Friday, August 21, 2009

Jo Malone Vanilla & Anise: fragrance review

In contemplating the newest Jo Malone fragrance, Vanilla & Anise, one reverts to an overview of the brand, originally founded by one resourceful English woman and now owned by the gigantic Lauder group.

One of the ~superficial, you might judge~ attractions of the Jo Malone brand for me personally has always been that delicious waffle-toned packaging with the black, scented tissue paper and the matching ribbon-tied rectangular boxes: pure class and understated luxury at the drop of (the exactly right) panama hat. No big logos on the carrier bag, no glaring exhibits of glitz. The stacked-up bottles in the boutiques (like the one I had visited in London) make for the deeply satisfying feeling one gets when they manage to uniformly bind a collection of books in personally initialized leather: arguably my own library needs some work towards that end, as only a fraction has received that treatment yet, but I live in hope! Still Jo Malone's library of fragrances presents the same expectations: classy exteriors with contents to be savouringly explored.

The line has so far presented a division of sorts in its pleiad of offerings: there are the Jane Austens, full of sunlight, social banter and light character studies (French Lime Blossom, Lime Basil and Mandarin, Jasmine & Honeysuckle); and there are the Dostoyevsky-wannabes (Pomegranate Noir, 154, Wild Fig & Cassis, Nutmeg & Ginger). Unfortunately sometimes the latter resemble The Gambler, a dare of the Russian master to write up a novella in a month while simultaneously immersed in his famous masterpiece: they take place in Roulettenberg! Vanilla & Anise is placed someplace between the two: its intentions and onoma allude to the latter while the scent itself to the former.

Vanilla as a note seems to be experiencing a revival in niche and upscale brands with the innovative and ultra-luxurious Vanille Galante by Hermès {review link}, along with the newest Havana Vanille by L'Artisan {info here}, a reworking on their vanilla notion, many years after the candy-cotton ethylmaltol innovation of their ice-cream cone hologram Vanilia. I am saying a revival in the niche and upscale brands specifically, because the mainstream sector never abandonded their romantic notions of vanilla being an aphrodisiac; a snowballing concept to be brought to its rightful source: Guerlain and their great classics. The rewoking of vanilla in modern creations is a fresh approach of cleverly interwoven cool and warm facets, resembling changeant fabrics and eschewing the simplistic ice-cream flavourings that have occupied the lower end of the market for more than a decade now.

Per Jo Malone Vanilla & Anise is intended to “transport you to the floral valleys of Madagascar the moment that vanilla orchids bloom at day-break” since regardless of the fact that the vanilla orchid originated in Mexico, it is Madagascar which is today’s largest producer of vanilla. Curiously enough the scent isn't dominated by either vanilla or (star) anise, no matter the gourmand allusions these two might insinuate by their culinary proclivities. The surprise hiding under one of Malone's most successful creations, Lime Basil and Mandarin, has always been the peeking of an unexpected edginess under the greeting familiarity and this element has sneaked its way in Vanilla & Anise as well. In this case it is the bittersweet effect of the oleander note (and perhaps coumarinic accents) alongside the intense citrus touches (bergamot, neroli) clearly discernible, giving a decidedly summer feeling of vacationing at a resort someplace warm. If Hermès hadn't already issued the magnificent Vanille Galante one season ago with its predominatly lily-esque petal softness, I would have been marvelling at the new approach and applauding the delicate, meringue treatment rendered here, all crispy exteriors and airy insides. Nevertheless, given the fact that they already have in a most successful way artistically, I am less impressed the second time around.
Still, Vanilla & Anise should please those hankering after a luminous, air-spun lightly sweet fragrance with discreet floral touches, especially if they nostalgise about summery pleasures in the heart of winter. Those who prefer their vanillas folded into Dr.Oetker baking mixes or alternatively those who want them smokey-eyed and showing some hint of tushie beneath black see-through should go look for something else.

Notes for Jo Malone Vanilla & Anise:
Top Notes: Sicilian Bergamot, Tunisian Neroli, Wild Fennel Flower, Star Anise
Middle Notes: Oleander, Tuberose, Frangipani, Purple Vanilla Orchid
Base Notes: Madagascar Clove, White Amber, Vetiver Bourbon, Vanilla Bourbon Absolute, Tonka.

International launch for Vanilla & Anise is expected in September, but the scent has already reached Nordstorm, the 100ml costs £64, 30ml is £32. Visit the official Jo Malone site here.

