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Vetiver Review Festival – Greyish Type Vetivers

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Vetiver is my favorite scent element in fragrances. The root cannot be replaced with synthetics, it has a distinct note, and is immensely versatile. For discussion of vetiver in nature and as a fragrance cultivar, see this article.  For discussion of the various ways Vetiver can be used in fragrance design, read here).

However, the root is not without its issues. In natural form, vetiver can be a smoky, earthy, bitter and pungent scent which often gets compared to vampires, dirt, rotting organic material, etc. One of the most divisive fragrances in the past decade has been Encre Noire by Lalique precisely because it features a lot of relatively straightforward vetiver essential oil with very few other notes to modify or buffer the effect of the vetiver.  This remarkable perfume has acquired all those negative comparisons mentioned earlier, plus many more.
Encre Noire is a great intro to relatively pure vetiver essence as used in perfumery. Some love it, some hate it, but it is relatively cheap and immensely powerful, so newcomers to the world of vetiver that would like to dive right in at the deep end, be guided accordingly. Try before you buy, and do not over-apply. If you pump 7 squirts on and angry villagers later drive a stake through your heart, don’t complain to me from the netherworld.
Clearly, if one wanted to use vetiver in a shave soap or cream, a maker would have to be cautious. Rotting corpses and dirt comparisons do not sell a product very effectively. Fortunately, the world of fine fragrances has given us an alternative. Tom Ford wanted a more user friendly and mellow vetiver, one which uses the root as a background tonal element rather than as a centerpiece. Hence, his Grey Vetiver.
Immensely popular, not generally compared to the scent of undead fiends, and accessible to men who are not especially radical in their scent inclinations, TF’s Grey Vetiver has been both lucrative for the designer and influential in other designs. Here’s what the scent design looks like.
Generally, citrus and sage on top, nutmeg and orris (iris root) in the middle, vetiver, amber, and woods at the base.  The citrus drowns out the vetiver at first sniff, and the herbal elements, orris, and amber keep the vetiver defanged and loitering in the middle distance. In short, a vetiver for those who like vetiver only a little!
Unsurprisingly, shave scent makers have been drawn to this model also. Fine makes a decent aftershave that copies GV pretty unashamedly and does a decent job of it. (That is to say, though cheaper, it is also less complex, lasts much less, and does not project very far. But if all you want is a cheap way to smell the Ford concept, this will do…)
“But how about shaving itself?, you may ask. What is out there that can both introduce you to the smell of vetiver while also cushioning your depilatory endeavors? Lots of stuff!
The first installment of my vetiver series will focus on the more mellow vetivers, i.e. those that emulate the Tom Ford GV concept by heavily cutting the vetiver predominance with citrus, sandalwood, and other spices so that vetiver takes a second (or third) seat in the overall effect. Part Two will look at some different more vetiver-forward approaches (which frankly, are my own preference) but we certainly have some interesting products inspired by Grey Vetiver to consider.
Greyish Vetiver One: Catie’s Bubbles Un Jour Gris ($20 for 8 oz. tub of soap)
Ingredients: (Per Mfgr Site): Stearic Acid, Water, Coconut Oil, Potassium Hydroxide, Sodium Lactate, Glycerine, Fragrance.
Intro: Catie’s is known for using the relatively simple Martin De Candre style vegan formula of shave soap. Gylcerin is the only moisturizer, fragrance and essential oils are used, and the texture of the soap is creamy and soft. Catie’s has been featured in Forbes, ( ) and is considered an up and coming artisan.
In recent releases, CB seem to have become increasingly feminized and are offering sweeter and sweeter scents (Froot Loops, gardenias, watermelon, etc) but their “A Grey Day” avoids all of that and aims squarely at the “mellow vetiver” concept originated by Grey Vetiver.
Paying $20 for an 8 ounce tub of soap does not thrill me, as by the time I use all of this soap up, the tub will have spoiled as I worked my way through the 20 other soaps in my rotation. Catie’s occasionally offers samples, though only intermittently and unpredictably.
UJG came out in April of this year, and is available in some brick and mortar stores (such as Pasteur’s in NYC where I purchased it ( ), from a few online retailers, and from the artisan. There seems to be a certain shortage of the scent currently online, so check frequently for restocks, as it has not been discontinued.
Packaging: Nice 6 ounce sturdy plastic tub, attractive label art, label appears waterproof. Complete ingredients listed, scent description is featured: “A fresh clean scent suited for a grey day”. Tub is crammed full of product and so cannot be easily loaded and cannot be brush lathered in the tub should you lack a scuttle of some sort. This close tolerance packing makes loading a mess, and cleanup more extensive than it ought to be. CB should either use an 8 oz container for their 6 ozs of product, or scale back loaded volume and prices accordingly. (Like say 4 oz in the 6 oz container for $12 would be a great deal!) 2 of 3 points awarded.
Scent in Tub: CB describes this as “A fresh, clean blend of citrus, spice, vetiver, and sandalwood that reminds me of the smell after a chaotic storm. A scent truly suited for a grey day. First, let me reassure the nervous: this is not a “fresh” scent as traditionally meant in modern perfumery, i.e. it is not loaded with dyhydromyrcenol (“marine scents”) and / or calone (crisp sweet melon scent). My face is as sensitive to dihydromyrcenol as grandparents are to death metal, and I can reassure those with similar sensitivity or those that just don’t like marine smells, that these elements are featured either minimally or not at all. There might be a wee bit of calone in there (CB does not fully list scent notes) but a subtle sweet sandalwood is the main smell sniffed in the tub. Citrus is pretty light and so too is the vetiver note.
