Perfection can be problematic. Like fashion models – often technically physically flawless but curiously lacking in sex appeal – or like Tom Ford’s meticulously worthy cinematic debut ‘A Single Man’, which reached an impeccable consummation in its distinguished acting and artful cinematography (but which personally left me cold), or even the man himself – a suave, handsome hunk who doesn’t seem to grey or age a whisker as the years go by (yet looks strangely plastic), there is a certain muted terror lurking in the seamless infallibility of the TF universe; the ruthless ambition;  the nail-clenched, acrylic, lip-drenching gloss. 


Grey Vetiver, the first time I smelled it, from the bottle, in an airport, had me nodding again in immediate recognition of another job well done. It was perfect –  pitch perfect. A beautifully rendered, citric, peppery, woody vetiver; elegant, masculine, commercial – a bit too solemn and resolute for me perhaps – but undeniably, like all the man’s work, masterfully constructed. And that was that. I didn’t think about the scent again after; for me, one sniff was enough: just one of the many tasteful and discriminating vetivers on the market such as Sycomore, Sel de Vetiver and Vetiver Extraordinaire that, while pleasing, don’t entirely appeal to my emotions, my deeper, more instinctive olfactory synapses.


I do really love vetiver, though. There is a sensuality, an earthiness, but  also a mystery and spirituality within the essence’s olfactory DNA, something innately dignified – yet also truthful and open – that always really draws me in. So when I recently spotted a discounted bottle of Tom Ford Grey Vetiver (along with a vintage parfum of Patou 1000) at a recycle shop in Yokohama, I couldn’t help buying it. What the hell. I figured that it might be good for Duncan, a tried and tested vetiver wearer, or if not, could be farmed off as one of the Christmas presents I must soon start amassing and packing off to England.


Later in the evening, after work that day, I happened to bump into a friend of mine at the train station, another Neil, not a perfume nut, but someone who does wear scent and who once texted me from some discount emporium in the city to ask me whether Calvin Klein Eternity For Men was an acceptable choice for a bloke ( I said yes; I used to wear it myself). As it turns out, it smells very good on him, though it has to be said that he might want to occasionally want to tone down the dosage (not that his coterie of Japanese females seem to mind..)


Dying to try out the Grey Vetiver, but loathe to let it touch my own skin (I simply can’t abide anything even the slightest bit ‘macho’ on myself, especially not in my black-suited work mode), Neil, always a very open-minded individual, was quite happy to have a couple of sprays of the scent on the back of his hands, and we spent the rest of the train journey together with the stylish aura of Grey Vetiver surrounding and encircling him most effectively; it smelled rich; velvety, dark, and rather sexy actually. But, still, most definitely for me at least, there was something a bit too poker-faced and self-serious;  way too governor of the board.  Neil agreed. In fact, he had never heard of vetiver oil, let alone Tom Ford, and, to my great delight, misheard the name of the perfume initially as ‘Tom Jones/ Grave Etiquette’, which made a strange kind of brilliant sense and made me almost spit out my drink. It was grave, especially on Neil, though not quite as hairy-chested as the great Welsh heartthrob himself………. ‘Ah yes’ he said; ‘It’s not unusual, but this is the stuff;  classy; very teak-lined, executive boardroom; tailored suit; straight down to business; elegant”. Would he wear it, I asked? ‘Yes, just not all the time. Only when I need to impress.’


On Duncan it was the same : just way – once the lighter, more refreshing top notes had subsided – too conservative; prescribed, and straight in the drydown, too pointedly ‘virile’ : “It needs some sweetness or something” he said, and, on him, I agreed. There is no way I could have stood D smelling like that: so constricted, so self-consciously austere.



