Hermessence Collection: Vetiver Tonka

Hermes Vetiver Tonka 15 ml, Hermessence collection

Continuing with Hermessence week, today I am wearing Vetiver Tonka, my vote for the best perfume in the collection. Like the others, it was created by Hermès house nose Jean Claude Ellena and launched in 2004. Hermès Vetiver Tonka is meant to suggest wool, and has notes of vetiver, neroli, bergamot, grilled hazelnut, dry fruit, cereals and tonka bean.

Vetiver Tonka starts off fresh and green, with vetiver and mild citrus. It is deep and rich — the top notes of Guerlain Vetiver smell like water in comparison — but it is not at all heavy, nor is it more than mildy sweet.

The vetiver note stays predominant as it settles, but it also takes on undertones of burnt sugar and hazelnuts. Despite that, it never smells particularly foody on me; the sweet notes are perfectly tempered by the dry, earthy vetiver, and the tonka bean seems to float in and out without ever overwhelming the composition.

I don't catch any dried fruits or cereal grains, and the longer it stays on the skin, the harder it is to make out individual notes. The vetiver gets deeper and more intense, until it almost smells like it has been roasted along with the sugar and nuts. At the same time, the overall feeling is one of lightness, and it could easily be worn year-round.

Vetiver rootVetiver Tonka is a simply gorgeous perfume, and a perfect balancing act between sweet and dry notes, transparency and depth. Of all the Hermessence fragrances, it is the only one I would consider purchasing in the large bottle.

Hermès Vetiver Tonka is available in 100 ml Eau de Toilette, or in sets of four 15 ml bottles (the "discovery" sets, bottle shown above). For purchasing information, see the listing for Hermès under Perfume Houses.

Note: image of vetiver roots being harvested is via the very informative site As you can see, it has an elaborate root system, and the plant is used around the world for erosion control efforts. The roots are also the source of the oil used in perfumery.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Robin: HA! Are we having a Hermes backlash this a.m.? Is everyone still shocked over Oprah's treatment at the hands of the Hermes Paris sales staff?! So quiet! I agree that Vetiver Tonka is the one I'd buy of the four…unfortunately Ambre Narguile is also great to wear. As I was about to go off the deep end and purchase a whole bottle I saw that a Hermes terry beach towel (on the small side) is $450…I read in the Village Voice that they destroy products they don't sell instead of marking them down and “cheapening” their image…and it's too much! Surely the pricing is high JUST to be high…and has nothing to do with the quality — especially in the perfumes. I see you read Victoria's post this a.m on bois de jasmin. If you're like me, every now and then, after overdosing on the high falutin', I head to the $10 perfumes for spiritual and monetary relief! K

  2. Anonymous says:

    LOL — it might be a backlash, although it might also be due to the fact that I didn't manage to get my post up today until noon. Rather behind schedule!

    The Oprah story is certainly a big deal. I am so out of it that I had no idea that celebrities could just walk up unannounced after hours. I always assumed they scheduled these things so they didn't have to shop with the regular public.

    Happily I have no interest in Hermes scarves or leather. Nothing on earth would move me to buy a $450 beach towel, and I'd like to think that would be true even if I became a multimillionaire tomorrow. But I have to disagree on the Hermes perfumes — most of them are readily available on the discount sites. I got my Hiris dirt cheap. Maybe it is all grey market stuff.

  3. Anonymous says:

    True…the article was about the Hermes clothing being destroyed if not sold each season. Their perfumes are on many discount sites…no doubt causing nail biting and hair pulling in Paris: “Mais… il n'est pas chic!” K

  4. Anonymous says:

    Wow! I had no idea that vetiver looked like that, R. Thank you for posting the photo. I wonder what it smells like at harvest time?

    Anyway, I have to agree with you: Vetiver Tonka is my favorite of the four, too! I mean, I like Ambre Narguile, but only in small (make that very small!) doses. But VT is just wondrous! Sweet, but not overly so, nutty, but not foody. Simply divine!

    Here's another question: What does tonka bean smell like? I can smell the hazelnut in VT, but I have no idea what a tonka bean should smell like. :):)

    So happy to read your lovely review!

  5. Anonymous says:

    R, Nor did I! I knew it was a grass and that they used the roots to make the oil, but I had no idea the roots were so enormous. That thing in the picture looks like a haystack. As you can see, they have trimmed the actual grass on the top, but it does grow very tall & green.

    Tonka bean is vanillic and can be used as a vanilla substitute. Actually, look in the glossary (link on nav bar above) under tonka bean & coumarin and you get the idea.

  6. Anonymous says:

    LOL — I am just not the target market for luxury goods. I hate paying full price, and if the Hermessences didn't come in the discovery set, I would probably be carefully rationing off a small, ebay-purchased decant of VT while saving my pennies toward a full bottle.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Duh!! I should have known that you would have all of the bases covered, darling!

    So now that I know what a tonka bean smells like, I do detect it undulating lazily in VT's dry down. :):)

    Hugs to you for creating such an intelligent, fun and informative website!

