Vanilla Perfume and Smoke

Vanilla perfume - smoky vanillaIn my fragrance journeys I´ve had a chance to consider and reconsider my relationship with all sorts of individual notes in perfume. My carefully constructed belief system regarding vanilla as a dominant note in vanilla perfume is: no thanks. Vanilla people are different from you and me (well, me, anyway). Vanilla people swoon over the lower circles of gourmand hell in Sephora, spraying each other with those Maison de la Vanille and/or Lavanila scents and moaning with pleasure. I disapprove. If you´re going to be into fragrance, man up already. Get yourself a decant of some fragrance that, if you spilled it on your floor, you´d have to tear the house down.

My idiotic view of vanilla perfume is triggered by two things:

1) I love desserts. I bake, and there are few dessert recipes that are not improved by some good-quality vanilla. Unless you have a pie-baking granny or aunt Ethel, I bake the best sweet potato pie you will ever taste. But I want to eat my dessert vanilla, not wear it.

2) Most vanilla-driven scents seem not only too sweeeeet but sort of plasticky – it´s one of those notes that can carry a whiff of overheated hair dryer on my skin.

In general, then, if a fragrance has vanilla as part of its title in any language, and/or it´s supposed to be all about the vanilla, I avoid it. Well, except for…

Guerlain Spiritueuse Double Vanille, which was the start of the transformation. Yeah, there´s that V-word in the title, and Guerlain has a lot of vanilla in their scents anyway, often buried under something else (preferably something nasty). I´m a Guerlain lover but I´ve been mad at the house for awhile, none of L’art et la Matiere having done a thing for me until I was seduced by Iris Ganache, and I knew I´d try Double Vanille eventually.

As everyone has already blogged, Spiritueuse Double Vanille is stunning. One of the most frequent comments I read about it goes something like, I don´t really like vanilla, but… which prompts my question: how do you avowed vanilla-lovers feel about this? Is this a vanilla perfume only for vanilla-haters? Spiritueuse is vanilla, benzoin, frankincense, spices, cedar, pink pepper, bergamot, Bulgarian rose and ylang-ylang. The key to its success is its wisp of smoke – like you wore vanilla to the bonfire – and a hit of something boozy, not in a nasty mulled-wine way, more like a seriously spiked whisky eggnog. The result is a very sophisticated, adult vanilla, not remotely foody. It´s heaven. My only complaint is the smokiness fades sooner than I´d like, so I´m doing what a bunch of you are already doing and layering it with CB I Hate Perfume Burning Leaves.

Bois 1920 Sushi Imperiale is another key to my conversion. For reasons I´m still not clear on, the first three or four tries I got a nice vanilla perfume. I kept trying, and eventually I got the delicious spicefest (notes are citrus, pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla) that the rest of you are getting. It´s more linear, less expensive-smelling, stronger and more gourmand than the Guerlain, but it´s spicy enough to retain interest and not especially foody. It too layers nicely with Burning Leaves.

Having fallen in love with the vanilla/smoke combo, I rooted around in the sample drawers to see what else I might play with. Unsurprisingly, I don´t own a lot of vanilla perfume, even in samples. But I can attest that layering Burning Leaves with Lolita Lempicka L (that´s the immortelle/vanilla one in the little mermaid bottle, not the anise one) is a great combo. I like L a lot, but the immortelle fades away too quickly and then that vanilla base sticks around like a drunk at a party. I can´t keep reapplying because eventually L would kill me. Throwing Burning Leaves on top gives me something interesting to sniff.

I also dug up Indult Tihota, which I think a lot of you vanilla freaks really like. The notes are vanilla and musk, and I know it´s done by Francis Kurkdjian, and the musk helps, but apparently I wouldn´t wear it if you gave it to me, which Patty did months ago for a review, and I haven´t touched it since. It´s a really nicely done, rich vanilla scent that for me undergoes a vast improvement with some smoke on top.

