Perfume Review- Dior Vetiver (La Collection Privée)

There are few things more terrifying to a perfumista than the word “discontinuation.” The threat of a perfume being discontinued is bad enough, but the actual thing? Ghastly. So, yesterday, when I heard that Dior was discontinuing Vetiver, I hurriedly dug up my sample to test it out. I found parts of it to be very elegant, but some of it to be less than my personal cup of tea.

Dior Vetiver via FragranticaVetiver is (or was) part of Dior‘s prestige La Collection Privée line of perfumes (which is sometimes called La Collection Couturier on places like Fragrantica and Surrender to Chance). I will go with the name used by Dior itself on its website. The Privée line consists of fourteen perfumes that are exclusive to Dior boutiques (only one in the US, in Las Vegas) and to its website. Vetiver was added to the line in 2010 and, from what I’ve heard, is one of the biggest sellers in the Privée line. Like the rest of its siblings, Vetiver was intended to illustrate and celebrate the life of its founder, Christian Dior, and was created by François Demarchy, the artistic director and nose for Parfums Dior.

Dior describes Vetiver in the context of its founder’s personal style:

Mr. Dior had a particular sense of elegance and dandyism. Inspired by this sophisticated and timelessly chic style, François Demachy has created a powerful, intense and raw Vetiver fragrance. A masculine raw material par excellence, Vetiver makes up more than one third of the fragrance and is combined with Coffee, a round, slightly bitter, roasted note, creating an unusual aromatic blend.” The woody aromatic features notes of grapefruit, coffee and vetiver.

The notes for the fragrance, according to Dior, are simple:

Top: Sicilian Grapefruit.

Middle: South American Robusta Coffee.

Base: Haitian Vetiver.

Vetiver opens on my skin with sweet, slightly smoky, peppered vetiver and big wallops of ISO E Super. For those unfamiliar with the aroma-chemical, you can read my full description of its pros and cons here. In a nutshell, though, it is used most frequently for two reasons: 1) as a super-floralizer which is added to expand and magnify many floral notes, along with their longevity; and 2) to amplify woody notes and add a velvety touch to the base. It seems to be particularly used in fragrances that have vetiver, with Lalique‘s L’Encre Noire being just one of the many examples. ISO E Super always smells extremely peppery and, in large doses, has an undertone that is like that of rubbing alcohol, is medicinal, and/or astringent. Some people are completely anosmic to the synthetic, while a handful of people get extreme headaches from it. I’m not one of the latter, but I cannot stand the note in large quantities and I can detect that peppered element with its rubbing alcohol base a mile away.

GrapefruitIn the case of Vetiver, it’s hard to miss the ISO E Super because the synthetic is pronounced from the start and continues for much of the perfume’s lifespan. Hidden behind its solid wall are flickers of the grapefruit which feels zesty, fresh and light, but also yellow and sweet. Subtle whiffs of dark, wet coffee grinds underscore some of the vetiver’s earthy qualities. As a whole, however, this is not a smoky, dark, rooty vetiver fragrance. Instead, it feels much brighter, crisper and lighter than many of its compatriots out there.

Five minutes in, the rubbing alcohol base of the ISO E Super softens a little, leaving more peppery notes at the top. The coffee note fades almost completely, along with much of that initial dark twist to the notes. The perfume is sweet, lightly smoky, lightly citric, and sprinkled with huge amounts of that aromachemical’s pepper. At the base is a “woody hum” — as Luca Turin once characterized the synthetic and its constant presence in Ormonde Jayne perfumes — which continues for hours. To my surprise, Vetiver gave me a headache — and that rarely happens, even from ISO E Super.

The dapper Dior on the cover of the biography by Marie-France Pochna

The dapper Dior on the cover of the biography by Marie-France Pochna

There really isn’t much more to say about Vetiver’s evolution. It is primarily sweet, crisp vetiver with pepperiness and a lightly smoky touch that eventually turns woodier. About four hours in, the ISO E Super adds a velvety feel to the woody notes and Vetiver takes on a creamy smoothness that feels quite luxurious, despite its lightness. And, thanks to its mild sweetness, the perfume actually does evoke a little of Christian Dior’s dandyism, while always remaining sophisticated, assured, and elegant. It’s not a dark, earthy, rooty scent but more of a dapper, suave one, if that makes sense. It also feels more bright and green-yellow, than something dark and smoldering. In its final hours, Vetiver turns into a simple woody fragrance with a subtle touch of musk.

Throughout the perfume’s development, the sillage was generally moderate and the longevity excellent. Vetiver’s projection isn’t huge and loud, but rather, more discreet and well-mannered. The longevity is, however, surprised me. To my disbelief, this airy, seemingly light Vetiver lasted almost 10.5 hours on my perfume-consuming skin.

