The Panther – Review: Serge Lutens Vetiver Oriental

Vetiver is interesting. I have come from total mistrust to finding several perfumes to like (and one to die for), but generally it falls into the “interesting and fascinating” rather than the “swoon and faint” category. Vetiver is more intellect than emotion for me.

This wonderful review by the very sophisticated Suzanne, finally inspired me to get my behind in gear and test Vetiver Oriental, a sample of which was generously sent to me by Christos of Memory of Scent ( Thank you again and sorry, it has taken me so long to write about it!)

Vetiver Oriental was created in 2004 by Christopher Sheldrake and includes notes of  herbal green juices, iris, woodsy notes of branches, vetiver root, Guaiac wood, chocolate, musk, amber, sandalwood and labdanum.

So what makes this vetiver different?

It is the Guerlain among vetivers, a cool green, grassy scent laid over a gourmand base of chocolate-y amber and musky woods that is making me swoon alright.

Christos calls it vetiver over La Guerlinade and is reminded of Habit Rouge, Suzanne waxes poetically (and yes, swoons) over Vetiver Oriental’s gender-bending Rock-Star ambiguity.

For me Vetiver Oriental is pure poetry. Languid, elegant, mysterious, dangerous, powerful, and heartbreakingly beautiful, Vetiver Oriental has also a sadness that is not easy to describe. It has an aura of dejected strength that brings to mind one of the most beautiful and heart wrenching poems I know.

Der Panther

Im Jardin des Plantes, Paris

Sein Blick ist vom Vorübergehn der Stäbe 
so müd geworden, dass er nichts mehr hält. 
Ihm ist, als ob es tausend Stäbe gäbe 
und hinter tausend Stäben keine Welt. 

Der weiche Gang geschmeidig starker Schritte, 
der sich im allerkleinsten Kreise dreht, 
ist wie ein Tanz von Kraft um eine Mitte, 
in der betäubt ein großer Wille steht. 

Nur manchmal schiebt der Vorhang der Pupille 
sich lautlos auf -. Dann geht ein Bild hinein, 
geht durch der Glieder angespannte Stille – 
und hört im Herzen auf zu sein. 

———

The Panther

Jardin des Plantes, Paris

His gaze has been so worn by the procession
Of bars that it no longer makes a bond.
Around, a thousand bars seem to be flashin
And in their flashing show no world beyond.

The lissom steps which round out and re-enter
That tightest circuit of their turning drill
Are like a dance of strength about a center
Wherein there stands benumbed a mighty will.

Only from time to time the pupil’s shutter
Will draw apart: an image enters then,
To travel through the tautened body’s utter
Stillness — and in the heart to end.


I’m the first to advocate English as a wonderful language, the one I prefer to write in actually, but then I read a poem or a book by one of the truly greats and I realize how much German has to offer as well. So I posted both versions, Rilke’s original and the best translation I could find (uncredited translator, found on the Dartmouth College website). Some things can’t survive translation, but the best ones create something new.

Vetiver Oriental has that broken spirit, caught in its bottle it longs to be free, to breathe and move. It is eternally grateful of you let it out and wear it. It thanks you by bestowing on you its seductive powers and sinuous elegance, at least for one day.

Image source: fragrantica.com, weheartit.com
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49 Responses to The Panther – Review: Serge Lutens Vetiver Oriental

  1. lady jane grey says:

    I’m quite a vetiver-lover, or admirer is even a better expression for my relationship with that complex and multifaceted note.
    I don’t know this perfume though and you made me very curious.

  2. That is a very beautiful poem indeed. I love your imagery of the panther here – “Languid, elegant, mysterious, dangerous, powerful, and heartbreakingly beautiful,” – although I haven’t tried Vetiver Oriental yet I can picture it in my mind. Wonderful review!

  3. tara says:

    I very much hope to makes friends with vetiver one of these days (where else but a perfume blog would you read a sentence like that?). Your poetic review certainly makes this sound very tempting. I also like the idea of cool vetiver on a warm gourmand-like base and I always love to learns more about the Lutens exclusives, so this was great. Thanks.

