This is a little bit of a meander through the new L’Artisan Havana Vanille as well as perfumedom´s vanilla fields (although not Vanilla Fields), so if vanilla scents don´t interest you, you might as well move on, nothing to see here today. Can you tell I´m looking forward to fall?
I was an early, frequent opposer of all perfume things gourmand and particularly things vanilla. I love to bake, and yet wearing anything that smelled like I´d dabbed on vanilla extract seemed bizarre to me. Who wants to smell like a vanilla cupcake? (Lots of people, apparently.) Judging by the ever-changing shelves at Sephora, we seem to have move on past the worst of the Vanilla Heresies, when they had three different lines of vanilla crap, including Laurence Dumont, LaVanilia and something else… in addition to a lot of vanillic CSPs. And the vanilla was often combined with some other note that made it just that much more terrifying, like citron, or maple. Or raspberry. Or mothball, or salmon. (Okay, joking about those last two.) Collectively, in concept and execution, they gave me the dry heaves.
Then I discovered Givenchy Organza Indecence, which was one of those scents people were always waxing poetic about. It´s either been re-released or the distribution is increased, but when I was looking for it, it was darn difficult to find. (I thought it had been d/c´d but have been told several times that´s incorrect.) Whatever; I whined on here long enough that someone graciously hooked me up with a sample, at which point I started plotting immediately on how to get my hands on a bottle. Because it was pretty clear I was going to wear the hell out of that stuff, and I have.
Organza Indecence is technically a more woody/spicy scent than a true vanilla, but its drydown is vanillic enough on me that I began to see the vanilla potential there. This prompted further adventures in the land of high-end vanillas, where I was hoping to avoid the too-sweet vanillin Curse of Sephora (did you know artificial vanilla is made from wood pulp, a paper industry byproduct? Yum, dig in.)
Results were varied. Indult Tihota is lovely but I couldn´t see the point; too extract-y. Lann-Ael I alternate between loving and loathing, but it´s the apple/cereal bit that grates, not vanilla. The high mark (?) of vanilla perfume fetish-dom in my opinion is Guerlain´s Spiritueuse Double Vanille, a dark, smoky vanilla which I would own a bottle of except: a) the price is ridiculous, b) it would last me a thousand years and c) having discovered that what I really love about SDV is the smoke/vanilla combo, I can whip up my own by dabbing Bonfire or Burning Leaves on top of another vanilla scent, creating one of my favorite winter standbys. PdN Vanille Tonka was an epic FAIL for reasons that still elude me, but I think is the tonka. I still need to try the Micallef, I bet I´d like it. And finally, the L´Artisan Vanilia I waffle between wanting a decant of and finding it gets on my nerves after a few hours.
Bringing us FINALLY to L´Artisan´s Havana Vanille. It was done by Bertrand Duchaufour and is grouped in their travel series with Dzongkha, Bois Farine, Timbuktu and Fleur de Liane, of which Duchaufour did all but Farine. Notes are rum, clove, dried fruits, narcissus, tonka bean, helichrysum, vanilla, smoked woods, moss and balsamic notes according to Robin at Now Smell This, who kindly sent me a sample thinking I´d like it, and I´m going to link right here to her great review.
And now I have to tell two stories on myself, both of which pertain to Havana Vanille. First off: when I read Duchaufour did it, I was not overly enthused, because with a couple of exceptions most of his work for L´Artisan, including the travel series, are not my favorites, and we will leave it at that. He has an earth/spicebox style exemplified by, for example, Timbuktu and his Eau d´Italie creations that I find both interesting and personally unwearable.
Second, my mind is a sieve and somehow when the sample arrived I had convinced myself that this was a new Hermessence scent (come on, how funny is that?), and that didn´t really delight me either. Why? Because I don´t love most of the Hermessences- the ones I like are too evanescent, and the powerful ones are pretty much scrubbers. So although I´d changed the perfume house mentally I was still skeered; I sprayed it on meditatively and waited for some horrible melon note to emerge and smother me.
So, March … THAT IS ALL FASCINATING, HOW IS THE HAVANA VANILLE ALREADY?!?!? Well, I am still thinking. The first impression is: vanilla, but not a foody one, and yessssssss!!!!! Then, and I can´t help wondering if this is my Hermessence mindset, we go through a brief five-minute phase where I smell something like bananamelon on top of the vanilla, and the scent comes dangerously close to reminding me of – yes! my bananamelon nemesis, Hermessence Vanille Galante! – a scent which many perfumistas love and which you may recall made me want to hack my own arm off to get away from. I didn´t hate it as much as Mousson, which I loathe so virulently I refused to file my sample so as to avoid ever making the mistake of smelling it again, but it was close. Melon, banana or wet notes and vanilla is just … wrong.
Once we get past that, though, I am very happy. Havana Vanille is a not-too-sweet vanilla with a decidedly smoky edge to it (my daughter took one sniff and called it “burnt”) and that it is: burnt in two, no, three ways – the sharp smell of singed sugared vanilla, like the top of a crà¨me brulee, the smell of tobacco, and the smell of smoke itself.
Havana Vanille also reminds me a bit of Guerlain SDV, only it´s less dense and less … formal? (Also, scientists should study my skin; Havana lasts easily 36 hours on me.) SDV I have to watch not to overdose myself, like eating that last piece of chocolate and then wishing you hadn´t. The tobacco note is definitely there in Havana, along with the rum, but they´re both so integrated into the scent that I can pick them out looking for them, but I´m not thinking “man, this thing is boozy.”
French speakers: shouldn’t this be Havane Vanille? Or Havana Vainilla? Just curious. I feel like we’re mixing languages.
In the final analysis, if anyone´s read this far: vanilla fragrances only work for me if there´s something non-edible about them. I want my vanillas woody, or spicy, or leathery, or smoky. Like SDV and Organza Indecence, Havana Vanille showcases the soothing seductive smell of vanilla by adding something entirely different and non-foody to frame it. I haven´t really felt the need to add another vanilla to the fix I generally get from Indecence, Demeter Egg Nog (seriously, a rocking vanilla/spice scent I can´t resist mentioning; try it with Bonfire if you want smoke) and occasional hits of SDV, but this is different enough I´m pretty sure I need at least a generous decant, and maybe a bottle. People who´ve shied away from vanilla on the ugh-too-sweeeet theory (looking at you, Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille!) might want to check this out.