Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Atelier Cologne Vanille Insensee: fragrance review & draw

“He wove through the crowd when suddenly his heart quickened. That scent. It was hers. He had worn it first until she stole it for herself. Now, there she was before him and the magic of years past came flooding back in a moment.”
These little snippets like stories out of a collection of romantic prose accompany the launch of Atelier Cologne niche scents and account for much of the brand's piquancy. Vanilla with its aprodisiac reputation seemed like the prime suspect into infusing a memorable, erotic perfume. And so Vanille Insensee arrived onto my desk. A vanilla...oh well, I thought at first!

Do you, like me, think vanilla fragrances are often juvenille and pedestrian, haunted by drugstore images of tooth-aching stuff that recalls more a bakery's back room than proper perfume? Or are you a vanilla aficionado always in the search out for the one perfect oriental which captures that elusive middle-ground between comforting and silky polish? A slew of niche brands are catering to your needs, it seems.

The comparison of Atelier Cologne's newest take on vanilla, Vanille Insensée, with others in the niche circuit, recalls both Diptyque Eau Duelle and Le Labo Vanille 44, but the effect is different enough to warrant its own exploration. For vanilla lovers (and they're legion) every little twist has the potential to make them want to sample and exhaust their repertoire. While Eau Duelle is more "clean musk" than promised woods and Vanille 44 is richer, like a sophisticated crème brûlée rather than dipping your nose into cake batter made with vanillin, Vanille Insensée brings on the freshness of vanilla to the fore. You heard that right: it's a crazy, fresh vanilla!

Atelier Cologne, founded last year by Sylvie Ganter (formerly of Hermès and FRESH fame) and Christophe Cervasel (founder of Selective Beauty, responsible for creating scents for John Galliano, Zac Posen, and Agent Provocateur to name but a few), they debuted "Petites" (30mls), soaps and candles last autumn and for spring 2011 they launched Vanille Insensée. Careful: That's not Incensée and it has nothing to do with incense! In French Vanille Insensée literally means vanilla out of its senses, vanilla in the most unexpected, profound, insane way!

Vanille Insensée was composed by perfumer Ralf Schwieger and in it the vanilla ~although front and central~ is given a diaphanous (yet lasting) treatment which seems lighter than what one would expect from the creator of waxy and intense Lipstick Rose (for F.Malle). Although advertised as "woody", I don't find Atelier's Vanille especially so. The citrusy touches on top (lime and cedrat, which is French for citron; but also spicy-orangey coriander) are classic allies in most orientals and here they lift the vanilla into the clouds, while clean notes of jasmine, white musk and mossy underpinnings (vetiver and oaky tannin smells) conspire to make the pod fluffy and "fresh" ~mind you, fresh and fluffy the way a meringue is just out of the oven, we're still on culinary grounds here. But away from choux à la crème land all the same...

If you want your vanilla intense, darkish and calorific, like Indult Tihota or Spirituelle Double Vanille (Guerlain) or rather smoky with layers of tobacco or cotton-candy & ice-cream cone, like, respectively, Havana Vanille and the discontoninued Vanilia by L'Artisan, then the Atelier Cologne version won't please. The same could be said if you're spoiled by the tropics treatment by the Comptoir Sud Pacifique line. If on the other hand you have always envisioned a vanilla to bring forth into spring and summer, with just the right amount of a sweet tooth that doesn't ruin the waistline, I think this one might do the trick.

A sample will be given to a lucky reader: What's your take on vanilla and vanilla fragrances? Say in the comments and I will pick a lucky winner. Draw is open till Friday midnight.

Notes for Vanille Insensée: lime, cedrat, coriander, jasmine, oak, vetiver, Madagascar vanilla, oakmoss and amber.

Atelier Cologne
Vanille Insensée is vailable in 30 ($60) or 200 ml ($170) Cologne Absolue (15% concentration), carried by Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and Steven Alan as well as the newly curated e-commerce website

In the interests of disclosure I was able to sample the fragrance assisted by the company who handles the brand.
Photo of vanilla sky via nettevivante


  1. Ozzie09:39

    I love the idea of a fresh vanilla. I'm with you - vanilla fragrances are too often cloying, dull, and safe. But I've had some surprise me. AG Vanille Exquise comes immediately to mind, with its almost harsh bite.

