What is the best Vanilla Perfume? It strikes fear into my black – anything but vanilla – little heart just thinking about doing all the sniffing research necessary to classify these into best vanilla, most gourmand vanilla, kinda sucky vanilla.
The loyalty perfumistas that love vanilla have to their favorite is frightening. I know this one is going to leave a couple of marks, but I’ve girded myself, and I’m just going to plunge right in.
You can sass me back if you disagree up to and including calling me a… Vanilla Cretin. (I’d rather you not, but I’m okay if you feel you have to.)
Rules again for how I picked my comprehensive guide to the best vanilla perfumes, the worst vanilla perfumes, and the in-between vanilla perfumes – must be vanilla centric, more vanilla gourmand, not vanilla oriental, though I’ve got some overlap. I eliminated some perfumes I know I’ll get told I should have put in, but, you know, those will have to be in the Oriental perfume review probably taking place in 2014’ish.
I’m a lot overwhelmed when I think of vanilla perfumes. At first I was thinking, oh, yeah, a few, Serge Lutens Un Bois Vanille, a Montale or two, L’Artisan, Guerlain, Micaleff and… and… and… then it occurred to me how many vanilla perfumes there are and that I must be even more insane to tackle this than I was the rose perfume post.
I started out pretty much hating – or thinking I hated – vanilla perfume and only came around to them after the appearance of Guerlain Spiritueuse Double Vanille and Le Labo Vanille 44. I hit the brakes hard on my vanilla hate then, backed up, ran over a couple more vanilla perfumes I thought I hated, and then started picking up those abandoned vanillas sitting by the side of the road and sniffing at them in earnest. Life is a strange journey, yes? Ah, but March went on the same one, with some different stops and I think a different conclusion (see far, far below), but that darn Guerlain Spiritueuse is at the center of both. Evil thing.
But I love a challenge, and sanity has never been my strong suit, so let’s just dig in!
There is a comfort in vanilla perfumes that few other things can provide, and in some rotation, they are completely perfect, especially as the fall creeps up on us, with mornings retaining more and more chill. If you saw the title of this post and thought – Woo-hoo, vanilla! Now she’s finally getting around to the good stuff!! – hey, maybe it’s time to try something besides vanilla, ya think? Vanilla can skew incredibly young, and it can be overpowering and intense, cloying to the point of people clawing for air. You may love it, but as I can attest after putting on about 40 vanilla perfumes over the past few days, in between multiple showers, not everyone does, and too much can literally make people ill. Listen, the nausea did pass after a couple of hours and some fresh air, but I will never recommend anyone roll through 40 or more vanilla perfumes in three days. I can do it because I’m familar with most of these and just needed a teeny drop as a refresher.
What is magical about vanilla is its power to comfort. If Jasmine is narcotic, vanilla is the scent of love, warmth and caring. Is it because it’s a scent we remember from childhood and our moms baking? I used to think that, but I remember when I first baked with my mom’s help, I got on my little stool and pulled out the Watkins vanilla from the cabinet, and I opened it and had to put down my measuring spoons. I swear, my eyes rolled back in my head and I sighed. I’ve never been able to pass by a bottle of vanilla without huffing on it like it was a crack pipe. I keep vanilla pods around for baking, opening them carefully and scraping out the vanilla beans for ice cream or some other tasty baking treat, but I don’t really care about that all natural crap, I just want the smell. I’ve been guilty of opening them and scraping them just to get my vanilla fix.
They always say vanilla is the scent to wear that men view as sexay. This concerns me a lot. If it’s reminding them of mom and childhood and baking, and this is what they find sexually arousing – um, Dude, Oedipus much? If that just means you get the warm fuzzies and get all relaxed and cuddly, then okay, no judgment here. I’m all about comfort being a precursor to getting ramped up for fun.