So that would have been that, had I not, the other day, ventured to try the perfume, just once, on myself –  because how could I not if I was about to give it away, profligate though that sounds? Perhaps to Neil I thought, as we often meet by chance in the evenings, take the train together, and Grave Etiquette is a scent that I would quite happily have as our scented accompaniment. Or else I thought, maybe I could give it to my dad ( although somehow, come to think of it, he has quite enough executive confidence in him already and probably  doesn’t need that aspect of his character accentuated). My mum would definitely have liked the classic, almost art deco design of the bottle though: quite often she has commandeered certain of my perfumes for that very reason, just to display in the downstairs bathroom. It was about to go in the post.


But I had to be sure. It’s not always easy to give away what you instinctively want to hoard. And so, quite bravely (I felt), I sprayed it on. And I braced myself for aggravation (nothing less conducive to my serenity than those thudding, aggressive, acrid male perfumes).


But…… wait a minute; taut, acidic, spice-laced, elegantly citric notes: nice (…..? ? …) A gorgeous vetiver heart, the kind of vetiver I really like; rich, deep, anchored;  clean but with soul; fused, surreptiously, with nutmeg, pimiento, sage, and a gentle, rounding, powdery orris : the key, perhaps, to  making this perfume settle, as it begins to, quite naturally and pleasingly as it does, onto my skin (……?!) Wow, I find myself saying to myself, amazed; I really quite like this; it could almost be my beloved Racine; surely this isn’t working on me, how bizarre. Yes, the Maître Parfumeur et Gantier vetiver is sharper, more lemony, with a plum note in the top that I love and that really clinches it, but Grey Vetiver is, somehow, similar: the warm, earthy, yet highly strung and supercilious kind of vetiver accord that I go for. And my skin always brings out the warmer notes in perfumes in any case, which is perhaps why I didn’t get the patrician, dark-browed authority that both Duncan and Neil gave off when donning this well-tempered mini meisterwerk. My goodness, I think, I really like this. Perhaps I had subconsciously been wanting a new vetiver I realize; had found my (long empty) Racine popping up into my smell brain again, craving a substitute.


“It suits you”, says Duncan, concurring quickly as I rush downstairs for a double check and inspection, just to make sure that I haven’t made some grave error and am about to go out the house smelling like Donald Rumsfeld. No, it really works, he assures me. And so the last two weeks, to my great surprise, I have been practically obsessed with Grey Vetiver, spraying it all over my sweaters and scarves; on my jeans, on my coat. I have already used up about a quarter of my bottle since I bought it, it is an ideal Autumn scent. The brutish ‘manliness’ I feared would be so harsh and overly apparent simply did not transpire; the perfume is masculine, but on me, pleasingly so, and just in the right measure ( and I know exactly what I measure I want in that regard).  Admittedly, I did add a touch of Shalimar on a couple of occasions – which I find, strangely, usually works very well with vetivers, as it contains a subliminal vetiver note in its base – just to plump out the overall effect of the scent when going out; but in any case, the hoped for compliments came quickly after, I felt good and very natural in it all day (nice lasting power as well), and I think that Grey Vetiver is now destined to become one of my go-to scents, my staples. I rarely feel this immediately comfortable in a scent, this happy and confident just spraying with abandon. I love how it smells on my clothes, on my skin, in the air around me.



Me, in Tom Ford. Who knew?













Filed under Flowers


  1. You make me smile. Smile a lot. ” I rush downstairs for a double check and inspection, just to make sure that I haven’t made some grave error and am about to go out the house smelling like Donald Rumsfeld.” ” maybe I could give it to my dad ( although somehow, come to think of it, he has quite enough executive confidence in him already and probably doesn’t need that aspect of his character accentuated).”

    My dear Neil, you are quite a treasure. And I’m glad you’ve found a vetiver to love, a vetiver that is from Tom Ford no less. I hope you’ve gotten over the utter shock of it all…. 😉

    • I mean in truth, it’s not as though I walk around the whole time wearing Britney’s Midnight Fantasy (though I would): I do have a fair amount of machismo in my closets: Ungaro, Azzaro, Kouros, Montale Aoud Lime, I can rock all patchoulis, oudhs and vetivers actually, but I just can’t tolerate that current template of ‘masculinity’ which even the Amouages pander to I feel: I HATE what it suggests, and what it stands for. So I am extraordinarily wary of even trying such scents on myself usually. However, this experience has taught me that perhaps I sometimes need to dig down further….

