High-quality vetiver (Chrysopogon zizanioides; syn: Vetiveria
zizanioides) is creamy and rich, possessing a warm, woody,
smoky scent and long-lasting elegance that makes any fragrance
beautiful, says Givaudan perfumer Caroline Sabas. Indeed,
vetiver has lent its signature beauty to numerous fine fragrances,
including Vetiver (Guerlain), Vetyverio (Diptyque), Terre
d’Hermès (Hermès) and Bleu (Chanel). Yet it is an ingredient
that is produced in some of the most impoverished parts of the
world, threatening its long-term sustainability.
Around the world, growers of crucial aromatic crops are
leaving rural areas in favor of urban settings that may offer
better economic opportunities. Even when farmers stay, they
may switch from aromatic crops to more lucrative or price-stable
options, or may cease production during times of political insta-
bility. It is this supply challenge that is the focus of Givaudan’s
Innovative Naturals program, which seeks to “ensure the dura-
bility of supply channels” and “add to the perfumers’ palettes
while respecting both the environment and local people.”
Establishing a presence at-origin in key
growing regions is a core principal of the
program. Doing so ensures the preservation
of biodiversity, improvement of traceability,
restoration of ingredient quality and coun-
teraction of disease, while also providing a
steady flow of ingredients to perfumers and
new stories for marketers to tell consumers.
To date, Givaudan has established local
projects supporting the sourcing of a range
of ingredients, including sandalwood from
Australia, Venezuelan tonka beans, benzoin
from Laos, ylang-ylang from the Comoros
and French lavender. The latest project, the
company says, is an Ecocert ESR-certified
(Equitable, Sustainable, Responsible)
vetiver with improved sensory qualities.
Each year 120–150 tons of vetiver oil
is produced globally, explains Laetitia
Vuillemenot, origination project leader, purchasing, for Givaudan. About 150 kg of vetiver roots yield about
1 kg of oil. Fifty percent of the total oil volume is produced in
Haiti, while an additional 25% is produced in Indonesia. Other
growing regions include China, Paraguay, Brazil, Madagascar
In Haiti, about 30,000 local growers cultivate vetiver on
small plots of land concentrated in the southern region of
Cayes. Givaudan partnered with local processer Agri-Supply
to work with 160 growers from the villages of Massey, Faucault
and Bazelais. The project worked to improve
agricultural and distillation practices, includ-
ing harvesting only at peak maturity, and to
improve a local road to resolve local transporta-
tion problems and speed the transfer of roots
to the distillery.
Vetiver must grow for nearly 12 months
for its roots to reach 1 m in length, which is
optimal for yield and quality. Roots are har-
vested by hand, with dirt being shaken from
the plant material to prevent erosion, lessen
shipping weight and improve distillation condi-
tions. Distillation must be carried out quickly
to prevent fermentation of the roots and, once
underway, lasts more than 24 hours.
When Sabas first visited the Givaudan/Agri-
Supply distillery, she stepped out of the car
and was at once surrounded by an atmosphere
saturated with vetiver. Since that time, she says,
it has been her mission to formulate vetiver into
more and more feminine fragrances. The added benefit, she
says, is that the more she uses the more she aids local growers.
The impact, she explains, is direct.
To show the versatility of the ingredient, Sabas presented a
vetiver-tinged fragrance called Feu des Iles (roughly, Fire of the
Islands), which also included sandalwood and balsams. Sabas’
fellow perfumers at Givaudan also made fragrances, which
skewed floral or fruity, masculine or feminine, displaying the
wide range vetiver can have in perfumery effects.
Ensuring the Durability of Supply Channels: Sustainable Haitian Vetiver
Vetiver is harvested by hand once the roots
reach 1 m in length.
Vetiver imparts a warm, smoky, highly complex odor to a diverse range of
fragrance profiles; photos courtesy of Givaudan.