “vetiver.”
Other elements follow suit to add more layers. A good pinch of pepper is sprinkled on top, smelling soft, mild, and natural rather than the more abrasive smelling, peppered blackness that the synthetic version imparts to fragrances. There are also occasional specks of something lemony but, in both my tests, it bore a resinous aroma and seemed to come purely from the frankincense, not the bergamot. The latter never showed up on my skin in any discernible fashion. As for the rose, it wasn’t consistent. In one test, it gradually emerged after 25 minutes, thin streaks of a clean, delicate, pink floralcy that peeked out shyly from behind the wall of vetiver. In my second test, it never showed up at all. Instead, the vetiver began to emit a quiet smokiness about 10 minutes in, smelling partially like the kind that vetiver can give off naturally and partially like birch with its more leathery, tarry, and woody aspects. To be clear, the smokiness appears each time I wear Vitrum, but sometimes it is preceded by quiet, muted streaks of a pink rose, and, sometimes, it is not.
Vitrum is, at its core, a soliflore that showcases a single note in all its various facets, so it never twists and morphs in any dramatic way, and it merely shows off different nuances as it develops. Generally, the vetiver sheds its rooty, mossy, and earthy qualities after 30 minutes in favour of greater smokiness and darkness. Once in a while, there are subtle suggestions of something leathery and tarry lurking underneath, but they’re minor and elusive. The patchouli-like earthiness vanishes, but the peppery, piney, sappy, woody, and coniferous tonalities remain.
By the start of the 2nd hour, Vitrum is firmly set in its core bouquet: smoky vetiver infused with incense and dark woodiness, then delicately veiled by soft pepper. By the middle of the third hour, the pepper departs, while the frankincense and smoke grow stronger. The overall impression is of “smoky vetiver,” and that’s how it remains all the way until the very end, but the scent feels more nuanced and more layered than such a basic or reductionist term would imply.
At the same time, the bouquet loses its chewiness, turning softer and thinner after 3 hours. It’s not a sheer or airy scent, but it’s quieter and lighter than it once was. It also hugs the skin more closely. Using several generous smears equal to 2 sprays from an actual bottle, the parfum initially opens with 3-4 inches of projection and sillage that extends roughly 4-5 inches. The numbers drop after 90 minutes to about 2 inches and 2.5 to 3 inches, respectively. By the end of the 3rd hour, the projection hovers above the skin, while the sillage is close to the body. Vitrum turns into a skin scent about 3.75 hours into its development, but it’s still easy to detect up close without huge effort for a while to come. In general, the fragrance lasted roughly between 9 to 9.75 hours in total, depending on test.
Vitrum generally receives good to very good reviews. On Basenotes, there are 4 positive raves and 1 neutral one, the latter coming from O’Driu’s Angelo Pregoni (who rarely seems to give fragrances from his competitors a positive assessment). For “Claire V.,” Vitrum was a wonderful surprise because it emphasized the smoky and woody traits of the note, rather than the other aspects that she says make her generally despise vetiver:
This is pure woodsmoke to me – a sort of lank green-black tendril of smoke from an open fire, simultaneously airy and solid. Dry as a bone, this would work brilliantly for anyone who hates the saltmarshy, sweaty, rooty side of vetiver (like me), for anyone who loves the sooty smoke notes in Comme des Garcons Black and Amouage Memoir Man. To my surprise and delight, two big thumbs up for this utterly wearable vetiver. [Emphasis to other perfume names added by me.]
For “Alfarom,” Vitrum came at a time when he thought he’d lost interest in vetiver, but the fragrance showed him he’d merely been bored by
average quality vetiver essential oils diluted in alcohol and sold as *compositions*. [¶] Yes, Vitrium is still quite a simple fragrance but the outstanding quality of the ingredients sets it apart from most other similar offerings available on the market. It’s basically all about a tremendously multi-faceted vetiver note that ranges from smoky to fresh, via salty, earthy, woody and even mossy. The opening is quite straight forward but the fragrance unveils soon an incredibly elegant and sophisticated essence when the rooty note is paired to a never overdone rose which enhances both the dark and the fresh sides of the main player providing quite some movement. There’s something really special about Vitrum, something simple and yet so striking which I guess is that certain *je ne sais quoi* that makes the difference between something good and something really exceptional.