I am not hugely familiar with all the vetiver fragrances out there, so it won’t be easy for me to do a comparison. Based upon my memory of Guerlain‘s (vintage) Vetiver, the benchmark classic is significantly more complex, nuanced, spicy and … well, fabulous. It’s rich, layered, and deeper. Dior’s take seems intended to be a minimalistic treatment of the note, so one can hardly fault it for a job well done. It is also much lighter, in every way possible, especially in texture and feel. If it helps, you can read Bois de Jasmin‘s comparison of the two scent here. Her bottom line summation, however, is this:

If Vétiver de Guerlain did not exist, Dior Vétiver would have been close to my ideal vetiver fragrance. It is a very good quality vetiver, and I enjoy wearing it. However, there is no surprise in it, no novelty, especially when we have so many interesting and unusual woody fragrances available, both in the prestige and the niche lines. It is pleasant, but to me, nonessential. By contrast, I cannot imagine my perfume wardrobe without Vétiver de Guerlain.

christian bale as bruce wayneIn terms of comparisons to Chanel‘s Sycomore, the two fragrances are nothing alike. Sycomore is a truly mighty, intense vetiver: all darkness with mysterious smoke, earthiness and serious woods that turn into creamy sandalwood. Complete polar opposites. Where Dior’s Vetiver evokes bright greens with a dapper touch, Sycomore evokes mysterious dark woods, earthy loamy soil, rootiness, and smoke. Dior feels like a scent that Roger Sterling from Mad Men would wear. Actually, no, Christian Bale’s “Bruce Wayne” would wear it with one of his perfect suits to a social luncheon. In contrast, the Dark Knight would wear Sycomore.

There is an enormous amount of love for Dior’s Vetiver out there. On Fragrantica, people rave about how it’s a minimalistic classic that is an essential staple for their perfume collection. One actually confesses, with some reluctance, that it may actually be superior to his beloved Guerlain Vetiver. The most interesting comment, to me, was from a commentator who said that the Dior was fantastic for layering under other scents. And, you know, I think he’s absolutely right. Dior’s Vetiver is sufficiently crisp, fresh, bright and green that it really would be the perfect vetiver base. I can’t see one using the super-complex Sycomore as a base layer, or the Guerlain, but Dior’s minimalism and purer vetiver essence would definitely work.

As a side note, I think Dior’s Vetiver could easily be worn by women who love the note. It is not a shriekingly masculine scent by any means, and seems quite unisex to me. I think it’s due to the subtle sweetness underlying the bright green vetiver. Thanks to the yellow grapefruit and the lack of spices or tobacco, the perfume also feels much brighter and fresher, less dry. In contrast, I think the Guerlain or Chanel fragrances are much more masculine in nature.

If you want to order Vetiver, there are still bottles available online and, for US readers, at the Dior boutique in Las Vegas. You can read about the exact number remaining at the Las Vegas boutique (as of 5/16/13) here. Generally, Dior’s bottles are super-sized, but the price is incredibly affordable per ounce. The smallest bottle clocks in at 4.25 fl oz/125 ml, and costs $155. Dior’s largest bottle is an enormous 8.5 fl. oz/450 ml which costs $230, which comes to approximately $27 an ounce. It’s a fantastic price per ounce (though it’s also enough ounces to practically bathe in).

All in all, I thought Dior’s Vetiver was very pleasant. I will be honest and say that I would have been far more enthusiastic had it not been for my hatred for ISO E Super in large amounts. But since the majority of people only read the note as a general impression of sharp “pepperiness,” I wouldn’t worry about it at all if I were you. I think Vetiver is incredibly elegant, versatile, and, perhaps more importantly, wearable on a daily basis. It has fantastic longevity and, though it may be minimalistic in nature, you can turn that to your advantage by layering it with other fragrances. If you’re a vetiver lover, I would definitely try to get your hands on it before it’s completely gone and the prices on eBay skyrocket through the roof.

For a brief while, until it runs out, Vetiver is available exclusively at Dior boutiques or on Dior online. However, since it is soon being discontinued, those who want to get the few bottles that may remain should call any Dior boutique directly and buy it over the phone. In the US, it is sold only at Dior’s Las Vegas store [(702) 369-6072]. I would also try to call this Dior number — (702) 734-1102 — and ask for Karina Lake, the Dior Beauty Stylist at the Las Vegas store. She will be in special Dior training sessions until 5/20/13 but, if you can get a hold of her before then, she is an amazingly sweet lady who will give you a free 5 ml mini bottle of the Dior perfume of your choice, along with 3-4 small 1 ml dab vial sample bottles. Even better, you will get free shipping and pay no tax! Tell her Kafka sent you. As noted above, the perfume comes in two sizes: the 4.25 fl oz/125 ml costs $155, while the 8.5 fl oz/250 ml costs $230. Though New York’s Bergdorf Goodman and San Francisco’s Neiman Marcus carry some of the Dior Privée line collection of perfumes, they don’t carry all of them because I think they rotate 6 at a time. I highly doubt they have Vetiver, given the discontinuation issue.
Outside of the US: you can use the Points of Sale page on the Dior website to find a location for a Dior store near you. You can also navigate the Dior website’s International section to buy the perfume online. The problem is that the site is not very straight-forward. If you go to this page, look at the very far right to the bottom where it will say, in black, “International Version” and click on that. You should see options for Europe, Asia-Oceana, and South America. Within Europe, there are different sub-sites divided by country. The Dior boutique closest to you should have some Vetiver bottles still available for sale.
Samples: If you want to give Vetiver a sniff, samples are available at Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.00 for a 1 ml vial. If you’re interested in trying the whole Privée line, Surrender to Chance sells all 13 fragrances (minus the new Gris Montaigne) in a sampler set for $35.99.