One Thousand Scents

Friday, September 05, 2008

Underground: Ayala Moriel Vetiver Racinettes

I'm of two minds about knowing lists of perfume ingredients before you even try the scent. On the one hand, it's easier to guess if it's something you ought to seek out and sample before buying, because you can often get a good idea as to how it's going to smell. It's also nice to know exactly what it is that makes up what you're smelling, because it helps you refine your nose.

On the other hand, though, the list of notes, particularly in commercial perfumery, is always incomplete and often misleading, especially with the enormous number of aromachemicals now available to the perfumer; "frozen apple accord" is not a useful descriptor, in my opinion. Worse, when you know what's supposed to be in a scent, you have a way of convincing yourself that that's what you're smelling, for better or for worse; if the base is mostly Javanol, a synthetic, but the notes list the bit player sandalwood, you can end up saying to yourself, "That woody smell must be sandalwood. So that's what sandalwood smells like!"

When I learned I was going to be receiving a sample of the summer limited-edition Ayala Moriel perfume Vetiver Racinettes, I decided to read as little as possible about it. When you read as many websites and perfume blogs as I do, it's hard to avoid hearing at least something about what you're going to be wearing, but I wanted to go in as fresh as possible.

I expected to like it, though. Vetiver is used in a huge number of scents, both men's and women's, because it not only has an earthy, comforting quality that many people love, but it has a protean nature that can adapt to nearly any perfume environment you care to place it in. It can seem bright and shimmery, loamy and subterranean, or nearly anything in between. (Sometimes it can be both at the same time.)

In my (admittedly not extensive) experience with natural perfumery, I have noticed that complex formulae often smell a little murky; a simple soliflore or a citrus-herbal scent can smell very clean and pure, but when there are a dozen or more ingredients, there always seem to be qualities in some of the notes that blur and obscure the shape of the scent. Synthetics seem to have the ability to carve out little domains within the fragrance, to refine and brighten various facets, to put this quality or that of the perfume into sharp relief, in a way that I have not yet encountered in an all-natural composed perfume.

This is my way of saying that I find Vetiver Racinettes somewhat muddy, particularly in the opening, where I would expect it to be much sharper. The top notes--of course I had to look them up!--are black pepper, ginger, cardamom, and lime leaf, but where I would have expected to find a sort of dazzle was more of a dark cloud.

And yet it is very beautiful for all that. The vetiver wells up quickly and takes over, bringing that paradoxical bright/earthy scent that I love. It's not just vetiver; there are pools and eddies of warmth and darkness with a slightly dirty edge (and I mean, of course, "dirty" in the approving perfumery sense of "complex and not prissily cleaned up" rather than the more conventional one). It's a strong scent, but not an overwhelming one: it has a lot of presence.

In the late stages of the scent, before I knew what was in there, I was puzzled, and pleased, to discover a sort of loamy-mushroom scent entwined with the vetiver root. "Mushrooms?" I thought, and sure enough, one of the ingredients in the base is cepes, which is to say porcini. There's probably no better way to evoke the idea of the underground that by pairing vetiver--and not just one kind, but various vetivers with their various qualities--and mushrooms.

I was quite sure my perfume-mad co-worker was going to adore Vetiver Racinettes. She's planning to order Andy Tauer's Incense Rose, which I knew she would love before I even let her try it, and I thought that a dense, chthonic perfume like Vetiver Racinettes could have been custom-made for her. But a baffling thing happened: she tried it on and wore it for an hour and a half or so, and it just didn't work. I was wearing it that day as well, and we sniffed her skin and then mine, and we agreed that for some reason, it smelled very, very good on me and...seriously, not so good on her. It might almost have been another scent. I don't necessarily place a huge amount of credence in the notion that skin chemistry makes or breaks a fragrance, but this was a dramatic difference. Was it our diet (she's a vegetarian)? Whatever fragrance she'd worn earlier that day? The phase of the moon?

So she didn't like it. But I did, and if you like dark vetivers, you ought to consider getting yourself some before it's too late, because it's the sort of thing that, on the right person, could easily be a signature scent: rare, distinctive, and original.


  • With the 'muddy' thing you expressed ~ could it be the Art of the Perfumer or is the nature of synthetic scent just a totally different Beast ? Do the actual molecules in syctually 'Mix ' ~ I'm not a chemist ?

    By Blogger Carol Gay Fagerhaugh, at 6:10 AM  

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