After playing these smoky vanilla games with CB Burning Leaves, I ordered up a Humongous Mini of Demeter Bonfire. Bonfire´s nice – it really suffers only in direct arm-to-arm comparison with CB, so if you want to play the smoky vanilla game, you can buy a ½ oz mini for five bucks (or 1 oz. for $20, am I doing that math right? That seems …. wrong) vs. the CB Burning Leaves for $55 (although I note CB himself also has a 15ml of something called Bonfire absolute for $25, which I really should try….) … um, where was I? Demeter´s Bonfire starts off with a brief, sweet note I don´t like (must be the “maple” part of the maple-leaf bonfire) and its scent is a little more generic – vaguely Liquid Smoke, if you will, whereas Burning Leaves is more complex, with that heartbreaking drydown I´ve blogged on before, a drydown that is just a big ol´ leafpile, one of those signature smells of childhood for those of us lucky enough to have grown up with leaf piles (and I´m ancient enough to be able to remember when you could still burn your leaves.) In conclusion: if you´ve been looking for a way to liven up a vanilla scent and/or make it less sweet, vanilla and smoke is a pretty unbeatable combo.

What didn’t work out: using my vintage Kolnisch Juchten as the smoky part of the scent. I love KJ and its wacky smoked-sausage/leather cologne smell, but layered with vanilla perfume I got a bratwurst and kraut served a la mode with Breyer’s Old Fashioned Vanilla, and please feel free to learn from my mistake and don’t try this.

Two more complex vanilla perfume I tried recently which I really like:

First, Annick Goutal Vanille Exquise, which I am pretty sure is not universally loved (or maybe some love?), with words like “bitter” and “sour” popping up like mushrooms in negative reviews. Notes are: vanilla, angelica, almond, benzoin, gaiac, and musk. I like Vanille Exquise for two reasons. First, I like the AG line in general, and Vanille Exquise is very Annick – it has that signature aridity and a touch of vermouth-like bitterness. Second, for a vanilla, this is about as non-edible as you can get. Vanille Exquise elevates vanilla to a decorative quasi-floral, its job being to brighten the funky angelica note; the bezoin and gaiac give the fragrance a gloriously smoky, woody facet. If vanilla could be a dry cocktail, this is it.

Another excellent vanilla perfume that turned up in my weird bottle swap was Lostmarc´h Lann-Ael, and Gail, I totally understand why you kept bringing this magical thing up and finally gave up and sent me some. Holy moley! Notes are cereals, milky notes, apple and vanilla. I admit to the fragrance sin of spending exactly zero time with this line, which is from Brittany, the names allegedly being Breton for various things, but they (sorry again!) strike me as a bit twee. Well, I´m a fool. They can call this fragrance Vanilla Spam and I´d still wear it. It´s not listed in the notes but – alert! alert! – this scent opens with a note that is very immortelle-ish. Not the Log Cabin in Hell immortelle note, mind you, but that intoxicating solar-pollen-pepper-hay-seaside-musk smell that makes me weak at the knees. There are no spice notes listed but I smell some in there; perhaps the “immortelle” is a trick combo of, say, fenugreek and the apple? BTW all you people who read “apple” and think ruh roh – I´m smelling sweet farina, sort of; there´s a spiced vanilla sweetness but no obvious fruit note at all that I can detect. My favorite part of this fragrance is the first 45 minutes with the spiced hot cereals, after which I either reapply to send myself skyward again, or give up and add some smoke. Either way, lovers of cereals, immortelle and/or vanilla might want to give this a sniff.

So, there you have it. While I haven´t exactly come around to the whole vanilla-cupcake fragrance concept, I´ve figured out how to add vanilla perfume to my comfort-scent lineup.

Your turn. Given what I like, are there other nonfoody vanillas I should try? Other than PdN Vanille Tonka, which I would rather stab my hand with a fork than ever smell again? Don´t be shy, I´m not judgmental. Also, are there other related vanille aperfume two-note combos I should consider? Vanilla-leather I didn´t really love. Also, how else can I play with the smoke? Smoke and jasmine was okay but not as fabulous as I thought it might be, but then again I like my jasmine in the summer. Have any of you parsed the finer points of the various smoke options CB has? (Demeter´s Holy Smoke is an excellent scent, but it´s more the inside of a stone church with incense). Finally, Elle – if I´ve embraced even this small corner of the world of vanilla perfume, will you ever speak to me again?

