Monday, August 24, 2009

L'Artisan Parfumeur Havana Vanille/Vanille Absolument: fragrance review

Appraising my impressions on the upcoming L'Artisan Havana Vanille (later changed to Vanille Absolument) I can't help but think that it is more like a sagacious study in black & white rather than a journey to exotic locales respendent with colourful fabrics or outlandish fruit. Its boozy tonalities on the other hand recall to mind the Payard Vanilla Rum Truffles as if they had been painted by Monet, an aspect which will place this release under the aegis of gourmando-philiacs the world over.

Havana Vanille/Vanille Absolument, the latest instalment in L'Artisan's Travel scents after Bois Farine (by Jean Claude Ellena), Timbuktu, Dzongha and Fleur de Liane (all by Duchaufour), was supposed to take us to Cuba. The allusion to the Caribbean island brings to mind tobacco of course and those beautiful chickas rolling the leaves on their sweaty thighs (I have shades of Marisa Tomey in The Perez Family in mind). The practice is not without merit, as the humidity from their tan skin makes for cigars that preserve their precious bouquet well into the aftertaste and do not become dried-out when properly stored in a humidor. Composed by in-house L'Artisan perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour, Vanille Absolument (Havana Vanille) showcases his typical monastic style of diaphanous, orientalised compositions recalling a mystical haze or vapours rising, like his beloved incense which he has explored in every nook and crany thought possible for both his L'Artisan and Eau d'Italie offerings.

Comparison with another Tobaco Vanilla, the one in Tom Ford's Private Line, reveals the L'Artisan endeavour as much lighter and less sweet (the Tom Ford one is much heavier on the tobacco overall, but highlighting the sweeter and whiskey aspects of its leaves, to the point where it is achingly sweet for me; in contrast the L'Artisan has the impression of nuanced tobacco with a passing pomander overtone). It might also nod slyly at the direction of that minx of a scent, Fifi (by lingerie maven Fifi Chachnil), who is climbing into her hot pink lacy undergarments and bringing the silk scarfs at bed for a frisky light bondage romp. Yet somehow Vanille Absolument (Havana Vanille) isn't as naughtily bawdy and seems more introverted, the bookish type who wears Alain Mikli glasses and looks you up quizzically over them when you make a compliment. This would not intimidate men who could opt for this one easily. Of course the pairing of tobacco with vanilla is a natural, as both materials have interlapping facets, much like a Reisling wine would pair with Ibores cheese perfectly and Tolu balsam is also complimenting the mix. Havana the city has been a reference for years due to its exotic locale and contraband allusions (fragrant examples by Aramis and Tuscany, both Lauder brands, which would make you think of a linen-suited Robert Redford gambling away in Havana, the film, while rescuing beautiful political objectors in the shape of Lena Olin).

The boozier aspects of Vanille Absolument/Havana Vanille (discernible rum, the "aged rum and sweet air of Cuba") recall to mind the decadent and rather debauched Spiritueuse Double Vanille by Guerlain (also referenced by NST), a fragrance that has lured many with its dense cloud of smokey vanilla-pod aspects highlighting the darker elements of the husks. This thick, succulent trend has been played for a while now and doesn't seem like fading yet. Indult went for broke with their intensely darkish-vanilla-rich Tihota (great-smelling stuff, yet for those prices you're set with some Vanille Noire du Mexique which resembles it); in Vanille Absolument (Havana Vanille) you get the feeling that the perfumer was trying to preserve a Cold War policy of equal distance from all those references: a little bit of everything but not exactly of the same mind.
What caught my attention about the new L'Artisan creation mainly is the underlying notes of dried fruits with their Lutensian tonality (treated the Coke Zero way, mind you!) and the caramelised maple-like immortelle note that peaks through ~the way it did subtly in the forgotten opus of Annick Goutal Eau de Monsieur by Isabelle Doyen or the more modern vanilla-laced Cuir Béluga by Olivier Polge. The (synthetic) moss doesn't blurr the overall composition into too dangerous territories to my nose and the terrain remains terra ferma with only a leathery hint that doesn't derive from bitter quinolines, but instead the narcissus absolute.
The longevity of Vanille Absolument (Havana Vanille) is average and the sillage is discreet, melding into a skin scent on me within the hour. Like The Non Blonde says it's "understated,without being low brow".