      • Wait, wait…. let’s back up here for a moment. You own and WEAR Aoud Lime?????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


        I’m going to have to go lie down just to recuperate from that statement.

      • Are you saying that Amouage is putting out chick-magnet fragrances for power-suits? Please clarify. It is not that Amouage cannot be criticized; I just do not understand your meaning. I am wearing Fate Man today; 24 degrees. At the local cafe, the local accountant walked past looking for burning incense which he could smell in his office upstairs. I am the fire of fate.

  2. Kafka, do hate Da Lime?

    I have the 100ml, and wore it like a bitch, under my arms with no deodorant, for an entire summer a few years ago. It smelled virile, intense, incredibly horny, but eventually Duncan just couldn’t take it any more.

    I have yet to reveal my Arab Oud side on the narcissus, but it is coming…

    • I’ve recuperated from the shock, and am back. Let’s just say that I have quite forceful feelings about Montale’s Aoud Lime, and it left quite … er… an impact on me. An impact that I’ve never quite forgotten. I may have used the word Chernobyl to describe it in the past…. 😉

      Please let’s change the subject from the thought of Aoud Lime used without deoderant in a hot summer. I only just got back up!!! *grin*

      So, can you explain to me what now seems like a dichotomy between the “current template of masculinity” that you struggle with and that represented by Aoud Lime? If the TF version seems too manicured, it is also quite a sexual, butch or brash one in ways represented by some of the Private Blend line (and not represented by Grey Vetiver’s seeming sleekness). And that sort of thing would seem to mesh well with Aoud Lime. But Amouage and Tom Ford are also….???? I think I’m confused here, but I’d love to understand how the Aoud Limes of this world are okay, but something like Amber Absolute is not. Okay, Arabian Wood may be too pitch perfect, but Amber Absolute seem to have the florid passion that you may prefer, no? Or do you prefer it? Yes, I’m definitely confused now. lol

      • I don’t know. Of course the ambers and so in are princely and androgynous, quite ambiguous in gender terms. I guess l hate the ‘male orchestral’, those harsh, strutting peacocks with all the standard notes in place: pepper, citrus, ozone, woods, and those so-called ‘ambers’ that I just despise.

        Aoud Lime, which I know is shockingly acrid, is a linear punch, a smell that is both masculine but incredibly enigmatic lingering on clothes ( or in the armpit on the sweaty morning after). It doesn’t have that businessman aspect I can’t abide, that CALCULATION of picking up the chicks on a barstool that so many men’s fragrances seem to have. It is too wild, passionate, mad even.

  3. Got lost in the comments; I have forgotten my own and will have to start this epistle of men, trains, and perfume again. I am sure I had something to say but such is the power of Aoud Lime.

  4. Ah, that’s right; You just could not help adding Shalala-li-mar to the mix. Well done. But there is no way I am spending time looking for the said “subliminal vetiver note in its base”. I too find it subliminal though I am interesting it was activated by a vetiver vetiver or at least a grey vetiver. Who knows would what happen if you layer it with one of those pesky vetyvers with a y.

    What you seek is seeking you – Rumi.

    Sounds like you this vetiver found you.

  5. Katy

    There is a Tom Ford for everyone, it would seem. I adore that foghorn Black Orchid. I love Encre Noire so much so I have never sought the company of other vetivers. A little Habanita layered with Encre Noire is a lovely thing.

  6. Marsha Smith

    My dear Mr. Ginza: I still haven’ quite gotten the hang of this blog; are there two of you or three of you? Someone in the comments addressed you as *Neil* but you talk about Neil above in the third person.

