Vetiver has long brought a unique scent to men’s fragrances. But what does vetiver smell like? And what is it, exactly? We dive deep to answer these two questions in this guide.
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Also known as vetyver or Chrysopogon zizanioides in Latin, it is one of the most popular notes in male fragrances for good reason. Depending on how it is used, it can give a fragrance a distinctive earthy, woody or fresh quality.
Originally from India which has been used in perfumes since ancient times, the grass can grow up to 1.5 meters high with long, thin, flexible leaves.
When the plant is 18-24 months old, the roots are harvested and used to create the fragrant vetiver essential oil for soaps, creams and fragrances. It also has anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties that make it good for topical skin applications as well.
As there is no synthetic version of vetiver, the roots of this perennial grass are prized for their oil. It”s a complex oil with over 100 known components, and it’s due to this complexity that there’s currently no synthetic substitute.
Today the beauty industry uses an estimated 250 tons of vetiver roots per year. The rest of the plant is used as a fiber or feed for livestock.
Indonesia, India and especially Haiti are major producers of vetiver. But Reunion is considered to have the highest quality vetiver oil, sometimes referred to as œbourbon vetiver.
What Does Vetiver Smell Like?
The fragrance is closely related to other fragrant grasses such as lemongrass and citronella. It is a complex earthy, woody scent which has been valued for its aroma since ancient times.
The scent has often been compared to the sharp smell of uncut grass on a warm day. It’s also a chief component in what many refer to as an old-time barbershop smell.
There are numerous fragrances on the market that claim to have vetiver. It’s estimated that it’s included in roughly 20% of men’s colognes on the market.
And it doesn’t look like it will slow down anytime soon since it brings such a unique greenness to men’s fragrances.
Best Vetiver Fragrances for Men
Fragrances with vetiver are a staple in most men’s cologne collections. There’s something undeniably earthy and appealingly masculine about the scent.
But unfortunately, and all too often, this most natural of ingredients is barely present in your common garden variety scents. So here we’ve compiled a list of the best colognes where the vetiver scent can actually be detected.
Perfumer: Jerome Epinette
Key notes: African marigold, bergamot, buchu, lemon, neroli, cyclamen, jasmine petals, violet, black amber, Moroccan cedarwood, musk, vetiver.
Originally launched in 2009, it’s easy to understand why Byredo Bal d’Afrique EDP remains one of the Swedish niche brand’s biggest sellers.
Inspired by 1920s Paris and its obsession with African culture in all its forms, there’s something very joyful and uplifting about this unisex scent.
The tone is set from the opening with its citrus opening and the notes of rich marigold and black currant-ish buchu give it a truly African quality.
The smokiness of vetiver is perfectly partnered with musk in the base.
It’s a sweetish vetiver fragrance that holds the attention from start to finish.
Perfumer: Olivier Creed, Sixth Generation and Erwin Creed, Seventh Generation
Key notes: Bergamot, bitter orange, mandarin, vetiver leaves, white pepper, coriander, pink berries, Mysore sandalwood, vetiver, ambergris, Tonkin musk.
While most perfumers use the root of the vetiver plant for their compositions, Creed claims their version utilizes all three parts, including the root, the heart and the leaves.
Ginger is not listed in the official notes on the Creed website, but there’s no mistaking its presence in this scent with its sharp citrus opening.
The vetiver comes through soon after that and lingers until the end. It’s a fresh and green rendition.
The hint of precious ambergris in the base is just one of the reasons why you’ll be paying a lot for this upmarket fragrance.
Perfumer: Christophe Raynaud
Key notes: Blood orange, pink grapefruit, mint, vetiver, geranium, rose, ambroxan, patchouli, mint.
Karl Lagerfeld fragrances haven’t always been the most consistent in quality. This is one of the brand’s best in recent years.
If you generally go for unashamedly earthy vetivers, allow yourself to enjoy this one’s different spin on the theme.
From the brand’s Les Parfums Matieres collection, it opens with fresh notes of blood orange, lemon and mint.
When the vetiver comes through, it’s a cool interpretation, followed by the familiar combo of ambroxan and musk.
At its best in summer, it’s a worthy and well-priced addition to your vetiver collection.
Key notes: Calabrian bergamot, Sicilian lemon, bitter orange, Tunisian orange blossom, violet leaf, plum, Haitian vetiver, cedar, agarwood.
It sounds dramatic and dark, but this cologne absolue (the Paris-based niche fragrance company’s combo of the traditional citrus character of eau de colognes with longer-lasting natural raw materials) is actually one big blast of summer freshness.
The citrus opening is as crisp as they come and is complemented by a big dose of juicy plum.
The woody quality of the Haitian vetiver is carried through to the cedar and oud notes.
If you’re worried that it will have typical cologne performance, fear not. It says put and works it charms better than most.
Key notes: Grapefruit, lemongrass, bergamot, orange blossom, lavender, geranium, nutmeg, benzoin, cedarwood, sandalwood, vetiver.
Launched in 1957, Carven Vetiver EDT is one of the classics of the genre and is not to be confused with this 2014 edition, which is a standout in its own right.