    What really got my attention this post, though, is your mention of "mossy underpinnings". Sounds like something I would really love to sample. :)

  2. Anonymous11:03

    I have loved the previous five Atelier Colognes, so I am pretty sure this one will be a winner as well. I love heavier, if not particularly foodie vanillas in winter (like Ode A La Vanille, SDV), but as soon as it turns February I am done with heavy - this sounds like the perfect spring scent to bridge the gap between warm and cuddly and right out fresh. I love unconventional vanilla scents, like the above mentioned Goutal Vanille Exquise or Eau Duelle. I hope I have a lucky day and win that sample. ;)

  3. I pretty much love vanilla fragrances in all forms although I strive not to smell like a cupcake. There are gloomy days when a nice spritz of my YR Vanille Bourbon is just right. I do find that I get the most compliments on my perfume when I have on a vanilla based fragrance, and I haven't quite figured that one out except that most people probably react positively to the suggestion of bakery goods. I don't know, but they make me happy!

    I'd love to be included in the drawing. Thank you.

  4. Stephan11:19

    I love to be taken for a ride once in a while by the mysterious Havana Vanille, or Shalimar, but that's not the Vanille alone, I guess.
    I'd very much like to experience a different approach to that scent, thanks for providing this chance.

  5. Marie13:43

    Unfortunately, I'm not familiar with any of the fragrances you mention. The only vanilla scent I have and could claim to know is Kenzo Amour. I bought it unsniffed on a whim in my broaden-my-horizon project, which is ungoing, and I let myself be talked into buying the seller's back-up bottle, so I have two!

    To my surprise I actually quite like wearing it - not only because it attracts compliments (it's pleasant and unassuming when used in moderation), but also because I find it comforting. It soothes my soul on long, hard days at work. Ordinarily, I'm a chypre/aldehydes girl, so vanilla scents with their unashamed roundness and happy appeal have been a bit of a challenge. I don't think I would appreciate the an outspoken combination of vanilla and wood. It would be cloying, I imagine - not being a wood lover myself. But the "fresh vanilla" sounds intriquing. I'm on the lookout for a summer scent and would frankly appreciate a break from citrusy freshness.

  6. I would love to be able to try a "fresh" take on vanilla, now that warmer days lie ahead

  7. Thank you for the explanation of the name - I definitely thought that "insensee" was referring to incense! For me, vanilla fragrances are usually too cloying and cheap-smelling. I'm always on the lookout for a vanilla to surprise me!

  8. Thus far, I have not been able to come across a vanilla that I have truly enjoyed. Every perfume with a vanilla dominant not I've tried is this sickly sweet mess like I've been baking all day. Enter me in the draw because I'm always hopeful that I will find it.

  9. I confess, I'm a vanilla lover. But I don't love just any vanilla, ... but this one sounds a.) different from others I've tried and b.) fascinating!
    So please do enter me in the draw, because I'd just love to smell this!

  10. I realized I forgot to say my 'take' on vanilla and vanilla fragrances!

    Even before I was interested in perfume, vanilla was a smell I loved and wanted to wear. It's comfort, and gourmand sweetness, and "you smell so good, I could just eat you up". However, before becoming interested in perfume, I never really found vanillas that I liked as much as I wanted to like them. They would be too sweet, or sticky or cake-like or ... just wrong.
    So after I got into perfume, I went on the search for my perfect vanilla, and eventually found it in the Micallef line. Perfection in a dark vanilla.

    But though I've got the dark vanilla I love, I'd still be interested in finding lighter, fresher, but still not overly sticky sweet varieties of one of my favorite notes. (Not to mention anything where vanilla is mixed with other unexpected notes.) So though I've branched out quite a bit since I began discovering perfume, vanilla is still a touch-stone for me - a point I will always come back to.

  11. Lauren15:15

    I love my vanilla unsweet, but still recognizable as vanilla. I also thought the Insensee meant incense - thanks for explaining.

    Have you tried any of the other 5 new Atelier scents? the oolong one sounds especially nice.

  12. It was not easy to me to find a vanilla fragrance I could love, because I always feel they are too cloying and sweet.

    But I own Kenzo Amour and Sarah Horowitz Perfect Veil (sweet musk) and they are really comfortable.

    And some months ago I tried Eau Duelle and I loved it too.

    I'm looking forward to trying an Atelier scent, so please enter me in the draw :)

  13. Vanilla fragrances are my guilty pleasure, and for me make wonderful sleeping scents. That being said, I don't actually own a full bottle of a single one, having just a 5 ml decant of Un Bois Vanille and a 5 ml mini of Organza Indecence (my favorites so far). I don't like the heavy boozy fragrances, so I'm dying to try this one!