Vanilla Perfume to Wear if you Want to smell like a Cupcake with LOTS of Frosting
Cupcake Perfumes – you want to smell like a Vanilla Ho-Ho with extra vanilla frosting on top, then dipped in vanilla ice cream, not that there’s anything wrong with that. At the top of this list is Aquolina Pink Sugar. This is the vanilla badass all vanillas owe their life to – well, maybe. Comptoir Sud Pacifique, pioneered the fine art of smelling like a BIG VANILLA CUPCAKE with Vanille Abricot, didn’t they? I’m not averse to Pink Sugar or CSP Vanille Abricot, but they take a level of commitment I don’t think I possess most days, and they should come with some kind of warning label. There are probably a bazillion vanilla fragrances in the mainstream arena that you can pick from if you like this version of vanilla, so I’m not going to list them. These two pretty much sum them up and are I think the best of the Cupcakes. But I can’t talk about vanilla perfume without a nod to Thierry Mugler Angel. It’s more about chocolate, patchouli, caramel and burnt dessert that has cleared out an entire restaurant, but I think of it, at its heart, as a vanilla perfume. It is in the base, and that’s what gives it serious skeerage (this is the very big version of sillage). Though I’ve learned to love some of the parfum/extrait versions of Angel when I apply just a drop, I am in no way taking back my hate of the regular version of Angel.
A couple of others that are variations on the cupcake theme – Kenzo Amour Le Amour, straight up cherry vanilla over amber and rice, and Dior Hypnotic Poison is the jasnilla cuddly version of Poison, which earns it a spot, um, somewhere? Bath & Body Works Vanilla Noir, I think it’s discontinued, but it’s the only vanilla from BB&W that I can tolerate for a minute without screaming and running to the shower, and I did want to list a few Vanilla-zillas for those of you that like your vanilla to be pure, straight and take no prisoners while it remakes you into a frosted dessert. With all of these big Cupcake Perfumes –
restraint is the key skill to master.
Lolita Lempicka L de Lolita is also getting thrown up here. Well, because I pretty much hate it, though I shouldn’t. It’s a vanilla flower with some immortelle pancake syrup thrown over the top. That should be the only warning you need. You may love it at first, but overdose on it, and you will be forever horrified at the smell. It’s the only perfume I’ve had people ask me to please wash off. This in a household that still hasn’t batted an eye at me smelling like an industrial bakery for the last three days.
Van Cleef & Arpels Orchidee Vanille is expensive cupcake, and it’s light’ish on the frosting, but it is cupcake. L’Artisan Havana Vanille (now called Vanille Absolutement or something?) is rum-soaked bread pudding with vanilla cupcake. Profumum Aqua e Zucchero is major expensive cupcake with frosting and syrup drizzled on top. If you like your perfumes suhweeet! and cavity-inducing, this Profumum does it – and how! Now, it also is a little compelling for me, too, kind of like one of those Black Cow suckers or Sugar Daddys. Do they still make those? Now I want some. Thanks, Profumum, you suck! Now I’m craving Sugar Babies, Sugar Daddys and Black Cow suckers.
Serge Lutens Un Bois Vanille is a little cupcakey and a little not because the licorice starts snapping and popping with coconut sprinkles. I really want a cupcake that is just like this. Except eventually a little wood gremlin pops out of the cupcake and scares the shit out of me! So it went in this section, but that’s just the open, things may change in it. It still makes it completely charming and one of my top
three ten vanilla perfumes.
Montale Boise Vanille is sweet enough to be a little cupcake-ish on the open, but it’s got a nice woodsy quality to it that keeps it from getting too sweet, and it eventually settles into a not-sweet vanilla perfume (Yawn!). But it’s here because, well, I found the open sweet enough that I don’t want to scare anyone off when they first uncap it. You know, I really don’t like this one, and I think I used to, but now it’s boring. Other people do. I faaaaar prefer Montale Vanilla Extasy, which pretty much beats you over the head with sweet vanilla. Sorry, I don’t seem to have a middle ground, either like it barely vanilla or verging on a gagging vanilla mess. Vanilla Extasy is charming because it doesn’t pretend to be anything else, and it does that really well. There’s probably a couple hundred other Montale vanillas that I don’t even know about – talk about prolific vanillic perfuming! Indult Tihota is discontinued, and I shouldn’t even mention it, but it is a great vanilla – rich, full-throated vanilla, sweet enough if that’s your bag. I remember always wanting to hate it. Now it’s gone. I would have sworn I had a little bit around, but alas, it is definitely gone, and I miss it, and I’m going completely from memory.
Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille is not something I love at all, but lots of people do! So there you go. I liked it better early on, but it’s just so pushy! But if you like some vanilla-heavy perfume with lots of tobacco stuffed in, you probably should give this a quick go and see if it’s MFEO. It has lots of fans; it won’t miss me as a fan. i Profumi di Firenze Vaniglia del Madagascar was a hard one to place in a category. It feels pretty cupcakey to me, but it’s more like a silky cashmere cupcake. Ultimately I put it here because it is a strong enough vanilla that those that want their vanilla covered over with something else so they don’t have to smell so much vanilla would be horrified. Cupcake it is!
Parfumerie Generale anything vanilla – Tonkamande, Un Crime Exotique, Felanilla. I’ve been able to wear some Parfumerie Generale foodie vanilla scents in the past, but as I’m running mop-up on this post and note I don’t have one single thing from that line, when they actually do some great vanillas, but my blood sugar must be up over 600 with all the vanilla I’ve indulged in the last few days, and the thought of putting on one of his big-ass vanilla perfumes is just more than I can take. So cut me some slack. If you love big-ass vanilla perfumes with a side of cereal and that are guaranteed to have the half-life of Fermium-253 (about three days), grab 2-3 of these and have a ball!
Boozy cupcakes include Micallef Note Vanillee. She’s not only boozy, but she had too much to drink the night before and is having a hard time remembering what she did, but why does she have a pair of boxers and a paddle in her purse? There’s a nice smutty quality to Note Vanillee that puts this into the first known skanky vanilla category.
I know, who knew there could be such a thing?!?!?
Oh, Wait, Xerjoff Mamluk does it too, but in such a different way! It’s in another category at the bottom, but it could go up here, it’s just not a cupcake!
Drawback to writing this and Googling for Cupcake pictures? I am soooo hungry for cupcakes.
Vanilla perfume – hold the sugar, lay on the incense and smoke!
Now we are in my very favorite vanilla perfume category and the one that completely turned me around on vanilla scents. From the mainstream lilting bitter-tipping vanilla/incense/angelica combo of Annick Goutal Vanille Exquise to the choked smoked vanilla of Guerlain’s Spiritueuse Double Vanille, this is the section to find a vanilla if you don’t think you love vanilla or the only vanilla you’ve smelled has been from the category above. On the more economy scale, Vanille Exquise is lightly incensey and slightly bitter, really light on the vanilla, which made vanilla fans very angry when it was first released. Vanilla is there, but it’s tempered by the wood, angelica and incense – by tempered I mean threw some bitter at it until it went and shut the hell up and sat in the corner.
Atelier Vanille Insensee, provided you can get some friends to split that big vat, is another deliciously incensed vanille. With a lot less vanilla, and I probably shouldn’t even put it in this post, but Caron Parfum Sacre is a really scrumptious woody vanilla. I get the vanilla in this one really lightly, it lends a comfort, and maybe as an introduction to the vanilla-averse, it’s a good place to start!
Guerlain Tonka Imperiale sketches out Shalimar and goes on the gourmand side, the tonka velvety with tobacco, hay, smoke, gingerbread. Soivohle Vanillaville chuffs out smoke and leather and birch tar over the vanilla, and it is far less gourmand than probably everything else listed in this post. Hey, it’s a leather cupcake!!
L’Artisan Vanilia (now discontinued) is a gorgeous almost-not-vanilla that has this lovely amber/sandalwood combo that puts it in contention with the Goutal as the most easily wearable vanilla perfume when you don’t want to smell quite like a cupcake or much like vanilla. They just both take them out there in a whole new place while leaving it still comforting and lovely.
Mona Di Orio Les Nombres d’Or Vanille is a spicy smoky vanilla playground, a little boozy, and it is a completely different and unique take on vanilla. No Cupcake here, it’s a grown up vanilla, and an incredibly fine one.
Vanilla Perfume that Behaves Itself and Promises Not to Make you Smell Like You work in a Cake Factory
These are perfumes that wear their vanilla lightly, restrained, really low on the sugar, more of an abstract gourmand than an actual one. Jo Malone Vanilla & Anise walks this gourmand line with perfection. Warm and cuddly, little bit oriental, this is the vanilla to wear when you don’t really want anyone to know you need some comforting vanilla. Hermessence Vanille Galante is really more about the lily, but it has this lovely smoky vanilla floating around the lily, and I’ve adored this from the moment I first smelled it until now. If you want just a whisper of vanilla in a floral, you can’t go wrong here.