    Anyway, when I saw that this post was about Tom Ford the first thing I said was *Aww crap!!* When I started scrolling down there were pics of another guy and I thought well maybe TF’s pic won’t be in here but it was – 2 of them! And the obligatory pic of a nude woman.

    Anyway, I will never try one of his scents, not even a decant. Number one – I can’t abide the man and number 2, I can’t afford them. But they sound absolutely glorious. I would probably like every single one of them as men’s scents are usually my favorite. (However, I do also love Shalimar – but I believe it now falls under the Unsex category.)

    I was sitting in a doctor’s office one time in the throes of a migraine and I have problems with scents. I was sitting waaayyy on the other side of the room from everyone else cause I couldn’t stand their perfume. Then this one guy comes in and since there was no chair on the other side, he comes to my side – I could smell him a mile away. But when he got there – he smelled GOOD! So I had to ask him what he was wearing – he was wearing Aramis – just plain Aramis.

    And I agree with you about Midnight Fantasy. I have very seldomly asked women in public what they were wearing. Both times I have asked they were wearing Midnight Fantasy.

    But Mr. Ginza, you are a gem, you are precious, and you are a treasure! (I had to add precious cause I’m a southern girl.) I love your writing gifts!

    • Thanks very much, Marsha.

      And I agree that Aramis can smell utterly gorgeous on the right person; a true men’s classic.

      ps. I do actually have a friend called Neil. I have not descended into schizophrenia just yet!

  7. Nice eye candy in this post 😉

    I love Grey Vetiver. It’s so hard to encapsulate how GOOD it actually is, and refined, and gentlemanly, and sexy, and…!

  8. jtd

    I’ve been looking at the Ford Privée line recently and am mostly left scratching my head.


    I wanted to consider it as an example of the the trend to launch, or to form very quickly, a full line of perfumes. I appreciate the commercial impetus behind the move, but I find it very problematic from the aesthetic perspective. Along the way I’ve had to try to manage my own difficulty with with the TF branding machine, which astounds and annoys me in equal measure.

    Will cautiously approach Grey Vetiver.

    • I approach everything in his (enormous) range – I agree with you totally on the whole ‘instant collection’ thing – with equal caution. And Grey Vetiver is undeniably kind of boring. It just happens to smell great on me!

  9. A fabulous read Neil, fabulous. Question is, do you still enjoy it a year later, or gas it gone to the back of the cupboard?

  10. I found the timing of this post amazing. I own a few Tom Ford’s (both from his regular line and Private Blend lines). I don’t want to like any of them but find several very intriguing and all are well made. I had never sampled Sahara Noir nor Grey Vetiver (among a very few others) but yesterday I received a package for a skin care product and included was a sample of Tom Ford Grey Vetiver. I knew it was for men but dabbed it on before I went to bed. I use perfume very sparingly at work because I have been called down for even wearing it (but cannot bear the thought of getting dressed and leaving home for work scentless). However, this morning and most of the afternoon, I could detect a wonderful scent wafting by here and there–and I realized it was the Grey Vetiver I had dabbed on last night. The fragrance survived through my sleep and my shower. I decided I really liked it although it is for men and after all, even though I am manless doesn’t mean I have to be scentless as well. I am actually thinking of purchasing a bottle for myself even though it is supposedly a masculine fragrance.

    • But then think of Chanel Sycomore: targeted towards women but an elegantly androgynous Vetiver, really quite similar to Grey Vetiver.

      I LOVE this kind of smell on women! Sexy, mysterious, astringent….

  11. Have just read this, three years late; it popped up as a suggested link. OMG, how funny! ‘Tom Jones/ Grave Etiquette’ SHOULD be a fragrance! And I love the idea of you dreading the possibility that you might leave the house smelling like Donald Rumsfeld. Sadly, we have many worse options nowadays. Steve Bannon? Sean Spicer? The Trumpster himself? Ugh.

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