The smell does not leap out at your nose, but must be sniffed deeply to make an impression. The scent is surprisingly muted, and makes Grey Vetiver itself seem radical and loud by comparison. More damningly, for a vetiver fan, one can hardly smell the stuff. Though of course, this soap does not actually include vetiver in its name, so I cannot complain too much. I am glad to not smell anything approaching Acqua Di Gio here, but would have liked either more prominent spice or vetiver. 1 of 2 points awarded.
Lather Creation & Stability: Bloomed the soap (let small amount of water sit on top of soap for a minute before lathering) and then loaded boar brush with 40 swirls. Soap lathered up quickly, and the lather did not need either much product or much water to rapidly become thick and useful. The lather stayed well hydrated during the shave, needing no extra water at all. Blooming was probably not needed, and I would guess this formula would work well in hard water. 5 of 5 points awarded.
Lather Performance: Excellent, better than my other Catie’s experiences (LTV, LPV, Rose Garden) Glide and lubrication were demonstration class, and “ghost lather” effect (lubrication remaining after an initial pass removes visible lather) was excellent, and the soap gave a very smooth shave. Cushioning was also excellent (unusual for Catie’s) and a Merkur Progress set on exposure 3 of 5 with both Wilkinsons and Derbys did not leave any abrasion on chin, jaw, or around mouth. The folliclevation capabilities of the lather (the ability to cleanly remove stubble by making it stand up on the skin) was excellent and the shave was very clean and neat. Catie’s can run with any tallow soap I’ve used on the basis of this showing. Has formula changed? Not sure, but this was my best experience with CB so far. 5 of 5 points.
Scent During Shave: Enh, kind of like an action movie fan watching Bergman’s “Cries and Whispers”, I can tell there’s a lot of depth and quality here, but it’s not exactly my cup of tea. The scents from the tub remain noticeable, but there is little development, the overall tone remains subtle and muted, and the vetiver is all the way in the back row. If anything, I would say the sage, orris, and nutmeg come out a bit more once lathered, but sweet creamy sandalwood is my main perception during the shave. I like explosions and automatic gunfire in my shaves, or at least a good car chase, and there is none of that here. Oddly enough, the overall feel is melancholy and European, which matches name and description perhaps too closely.
I like this scent, and would use it depending on mood, but it’s not quite the “Die Hard” I was looking for, even given the best case result would be similar to the rather reserved Grey Vetiver. GV has a bit more citrus oomph, and one definitely gets the vetiver element eventually in the drydown, but UJG does not have that same feel. Taken as a TF GV clone, UJG does not work, and taken as a showcase for vetiver, it also does not work.
Still, if you like mellow scents that do not whack you in the nose, and you like something sweet, spicy, and yet somber, you will appreciate this. I would call this 3.5 stars out of 5, but am rounding up due to subjective comparison to the other two soaps in Part One (UJG marches to the beat of a different drummer). UJG is subtle and clever, and that, along with the technically superlative shave certainly counts for at least half a point. 4 of 5 points awarded.
Irritation: None encountered during a lengthy shave. Worlds away from the torture fest I experienced with Catie’s La Terre Verte.  However, given the mild low impact scent of UJG, it would be odd indeed if it irritated me. No points deducted.
Post Shave Feel: Excellent, again a surprise for my own personal experience with Catie’s. I usually like shea butter or lanolin in a soap, but Catie’s had neither. I used a bit of Nivea Post Shave Cooling Balm and had a wonderful moisturized face for the rest of the day. I think those with tougher skin could use this without any sort of post shave treatment at all and would be fine. Again, other Catie’s soaps I’ve used needed a creamier balm and / or moisturizer to keep me from being Ol Dry Ouchy Face, but UJG needed nothing more than the relatively lightweight Nivea. 5 of 5 points
Value: $20 for 8 ounces of good performing soap is a nice deal in the artisanal soap market considered on the basis of cost per ounce. In absolute terms though, twenty clams is a lot to pay for soap, especially if you are not using it exclusively. 25% less money would get you any one of a number of soaps that perform just as well technically and that have more distinctive and powerful scents. Mr. Bubbles, tear down that price point! Most wet shavers who buy artisanal soap don’t need 8 ounces, and would rather have $5 more to bundle towards buying something else. 3 of 5 points.
Total Score: 25/30. A solid B+. The scent and high price point are this product’s main issues, as Catie’s customers tend to expect a great powerful smell, and wet shavers in the more general sense are cheap bastids. Having a mellow, underpowered scent in a high priced (though tightly packed) tub will disappoint both groups.
That said, the technical performance of this soap is remarkably good, and I feel it easily competes technically with soaps that cost 50% more. If you don’t have a huge collection of soaps and can use all these 8 ounces in a year or two, and if you don’t want a high impact scent that fills the bathroom, you might want to add a few points to the above score.
The scent of UJG is well done, but seems designed for the melancholy sensitive sort of nose. It shares a lot of the DNA of Grey Vetiver, yet is more subtly spiced and not as citrusy. And it reduces the already minimal presence of vetiver in the Tom Ford product to an even lower level.
So in short, CB aimed at a fairly conventional mild mannered target as the basis for UJG, and ended up with something even more mild and less alarming. This is rather like watching a Prius and a Smart For Two drag race; not exactly a thrill fest, but its better than watching paint dry. Think Truffaut rather than Die Hard and you can know what to expect from CB UJG.
Matches Grey Vetiver? Not too closely, even more mellow, less citrus, more spice, and less vetiver.
Into My Rotation? Yes
Reviews of more vetivers coming soon!