  8. Anonymous says:

    I agree with you that Vetiver Tonka is the best scent in the Hermessence line. It's a really wonderful and original treatment of Vetiver and is so comforting and wooly. It reminded me of the other Hermes comfort blanket scent, Rocabar.

    Did you try the briefly reissued Hermes scent, Doblis, when it was briefly at Bergdorf and the Hermes store in NYC last October and November? It was a really suave and feminine leather perfume but they were selling it for $350. Maybe they poured the unsold perfumes down the gutter after Christmas.

  9. Anonymous says:

    My favorite of the line, too, and my preferred “your skin but better” scent. I actually find the first burst of sweetness too resinous, like the green and the sweet are playing two different songs, but as they resolve into each other the resulting meld is the clean/sexy green/warm thing that I'm always looking for, and I'm in love. The whole idea of the scent only relates to the idea of wool in only the most abstract way, though.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Doblis was still in my local Neiman Marcus the last time I was there, which was probably in early spring, so if they were instructed to destroy the bottles after some date, they didn't obey :-)

    I was rather put off by the limited edition numbered bottles and the high price, but it was a nice fragrance, and struck me as something that could be worn by either sex. I am not terribly into leather so I didn't put it on skin — what would be the point anyway, since I don't have that kind of money to invest.

  11. Anonymous says:

    And hugs to you R, for always saying something sweet!

  12. Anonymous says:

    I really don't think I can wear the Hermessences. I loved this at first sniff, and then it went straight to pot smoke on me — is that the vetiver? I don't know; that's a note that maybe I should explore further.

  13. Anonymous says:

    How interesting, I would never think of this as a “your skin but better”. Your skin on its own must smell much better than mine! Now I am jealous.

    But I should have mentioned sexy in the review too. This is the only 1 of the 4 that I find at all sexy, though would guess that most people would also pick Ambre Narguile in that regard.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Hmmm. Vetiver has a deep, earthy-green smell, sort of spicy. Doesn't have the distinctive pot smell to me, and come to think of it, I don't much like the smell of pot. But there is a distinct smell of something smoky/burnt/roasted in VT. That particular note is not in other vetiver fragrances that I know.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I adore this scent…that is all! :)

  16. Anonymous says:

    R, you are my official Vetiver Queen, because it is due to you that I have been exploring vetiver more and more. I wore Vetiver Tonka yesterday, and I agree with you that it is the best out of the four. I love the note which you perfectly identify as hazelnut. It is just amazingly beautiful in conjunction with earthy and ever-so chocolatey vetiver. Excellent review, as always!

  17. Anonymous says:

    Hi P, that is all it takes ;-)

  18. Anonymous says:

    V, must not take credit where none is due — it is a very nutty scent, but I wouldn't have known hazelnuts in particular if that weren't in the Hermes promotional materials.

    I really want to smell some vetiver essential oil, where should I buy it?

  19. Anonymous says:

    Order samples from and, both of which have excellent selection and the best customer service I have encountered. Naturesgift has several varieties to choose from. Whitelotusaromatics is another terrific place, but the ordering process from them is a pain!

    Here is more, courtesy of MUA's Muse: (sells samples but they contain a very small amount of oil) (I think she sells samples, email to inquire) (has a sample program) (sells samples) ($50.00 minimum or surcharge applies, I don't remember their sample policy)

    I haven't ordered from the following supplier, but another fragrance board member recommended them to me and I plan to try them soon.

    I always recommend sampling before purchase because individual tastes and needs vary.”

  20. Anonymous says:

    Wow, thanks V! I should have known someone on MUA would have the resources. Also should mention that socalwoman has a great list of brief reviews of Vetiver fragrances on her notepad.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I picked up a sample of this and Ambre Narguilé at Hermès in Toronto last week. To me this does not seem like wool at all – I'm kind of thinking of it as a summer version of Armani Code (for men). The vetiver really freshens up the tonka and gives it a lovely lighter sensation.

  22. Anonymous says:

    For a moment or two just after I put it on my wrist, I was smelling pot smoke too. Fortunately, for me it went away!

  23. Anonymous says:

    Congrats on your new scents! Completely agree on the wool, and Hermes later dropped all the fabric inspirations from the Hermessence line, just as well.

  24. Anonymous says:

    I dropped into the Wall St location on my way home last night to smell the Hermessences. The whole line is so well done and the only one that I dismissed quickly was the Paprika Brasil. I even liked Rose Ikebana, and I am so not a rose fan. But Vetiver Tonka might be my latest obsession.

    I have not tried it on my skin yet, but have been sniffing the sprayed card that's in my coat pocket since yesterday. Spice, bergamot, burnt hazelnuts and sugar, either the tonka bean or the hazelnut is really bewitching. I reminds me a bit of CK Contradiction, which I like sometimes but I can't wear because there is something very synthetic and plastic-y about it. VT plays up the good, seems to leave out the bad, and adds a whole new dimension. The sample bottles are beautiful too, though I want to know who springs the extra $120 jsut for the upgraded leather bottle cozy??? Today I am wearing Lubin's Idole for a special dinner this evening but I plan on trying this out this weekend and then frantically searching for a discounted bottle on ebay.