  14. There are foody vanillas, sugary ones, these I don't like.
    Then there are woody vanillas, and these I do like.
    I thought that in Angelique Noir I found an unexpected savory vanilla, but the transition from angelica to vanilla was somewhat strange to me.

    I only want vanilla in the Fall, but then I do. I think it's because the smell goes so well with the smoky air around, so for that reason I don't need my vanillas to have extra smoke.

    Fresh vanilla sounds interesting, please enter me!

  15. Vanilla is very tricky. I agree with you that it can be too young, too foodie and unsophisticated. But, I have several vanilla-ish scents that I adore. Safran Troublant, Orchidee Vanille come to mind. SDV, on the other hand, I cannot bare and I find Havana Vanille to be uninteresting. Like I said, it's tricky, but when it's "just right," it's perfection!

  16. Nothing makes me more ill than artificial vanilla. It gives me an instant, head squeezing headache and turns my stomach.

    True vanilla, I love. Comforting, cozy and relaxing. It soothes me when I'm down. I couldn't wear a heavy vanilla, so I love the idea of this fresh vanilla. I've tried other fragrances by Atelier Colongne and have fallen madly in love, so I'm sure this is of the same, impressive, unique offering, sure to become an addiction.

  17. I LOVE vanilla (if it's not sickening-sweet and drenched in 'red fruit') and I LOVE fresh. And I LOVE the Atelier Cologne line.

    Actually, don't get me wrong, I do like some gourmand scents, but not a lot of mainstream ones. I do like Bath and Body works Vanilla Noir. Silly, eh?

    I have tried all the Atelier Colognes, I think, except for maybe Orange Sanguin? They are excellent. If I had the cash I would get a full size of

  18. Anonymous18:54

    There were times when I wore vanilla oil so concentrated that I smelled like a pastry shop. I didn't care, I was young and felt I could afford it. Now it's quite embarrassing to admit I have my secret night scent as Vanilla Body Mistfrom Body Shop. Just a spritz but after more than 10 years I still love its dark side. Otherwise I'm quite aware of the sweet vanillas and I prefer the smoky ones, Shalimar and recently Havana Vanille or Felanila. But I die to smell this new one from Atelier Cologne.
    (well, I don't forget the Master at First Nerve said vanilla is for nymphomaniacs...).

  19. Young, cloying and heavy are also what I think of when I think of vanilla. It would be interesting to see what a vanilla appropriate for summer wear would be like.

  20. Vanilla has never been my favorite note, but when it's done in an unexpected way, I enjoy it sometimes. I like Vanille Aoud, for example, and Felanilla. But otherwise, it's rarely on my radar. I would live to try this one, though!

  21. I am fairly picky about vanilla-centric scents, which so often smell flat, cheap, or too sweet to me. I have found a few that I quite enjoy (SDV for its extreme booziness and UBV for its smokiness) but I always think *I shouldn't have to pay this much for a good vanilla!!!* (I have a small decant of each but wouldn't spring for a full bottle.) I do love vanilla as a note in more complex oriental compositions. Oh, and I love Bulgari Black, but I think of it more as a leather.

  22. Some of my favorite scents are vanillas, though I like them more when they have enough something else to be not quite edible smelling. Sometimes the extra is leather or wood, or possibly smoke or incense.

    The other scent in this one that sounds attractive is the coriander. I have some really positive scent associations with coriander seed from my childhood, and I am always looking for a new coriander scent.

  23. You had me at "Vanille 44" ... every time I wear it I keep sniffing my wrists.

    I agree with Jericka above, I love vanilla with something else, too. Not entirely into the sweet, sweet vanilla so this sounds up my alley. I would love to be included in the draw, Thank you.

  24. Wow, I just noticed there is another perfumista named CC (above).

    I've had this google screen name for a long time and happened to have been signed on when I posted. Had I noticed it before I would have posted with a different name under "name/url" option. Sorry about that, E. Thank you.

  25. Anonymous14:04

    I didn't like vanilla frags until after becoming a ticket-holding perfumista---I don't know why that is! It seems backwards, but, I just follow my nose.
    I love last years Havana Vanille, and am a fan of SDV, and a few others.
    Would love to try this one!
    Thank you for the draw :)

  26. DRTVRMoi14:38

    My affair with vanilla is tortured and bumpy. My Italian friend gifted me Perlier's Caribbean Vanilla. For a 'tropical' theme, the scent has a heavy sweetness that confined it to being sprayed behind my knees. My next foray was Laurence Dumont's Tendre Madeleine, a fragrance lightened by the top notes of bergamot. This was a hit with my nieces, a testament to vanilla's youthful appeal. I catch myself sniffing my wrists on a cold winter afternoon and feeling it's comfort. The newest and favored vanilla is Shalimar's Ode a la Vanille. My struggles with Shalimar ended with this new variation. It's a big-girl vanilla that is reserved for evenings and romance.

