One of my favorite fables is the one of the blind men and the elephant. The one near the trunk thought he was touching a snake, the one near the elephant’s side thought it was a wall, the one near the knee felt a tree. Depending on where each was standing they had a different impression of the elephant without being able to see the whole. It was always an important lesson, for me, to truly understand the whole of something before commenting on the parts.
Robert Rauschenberg Untitled (1953)
I don’t know if perfumer Isabelle Doyen shares the same philosophy but her olfactory project for The Turtle Salon seems to be an exercise in studying the whole of vetiver. In 2009 Mme Doyen released Turtle Vetiver Exercise No. 1 which was, and still is, the rawest vetiver fragrance I own. Early in 2012 Turtle Vetiver Front arrived and it used a truly unique set of notes to enhance the smoky nature of vetiver. For 2013 we have Turtle Vetiver Back and for this exercise Mme Doyen wants to observe and amplify the woodier aspects of vetiver.
Robert Rauschenberg Untitled (1954)
What is special about the Turtle Vetiver fragrances is these feel like we are being allowed to accompany Mme Doyen as she delves into all that can be discovered about vetiver as an olfactory note. In Turtle Vetiver Back she is choosing to take one of the more problematic aspects of vetiver for the casual fragrance lover and bring it to the forefront. The heavy woody nature of vetiver is the most common reason I hear when people tell me they don’t like vetiver. That it shows up after being on the skin for a while really can make it a deal breaker for some. I like the woody foundation because it is there where I often feel I get a hint of the regional source of the vetiver being used whether it comes from Haiti, India, or Java the woody quality seems to type the varieties to my nose. Usually a perfumer uses one vetiver but for Turtle Vetiver Back I believe I can detect four different versions of vetiver or maybe it is an illusion with a couple coming together to create the appearance of more. What I do experience is the woody basis of vetiver in all of its glory.
Robert Rauschenberg Untitled
Like a leftover from Turtle Vetiver Front a bit of smoke flashes across the face of Turtle Vetiver Back but it dissipates rapidly and the very green facets of vetiver take over the early going. Mme Doyen uses razor sharp violet to hone the green qualities of the vetiver to an equally precise edge. Then as the woodiness begins its ascent she adds a true green earthy accord which gives the woody quality liveliness. Now I think this is a mix of Haitian and Indonesian vetivers with the possibility of Reunion Island and Sri Lankan also present. All of these present an exceptional woody quality and whatever the combination present in Turtle Vetiver Back it is glorious in its unapologetic forcefulness.
Turtle Vetiver Back has overnight longevity and below average sillage.
Turtle Vetiver Back is a true experimental fragrance and as such it is not going to be to everyone’s taste, especially if vetiver is not something you enjoy in the first place. If you are curious as to how much you can learn about vetiver by looking through the eyes of a talented perfumer like Mme Doyen then put on your dark sunglasses and reach out for the cool bottle of Turtle Vetiver Back and allow the rest of your senses to take over.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.
-Mark Behnke, Managing Editor
Editor’s Note: I chose to use the paintings of Robert Rauschenberg from The Red Paintings because like Isabelle Doyen it is another example of an artist exploring the known and making it something special.