Fantastic. Surely a must have for anyone into vetiver but also highly recommended to people more simply interested in great quality fragrances. Reference type of stuff in my book.
His review is also posted on Vitrum’s Fragrantica page where it is the only comment at the current time. I’ll let you look at that and the other Basenotes positive comments on your own if you’re interested. I apologise for the short treatment, but I’m recovering from a bout of food poisoning, I’m not yet at full strength, and I need to discuss Alter as well, so I’ll just say that I share everyone’s enthusiasm.
I agree, in particular, with Alfarom’s assessment of how Vitrum differs from other vetiver fragrances. As most of you know, I’m hardly a die-hard vetiver fan, but perhaps that is because of the problem he points out: all too many fragrances on the market are one-dimensional, mediocre quality things. I’d go further than he does and say that most are characterized by the same (usually aromachemical) smokiness, sometimes joined by smoky leather, ISO E Super, or some random bit of citrus. But their worst sin is just how boring and generic they are. Vitrum is not. It feels like you’re peeling back the layers of an onion, and all of them are smooth, deep, interesting, excellent quality, and appealing. If more vetiver fragrances smelt this way, my feelings about the note would change quite rapidly.
In short, a big thumbs up for Vitrum. I highly recommend it to all vetiver lovers. (As a side note, if you’re in North America, Indiescents is selling samples again.) If you’re trying to decide how you feel about vetiver in general, Vitrum would be a good place to start. It’s excellent quality, and very nicely done.
Alter is a pure parfum centered primarily on jasmine. Sammarco describes it as follows:
Alter is the jasmine of sensuality and seduction.
Sambac Jasmine with rose and incense create a secrete mix of old fashioned beauty.
A little bit of mimosa and an hint of animal mystery.
A perfume for woman, for man and for woman and men at the same time.
The complete note list is:
Jasmine sambac, rose, frankincense, mimosa, animal accord, incense, opoponax.
Alter‘s opening and its first 15 minutes are a ravishing head-turner. The fragrance debuts in a burst of while and golden light from beautifully sweet jasmine infused with narcotically heady mimosa. Both flowers are fresh, syrupy, lush, etched with something a little green, and feel almost bridal in their purity. Yet, there is a bit of a dichotomy going on as well. On the one hand, the jasmine feels so clean, deep, and so bright that it always reminds me of Serge Lutens‘ beautiful, “death by jasmine fragrance” A La Nuit and Bruno Acampora‘s Jasmin T. On the other hand, the flower is simultaneously indolic and stained with blackness as well, more so than either of those fragrances. In that sense, it’s too ripe, rich, thick, and voluptuous to be truly “bridal” in style.
There is another great difference as well, one that made me practically drool in the opening minutes: the mimosa. It’s glorious here, and one of the rare times that a fragrance managed to capture the flower’s aroma in a way that took me right back to my childhood years in the South of France where mimosa trees grew all around one part of our house. The aroma here is so wonderfully authentic. It’s not plastic-y, metallic, artificially clean, or powdered. It’s that real sort of liquidy, yellow, floral headiness, like mimosa nectar, that is so difficult to explain unless you’ve smelt heaping amounts of mimosa growing in nature. Here, the aroma is a much richer, deeper, high-quality and, most importantly, non-synthetic and natural smelling version of the mimosa that made me fall for Santa Maria Novella‘s Mimosa/Gaggia eau de cologne (at least before the latter went south on me later on).