    A chance to sample a fresh, Summery vanilla...Count me in. Thanks for offering the draw.

  27. chrisb17:50

    I think I normally gravitate to the heavier more gourmand vanilla fragrances. I adore Shalimar and as a comfort fragrance I also love the rather burnt caramelly vanilla smell of Serge Lutens Un Bois Vanille. But I would like to find a fresher vanilla that I like so would love to be included in this draw.

  28. hotlanta linda18:21

    Vanilla is always good as long as it is not sticky/sickeningly sweet.I find better thought-out/grade fragrances avoid the trouble nicely!! Goutal`s is the Fave, and for lower-priced (when one feels poor) Caswell-Massey`s Vanilla Orchid is close second!! Thank you for putting my name into the hat!!

  29. Ozzie,

    I think the most difficult thing is to do right a simple thing: the perfect cup of coffee is harder to accomplish than an elaborate soufle!
    Vanillas fall into that camp of simple but elusively hard to nail.

    VI isn't particularly mossy, but there is a sort of woody powderiness, reminiscent of what we like in that category of scents: it cuts down on the intense sweetness and makes it airy and light.

  30. Olfactoria,

    the line is well thought out and they seem to be doing everything well.
    Darker, boozier and not foody vanillas are my only choices as well, but that does leave a gap for the warmer months: this is ideal for that.
    Best of luck!

  31. Marianne14:27

    Vanilla is most of all comfort for me. Mother's breast, soothing food for when home sick and treats that are too fattening for everyday.
    Please include me in the draw!

  32. Kathy,

    yeah, cupcakes are best in one's mouth, not on one's skin (unless we're talking really steamy scenes!LOL) You're in!

    Compliments are a nice bonus. I often wonder whether vanilla attracts such a universal appeal because it's immediately recognisable, it's almost universally associated with pleasant memories and people actually know how to put their thoughts into words when commenting on it. Eh?

  33. Stephan,

    mysterious is good and no, it's not the vanilla alone ;-)
    You're welcome, good luck!

  34. Marie,

    Kenzo Amour is as good as any of the more elaborate ones: the flavour of a rice pudding, if I recall correctly and realistically done too. It's as you say so poetically.
    I can see your challenge and raise you up one :-) Yeah, vanillas are hard to do because they can appear a certain way, more than any other category (the fruity floral perhaps being another, so "stigmatized"). I think you'd like this one, it's fluffy, airy, light and yes, fresh. Not cloying at all!

  35. Marianne,

    welcome, your description sounds very touching; and very true. You're in!

  36. Irina,

    here's your chance!

  37. CC,

    yeah, I thought it was needed. With a French name that sounds and looks like incense, one would be bound to think so! Thanks for noticing my effort to bypass this problem for our readers.
    Vanillas that can surprise: a wonderful exploration! Enjoy the journey and good luck!

  38. Eld,

    with the no doubt OOOOOOOOLD advice of recommending you try vintage Shalimar extrait, I have to say you have a point. ;-)
    Good luck!

  39. Proximity,

    I don't know about fascinating, but it's different than standard to be sure.

    You're referring to Note Vanilee, right? Good one. The Micallef line has quality stuff, I wish I had tried them all.

    Thanks for the very descriptive and very interesting delineating of your vanilla journey: Very true for many readers, I bet.
    You know, I think what we loved when we first embarked on our fragrant journey (whether it was as children or as grown-ups) we tend to go back to time and again- it seems to never really leave us; perhaps with a more sophisticated take when we're "wiser", but on a familiar path all the same. I think it has to do with familiarity and memory, smell is just too ingrained in the psyche to be able to "cultivate" like an art in which you're able to say "from now on I will appreciate opera over folk songs or Pollock over Kinkade". It just doesn't work on that premise, like with other senses. At least this is my theory.

  40. Lauren,

    you're welcome. It's a common enough impression, I bet , because it reads almost exactly the same.

    Not all of them and I'd love to!

  41. Isa,

    great choices! Perfect Veil is just lovely. I peg it as more of a sweet light musk than vanilla, but the sweetness is also due to the vanilla, so you have a point there, it could be included.
    Good luck!