Craig K

Craig K

9 thoughts on “Vetiver Review Festival – Greyish Type Vetivers”

  1. Very interesting scent descriptor. It is one that had me curious as well.
    The part of the article where you talk about how much soap there is and the size of the tub is kind of all over the place. Despite starting the article by saying that it’s 8oz, you then say it’s 6oz later, and suggest they put it in an 8oz tub (which of course it is already).

    1. My apologies for the confusion. The tub is 8 ounces of product, not 6. In order to give some headspace at the top, the mfgr would have to use a container of larger than 8 ounce capacity, as the existing 8 ounce container is quite full of product. Hope that clears things up!

  2. Hello, thanks for the kind words!
    I do not actually lather in the tub (or in a bowl at all for that matter). I simply load soap in there, usually a lot before the first pass and a little more between first and second pass. I face lather after the loading.
    Maybe I am just untidy by nature, but after loading up in these fairly small tins / tubs with minimal headspace, the tub is usually covered with lather and there is a puddle of soap dripping down the sides of the tub onto the sink.
    To me, the gold standard in modern shave soap packaging is a large mouthed tub, 2/3rds full of fairly level product, e.g like Wholly Kaw and Barrister and Mann. (Soap Commander is fine too even with their somewhat smaller diameter tubs.) With this design, I end my shave with a tub where all the mess is inside it, not on the rim, the sides, and the sink.
    I do see more and more artisans using this design (Chiseled Face, Stirling, Maggard’s, Mickey Lee) so I think I am not alone in my quest for “elbow room” in the soap tub. Even Catie’s does this in the new “French Plus” line, where they use these same 8 oz capacity containers loaded with 4 ounces of product. (And also charging less than they would for 8 ounces; though not half as much…)
    But your tidiness may vary of course! (YTMV?)

