And miss it each night and day
I know I'm not wrong, the feeling's gettin' stronger
The longer I stay away..."
Tucked away on the 800 block of Royal Street in New Orleans' French Quarter, Hové Parfumeur has the faded flower charm of an aged Southern Belle. The shop, which resembles a Victorian drawing room with small glass cabinets of curiosity, sells women's and men's perfumes and fragrant bath products, with scents and names reminiscent of New Orleans.
Started in 1931 by Mrs. Alvin Hovey-King, a woman who learned perfumery from her French Creole mother, Hové is in its third location since its inception (all shops have been within blocks of each other in the French Quarter) and has been run for generations by family members. I've heard that Hové was one of the first shops in the Quarter that reopened after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. Of course people really needed food, water, and shelter, but it makes me happy to think that, in the spirit of New Orleans' decadent inclinations, perfume was one of the first things you could get again in the Quarter (along with a stiff shot of Bourbon, no doubt).
Although Vetiver is categorized as a men's cologne, it's my favorite Hové scent. Hové's perfumes for women boast some of the best names I've ever encountered, each one a Film Noir or romance novel waiting to happen — Mantrap, A Kiss in the Dark, and Rue Royale come to mind — but they're often a little too sultry-sweet for my tastes. Tea Olive is probably their most famous fragrance, and, like Hové's other women's scents, it has a reassuring vintage feel to it, comforting and even simple.
Direct as Hové's Vetivert may be, simple it is not. It has what the more composed, dressed-up vetivert perfumes I love (Guerlain and Prada's newest, for example) do not: it smells wild. Lemony, hay-like and grassy, with the bright herbiness of verbena, a whiff of licorice that could come from tarragon or maybe even sassafras, Vetiver evolves into something dusty, incensey, and peppery. It is as interesting as a niche perfume, its frayed edges an unselfconscious artifact of its source note. It would bloom anew on your skin in New Orleans heat, the Vetiver's dry roots reconsituted by the wearer's endless supply of perspiration.
Its lovely nose-tickling incense effect reminds me of Bulgari Au Thé Vert's smoky green tea accord. (Au Thé Vert also has a vetivert note.) Its dry down is alternately bright and dusky/musty/musky, "fresh" like high quality tea or the smell of dried Kaffir leaves, the limey herb used to scent Thai soup, among other things. (I wish I could provide you with the perfume's actual notes, but a rep for Hové, in what I think is misguided secrecy, told me they won't share their perfumes' notes for fear their formulas will be duplicated.)
In the copy written on the back of Hové's Vetiver soap box, we're told that the word Vetivert comes from the East Indian "Vettiveru" which means "root that is dug up." We're also informed that no fashionable Creole home's drawers or closets was ever without this lovely grass/root, which was associated with Creole aristocracy.
I am writing this review of Hové's Vetivert not from New Orleans — where I spent six wonderful and self-indulgent months writing about perfume, biking all over the city, eating shrimp Po Boys and fried chicken, and drinking up a storm with my new (and life-long) pals — but rather from Orange County in California, a temporary pit stop before I get back (hopefully) to the place that really feels like home.
There are so many ways to carry New Orleans with you wherever you go, and I don't scoff at tourists with their Café du Monde beignet mixes or their Mardi Gras beads in July. No matter what wonderful cities they're from, there's just no place like New Orleans; no wonder they want to take a little bit of it (even if it's corny) back with them.
My friend Elizabeth told me a great story about a little game her friend Birgid plays to ensure she returns to New Orleans on a regular basis. Before she leaves New Orleans, she always buys a bar of Hové's Vetivert soap to take home with her, and when it's whittled down to nothing, it's her reminder to book another flight to NOLA. Nevermind that they have an online store...
You can get a dram of Vetivert for the ridiculously cheap price of $19, and the soap is $7 a bar. (A dram is the unit of apothecary weight equal to 1/8 of a fluid ounce.) If you're really interested, you can even get three bundles of Louisiana-grown vetiver for $10: "Its thin feeder roots are clipped off every two years, washed and dried in the sun and used to scent and deter moths in armoires, closets and bed linens."
Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans? Well, one way to miss it and remember it all at once is to put on the wild and beautiful Vetiver from Hové.
"...Miss the moss covered vines, the tall sugar pines
Where mockin' birds used to sing
And I'd like to see that lazy Mississippi, hurryin' into spring...
Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?
When that's where you left your heart
And there's something more, I miss the one I care for
More than I miss New Orleans..."
For anyone reading this as of June, 2011 — I'M BAAAAAAACK!