It makes its mark right from the start with a lively green freshness, courtesy of grapefruit, bergamot and lemon notes. The unusual lemongrass and lavender notes amplify the clean effect.
Led by vetiver, together with notes of cedarwood and sandalwood, the base is wonderfully woody.
While you’re exploring Carven fragrances, make sure to look out for the fantastic freshie Carven L’Eau Intense EDT.
Perfumer: Sonia Constant
Key notes: Cedar, vetiver, amber, musk, ebony.
Don’t let the short list of notes fool you. This 2018 follow-up to Narciso Rodriguez For Him Bleu Noir EDT is more complex than that.
Narciso Rodriguez fragrances are characterized by a large dose of musk and this note sits at the heart of Narciso Rodriguez For Him Bleu Noir EDP.
It’s intensely woody and the vetiver infuses the composition with a green freshness.
Perfumer Sonia Constant is well known for creations such as Tom Ford Noir Extreme EDP and Montblanc Emblem EDT. Look out for the African-inspired vetiver-dominant Epupa Mon Amour EDP from her own perfume range, Ella K.
Perfumer: Olivier Pescheux
Key notes: Bergamot, lemon, Amalfi lemon, mandarin orange, ylang-ylang, rose, geranium, carrot seeds, nutmeg, clove, vetiver, cedar, musk.
Diptyque has been in the fragrance biz since 1961 and Vetyverio EDP is typical of the quality and craftsmanship that define the Paris-based niche fragrance brand.
It opens in familiar fresh citrus territory, but gets really interesting in the heart, in particular the rose and geranium notes.
They give this unisex scent a powdery freshness, with a light spiciness in the background.
Responsibly sourced in Haiti and Indonesia, according to the brand’s website, the vetiver here is crisp and grassy. The musk note adds warmth.
Perfumer: David Seth Moltz
Key notes: Rosewood, wild thyme, bergamot, sagebrush, basil, rose otto, vetiver, grass, ambergris.
The list of notes above alone will tell you that this is not your average vetiver fragrance.
But then it is a release from the NYC-based niche fragrance company whose self-taught perfumer, David Seth Moltz, has an idiosyncratic style.
It kicks off with a herbal accent, courtesy of pronounced notes of thyme, sagebrush and basil. They create an utterly believable wild and natural ambience.
Rose otto (oil) is produced by hydro-distilling rose petals and it adds richness to the mix.
The grassiness of the vetiver is pushed to the max in combination with the grass note.
Perfumer: Mark Buxton
Key notes: Labdanum, Haitian vetiver, pepper, guaiac wood, cedar, olibanum, amber, bergamot, vanilla, cloves.
Long before it was trendy to hero individual ingredients, NYC-based niche fragrance house Le Labo led the way.
According to the brand’s website, the name of the fragrance comes from the 46 essences that were used to create it. It’s a unisex scent, but with a decidedly œmasculine profile.
There’s no mistaking the rich spicy opening with pepper and clove notes at the forefront. The woodiness of this scent comes through strongly with the cedar and guaiac notes.
What makes this vetiver fragrance special is its intense and sexy smoky vibe that’s given extra depth by the olibanum (frankincense) note.
Perfumer: Jerome Epinette
Key notes: Pink pepper, saffron, rose oil, leather, vetiver, cedar, oud.
NYC-based niche fragrance house Vilhelm Parfumerie was founded in 2015 and has released a number of very good fragrances since then, including The Oud Affair EDP and Morning Chess EDP.
Featuring notes of pink pepper and saffron, the opening is soft and spicy, followed by a smooth leather note. The luxurious rose oil adds an element of slight sweetness.
Oud is the dominant note in this unisex fragrance, but there’s no mistaking the contribution of vetiver to the overall smokiness.
Perfumer: Christine Nagel
Key notes: Bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, geranium, Sichuan pepper, vetiver, amberwood, patchouli, olibanum.
Terre d’Hermes is a vetiver great, but this 2018 version is well worth sniffing out too. It’s not a complete reinvention of the original, yet still offers something unique and complex.
The original opened with a magnificent orange note, whereas this fresher one goes the slightly bitter bergamot route, with grapefruit in support. Pepper can be overpowering, but it’s perfectly balanced by the geranium note.
The vetiver is certainly intense and its innate earthiness is brought to the fore with a light dash of patchouli.
Others Worth a Mention
A modern, sophisticated interpretation of a classic and a favorite of Hugh Jackman. Its light, clean fragrance is perfect for work or casual use.
An affordable cologne which has an old-school barbershop feel in the best way. Guerlain Vetiver features heart notes of vetiver.
This classic vetiver was first launched in 1966. This fragrance is just as luxurious now as it was then.
Encre Noire is a bold and distinctive take on vetiver. It’s an outspoken, unique fragrance that isn’t afraid to turn heads.
There are a wide variety of men’s fragrances that use vetiver as a heart note. It is a very versatile and popular scent which could find a welcome place in most fragrance collections.
Richard Goller is a fragrance and grooming blogger. His blog is called Fragroom. A senior editor with 20 years' experience, his blog allows him to combine two of his passions: engaging content and the always-intriguing world of fragrances. When he isn't blogging, you'll find Richard indulging in his newly found passion for balcony gardening.