89 Comments
Gina November 30, 2007

Forgive me if I repeat what someone has already mentioned...I do eventually read most of the comments, but my head starts to spin and my credit card gets itchy when I see all the things I want to try, so I have to stop. I love Hermessences's Vetiver Tonka. I just LOVE it, and I am not really a big vanilla fan. I have a dear friend who's crazy about anything vanilla (to her credit, she also loves a lot of the things I wear, even the most bizarre -NK Incense, (thanks to Ellen!), for example), she wears Tihota, and I think it works on her. I wouldn't wear it but I do like it on her. You guys are killing me with the Burning Leaves, damn, I'm going to have to have some of that. Back to the vanilla, I also love Un Bois Vanille by Serge, though I don't wear it much. I can handle vanilla with some smoke or woods.

Annette November 30, 2007

I am new to this site but must say have enjoyed reading over old posts by March, Patty and others. Recent notes have inspired me to try out new fragrances. I have been guilty of buying perfume without samples, had to rectify that after buying CK Euphoria. I'm ready to Man up! Vanilla has always been a favorite of mine. I purchased a sample of RH Amber Vanilla, yuck, thank God I had Tide handy, smelled like the arse end of some barn yard animal on me. Bois 1920 Sushi Imperiale is fabulous though! I'm thankful for all the recommendations ya'll make.The reviews are gread reading. Can't wait to discuss the December scents!

Rita November 30, 2007

It's nice to be back, my computer has been giving me a fit all week. I don't wear vanilla much(and no smoke for me thanks-I'm now a smoker and need perfume to cover the smoke), I wear Shalimar every once in a while and I kind of like SL Un Bois Vanille, but don't often reach for it. I have wanted to try the Double Vanille for a long time though, it's about time to break down and make a visit to the Perfumed Court. I have been trying so hard to control the spending, but I'm having withdrawals...I did give in to the Chanel Fragrance set with the 3.5ml parfums the other day(the white box looks great on my shelf), and never having tried ANY of the Chanels in pure parfum, I am quite happy with my investment-mmm No 5 and Coco. I can't believe I've never really given Coco a chance. Bad perfumista!, bad!, bad!. And March, your package is finally on its way, I apologize for the delay but it's been a hectic week around here. I included something else Robby made for you so hopefully it will be worth the wait, and were both curious if you will like it!

Kathleen November 29, 2007

Another vanilla/smoke possibility would be Habanita. That also includes an "evil baby powder" note. Personally, I'm in the "love-vanilla-but-don't-want-to-smell-like-a cupcake-but-am- strangely-open-to-evil-baby-powder"camp. Favorites are: L'Artisan, Annick Goutal, Guerlain SDV.

luv_bug November 29, 2007

My favorite vanilla has been Bulgari Black for quite some time. Foody? No. Smoky? Definitely. Of course, it's also got a deliberate plastic-ness to it that I personally adore, but then I like a little light spanking now and then, too. ;)

Lee November 29, 2007

I'm sorry if my post of yesterday caused any problems for people accessing the blog today. I've deleted it to tidy the place up.

Solander November 29, 2007

I haven't tried the Guerlain, but to me vanilla plus smoke doesn't sound like a very good idea... I think the reason is mainly some very heady, very sweet vanilla/smoke combos that make me a little sick, like some cheap perfume oils on the theme and, of course, Patch 24. But I can't even imagine a good vanilla/smoke combo, if I try to think of it dry and airy and non-sweet it still seems wrong to me. Perhaps the vanilla/incense of Angelique Encens is the closest I get to liking that combo, and I still find it a bit "cheap" and over-the-top, and besides it's not really smoky anyway. I'd happily wear pure vanilla as a perfume, the spice that is, but I haven't yet encountered a perfume that really captures it...

Bluechile (Cathy) November 29, 2007

I like vanilla when it's mixed with some spice or incense, so layering it with smoke sounds like a great idea and I'll track down some CB Burning Leaves. I'm fond of L'Artisan Vanilla, Shalimar, and Dior's Addict (**waves hello to sarah patton**), so I guess I like vanillas that aren't foody, if that isn't a contradiction.