CB I Hate Perfume 7 Billion Hearts is a smoky vanilla beauty. Not huffing black smoke like Guerlain Spiritueuse Double Vanille, but huffing embers of vanilla. It stays close to the skin and lets gentle vanilla smoky tendrils envelop you and remind you that someone loves us all. And the Perfume Blog-ville loves it. Tom loved it (Tom, you forgot you loved this!), Candy Perfume Boy loved it,and the Non blonde loved it.
Diptyque Eau Duelle is a vanilla fragrance I defy anyone to hate. Therein lies its problem as well – it gets no attention. It is probably one of the best-behaved vanilla perfumes in this entire post, and it is really nice. As Gaia at Non-Blonde put it – “it’s the poor man’s version of Le Labo Vanille 44.” I’ll add to that that it does bring in some tea, and I long for more smokiness, but I’m thinking if I just spritz some L’Artisan Tea for Two gently over it (not Comme des Garcons Tea, that will kill it!), it will be pretty much perfect. It is the perfectly inoffensive vanilla perfume, but I’m not going to fault it for that. It’s really nice, it’s really pretty, and there are a thousand more things a perfume can be in the world that are far worse than that.
Le Labo Vanille 44 is the Paris City Exclusive, and it whispers vanilla softly in your ear, coos a little, you look at the price tag and what you have to go through to get a bottle and say no, no, no! And Le Labo Vanille 44 whispers, oui, oui, oui! Incense and woods have this absolutely magical touch with the vanilla, and you think it will just float off in the air at any moment, but this thing sticks and floats and keeps whispering, oui, oui, oui. Give in, save yourself the useless resistance. This is probably the closest thing to that lovely vanilla pod. Yes, it is stupid expensive, and you will convince yourself it’s not worth it, you’ll just get some of that Diptyque Poor Man’s substitute, and then you will just think about how delicately Vanille 44 wafted for what seemed like days. What was that perfume commercial from the ’60s or ’70s? “I can’t seem to forget you” – oh, yeah, now i remember -” Your Wind Song Stays on my mind.” LIke that, only worse because I don’t think Wind Song ever sold for anything above a $20 bill.
Creed Sublime Vanille is geared towards men, and you believe it on the open with the lemon blast. It never gets too sweet, nor too anything else. If you want a vanilla that completely behaves itself with its prim little vanilla pods tucked inside a buttoned-up base, Creed Sublime Vanille is your go-to scent. I do like it! It just isn’t extraordinary or even that memorable. I hadn’t smelled it since I reviewed it back in 2009, and I didn’t remember what it smelled like! I think they could have named it Pretty Good Vanille instead, then I’d remember it. Sublime veers sharply to overhyped and then crashed into it.
Santa Maria Novella Vaniglia is just a perfect low-key vanilla perfume. A little smoky, a little gourmand, not sweet, there is something for everyone to love here. I’d never actually smelled this one before, and it surprised me with how great I thought it was. I went around the interwebs looking for all the love and – nada! One old review from Ina. I expected a whole lot more love out there. This is the best thing about doing these long reviews – I keep finding things I never tried and falling in love with them or falling in love with old loves I almost forgot about.
Parfums de Nicolai has two entries in this, Parfums de Nicolai Vanille-Tonka, which is a cinnamon-vanilla fusion that sounds much more gourmand than it is. This is a vanilla if you don’t want a gourmand vanilla at all. Parfums de Nicolai Vanille Intense is much more vanilla, less on the surrounding notes and my favorite of the two. I know Vanille-Tonka has a lot of love, but it just smells weird to me. Vanille Intense with the addition of immortelle with the cinnamon is just warmer, richer, not cloying vanille, just one that you want to get closer to.
Givenchy Organza Indecence may hint that you work in a bakery, but probably not. Don’t overapply, this one is not shy, but it is the way to do sexy vanilla. Chopard Casmir is on the cusp of bakery, again, apply lightly, and let this sweet thing take you away! These two might have gone up in the cupcake area, but I’m leaving them here, Yell at me later if you think I’m so, so wrong.
Guerlain Shalimar. I got nothing else to say. Shalimar hates me, and the feeling is mutual. It turns into a baby powder diaper mess on me, so I have no idea what any of you are talking about when you get all worked up about Shalimar. I’ll take your word for it enough to put it in here, but that’s as far as I’m going.