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Anise, wormwood and absinthe series

Painting by Colette Calascione via formfiftyfive.com


  1. hmm I seem to favour Jo's Jane Austen scents- unusual I don't normally like safe but I'm really very fond of French lime blossom. I appreciate the other scents but they aren't for me but I do lust after the bath oils.

    Anyway I will try the vanilla with interest- and anise always pricks my ears/ nose.

  2. Thank you, dear sister ;-)

    Gimme 'tushie' or gimme death......

  3. K,

    I am no JA fan and curiously enough I prefer that treatment by JM: her best examples seem to be the transient, limpid, transparent kind. I like some of the others but they sound a bit like "light profiterole": an oxymoron.
    This one is a light, airy fragrance with a dose of vanilla orchid. Hope you like it!

  4. Dear I,

    you're welcome, sorella :-)

    Did I say it right? I didn't even think twice about it, it was so fitting. This is tush-less, so definitely not for you I'd gather. Unless you're feeling very hot in Boston ;-)

  5. I agree with you about JM's packaging -- I tend to like the packaging more than any of the scents. I am intrigued, however, by the oleander you mention in the Vanilla & Anise, so now will have to go and try it out.

    Yes, it is very hot in Boston.

  6. J, hi!
    Ain't that the truth: although many are quite pretty, they often lack the complexity which I appreciate (then again they advicate layering them so perhaps it's all intentional...who knows; by the way DO try 154 with Red Roses if you get the chance; it's a little combination I have personally devised, it's not among their recommendations but it's very good!)
    The oleander note is elusive, it's something I personally like being surrounded with oleanders and it's note easily replicated. This one gives a whiff of that aspect, which is a nice touch. Still, I am fond of VG more than this one and my other vanillas tend to be smokey or "perverted" ~for lack of a better word *evil smile*.

    Hope you get a cool spell soon there. We had 43 Celsius in July for a couple of days and it was hellish. Then I decided to go on holidays and the temps dropped to normal again...go figure! :-)

  7. I very much enjoyed this review. I used to look down my nose at the JMs, not sure why. They weren't "me," whatever that means. :) Then slowly over the last year or two they've won me over; I own a couple of them. There are days when I want the straightforwardness of JM, and the lasting power is always decent on my skin. I see a trip to Bloomies in my future to try this one!

  8. Hello dearest March!! How are you darling, good to see you! :-)

    Thanks for saying so. There are some nice things at JM, although they often lack the complexity I usually appreciate. (I really like the Jasmine & Honeysuckle for summer and the French Lime Blossom: they make for a nice splash with abandon; and as stated above, do try Red Roses over 154, it's a nice combo and not one they recommend themselves for some odd reason ~seemed a natural to me, as I don't do straight roses). I didn't have trouble with longevity either, they wear like regular eau de toilette on me.
    This one is not a typical vanilla and had it preceded the Hermes one I would have been more admiring :/ But it's quite pretty and wearable and should be pleasing when the mood strikes for something really light. It's more of a summery scent, come to think of it, which is rather weird since they launch internationally in September (what's up with that, seems like a new trend across the boards, huh?)

    Good to know Bloomingdales is stocking it too. I need my US friends to fill me up on these details, thank you!! :-)

  9. Anonymous06:21

    Jo Malone's Vanilla Anise is a dead ringer for Jean Paul Gaultier "Classique" perfume for female. Its the bottle thats shaped like a bustier. Its more feminine than unisex and has a very interesting dry down

  10. i was gifted this w. pomegranate noir, and sadly, i am not a fan. the vanilla notes are too strong for me. the pomegranate noir too peppery and when the two are layered, well i find the scents rather confusing. love your review- 'meringue treatment'. x shayma

  11. Anon,

    really? Is this your impression/experience? I always though Classique is rather heavy and "dense", this is lighter (in both senses of the word).

  12. S,

    welcome to the Shrine and thank you so much for commenting! Hope you like it here.

    I think the whole layering process within the JM range is a very hit&miss thing; some things work while others definitely don't as much. VA and PR are both "newer" JMs, from after the Lauder takeover, so maybe they're trying for a complexity that wasn't inherent in the original concept. I personally appreciate the lighter, simpler JMs, like Orange Blossom, LMB, Jasmine-Honeysuckle etc., they have a pastoral feel about them that feels more natural.


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