    1. Thanks for responding. I misunderstood what you meant by “brush lathered in the tub should you lack a scuttle,” but see now that you are simply loading the brush in the tub and don’t intend that the tub be used as a scuttle, to build the lather.
      This morning I used another soap that’s provided in a full rather than partially empty container. I do understand that a full container (or, as you say, “crammed full,” though I don’t really see the distinction) does not accommodate sloppy loading the way a partially empty container does, but in my experience, it’s quite easy to load the brush without making the sort of mess you describe. Perhaps it’s simply that I have more experience and have learned how to do it, but it doesn’t seem difficult at all.
      I wet the brush knot well and then give it a shake or two so I don’t have excess water in the brush, and that probably makes the difference—that, along with paying attention to the loading. I also load the brush fully so that no additional loading is required after the first pass. (Another thing that might affect the loading is that my tap water is relatively soft.)
      I really dislike getting a container of soap that’s 1/3 empty. I much prefer the full containers that many vendors offer, but perhaps you’re right that partially empty containers are popular: because wetshaving is growing rapidly, there are many novices accustomed to canned foam who have no previous experience in using a brush and soap, so (naturally enough) they lack the skill to load a brush neatly from a full container (though that’s easily learned and, in my experience, easily done). So buying tubs that are 1/3 empty probably appeals to them since it reduces the skill level required and means one less thing to learn. They have enough to worry about in learning how to use a DE razor.
      I think if you took on learning to load the brush neatly you’d find it remarkably easy. The key, I think, to ensure that the brush does not start the loading while holding too much water (or too little): that’s where experience (and paying attention) helps. And, of course, it’s also important to pay attention while brushing the soap. When you do, you can quickly learn how to brush briskly and neatly, which I find somehow satisfying in providing a sense of control. Similarly, one can learn how to load the brush with sufficient soap for the entire shave. I think these skills are often not learned because the penalties for not learning them are so minor compared to the penalties for not learning to use the razor properly. If brushes could cut, people would quickly learn to use them correctly. 🙂

      1. I think the real issue with an 8 ounce tub priced at $20 is that I am paying for product that may well never be used. The more common 4 to 6 ounce tubs used by most other manufacturers seem more reasonable if one has many soaps in rotation, as if we assume a 2-3 year shelf life for soaps, the odds are excellent that in a 10 or 20 soap rotation, one will end up with wasted product. If I was paying an equivalent price for the extra product, no issue, but Catie’s price for 8 ounces is (not unreasonably) about a third more than the average artisanal price for 4 ounces. This is still an objective bargain of course (33% more cost for 100% more content), but may not suit the needs of all buyers, especially those that tend to have SAD.
        As for lathering, some might find joy in a surgically precise and well controlled process, but I do not mind the messy tub. A bit of joyful chaos in the lather creation offsets and balances the meticulous care and fine motor skills needed in the shaving process. Order and chaos, yin and yang, clean face, messy tub; such is the very nature of reality and the universe.
        Or at least that’s one theory!

        1. The size of the container seems to me totally divorced from how full the container is. I have 4-oz containers that are sold full, and that satisfies the size issue neatly. I was addressing only the remarks about vendors selling new soaps in containers that are 1/3 empty.
          I do tend to agree with you about the desirability of buying 4 ounces of soap rather than 8, especially if one enjoys having a variety of soaps: the more soaps one has, the smaller the containers can be, and 4 ounces seems to be a good target.
          But if I buy 4 ounces of soap, I still like getting a full container. For one thing, full containers are shorter, so when stacking them I can fit more on the shelf.
          If you enjoy the mess, that’s fine. In the original review, I got the impression you in fact did not like the mess. “This close tolerance packing makes loading a mess, and cleanup more extensive than it ought to be” sounds as though you would prefer that it be less messy. I simply misunderstood.
          My point remains, though: one can use a full container and load neatly, with no mess—or if, as in your case, one enjoys the mess, that also is possible (and indeed is even easier with a full container than with one that’s 1/3 empty). So it seems we agree on both things: soaps should be sold in in 4-ounce tubs, and the tubs should be full.

          1. I would say we are halfway there! The affection for 4 oz tubs is definitely a common element.
            I like loading lather in a certain (relatively imprecise) way. If this loading gives me a little bit of mess to clean up (i.e. a top layer of foam on the soap in the tub) I am fine.
            If this method gives me a bigger mess (soap on the side of the tub, along the rim, on the sink) and if this mess is due to the packaging choice of the manufacturer? Well, it’s not the end of the world but I would like less mess rather than more, with my lather loading not being constrained unnecessarily. Lather free or die I say, which may one day become the new state motto of New Hampshire as wets shaving continues to catch on…

  3. Thank you for you time again Craig. You hit it right with the word melancholy in describing the scent. “Un Jour Gris” is “A Grey Day” and is a reworking of the scent profile of GV to turn it into the smell of a rainy day. It is subtle and understated to go with those emotions that a sunless day generates.

  4. Good and informative review. I don’t agree about the difficulty of loading the brush if the tub is full—indeed, many traditional English shaving soaps left very little room between top of puck and edge of container. With a dampish-wet brush, I find loading Catie’s Bubbles (and other full containers such as Martin de Candre, Le Père Lucien, et al.) easy and not messy.
    I don’t know what you mean by “brush lathered in the tub.” Normally, once the brush is loaded, lathering is done in a bowl or on the palm or face. (I have tried all, but I prefer face lathering). I don’t think anyone recommends building the lather on top of the soap, which seems to be what you suggest. Most, I think, simply load the brush on the soap, and once the brush is fully loaded, leave the soap to build the lather elsewhere.

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