Vanilla Perfume that are big old Gourmands, but not just about the Vanilla – and they won’t last forever.
“They won’t last forever” means that so many of these vanillas require a level of commitment similar to going into battle with your kids over cleaning their room or smoking pot – the effort is futile, but you feel you should make it anyway. The ones below I can attest to they won’t last forever even though you might have a few moments where you are pretty sure they will.
At the top of this list has to be Lostmarc’h Lann-Ael (Breton for Angel Heath, though I can’t imagine why Angel Heath smells like cereal). Buckwheat, cereals, milk, apple and vanilla. I think I called them Fruit Loops in an old review. Really yummy Fruit Loops! Addictive, comforting, I could roll around in this until I OD’ed.
Bois 1920 Sushi Imperiale is just a little dessert with cinnamon, pepper, apple nutmeg and vanilla. It makes me happy to be sitting all bundled up on a fall morning with the windows open, it’s kind of perfectly weird, which often makes it perfect.
Xerjoff Mamluk is the only successful oud gourmand I can think of. Montale I’m sure has one, but Mamluk is special. Since it was released in summer, I didn’t play with it beyond testing it, but damn it is a sex-filled dessert! Here’s what I said about it back in May –
“Candied Oud with a skanky backwash. You’re not sure whether to eat it or bed it. Caramel, honey and vanilla blend so beautifully with the oud, and you get a jab of sharp oud, then it’s covered over in more candy Floating down there under it all is sex and more sex – with the dessert after and, well, before and during.”
My Personal Top Five Vanilla Perfumes –
Le Labo Vanille 44, Serge Lutens Un Bois Vanille, CB I hate Perfume 7 Billion Hearts and Xerjoff Mamluk and – wait, that’s five already?
Okay, My Personal Top Ten Vanilla Perfumes, Continued –
L’Artisan Vanilia, Lostmarc’h Lann-Ael, SMN Vaniglia, Jo Malone Vanilla & Anise, L’Artisan Havana Vanille or whatever it’s called now and – wait, that’s ten? F&*&#$CK. I apparently have a few vanillas I like, which is a long way from the zero vanilla perfumes i liked a few years ago.
Rounded up from the Posse their favorites, those that could hit the gas pedal quick enough with my last-minute request for their faves –
March, after much thoughtful deliberation – BARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF. Wow, that was mature. Okay, that f’ing Guerlain SpirituaIalIcantspellinfrench double vanilla was pretty awesome. Getting mah vanilla fix from the Brief and Discontinued L’Occitane Miel et Vanille. Hands down favorite: Organza Indecence. Men follow me around like dogs.
Tom, after the same thoughtful deliberation – I agree with March, although since it was 100 in L.A. today it would have turned to caramel.
Musette, thinking and clearly drawing a blank – My ONLY vanilla love is Shalimar. Oh! No. I lied. Donna Hathaway sent me the most amazing vanilla fragrance – hang on…let me go find it (it’s Vanilla Nero/Negro/Necro something…okay, I’m lying about the Necro….hang on)…Monotheme Te Nero y Vaniglia. Really like that – a LOT!
Ann, who has some good taste – I do love me some of that Paris Le Labo Vanille 44 — it’s such a delicious mix of vanilla and incense. And who could forget the late, great, discontinued Indult Tihota? That stuff was so yummy I was just about temptedto drink it.
Portia, who always goes outside the box! – Jacomo Art Series #2, Serge Lutens Muscs Koublai Khan, Ambra del Nepal Il Profumide Firenze, Parfum d’Empire Cuir Ottoman, Le Male JPG, DKNY Gold, Burberry Brit, DIOR Eau Noire, Vanille Marina M Micallef, Narciso Rodriguez for Her, Vanille Absolutement L’Artisan Parfumeur, Shalimar Guerlain
Okay, your turn!
Do you hate vanilla? Do you want to only be entered so you can win and throw all the vanilla in the trash because it will be good for the environment to remove some vanilla perfume from the world? Do you love it, wear it daily, intend to completely ignore my advice not to choke anyone with it and swear that you could get laid every night with this certain vanilla perfume? If so, please disclose details of which one and if you are over the age of 45 and not in the sex trade. Actually, if you are – never mind. Where did I go wrong with my list?
Samples provided by me and some lent to me for trying and giving away by Surrender to Chance