Erin T November 29, 2007

I like the L'Artisan if it's carefully sprayed - certainly sweet, but not too foody, somewhat floral and natural-smelling in small doses. I like MPG Fleurs des Comores, too, sort of like a Vanilia for sultry evenings. I also confess to liking Kenzo Amour, after some of the weird synthetic cherry blossom (or whatever that is) burns off. On the other hand, I can't believe you liked the Lann-Ael! I got muselei (or however you spell it) and my best friend said "Peach Melba!" Interesting, but entirely unwearable for me. Oh well, we're still friends. :) Haven't had my Sushi Imperiale conversion yet, either, so I'm not sure whether to try SDV...

tmp00 November 29, 2007

I'm actually not big on vanilla period. Not even in food. I think I OD'd on it as a kid- our grandfather lived with us and he was the one to choose the dessert we would serve. It would inevitably be vanilla something. I think spiriteuse got me with the booze and that touch of skank. Sounds like a movie, doesn't it? With LoHo? "That Touch of Skank"

Robin November 29, 2007

*weeps for Vanille Tonka*

Judith November 29, 2007

Well, like you, I love to eat dessert but hate to wear it. Unlike you, I LOVE Vanille Tonka (in fact, so far, it's the only vanilla scent I really like at all). While I can see the beauty of the Guerlain, the only time I tried it I found it too sweet and cloying (on me, at least; the same goes for Iris Ganache). I find Tihota lovely, but don't really want to wear it. I do need to start experimenting with more smoke in these (whatever samples I have, anyway). I have a lot of the Burning Leaves water perfume, so that shouldn't be difficult. I am going to have to try the Sushi and the silly-named thing (Lost March whatever) after hearing so much about them. . .

Divalano November 29, 2007

March .... *one of us one of us one of us* ;) What great timing. I'm sitting here contemplating the patch of Lutens Un Bois Vanille that I dabbed on my arm before bed last night & again this AM on waking. I like vanilla if it's not sugary sweet, esp as a bedtime scent. My bf loves vanilla & will actually swoon under the right circumstance. So, do the math, you can see why I'd want to find *good* vanillas. BF & I both liked L'A Vanille. I scored a tiny bottle on Ebay but once I got it felt like it was too ... I dunno. Girlie? Froufrou? Innocent? Floral? I also mixed it w Burning Leaves. That helped but wasn't perfect. As of last night I was thinking maybe I should put the tiny little bottle up for swap & snag a bottle of the Lutens before the Beautyhabit sale ends. I have what, a few hrs, right? heh You inspired me to hit the other side of my Bois wrist w Burning Leaves & now it's perfect. My credit card is wincing in my wallet, thankyouverymuch, ma'am. (re Burning Leaves. I have the water perfume, my friend B has the absolute. She finds mine sweeter, hers smokier. I haven't smelled hers) Oh, & I'm trying like mad to swap for Kolnisch Juchten so that I can play w it before my next trip to SF where I hear it is sold in back alleys by witches or something. I think you need a password, right? Taking notes: don't mix w vanilla. Right. What we didn't like: AG Vanille Exquise. It's nice but goes a bit candy almond on me. I loved SMN Vaniglia but bf finds it "sharp" & I can only wear it solo, no seduction value=no full bottle. Tihota was a gorgeous vanilla but smelled like something to eat. It got swapped. I am still afraid of the bergamot factor in SDV so I haven't sniffed. Yet. I am taking notes from everyone's list here for future research :)

sarah patton November 29, 2007

Ok, now I must speak up at last and put in a word for Vanilla. I love vanilla (and I love to bake) but of course I'm not a fan of the horrible Sephora stuff, especially the nauseous Comptoir Sud. When I like something I usually discover that there is a bit of vanilla in there somewhere. I've always liked Shalimar and fell head over heels for the smoky vanilla of Guerlain Spiritueuse -- ordered on name alone. The sad fact is that no one, and I mean no one, likes it on me. At the gym the other day a friend said I smelled like a Sugar Daddy and then in a way that was meant to be funny but really was too direct, she said "Sarah, that smell is awful. You just put too much of all that stuff on." My children also loathe the Spirituese on me. A secret vanilla that never gets mentioned because it must be really lowly is Dior Addict. I love it although i've moved on to bigger and better things and I always get compliments on it. I loved my sample of Lempicka L and spotted it at Loeman's for cheap price but fear that it will bring back the Sugar Daddy complaint.

jennifer November 29, 2007

All I can say is get ahold of Organza Indencence. A delicious spicy smoky vanilla.

