You don’t associate Jean Claude Ellena’s perfumes with pugnacity. At his most communicative Ellena, who is now working with Christine Nagel, explains a good deal about his scents – but Vetiver Tonka doesn’t require much back story. The perfume is a solid one that stands on a heavy molecular base and offers no apologies for itself. It’s tough, and pulls no punches.
I bumbled into it at Hermes the other day, while debating whether or not to give Vanille Galante another try. I had barely smelled VG the first time around, and my hopes for smelling it a second time were not high. So I went with the vetiver instead, and I was in for a surprise.
Let me state for the record, that I had already marinated myself with something of Tom Ford’s (a something which smelled exactly like another briskly selling perfume on the market which differed from the Ford chiefly in being called something different). The Ford was heady, and so anything of Hermes’ that I put on was going to fight for epidermal space, and given the competition, I thought the Hermes would be down for the count. Tom was not going to fight by Marquess of Queensberry Rules, that was for sure.
Vetiver Tonka punched above its weight. Are your surprised? Frankly I was. It stayed on there as long as the TF, which was still clapping brass knuckles on my skin until I finally, escorted it out of the ring via a makeup remover (my favorite trick with unloved perfumes) and the VT was still on its feet, maybe a little punch drunk and weaving, but vertical. I was, grudgingly, impressed.
Vetivers are an odd, usually virile study, admittedly. The most earthy vetivers smell not simply like earth, but also vaguely like rubber, and they have a strange twang to them on skin. Some perfumers work with this oddly pitched note, de Nicolai’s Vetyver comes to mind, and some perfumers camouflage or work around it, Guerlain’s Vetiver and Carven’s come to mind. Some perfumes even glorify this burning rubber note, I’m thinking of Maitre Parfumier et Gantier’s Route du Vetiver.
Aside from Encre Noire, Jean Claude’s own Terre d’Hermes is probably the smoothest vetiver in creation with no trace of twangs or bulging muscles. So, I suppose that I was expecting to have more of this suavity, you know a sort of Takashi Miura rendition of vetiver, rather slender, almost slight, a feather weight vetiver. However what I got was different, much deeper, much earthier, this was the Mike Tyson of vetivers, rich and complex and rounded, and full of meditative darkness; an ex pugilist who reads philosophy in his spare time.
It’s probably unsurprising that I liked it. I love vetiver. I wore both Guerlain’s Vetiver Pour Elle and Vetiver, but this was easier on my nose, and had the charm of being a vetiver for winter. All the other vetivers are competitors in sweaty July, they disappear in December, but not this one. You can burrow into this vetiver and cuddle up in its thick fluffy tonka bean finish. It’s perfect for dark days when the light is gone by three or four. This is something to wear with the second cup of tea, Yorkshire Gold for preference, strong enough to trot a mouse, while staring at a chilly pallid, winter evening spreading across the fields, this vetiver would let you borrow its jacket on the way home. Some ex-boxers are gentle folk at heart, and VT is one of these, a gentle giant retired to a velvety green farm somewhere in Ireland.