Other elements add to Alter’s floral beauty in the opening 15 minutes. A fruity, red rose appears moments later on the sidelines, sending out tendrils of a raspberry sweetness to bind the jasmine and mimosa together. The cumulative effect in conjunction with the immensely honeyed floralcy is unexpected because it consistently evokes another favourite flower of mine: honeysuckle. In perfumery, the difficulty of distilling honeysuckle means that most people use a mixed accord of jasmine, rose, and/or other botanicals to try to recreate its aroma. Here, in Alter, the opening smells primarily like jasmine, mimosa, and honeysuckle all combined in one lushly heady, narcotic, sweet bouquet finished off with thin ribbons of rose.
Even so, the unequivocal star of the show is the jasmine. Everything else is a dame d’honneur, circling around it. I’d estimate that at least 65% of the opening bouquet in those early moments is centered on that one, core note, with the remainder consisting of 20% mimosa, 10% that “honeysuckle” effect, and 5% being the rose. Eventually, though, the jasmine pushes all its floral companions to the sidelines, then out the door entirely, but the first 15 minutes really are beautiful.
Alter starts to change quite quickly. Roughly 10 minutes in, the jasmine grows significantly more indolic, less fresh, clean, bright, and green. At the 30 minute mark, a more important event occurs when something woody appears in the base. On my skin and to my nose, it never smells like myrrh (opopanax), merely a sort of dry and abstract woodiness, but there is no other explanation for the note. It not only appeared in both my tests, but it also becomes a major part of the fragrance later on. I’m not enthused about it, nor by the other changes that occur around the same time. About, 30 minutes in, the mimosa and the sense of a “honeysuckle” presence weaken, while the rose becomes an elusive ghost in the background. All three vanish completely at the end of the first hour and the start of the second, although occasional puffs of something fruity (probably from the jasmine sambac) linger on for a short while longer.
Taking their place are increased levels of blackened indoles, woodiness (myrrh), and a new element, the presence of something animalic. It doesn’t read as “civet” on my skin, merely an abstract sort of animalic sharpness that I can only describe as having a “buzz.” Even more nebulous and indeterminate are the thin threads of something smoky that now appear in the background. They don’t smell at all like incense on my skin, merely a subtle suggestion of something black that is wholly unrelated to the jasmine’s increasingly indolic, almost camphorous and rubbery facets. For the most part, Alter begins the second hour primarily as an indolic, ripe, lightly honeyed, occasionally fruity jasmine flecked with vaguely animalic, woody, and sometimes smoky elements. By the start of the 3rd hour, Alter is nothing more than a woody jasmine with some minor animalic whiffs that feel increasingly synthetic and give off that “buzzing” feel I mentioned earlier.
It’s also turned into a gauzy, thin scent that is extremely quiet and hugs the skin closely. Alter never had the chewy heft to begin with, but it’s definitely the softness and wispiest of the Sammarco fragrances on me. Using several good smears equal to 2 good sprays from an actual bottle, the fragrance typically opened with about 2 inches of projection and perhaps 4 inches of sillage, at most. Those numbers are halved after about 40 minutes. About 75 minutes into its development, Alter’s projection is between 0.5 and 1 inch, at best, while the scent trail is close to the body. Alter turns into a skin scent 2.75 hours into its development, and seemed close to dying as a mere wisp of woody, buzzy jasmine at the start of the 5th hour. It actually held on a bit longer, but not by much, and I had to put my nose right on the skin and inhale hard to detect it. In total, Alter lasted 6.25 hours in one test and 7 hours in another, always ending as a woody jasmine with a synthetic animalic buzz about it. It lasted the shortest amount of time out of the four Sammarco fragrances.
Basenotes and Fragrantica each have a handful of reviews, but since the most detailed descriptions are on Basenotes, I’ll focus on those. All three reviews are positive. “Claire V.” loved the intensely indolic, raw, almost funk-like quality to the jasmine, particularly when married to the rich earthiness of the myrrh and the leatheriness of the civet in the base. I should mention that she experienced 16 hours of longevity. Her review reads, in part, as follows:
Alter is possibly my favorite from the Sammarco line-up. It presents an incredibly indolic, almost raw-feeling jasmine, and underlines its inherent funk with a sizeable amount of civet. But here’s the thing – none of this comes off as imbalanced or shrill. The potentially screechy combination of jasmine and civet is smoothed out by a rich, earthy myrrh, noted by perfumers for its use in compositions to lend a rich, deep smoothness, much like the use of butter in a cake. The smell of the myrrh is noticeable to my nose, with that earthy bitterness and fungal density you get in myrrh oil, and it acts as an effective grounding foil to the fluffy, almond-blossom-scented mimosa present in the topnotes.
