So. Who doesn’t love vanilla?
I do. Lots. I almost always prefer vanilla-flavored desserts to chocolate ones. (Well, except truffles. Because truffles, y’all.)
Because of that flavor preference, I’ve always thought I should love a vanilla fragrance. However, I’m beginning to realize that I’m probably wrong. I mean, honestly, I would love to smell like vanilla extract — and I’ve often heard of people wearing it as fragrance. The one time I tried it, the vanilla was gone in less than an hour, so clearly that inexpensive trick is not going to work for me.
The first vanilla-named scent I remember running across was Coty’s Vanilla Fields, back in the 1990s — and I didn’t much like it for myself, though I found it pleasant on other people. I seem to remember my sister wearing it in her teens/early 20s.
I would like to smell like vanilla, sometimes. Thing is, vanilla fragrances often are “too-something,” by which I mean too powdery, too smoky, or too buttery-oily for my personal tastes. My ideal vanilla fragrance would smell like a very deep, rich vanilla extract, with zero powder, and minimally sweetened. The vanilla fragrances I enjoy are not simply vanilla: Parfums de Nicolai Vanille Tonka, which despite its name smells like a rum-and-coke with lime, Shalimar Light (lemon-vanilla woods, without the mildewed-tarp aspect of the original) and Coty Emeraude (vintage only, please). Sometimes the cocoa-powder bit (it’s the dreaded patchouli) of Givenchy Organza Indecence gets to me, but I like the spicy-vanilla-woods part pretty well.
When I say I want a vanilla fragrance, I’m pretty picky about what Will Not Do. I don’t want floral vanilla, I don’t want powdery vanilla, I don’t want musky vanilla, I don’t want berry or fruity vanilla, I don’t want cookie vanilla, I don’t want smoky vanilla, I don’t want sugary vanilla, and I most definitely do not want that horrible cheap-vanilla-candle oily vanilla. I might take a boozy vanilla if the alcohol part wears off quickly enough, but pretty much I just want plain-old vanilla-vanilla.
Vanilla fragrances I have tried and dismissed for various reasons are numerous, especially after I made the big push to find “my vanilla.” Here are the ones I had the biggest hope for and yet was disappointed by:
Too powdery (by FAR the biggest category of vanilla fails for me)
Bulgari Black (Mind you, it’s sort of genius. I like the new-sneakers/bicycle-tires rubber note, but the vanilla part of it is flat and powdery.)
Dame Perfumery Black Flower Mexican Vanilla (Nice stuff, not as powdery as some but still too powdery for what I want.)
Le Labo Patchouli 24 (Does not smell like patchouli. Instead, smells like an incinerated vanilla ice cream cone lying on the floor of the smokehouse on my grandparents’ 1860 farm.)
Guerlain Shalimar, of whatever vintage or version or strength (Shalimar is shockingly drrrty on me and very cigarette-ash smoky. It’s gorgeous on the right person, but that isn’t me.)
Annick Goutal Nuit et Confidences (Vanilla cake with artificial butter flavor.)
Lavanila Pure Vanilla (that weird vanilla-candle note I cannot STAND)
Indult Tihota (Vanilla bean musk. I thought I’d love it; instead, I nearly went to sleep.)
Vanilla fragrances that were close to being right but juuuust a tad off perfect:
Guerlain Spiritueuse Double Vanille (Delicious boozy vanilla that somehow did not render me smitten, for no reason I can articulate. Shrug. Good thing, because it’s über-spendy.)
Tom Ford Vanille Fatale (Interesting but wacko off notes interspersed with gorgeous vanilla. Drydown is gorgeous and pretty much a dead ringer for the MUCH cheaper PdN Vanille Tonka.)
Seveline Vanille a Madagascar (Really nice, close to a non-powdery vanilla extract linear experience. Unfortunately unavailable in the US. I guess I could have someone mule it to me from France, but I don’t love it enough.)
Lawrence Dumont Vanille de la Reunion (After a frightening three-minute waltz with that horrid buttery/rancid-oil Yankee Candle smell, it smoothed out and went linear vanilla extract. That part I liked, but it’s discontinued anyway.)
I did not bother trying to test the much-beloved and long-gone L’Artisan Vanilia. I want a Cheap Thrill Vanilla, not something I have to hunt down, pay through the nose for, and mourn when there are no longer any dregs to be found.
I started this post in late 2016 and then held off publishing it while I did more research and tried more vanilla scents. I may now have found my vanilla, though: CocoaPink, an independent fragranced-body-care maker that I originally found on Etsy, that now seems to have its own website, produces a wide variety of fragrances and leans heavily on the foody ones. I tried a good dozen of theirs, either secondhand from other fumeheads or ordered directly from the site, in either oil format and alcohol-based, and a couple of them I tried in both formats. There is a lonnnnnng list of vanilla scents there. Many of them were too sweet for my taste, but I came up with a couple of contenders.
The winner? CocoaPink’s version of Spiriteuse Double Vanilla (description from the website: Based on Guerlain’s famous vanilla. This duplication is high quality and made with notes of pure vanilla, real benzoin extract, frankincense, spices, cedar, pink pepper, bergamot, and ylang-ylang) mixed with their version of Tihota (website description: essence of pure, unadulterated sugared vanilla beans with a soft hint of musk), to create a thing they call Triple Vanilla Dream. It’s got the deep, rich, long-lasting complexity of vanilla extract that I’d been longing for, yet with the simplicity of straight-up vanilla, and it lasts for hours on me. Bonus: that sucka is cheap — 10ml for less than a double sawbuck and 60ml for a half-C-note, both in “Smell me across town” strength.
I liked it in both alcohol and oil formats, but I’m strongly tempted to get it in their Voluptuous Body Butter, because a) the body butter is super-emollient and lovely, and b) again, you can get the big 4.75 oz tub for way less than $20.
For further reading about vanilla fragrances, check these out:
Best Vanilla perfumes, Perfume Posse (list of noteworthy vanilla scents)
The Vanilla Series, Perfume Shrine (four lists by category, and an overview)
The Candy Perfume Boy’s Guide to Vanilla (eight vanilla scents to explore)
See also my Sexy Cake post from 2010 for more on the subject of man-pleasing fragrances.