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?