The topnotes also have an almost gasoline or rubber twang to them, pointing to the massive amount of raw jasmine sambac used. For much of the time wearing Alter, I was convinced that the jasmine was actually tuberose, so prominent was the buttery rubber note. The civet in the base creates a oddly leather-like feel, and lends the composition a lived-in, masculine feel. This is one white floral that guys could wear with total confidence. All of Sammarco perfume samples lasted a long time on my skin, and Alter was no exception – about 16 hours in and I could smell the leathery civet and the super-indolic jasmine.
For “Hoscchti,” the jasmine’s richness was equally entrancing and almost as good as the one in his favourite, AbdesSalaam Attar‘s beautifully voluptuous Tawaf, except Alter paired it with a rich rose. Like “Claire V.,” he also thought Alter could be worn by men; unlike Claire, he had short longevity. (Even less than mine, I think.)
For “Alfarom,” what made Alter special was the fact that it wasn’t a “pretty jasmine,” but one with a massive amount of indoles and a funk that made it reminiscent of the best of JAR Parfums:
Alter is basically a massive indolic jasmine of rare beauty enriched by a subtle and yet quite remarkable civet note and something bitter and kind of almondy (mimosa or maybe heliotrope). The opening is extremely vivid and portraits the main ingredient in all its natural raw quality. Indolic, unprettified with a sort of freshly-cut mushroom facet and obviously very floral. The pairing with civet is perfect and instead of enhancing the potential challenging aspect of the combo, it provides a warm and carnal vein while other smooth yellow florals serve as refinements. It’s a striking fragrance that doesn’t need to rely on volume to make its statement. Instead it’s calm, close to the skin and yet somehow, dangerous and daring.
If you’re up for a *pretty* jasmine, you should probably look somewhere else. Instead, if a true to life, high-end quality white floral is what you’re after, Alter will most definitely fit your bill. A fragrance that’s fascinating, visceral and educational at the same time. Think about some of the best JAR minus the pretentiousness and you’re there. [Emphasis to name added by me.]
Alfarom’s review is also on Fragrantica where it joins two other reviews, but these ones are ambivalent to negative in nature. “Q80” describes Alter as: “jasmine incense at max with some metallic watery notes.” (For what it’s worth, he also was the one person who thought Ariel had metallic notes.) He isn’t a jasmine lover, so Alter didn’t suit his tastes. For the other commentator, Alter was a white scent that was mostly jasmine sambac run through with “bitter” myrrh. He or she found the fragrance “biting” for their tastes.
Alter didn’t do much for me personally and was my least favourite in the line, but that is due entirely to the way that it developed on my skin. The myrrh, in particular, seems to have interacted poorly with my chemistry. Other people had much better luck, though, and describe a more complex, interesting, and appealing scent. So if you’re a hardcore jasmine lover who enjoys the heavily indolic version, as well as myrrh and civet, then you should try Alter for yourself.
Disclosure: My samples were provided by Sammarco at the 2016 Esxence trade show. As always, where I obtained my sample has no influence on my reviews. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.
