VETIVER FROM SEED TO SCENT
OMETIMES, NOTHING SMELLS QUITE AS SWEET as a success no one had thought possible. For David and Julia Bridger of British fragrance brand Parterre, that something is a rippling field of vetiver, the warm, woody perfumery ingredient traditionally grown in India, Haiti… and now Keyneston Mill in Dorset. With a team of gardeners and botanists, a maitre de feuillage (master of foliage) and a perfumer from Grasse on board, Keyneston Mill was established by the Bridgers five years ago and dedicated to the nurturing, harvesting and distilling of aromatic plants for the sole purpose of perfumery. ‘We were driving through the south of France six years ago and noticed Grasse on the map,’ says Julia. ‘We stopped to wander around the gardens of the perfume museum and that’s when everything fell into place. David’s family has a farming heritage and we’d always loved perfume and horticulture. Why not grow these plants at home with the aim of making our own fragrance?’ Vetiver was among the Bridgers’ first crops. ‘It’s such a fantastic smell and is used in so many wonderful – often unisex – perfumes,’ says Julia. ‘Our horticulture team had no idea what it was, never having worked in the countries where it’s generally grown, but they did their research, tried several plots and, as it happens, vetiver likes wet conditions, so it turned out incredibly well.’ Their next task was to turn their vetiver into an oil to send to Jacques Chabert, master perfumer behind iconic fragrances like Guerlain Samsara and Chanel Christalle.
‘Indian vetiver is dried in a tent known as “the sea of tranquillity”. Here, we use a drying room heated to 22°C – it smells fantastic,’ says David. From there the vetiver goes into the distiller and what emerges can be anything from a teaspoon of oil to a large cup. ‘And that’s two to three years’ work,’ adds David.
Once filtered and matured, the oil was presented to Parterre’s board of independent chemists and scent consultants to decide whether it was good enough to send to Jacques. ‘At this stage, our vetiver almost stumbled,’ says Julia. ‘It wasn’t like the Indian, Haitian or Javan varieties, but greener and less smokey, more like perfumed hay. Fortunately, it was decided that it was definitely vetiver and actually rather lovely, so we took it to Jacques with the other ingredients we’d produced so he could work his magic and create our fragrances.’
Alongside their home-grown vetiver, the Bridgers now have over 40 essences, including geranium, iris, jasmine, and clary sage, and have produced limited-edition runs of three eaux de parfum, their aromatic blend of vetiver, bergamot, hyssop and ginger among them. ‘Each bottle is numbered by hand, and when they’re gone, they’re gone,’ says Julia. Until the next batch takes root, that is…
Parterre Root Of All Goodness Eau de Parfum, £160: clean and citrussy, with warm leather and ginger.