The story of elephants and the trampled vetiver plants.
This is our very favourite fragrance story of the month. We had the pleasure of speaking with master perfumer Thierry Wasser recently and he shared a remarkable story about growing vetiver for fragrance. Thierry spends the majority of the year traveling the world looking for the finest ingredients for his fragrance creations. He’s developed close relationships with the farming families throughout the world who lovingly tend the fields where they grow roses, peony, jasmine and vetiver.
Now, the finest vetiver has traditionally come from the island of Haiti where the grassy plant is grown, harvested, dried and processed into a rich, earthy oil that smells incredibly beautiful in men’s scents. It has a dry, earthy, woody, leathery and smoky aroma which perfumers love to work with. The essential oil of vetiver is extracted through steam distillation of its roots.
What’s interesting to learn is that while Haiti remains the number one producer of vetiver for perfumery, India is quickly earning a reputation for its vetiver crops. Because of the climate, this vetiver can be smokier and have a woody facet that is rich and sexy. On one of his visits to India, Thierry convinced one farming family to plant a couple of fields of vetiver. After carefully tilling and preparing the soil, the farmers planted rows of the grassy plant. The following day, they awoke to find all their vetiver plants trampled.
“It turns out the vetiver field is located beside a river and the elephants would come down to bath and drink each evening after sunset when the temperatures cooled,” he says. “Unfortunately, beside the vetiver field is a group of banana trees with bunches of delicious ripe bananas. The elephants took one look at the bananas and raced to them en masse, stomping on the vetiver plants in the process. This became a big problem for the farmers who were forced to replant the vetiver every night.”
Thierry was asked how to solve this problem. “Guess what elephants are scared of? It’s not little mice like in the cartoons. Elephants are frightened of…bees. They won’t go near them.” So the farmers were instructed to place a couple of hives in the vetiver field. “We had to teach them how to care for bees, but it worked beautifully. From that moment on, the elephants steered clear of the vetiver field and approached the banana trees from the other direction. In the end, everyone was happy.” And the first harvest of the vetiver plants produced a rich, aromatic oil that Thierry quickly purchased.