The Different Company Sel de Vetiver warm skin by a cold ocean.

My dad has a lot of catchphrases. Like “Hey, Lover!” bellowed at the baffled newspaper boy who’s only turned up to collect his money. Or “Hiya Sweetlips!” barked at a nonplussed saleswoman in a department store. Or “Oh! You shaved!” by way of greeting my thankfully tolerant husband.

Dad calls it “giving them the needle”. His theory is that if people can take what he dishes out, no matter how bizarrely inappropriate, then they’re all right. If they laugh through the tension, or fling a quick zinger back -- Augie eases off and it’s tea and Milanos all around.

At this stage of the game, I’m a veteran of being on the receiving end of the needle, whether it’s from my father or the angry Britney Spears fans who take exception to my referencing the less salubrious aspects of her character in my Hidden Fantasy review. But I never expected to be given the needle by a perfume.

When I first encountered The Different Company Sel de Vétiver, I eagerly grabbed the bottle. Where vetiver is involved, I have the 7-second goldfish memory.

“Sel de Vétiver? I love vetiver!”

Sure, I love vetiver. Until I actually smell it in a perfume. Then I make the John Mayer guitar-playing face and go, “Yak! What is this stuff? It’s harsh.”

The fragrance counter jockey will give me a look.

“It’s vetiver.”

My problem with the aroma of this tropical weed is that it’s so damn dense. I enjoy its pungent, smoky grassiness, but at a remove. The leftover smell on my clothes the day after I’ve spritzed a bit is good enough for me. Otherwise, vetiver is just too inescapably there. Lalique Encre Noire practically sets off the smoke detectors. Chanel Sycomore is like a brick of hashish rammed up my nostril.

And Sel de Vétiver gives me the needle. It’s sharp and annoying. Grapefruit is involved, and it’s the smell of the bitter pith, not the sweet citrus pulp. But mostly, there’s that vetiver, leaden and thick, shipped in from a heavy gravity planet.

Then something happens. I stop resisting Sel de Vétiver and start to pay attention. There’s a ginger bite. I detect a distant floral echo -- the listed notes say ylang ylang. It’s a savory-sweet bloom, real voluptuous, but here, the volume’s turned way down. I only catch wisps of the ylang ylang through the green-grey haze of grass and smoke and...what the -- salt? I know, I know, it says “Sel” on the bottle, but perfumer Celine Ellena is not pussyfooting around with the saline.

Once I tune into that intense mineral element, it feels so dry that my mouth almost starts to water. Then the salt ushers in a clean sweetness, and the whole thing finishes up smelling like warm skin by a cold ocean. And that is not only the opposite of “Yak!” -- it’s downright transfixing.

Looks like Sel de Vétiver gave me the needle, and I stuck it out. Tea and Milanos all around, Dad!

The Different Company Sel de Vetiver is available from and, starting at $125 for 50ml.

"Chalk Pebble Beach" by Paul Allison


  1. This sounds so interesting. The salt is really appealing to me, I need to check this one out. Thanks for another great review!

  2. I'm glad you described your feeling vs. experience with vetiver! I've had the same experiences, and once I realized I don't enjoy wearing it I felt embarrassed. Like it was a sign of my poor upbringing or something.
    So I spray my encre noire, sel de vetiver and sycomore in the air and enjoy it that way. It always cheers me up.

    If I ever meet a man who wears this scents (by his own accord, not foisted on him by someone) I am going to be in trouble.

  3. Thanks, Janice! Salt is such a fascinating component in a perfume, I find. It can make a fragrance sweaty, more physical, the way it does in LesNez Manoumalia. Or in the case of Sel de Vetiver, its mineralness heightens aspects of the surrounding notes.

  4. Ha-ha, dea - "sign of your poor upbringing"! There you were at the Perfume Cotillion, glowing and beautiful, until the country-club boys and girls got wind of your scent: a Juicy Couture dupe acquired from a cart in a mall. After that, the sock hop invitations dried up, and you couldn't stifle your resentment towards your parents, whose gauche ways ensured that only the most banal fragrances were to be found in the home.

  5. No worries, dea! Just think of it as having been on the kiddie rides of fragrance and now you are stepping up and out to grown up, I'm-a-Woman, Hear-me-roar! scent! And when you meet that man who wears those scents, and before you get TOO much in trouble, swing by the country club and show those scent-snobs how to do it! (Then buy your Mom a bottle and show her the way!)

  6. I gasped when I read the first part of your review (j'adore Sel de Vetiver, and Encre Noir!) but then I exhaled with relief when I read the second half. Sel de Vetiver is not for the faint of heart; I cut my perfume teeth on the weird niche fragrances, and this was THE FIRST sample I ever requested. It's perfect on a hot day. And because it's so unusual, I frequently feel a bit perverse in a thrilling kind of way when I wear it. I keep waiting for the day when I actually encounter someone else wearing it... Thanks for the great review!!! -Scott

  7. The waiting to exhale is all worth it, Scott, when it means you get to re-inhale Sel de Vetiver's mineral magic. Ahh, the nostalgia for those perfume baby teeth...