sweetlife November 29, 2007

Vanilla is one of those notes where my imagination runs away with me and makes it difficult to appreciate the loveliness of what's in front of me. I have a vanilla in my head that has more sawdust and cardboard in it, and that hits me in my nose instead of that benzoin note that seems to pop up so often, the one I can feel in the back of my throat (lots of benzoin in the "Rykiel--not for men!" but it's tempered). However I recently received some vanilla samples (unasked for) so I've been experimenting. I like L'Artisan vanilla, especially when its layered with Tea for Two, which is smoky and spicy and might be up your alley, March. Off to try it with incense, now. Montale's White Oud is a kind of unadvertised vanilla, and the oud wipes out the glottal quality I'm talking about above. What do you think of Lutens' Bois Vanille?

Lee November 29, 2007

Vanilla + smoke (and a secret dash of embrocation) = Patchouli 24. I'm trying to decide if I *need* SDV, given my love of Bois d'Armenie... I have a sample, and I'm loving it, but not yet into adoration...

Devon November 29, 2007

After reading posts above, I tried CB Wild Hunt w/Eau de Merveilles and like it v. much. It's great to get new ideas on layering and voila you have a new fragrance. Memoire Liquide's Ambre Ancien (warm amber incense, warm woods and a touch of vanilla as they describe it) is a straight up fave of mine that comes to mind here.

donanicola November 29, 2007

Yep, I'm one of those whose appreciation of vanilla is new and post dates sniffing the Guerlain which I adore and am lemming badly. It encouraged me to try the Annick Goutal which again I was surprised to find I liked. March, may I please second Louise and ask you to try VT again? First time I tried was before SDV so wasn't predisposed anyway plus it was a warm day. Not good. I tried it again recently when it was cold and it worked beautifully. It's no replacement for SDV but it distracts me for a while.....

perfumequeen November 29, 2007

I think I'm the misfit here. I hated Guerlain's Spirit DV! The boze was enough to knock me out and fail a breathalizer. I am so sad.

Kayliana November 29, 2007

If you think Guerlain's Spirit DV is great you should try Micallef's Note Vanille. They are alexactly alike, in fact they have almost the same notes in them. Yet I find the Micallef's to be a little less smokey and a tad sweeter. It's still got all the booze and some smoke, but it's more ladylike. God, it really is to die for. I've said it on a couple of other sites and I'll say it again, it's probably the best stuff I've ever smelled. And I've already smelled too much :-)

Helen T November 29, 2007

I like Vanilla as a base note but definitely not in a sickly sweet, BBW or Body Shop way. I love the Guerlain, I was lucky enough to win it a few weeks back in one of the draws and absolutely adoring it. Its warm and buttery and I just want to bury my nose in it all the time!

Sariah November 29, 2007

Good morning. What's sweet farina? I love vanilla as a base note, it's such a staple of so many classics and modern scents. Classics like Jicky, Shalimar and Farnesiana. New stuff like Bond #9 West Side, lots of SL's, Kenzo Amour to name a few favorites. I'm probably in the minority here liking the popular vanilla patchouli combo, like in Prada and Laura Tonatto Plaisir. Vanilla and smoke sounds perfect, must try that SDV.

Marina November 29, 2007

"Man up already". LOL! The only vanillas I like are SMN Vaniglia, Rich Hippie Psychedelic, Nicolai Vanille Tonka, Guerlain SDV and the one whose name I dare not speak. ...which is to say, I like quite a few vanillas, how scary! I need to man up. *drops Human Existence sample on the floor* :d

MattS November 29, 2007

I'm not generally not that drawn to vanilla scents. Unless they have something else really interesting worked in, they usually seem to smell like hand lotion from the mall to me. I always feel like I get a hint of some sweet vanilla somewhere along the way with Burning Leaves and that's usually enough for me. Louise has my interest with the MdM/Avignon-Vanilla thing and she may have inspired my scent for the day.

Mimmimmim November 29, 2007

I really like both Guerlain Shalimar and Boucheron Trouble. Shalimar is the naughty, dirty granny and Trouble the simpler, well-behaved granddaughter. I wear Trouble when I want something sweet but can't face Shalimar's complexity. (I love jasmine, too, and to me Trouble is all vanilla and jasmine.)