Cost & Availability: Both fragrances are pure parfums that only come in a 30 ml bottle. Vitrum costs $145, €130, £115, or CHF140. Alter is $145, €150, £130, or CHF 160. In North America: [UPDATE 7/20/17: Sammarco is now in the US, and all the fragrances are carried exclusively by Luckyscent. Here are direct links to the specific fragrances: Vitrum and Alter.] In Canada, Indiescents is the exclusive retailer. Alter is available now. Vitrum was previously sold out, but is now available for pre-order, along with samples. Samples of Alter are also offered. Sammarco: you can order Vitrum or Alter directly from Sammarco. A sort of FAQ/Info page states that he ships to most places in the world, but Italy is the one firm exception. There is a sample set of all 4 fragrances for €27 or CHF 30, and shipping is free. European retailers: Both fragrances are available at London’s Roullier-White (Vitrum, Alter) and at Italian retailers like Neos1911 (Vitrum, Alter), Sacro Cuore (Vitrum, Alter, but for higher than retail at €160 and €180), Profumo Milano (Vitrum, Alter), Rome’s Cherry, and Profumeria Essence (Vitrum, Alter). I think the NL’s ParfuMaria may start to carry the line later in May as well. Samples: several of those sites sell samples. None of the American decanting sites carry Ariel.
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I got me a bottle of Vitrum 2 days ago, I just had to! The smoky, even peaty opening slowly hovers to a powerful yet dark and earthy rose scent, while a bit of green creaminess appears from time to time. I love it! I know my skin makes for far above average longevity, and Vitrum is no exception. Also, it quiets down to a skin scent only after the 6th hour or so. Finally, imho this is no woman’s Vetiver at all, Vitrum tends to the masculine side.
– I have to add that I nevertheless find the price tag extreme, and that I am disappointed by the minimal, generic box it came in. But the scent I find amazing.
I think gender assessments depend on the individual person’s tastes. I know a lot of female vetiver lovers who like it as smoky and dark as possible.
As for the price, I have mixed feelings about it. Personally and emotionally, I do think it skews a little high for 30 ml, though I’d never use the word “extreme.” But the Sammarco prices are actually not all that different from other high quality, similarly priced artisanal naturals. Like Bogue’s 30 ml parfum prices and those of Slumberhouse.
Plus, I think you get what you pay for in this instance. I have no doubt that the price is due to a really exceptional quality of vetiver absolute, and it’s reason why the vetiver is as rich, deep, and multi-faceted as it is. When you compare the vetiver here to the one in the brand new Symphonie Passion vetiver from Unum (which is also a parfum concentration), the difference is like night and day. From the little that I’ve spoken with Giovanni Sammarco about his fragrances, I really don’t get the sense that he adds a huge mark-up to the price, and it’s the cost of the materials that plays a big role. So, personally, I don’t think the price is “extreme,” but it would be nice if it were a little lower. 🙂
That is a wise reply regarding the price issue, I tend to agree. Plus G. Sammarco answered basically exactly this when I contacted him today about my two aspects. And I am happy to admit I have no clue about costs of raw materials and their availability.
On the gender question I take the freedom to quote his comprehensible answer from his friendly email, just as an addition for your readers:
“I agree that, despite it was created for a woman, the fragrance is more on the masculine side.
In general I don’t believe in perfume’s gender, sometimes I say that sex is not in the perfume but after the perfume.
But in a traditional way to see a strong Vetiver like Vitrum is more masculine. By the way Vitrum is appreciated a lot from women.”
Thank you for sharing his perspective. I have to admit that I hilariously misread one part of it at first reading. Thanks to the after effects of 2 brutal days of food poisoning, my rather exhausted mind read the second sentence as: “sex is after the perfume.” Or, “sex comes after the perfume.” 😀 😛 Ha, what a great selling point that would be if it were always the case. Vitrum would REALLY be popular then, with *both* genders and quite irrespective of how it smelt. 😉
Any lily of the valley recommendations because vetiver for Spring, not my cup of tea !
Oriza L. Legrand’s Muguet Fleuri.
I really enjoyed alter, the jasmine was very well done, but after the first 15 minutes it faded.. maybe I’m old fashioned but is want this to have great sillage and depth to let the world know how great this jasmine is. I don’t understand why sammarco doesn’t develop the complexity of the bases to help support some of the greatest openings like here and in bond t for better richness and longevity.
I enjoyed reading the review for Vitrum 🙂
I own both, I perfectly agree with you reviews and want to leave my comment just to say your blog is an unavoidable reference point for me to iread up about perfumes I’m interested of.
Ehm, sorry for mistakes!