  42. N,

    those two are very popular for a reason. Myself I find UBV smoother, OI seems spicier and more "talkative" than I personally like for a vanilla (if I want "talkative" I'm off vanillas and more into full-fledged orientals). But I think my warm climate might predispose me against it too: it always seems heavier than I want it.
    This one is a fresh take, strictly warm weather and not a care in the world!

  43. Warum,

    I agree with your take, woody vanilla is a good combo. Hmm, AN is a strange beast: it's got something odd in it. Could be that the two materials are so contrasting to begin with?

    LOVE cold smoky air in fall....*swoon*

    You're in!

  44. Lang,

    at last someone names Saffran Troublant: I think it's very underrated. It's a perfect not too sweet vanilla; the suede note cut the cloying factor.
    As to SDV, it's very boozy and has a rather "burnt caramel" note in there. I can see how it can be polarising.

  45. SWA,

    ah, the manufacturers of sweets and candies have spoiled out taste buds and noses with their overuse of vanillin. It's a shame...The vanilla pod has a complex aroma and it's truly succulent when used in the right dosage.
    The Atelier line is good stuff!

  46. Susan,

    agree on the line (OS is very good, you should try it!) and on how gourmands can turn either very good or very bad.
    Can't say I have tried Vanille Noir by BBW: is it as good as all that? It must be if you're raving (mental note to try it sometime)

  47. Anon,

    on the very young several misdemeanors can be forgiven. Youth obliterates them.
    Avery is very funny, isn't he? Vanilla does have a tinge of the insatiable: it's the addictive scent of a diabetic's call (almost all sweets have a little hint of vanilla aroma in there)! Who can escape?

  48. Desyl,

    no worries, this is nothing of all those things. You can rest easy and give it a go!

  49. Elizabeth,

    not mine either even when a child (I was chocolate all the way), but when it's right, it's so pleasant, can't deny it.
    Good luck!

  50. Elisa,

    exactly correct: like I said on top, nothing more difficult than to do right a simple thing. In this case, a vanilla frag.
    I have to say that I undestand the appeal of all your choices: they have something going for them, they're very interesting and nuanced and not flat out vanilla.
    I find Black more vanillic than most people do (the rubber doesn't come out too agressive on me, it's almost cuddly) and I love it! That one is very wearable for all occasions when a vanilla is asked for but it would be considered too predictable ;-)

    Like you, I prefer my vanilla mixed in orientals. :-)

  51. Jericka,

    delightful comvos, incense and smoke with vanilla *sigh* That's the spirit!
    Coriander is a nice, uplifting note, a bit like citrus (orange) and clay, but not quite. It's very fetching!

  52. CC,

    I'll differentiate you by putting one in lower case, one in capital. It does make it more difficult for me when there are two people with the same name, but what can you do? Not your fault at all! No worries whatsoever!

  53. Dee,

    sounds just right: there is no right and wrong way to become a perfumista! Every thing that stretches one's comfort zone is a valid step in the journey. :-)
    For some of us, it's...vanilla (I realise the phraseology sounds racier than it really is).

    You're welcome and good luck!

  54. DRTRMoi,

    I can sympathize. How awkard to have to use something in a certain way because it's a gift and one doesn't want to hurt other's feelings etc. It's a delicate situation.

    Ode is simply great! They did right with this one, silken and polished and romantic.

    You're in!

  55. Chrisb,

    wonderful choices for the reasons you describe. Hope you get a chance to sample this one!

  56. Linda,

    vanilla is a mainstay in perfumery for a reason: like I said above in one of my replies to comments, it has something universally appealing and comforting, happy memories, tender thoughts in it...So yes, as you say: good as long as not sickeningly sweet/sticky. And doubly yes, good concept, restrained formula and sufficient budget means a superior product in this theme.

    You're in!

  57. All I can say is I do so love vanilla in my perfumes, Shalimar vintage being my truest love here though I have some other scents with vanilla notes, nothing ever candy sweet. I would love to be in this draw! Thank you!

  58. I love the vanilla fragrances...not too sweet. This sounds lovely and I would love to try it. My mother wore Shalimar and I always loved it.


  59. Unreal! I just sold my TIHOTA, even though I adored it for the first several hours, after a while it began to be cloying, but Lo! no sooner is it out the door but I am searching to replace it with one even more exquisite than Tihota, not an easy task, as T is truly very fine.

    This one sounds just right! Please enter me into the draw, thanks.

  60. I love smoky and/or boozy vanillas. Mona di Orio Vanille is my favorite! This one sounds intriguing! Thank you for the draw.


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