Louise November 29, 2007

Vanilla has mixed effects on me. Sometimes I don't mind smelling like a cookie (hey, it could be a pickle), and dab a little Vanille Noire du Mexique-it is smokey, if sweet. Last night I put a little Vanille Tonka on-and still smell the incense. Maybe you should give it another spin-I remember it was soooo not good on you in August, but it smells very different on me in the cold weather. Be strong...I may request that you try it at the end of a visit, though. Another vanillish scent that I got for about 28 cents online is Rykiel Woman (not for men!)-stupid name, but it is like Barbara Bui on strong meds-good for me, since BB is so light. There's a lot of vanilla, very dry, and incense, wood. Free trial-yours for the asking. Another to try is Montale's Boise Vanille-but it goes through a major BO moment on it's way to dry vanilla (I think it's a cedar note-and now that you like FdB, don't want to spoil that). CB's Bonfire works very well for layering with all kinds of stuff, and is way cheaper than Burning Leaves. I have small vat awaiting sample donations. The other best combo for me is incense-not original, but sometimes I just need more. A very light spray of MdM (or avignon, etc.) is beautiful with most any vanilla.

hausvonstone November 29, 2007

Phoo - SDV smells like boring Vanilla Pudding on me. I love Burning Leaves, so maybe I'll throw that on today. Funny, this reminds me of when I was trying to make Flower Oriental by layering Flower and Norma Kamali incense. The NK ate the Kenzo for lunch. I'm surprised the Burning Leaves doesn't leave wasteland behind it. Oh, and Lann-Ael (was formerly excited by) makes me feel like I just dipped my arm in a big bowl of goopy instant Quaker Oats!!! Ha! enjoy...

dinazad November 29, 2007

Winter Delice has vanilla? I never noticed, and I love and adore Winter Delice..... As a rule, vanilla as a note makes me cringe before I put nose to bottle. But there are exceptions, of course - Montale Amandes Orientales, for instance. Pointy-teethed, wild and a bit skanky (there's a distinct tiger pee note) vanilla stalking her prey in the jungle. I think you'd like that one, March!

Maria November 29, 2007

Winter Delice has vanilla in it, and it's beautiful, but more about my current madness during the club discussion next month. 8-} I combine CB Burning Leaves with many things. With Wild Hunt it's fabulous. The Fourth of July I combined it with two other CB, Russian Caravan Tea and In the Library. Excellent results. I have CB Faggot that I've never seen anyone other than Patty list. It's similar to Burning Leaves but less sweet and less long lasting. I would like to try some of CB's smoke accords. BTW, I recently wore Burning Leaves with Eau des Merveilles because I love bonfires on the beach.

Catherine November 29, 2007

I avoid vanilla. The cheap-vanilla smell is probably why. If OJ would make a vanilla, I'd snap it up unsniffed. A recent discovery has sent me to my knees: Roja Dove "Unspoken." If I remember correctly, you received a sample for the weird bottle swap. I encourage putting it on. The vanilla comes in the drydown, and it is to die for. The whole thing is to die for, but I'm only supposed to talk about vanilla right now.:"> I don't know perfume well enough to discern notes clearly, but vanilla-incense is all I can think, groaning in satisfaction, as I sniff it 3+ hours in.

Elle November 29, 2007

LOL! The *only* note I don't think I will ever be able to tolerate in a scent is c*l*r*. I have this awkward fondness for making hyperbolic statements occasionally (well, maybe more than occasionally), so it can *sound* like I loathe, detest, etc. a note when I actually may have tons of exceptions to the rule. :-) I've gone in and out of vanilla love for years. The ones I've always been drawn to are the ones w/ a twist. I still really enjoy AG Vanilla Exquise and someone over at TPC can tell you that only yesterday I snapped up a partial bottle of SMN's Vaniglia. :-) It has some great woodsy, smoky notes in it - a complex, adult vanilla. I also still really enjoy Cuir Beluga and RH Amber Vanilla. And, like you, I love to layer vanilla w/ smoke scents. I also layer it w/ some wood scents. Well, I used to. I don't detest it, but I really don't find myself reaching for vanilla scents all that often any longer. I think it's just my gypsy nose. I can't settle down to any one scent or group of scents and I truly do crave complexity in scents...except for when I want simple scents to balance out all the uber complex scents. :-)