Vanilla seems all the rage again with everyone in the niche sector issuing one, falling into different stratagems: starting with the uber-luxurious, air-spun ~and floral really~ Vanille Galante by Hermès and the correspondingly diaphanous, citrusy Vanilla & Anise by Jo Malone which we reviewed the other day, on to the upcoming Patricia de Nicolai Vanille Intense and the upcoming Creed Vanille. Rumour has it that the groundbreaking (at its time) Vanilia by L'Artisan, which caused ripples with its brightly and kitchily artificial ethylmaltol note of cotton-candy (popularised much later by Angel and its clones in patchouli-laced compositions), will be replaced by the newest Vanille Absolument (Havana Vanille) in the L'Artisan portfolio. The reason could be the upcoming IFRA restrictions, although those wouldn't affect ethylmaltol I believe. It could also be latent style concerns, since the older one issued 31 years ago reflects a direction no longer en vogue. If this is news that has your wallet vibrating with worrisome anxiousness, better stock up before it is too late. On the other hand, if that fluorescent vanilla ice-cone of a scent isn't your cup of tea (and I admit although I admire it intellectually I can very rarely wear it), then you will be probably overjoyous with the newest Vanille Absolument (Havana Vanille).
I predict it will be much better received commercially than many of the latest L'Artisan scents exactly because of its "easy" reading that doesn't require coinnoisseurship. If you're searching for a more economical "twin" to Spiritueuse Double Vanille without the $220 tag attached, then you're all set. Personally, having cornered the vanilla issue in a precious few, select choices and prefering the oddly cuddly cardboard-and-soft animals'-underside of L'Artisan's Dzing! I am not so sure whether I'd rush to buy a full bottle of Vanille Absolument (Havana Vanille); probably not. But I am almost certain many will.

Notes for L'Artisan Vanille Absolument/Havana Vanille:
Top : Rum, mandarin, orange, clove
Heart : Dried fruits, narcissus absolute, rose, tobacco leaf, helichrysum/immortelle (everlasting flower)
Base : Madagascar and Mexican vanilla absolutes, tonka bean, benjoin, tolu balsam, vetiver, moss, musks, leather

Vanille Absolument (formerly Havana Vanille) comes in 50ml/1.7oz and 100ml/3.4oz bottles of Eau de Parfum. The scent is officially launching in October and testers are already appearing here and there.
L'Artisan is planning to surprise us delightfully with another launch later this year!

Related reading on Perfumeshrine: L'Artisan reviews and news,Vanillaand Gourmand fragrances

Photo by Walker Evans Parquet Central III via thephil.org


  1. Well, my love-
    I'm in !

    I'll mix it all up ;-)

    this should sing an aria for me, I think ;-)

  2. I cannot wait to smell this! You know about my vanilla addiction Helg.

  3. i literally cannot wait for this

  4. I,

    it's quite lovable and if I didn't already have some other things to please me in that "niche" of my collection I'd be more enthusiastic towards purchases.
    I think it would suit you quite a bit! Eager to hear your thoughts when you try it out. Aedes and Barneys have it now.

  5. Jen,

    oh yeah, you're the first person I thought about this! It's a good one, not too sweet, not too foody and it's an "easy" to dissect fragrance. I believe it will be very popular on boards.

  6. K,

    the boutiques in London have testers out, I'd make a phone call enquiry if I were you! ;-)

  7. Fiordiligi14:50

    Hello darling! Lovely review as ever.

    Yes, we sniffed it at Liberty's during the London Sniffapalooza and it was a huge hit with everyone there. I shall look forward to trying it properly when it hits the shops.

    L'Artisan has never resonated for me, really, but perhaps this might be the one, although I have my beloved SDV of course and it might be too close.

  8. Mike Perez22:00

    E -

    This sounds delicious.

    I'm on my summer vacation now, but I will finish it in NY next week, and I will most definitely make it over to Aedes for a serious sniff.

    I love SDV and Tobacco Vanille and it seems as if Duchaufour's latest releases have really impressed me. Color me interested.

  9. Tara C21:51

    I finally got a chance to try this and didn't care for it. Could barely detect any vanilla or tobacco, just a lightly sweet vegetal note, reminding me of Bois Farine.

  10. D,

    thanks honey and sorry for being late in replying, just saw this.

    I think you're better set with the Guerlain, knowing your tastes, although this is no mean feat here by Bernand.

  11. Mike,

    I would be very interested in your take on this one!! :-)

  12. T,

    thanks for stopping by, sorry for the late reply.
    Yeah, I think it's a bit atypical for a vanilla scent, which probably is the whole point and certainly bodes well with the Duchaufour style (The man isn't known for glutton or voluptuous compositions, he likes more "brainy" interpretations). Then again why name it Vanille? Ah, there's the mystery of niche! I thought it was easy to like but I prefer muskier interpretations.


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