  4. flittersniffer says:

    What a glorious review – I love the phrase “dejected strength”, and your picture of the panther perfectly illustrates this. Zoo animals are of course noted for pacing their cages in “allerkleinsten Kreise(n)”. Like you, my appreciation for vetiver is more intellectual than emotional, but I think I might well be able to connect with this one… : – )

    • Olfactoria says:

      Thank you, V! I’m happy you are able to understand the original poem as well. The almost-gourmand base is what makes this vetiver emotionally accessible for me.

  5. seqmet says:

    What a beautiful (and tempting) review and what a heart-wrenching poem, the line:
    ‘Wherein there stands benumbed a mighty will’
    Actually gave me a shiver. I find vetiver difficult to wear but fell in love with Encre Noir, so this has absolutely rocketed to the top of my must try list. I’m not sure why I over-looked it originally; I’m a sucker for a bell jar…

  6. Alexandra says:

    Argh – should be Alexandra….

  7. suzannekeller says:

    Birgit, I’m so happy that my review encouraged you to crack open your sample of Vetiver Oriental because now I have the pleasure of reading your own poignantly beautiful and unique take on it. Regarding the poem, I’d say it doesn’t lose much in translation as it packs quite an emotional punch! Gorgeous, gorgeous review.

    • Olfactoria says:

      Thank you for leading me to it! This translation is indeed great, there are many real bad ones out there, but it is not quite the same as Rilke’s own words of course.

  8. deeHowe says:

    Be still my heart! Why do all of the best (or at least, the ones I desperately want to get my hands on) Lutens remain as Paris exclusives! I’m adding this under El Attarine on my Paris wish list. ;)

    For someone who doesn’t love Vetiver, you shire know how to inspire a Vetiver lemming; you know, one of the last times you waxed poetic on a Vetiver (Hermes VT) I left before even reading all the comments to buy some unsniffed. Glad I did, because I love it! :)

    • Olfactoria says:

      You know that I can get the bell jars for you easily at any time, do you? Not wanting to tempt you or anything, but luckily for us Europeans they are just a mouseclick away. :)

      • deeHowe says:

        Ah, you temptress! I think I may take you up on this over the summer… :)

        Incidentally, I was wearing ISM the other day: it was made for Texas climate apparently, because never before has it worn so spectacularly on my skin! Thankfully I have a big decant ;)

  9. Being a vetyver nut myself, for whom the mighty root is definitely swoon-inducing material, I find your review very interesting indeed: to me, vetyver feels so “obvious” ( in the sense that it speaks to me at such a deep, basic level) that I can hardly intellectualise the scent. To me, it smells like a home-coming, utterly soothing and comforting.
    And thank you for introducing me to a beautiful piece of poetry. By the way, how do you feel about Chanel’s Sycomore?

    • Olfactoria says:

      Like a homecoming – I like that notion. Great that you have found such a comforting note in vetiver.
      I recently came to really appreciate Sycomore, it is something I love to “lean on” when things get though. :)
      (My review will be up soon.)

  10. Alexis says:

    Once again, this would another blind buy for me! Good thing I’m not planning a trip to Paris anytime soon. This sounds so fantastic.

  11. Dionne says:

    I’m another one who found vetiver more interesting than wearable, but I recently discovered that the note transforms into sexaaay rip-his-clothes-off when worn by The Engineer. Right now my favorites on him are Encre Noir and Sycomore, but we’ll be exploring this note more…. ;) Excellent review, Birgit.

  12. Suzanne says:

    Birgit, just wanted to drop another comment to let your readers know that Vetiver Oriental is available here in the US: it’s currently a limited release so it can be purchased at LuckyScent (and I saw it at a good price at parfum1.com, which is a very reliable discounter site).