    The Hermes experience itself is not the nicest. I walked in in business attire but my comfy walking home shoes, and the sales clerks would not even sniff in my direction – though there was a man I mistook for a bum shopping for Birkins and being intensely fawned over. I hovered around the fragrance section until I think they finally sent someone over to indulge me and get me out of the store. Ha!

    By the way, I have been lurking around here for a bit now and finally decided to come out of hiding and say thank you for this blog. I inherited a love of perfumes from my Boucheron and Bvlgari-loving mom, but you have really fueled my addiction and got me researching some different fragrances and starting a dialogue (mostly with myself) over fragrance. Thanks and keep blogging!

  25. Anonymous says:

    The Hermessences are not generally found cheaply on Ebay, sorry to say, although I do wish you luck. The bargain option is usually to buy the discovery set of 15 ml bottles and then split the set w/ one or more people.

    I've been really lucky in the NY Hermes so far — they've always been really nice to me, although it is true that the staff are not so enthusiastic about the perfume as they are about the higher-ticket items. But my local, tiny Hermes in the mall: they are not always so nice.

    And thanks for the kind words :-)

  26. Anonymous says:

    I didn't like this on the card. I sprayed it and “WHOOMPH!” I got a huge rush or green and sugar. I was taken aback. I stood there smelling. “Really? This is it?” I was really disappointed. I took a sample home, just because I haven't heard an unkind word about it (save, maybe, price).
    You know where this is going? I'm sure you do.
    I could not be more in love. I wasn't sitting in front of my computer when I first put it on my hand so I can't describe it as well I am able, but man! It's warm yet light. It's cozy yet not suffocating. It's sweet yet not cloying. It's the ultimate balancing act: it's inexplicably complex and yet appears so simple. It's still much than I pegged you liking, but I can't really imagine someone not falling in love with this perfume. This is mastery.
    Now observe me, desperately looking around to see how I can afford this. I hope I don't like the other samples I got; I'd end up sitting at home in the dark, skipping meals to afford them. Dx Well… something like that….

  27. Anonymous says:

    Isn't it lovely stuff?

    The Discovery sets are not too badly priced — 4 little 15 ml travel sprays. I'm not sure how they're packaging them now that there are 6 Hermessences though — in other words, don't know if they're “mix 'n match”. Worth finding out!

  28. Anonymous says:

    Yes. You were right. ;D

    I just remembered the Discovery set. I should've asked while I was there. Of course they don't have ANY information on the website; that'd be too easy. It'd also help me keep my vow not to get any more 100ml bottles; there just isn't enough room for that.

  29. Hey :-) I went into Hermès with my BF. she is pretty self-confident, not me – we have pretty different budgets ;-)
    But I wore a hoodie, sneakers and they did not even mind. Okay, the saleswomen did not want to have a chatter with me, okay, but I grabbed two samples.
    Vetiver Tonka and Poivre I had on paper, I asked for Vetiver Tonka then. I think it’s a beautifull scent, I like the warmth and the spaice and aslo the lasting power. It’s a great scent and very uncommon.
    The point: the price… as usual.

    • Robin says:

      Ah, but with the Hermessences at least you can find people to split the discovery sets, and so you only have to buy 15 ml.

  30. Phyllislechat says:

    Bought a small Vetiver Tonka on eBay out of curiosity. Love it, love it, love it on me. Now if I can only persuade my lover to wear it for me next time we’re together…It is truly seductive, warm, nourishing, velvety. As Martha would say in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, it gets right to the meat of things.

  31. fraxos says:

    Dear Robin,
    Could you help me to specify the difference between Vetiver tonka and Philosykos by Diptyque? I tested Philosykos only once but it seems that these fragrances are rather like.
    I know that you have both bottles in your collection:)
    Thank you in advance! And thanks for your blog!

    • Robin says:

      Hi Fraxos, I find them very different…VT is mostly vetiver w/ some burnt sugar (although admittedly it’s fruity too), Philosykos is a woody fig. But admit I’ve never put them on together, so maybe they have more in common than I think!

  32. Lollipop says:

    I am heavily in lust with Vetiva Tonka. I live near a Hermes shop and the lovely sales lady gave me an ENORMOUS sample. Yippee. I shall be wearing it this summer and hopefully will buy the set of four small bottles when I run dry, bank balance permitting. Can it be I have found my summer HG perfume so soon?! I have only been looking for two months! Sadly my husband and two of my three offspring exclaimed “YUK what is that smell” when I appeared at breakfast. I don’t care though I am like a VT junky and keep sniffing my arms. BTW my third child is only two so maybe he doesn’t like the scent either but we will give him the benefit of the doubt for now.

    • Robin says:

      LOL…my son never liked any perfume that didn’t smell like chocolate chip cookies. So yes, ignore them :-)

  33. ladydior says:

    Hi! do you know where i can get this online?

  34. CynHunt says:

    This is my favorite fragrance….it’s just gorgeous.

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