The Aztecs called vanilla tlilxóchitl, meaning black flower. The origin myth explaining the existence of vanilla springs from the Totonac people, who live on the eastern coast of Mexico, and may have been the first to cultivate the vanilla orchid. From Dame Perfumery’s website:
According to Totonac mythology, the tropical orchid was born when Princess Xanat, forbidden by her father from marrying a mortal, fled to the forest with her lover. The lovers were captured and beheaded. Where their blood touched the ground, the vine of the tropical orchid grew.
I’ll be honest, I have never been the biggest fan of oriental vanilla fragrances for myself. I did love Emeraude, back in the 80s, at first sniff, and even though it is now an absolute disaster (seriously, don’t sniff the current stuff. This has been a Public Service Announcement), it has a very definite vanilla focus and at one time was a pure-genius sort of fragrance, the kind of thing that belongs on cleavage. Rumor has it that famously-vanilla Shalimar is a riff on Emeraude. Other vanilla fragrances often either have a “vanilla-and” character, or can be ridiculously simple to the point of dopiness. Either way, I have yet to really love a vanilla scent the way I love vintage Emeraude. (See my Sexy Cake post for an elaboration on the subject.) The short version is, I like my gourmandy vanillas (berry-vanilla, or caramel vanilla), or my white-floral vanillas.
I will say that I loved the drydown of L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Havane Vanille (renamed Vanille Absolument) – after the boozy, fruity, pipe-tobacco parts faded off, about eight hours into wearing HV, the vanilla appeared on stage solo, so clear and intoxicating. No hint of powder. I sometimes had difficulty waiting out the early stages to get to the part I really liked. What was really super-awesome about that clear, intense vanilla drydown was putting a dab of By Kilian’s Beyond Love on top of it. Tuberose-vanilla, yum, a do-it-yourself floral vanilla that I loved.
So I admit that I was sort of hoping that Black Flower Mexican Vanilla would be something like the drydown of HV, particularly when reading the description of it on the Dame Perfumery website: “A perfect vanilla is simply vanilla without added accents, and its creation is a task of restraint and avoiding misguided add-ons of ‘vanilla + such and such’.”
The notes list for BFMV is more complicated than “simply vanilla.” Fragrantica‘s list is as follows: lemon, grapefruit, caramel, nutmeg, gardenia, jasmine, sandalwood, patchouli, vetiver, musk, tonka. Fragranticans smell mostly vanilla in it, plus tonka bean; the other elements seem to be noted as present but not a large portion of the scent. I’d agree: vanilla and tonka, primarily. It’s not particularly sweet, either, which is nice in a vanilla fragrance. I was expecting a floral cast, but there isn’t one: it’s mostly just vanilla-tonka.
What I don’t understand is what smells so powdery in it. On my skin, BFMV has a good bit of powder, following its barely-citrusy opening. I do not smell much in the way of white florals or woody notes, and I don’t notice vetiver or nutmeg at all. The caramel shows up, but if I’m being honest, all it does is make me want to go buy a mini of Prada Candy. Perhaps the powder is due to a dusty-quality patchouli making itself noticeable; whatever it is, I’m not enjoying that bit.
There is a similar dusty/powdery quality to another one of my “vanilla” fragrances, Givenchy Organza Indecence. But OI has so much else going on (the orange, the spices, the woods) that I can forgive it a smidge of powder. Black Flower Mexican Vanilla – not, I emphasize, very floral on me, despite its name – has placed the vanilla front and center, so there isn’t anything to distract me from the dusty qualities. The aspect of the drydown of Havana Vanille (which does, yes, have a dusty quality in its heart) that I loved so much was its clarity and its complete lack of powderiness; it is much more like vanilla liqueur than the powdery stuff.*
Sillage is gentle and lasting power is quite good, 6-8 hours on me where I typically get 3-5 hours’ wear out of an eau de parfum. If you are looking for a nicely-done, unsweetened vanilla fragrance, test this one. It might be what you’re looking for. It’s decently priced, as well: you can still pick up a 7ml spray sample for $10 including shipping, and it’s worth it if you ask me.
*Habanita nearly killed me, if you’re wondering about my tolerance for that version of “powdery.”
Well done, Dame Perfumery. It’s still not my sort of thing, but it’s competent and pleasant and engaging to wear, all the same.