  13. Natalie says:

    Ah, I’m no hardcore vetyver fan myself (I sort of don’t like VT, sorry…). The only one so far I REALLY liked was the Mona the Orio Nombres d’Or Vetyver. How does it compare next to this one?

    • Olfactoria says:

      MdO’s Vetiver is a lot more masculine to my sensibilities. I declared it Don Draper’s scent, so that pretty much captures it for me. VO is much, much softer and warmer and entirely genderless.

      • Natalie says:

        Funny how skin changes a scent. On my skin the VO is dry, austere and unfriendly. The MdO however is a soft and caressing fragrance on me. Not at all masculine. Having said that, I’ll spray DH with it, let’s see what happens :-)

  14. Asali says:

    What a beautiful review Birgit, and the english translation of Rilke is really masterful. It’s funny, this one should have my name all over it; I like vetiver-a lot, all the notes screem my name, I adore SL, and yet there is something weird about this one, perhaps a tad too animalic? However, your review reminded me to keep trying, I’m sure it will reveal itself to me in its own good time :-)

    • Olfactoria says:

      That animalic quality you note is probably what made me think of a panther. It is tamed though (not that he likes that!) and only the feeling of harnessed strength remains for me, not the actual whiff of beast.

      Do you speak German, Asali?
      I wish I knew who the translator was, s/he is amazing.

  15. Philipp says:

    Vetiver Oriental was one of my holy grail samples, for I had to wait more than one year until I got to swap for a measly 1.5 ml. It seems not a lot of people own this fragrance, most likely most of them prefer Vetiver Tonka if they want to get a gourmand vetiver. I distinctly remember the opening akin to sugar-frosted cereal, whereas the mid-development revealed an aroma of hazelnut and flaky pastry.

  16. I am so glad you liked this Birgit. I was sure you were going to because it is such a counter-intuitive use of vetiver and I know you are not a big fan of this note. This is exactly what I admire in VO: the use of vetiver in a sweet, almost gourmand composition. Very few have dared go into this direction and definitely Sheldrake has done it in the classiest possible way. The imagery of velvet/fur is a common denominator in your review, Suzanne’s and mine and also an element of danger. This is the big difference with Vetiver Tonka, where everything is benign and sweet: in VO the bitterness of vetiver is there, wrapped in layers of oriental opulence.

    Thank you for the moving poem.

    • Olfactoria says:

      Thank you again for sending it, you were totally right that it would be my kind of vetiver. :)
      The element of danger is what makes VO really stand out, it would have been to simple to just wrap it in gourmand-oriental layers and just let it be pretty. A real masterpiece in the Lutens/Sheldrake canon.

  17. Tatiana says:

    I first tried VO when I first started down the perfume path. Since I love vetiver, I was taken aback by how un-vetiver like VO is. I love the bracing, crispness of traditional vetivers. And VO is just so darn plush. After reading your review this morning, I tried my sample again before leaving for work. Today is a rather cool and rainy day here. Very unusual for this time of year here in N. California. At first I was struck by how appropriate VO is for today’s weather. It felt almost amber-like on my skin. But what really was striking, is what a shape shifter VO is on me. It started out plush and velvety, but by about mid-morning when my sleeve slid up I was intrigued by a deep richness, almost but not quite incense like. That must have been the cacao I was noticing. And after getting all warm and sweaty, then walking my horse out to the back pasture in the rain, I noticed some of those crisp, green vetiver notes I usually associate with vetiver. And then they’d quickly fold back into the velvety plushness this started out with.
    While I didn’t think I wanted a bottle of this before, I’m very happy that I will traveling to Paris next month, so that I can try it yet again. If I still like it then, a bottle just might come home with me.
    Thanks for the lovely review that opened my mind to this fragrance.

    • Olfactoria says:

      Thank you for sharing your impression, Tatiana! VO has so many facets and it is great to hear how you got to enjoy so many of them, and unexpectedly too!
      Have a wonderful trip to Paris! You must let us know what came home with you, once you are back!

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