When it comes to naturals, some ingredients are fashionable, some are standard, and some are simply indispensable. To the latter category belong the cedars, the roses and, of course, the vetivers. Vetiver oil (Vetiveria zizanioides), with its heavy, woody and earthy character, is one of the perfumer’s most basic and traditional materials. However, like other traditional materials (sandalwood oil comes to mind), vetiver oil is an extremely expensive ingredient with a precarious supply situation subject to the forces of nature and politics.
Most perfumers don’t need to be convinced of vetiver oil’s importance. The oil’s heavy, earthy, woody character is very pleasant and distinct. Its heavy viscosity makes it extremely persistent and, thus, a popular lower base note. Its alcohol solubility ensures the oil is highly miscible in fragrance formulations. With all these positive characteristics, it’s no surprise that vetiver oil is present in more than 36% of commercial perfumes (e.g. Chanel No 5, Miss Dior, Cravache and Shalimar) and is the primary ingredient/note in such fragrances as Vetiver pour Homme and Vetivert. This material is so crucial to the industry, in fact, that in the wake of the earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010 fragrance house Creed donated proceeds from its online boutique to ADRA (www.adra.org) to provide medical services and water purification in the affected region, while Esteé Lauder extended its sustainable vetiver project with EVI to raise money for earthquake relief (to cite just two examples).