Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Best Dark, Smoky & Boozy Vanilla Perfumes (Vanilla Series)

Despite "dark vanilla" sounding like an oxymoron, if there ever was one, the collective fantasy of just this trope suggests the dedicated quest for a powerful aphrodisiac; dangerous like a femme fatale, but at the same time tried & true like one of the few fragrance notes that can be universally picked with no great difficulty. Maybe "dark" is meant in the sense of sinister, a little evil, a little perverse. I can see that.

Vanilla scents by their very nature tend towards the oriental fragrance family, more specifically the gourmand fragrance sub-genre, but this category of smoky, boozy vanilla perfumes with off notes of malt, whiskey, rum and pipe tobacco are more than any other marking their territory in the Orientals like it's nobody's business. For that very reason, they're recommended to lovers of resinous, balsamic fragrances who can thus learn to appreciate the merits of vanilla. If you always eyed vanilla perfumes as the bimbos of the perfumery world and considered yourself a languorous odalisque instead, this is a useful exercise, if only to divest yourself of certain prejudices; any material is pliable enough in the hands of a skilled and imaginative artist.

Guerlain is probably a necessary stop in this adventurous road; even master perfumer Ernest Beaux (working for Chanel) complained that his vanillas turned into creme anglaise, while Guerlain's turned into...Shalimar

The perception of darkness or booziness in vanilla versus chaste "vanilla" probably starts at the kitchen. In the United States cooking vanilla is sold as a liquid form extract that is diluting the white crystals of vanillin in carrier alcohol and other fillers such as burnt sugar (which usually color the liquid a welcoming caramelic shade). Furthermore, the naming of a certain type of vanilla as "Bourbon Vanilla" (after the Bourbon royal family of France who held a claim on the Réunion island where this is produced) further complicates the mind into believing one is smelling...bourbon whiskey!

It's here important to differentiate with amber fragrances (parfums ambrés in French) which, although traditionally built on labdanum and vanillin (a trope of the late 19th century), form a separate category, characterized by a powdery, softly enveloping and animalic quality. Both tonka beans and benzoin resin both have naturally vanillic aspects which are therefore put to the fore in that context. This confusion between "ambers" and purer "vanillas" makes no great practical difference to the wearer (one's interpretation is subjective), but it's something that needs to be mentioned from a technical point of view.

Here are some of the darkest and more suggestive vanilla perfumes you can ever dream of getting your hands on. Feel free to experiment!

via google

Cacharel Gloria: especially the body oil is a gloriously deep, nuanced vanilla (Though discontinued it's a good alternative to the super expensive Spirituelle Double Vanille -see below- and therefore to be pounced on when you see it for sale)
Dior Hypnotic Poison: a bitter almond laced vanillic elixir which is quite powdery. Cult best-seller, a bit thinned in recent edition, more of a fully fledged oriental than a simple vanilla
Chanel Egoiste: marketed to men, snatched by discerning women who like creamy notes of vanilla in a complex blend
Givenchy Organza Indecence: a spin to the original floriental Organza, this vanillic counterpart is flashier and has a rum & cola rather than a kir royal when out at night.
Guerlain Jicky: clearly this lavender fougere it's not all about the vanilla, but especially vintage renditions full of meowing civet make the note gain a mischievous facet that reminds me of the two faces of Janus (Its contemporary spin is Gris Clair by Serge Lutens).
Guerlain Spirituelle Double Vanille: THE reference for boozy vanilla fragrances, it encompasses all the treacle aspects of the genuine vanilla pods. But it's not about darkness, it's about luminosity, about sparkle, about golden incandescence, even if most would unimaginatively call it ...."dark".
Guerlain Shalimar Ode a la Vanille: a more approachable path to the classic of classics, Guerlain Shalimar, with more of a vanilla focus (Shalimar Ode a la Vanille au route de Madagascar and Shalimar Ode a la Vanille au route de Mexique are simply limited annual editions of the same perfume). Shalimar Parfum Initial is also a credible way to get initiated in the cult, as is (with a more lemony touch), Shalimar Light/Eau de Shalimar. 

Of course if you're trying the above flankers of Shalimar, it would be a great injustice not to sample (in all its different concentrations and vintages) the ORIGINAL bronze-skinned deity that is the classic Shalimar. More of an amber oriental than a pure vanilla, however its vanilla component is twisted, romantic, mysteriously creamy and animalic smelling. Just so.

via facebook

Indult Tihota: an expensive vanilla that mentally conjures chestnut brown silk
L'Artisan Parfumeur Vanille Absolument (previously named Havana Vanille): a boozy and tobacco-laced vanilla that maintains a precarious equilibrium like a trapeze artist
La Maison de la Vanille Noire de Mexique: a more economical alternative to Tihota (see above), it highlights the geographical variety (as contrasted to Madagascar)
Martine Micallef Vanille: a not-for-young-girls vanilla blend, rich and nicely boozy, quite polished in the genre. In fact, and said in passing, Parfums M.Micallef have a whole line devoted to vanilla (M.Micallef Collection Vanille), so check their variations out.
Mona di Orio Les Nombres d'Or Vanille: spectacular, dark vanilla, dry and earthy with a bit of rum nuance, its spices in check, masterfully blended
Patricia de Nicolai Vanille Tonka: tonka beans have a natural vanillic facet, which is treated with a smoky note of frankincense given even citrusier facets by the addition of lime
Perlier Carribean Vanilla Coffee: coffee is a natural complement to vanilla, its roasted side keeping the sweetness in check
Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille: if you always sought a sweet, dense pipe tobacco scent but came to "close but no cigar" conclusions, this Tom Ford doesn't disappoint; just be careful with dosage, it's very sweet and potent, though curiously enough not overpowering
Yves Rocher Vanille Noire: like its name suggests, a darker vanilla, really well done on Rocher's part and among their upscale offerings

Do you like dark vanilla fragrances? Which are your favorites?


  1. Thanks for this post Elena. I was waiting anxiously for the darker side of the vanilla since I have yet to find a gourmand vanilla that doesnt turn my stomach. Flowery vanillas have a similar effect on me.
    I like my vanilla woody, smokey, and spicy and I also like my vanilla boozy. MdO's vanilla is one of my favorites and it opened my heart to MdO's work. Vanille 44 and Felanilla, along with MdO's Vanille are in my top three. Sadly, PdN tonka did not work on me at all. It is one of those scents I need to scrub rapidly away or I risk my sanity. M. Micallef Vanilla is a delight although a tad too sweet for me. I wear it for sure. TF's one I adore mainly because of the tobacco since it is also a tad too sweet, yet I still wear it lavishly without respect for my fellow humans.
    I am enjoying this vanilla series so much so I thank you again!

  2. I have two of these Vanillas--L'Artisan's Havanna Vanille (before he name change) and Tom Ford's Tobacco Vanille---both of which I adore. However, among a few others, I own another that I think is a great vanilla--CB I Hate Perfume 7 Billion Hearts.

  3. Now Jicky I do like as its not that "vanilla" to me !!!

  4. I adore vanillas so now I have to check the others from your list I haven't tried yet.
    I especially like the sound of that Noire de Mexique... :)

  5. This is the post I've been waiting for, I look forward to sampling some of these that I haven't tried. I'm glad to see mention of Yves Rocher;the vanilla body lotion is really nice, too. Thanks, E!

  6. I am loving this vanilla series.

  7. Anonymous15:36

    Lubin Korrigan is an amazy boozy vanilla. As is its wilder sister Idole.

  8. I have and enjoy Mona di Orio Les Nombres d'Or Vanille and Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille.

  9. WFTG,

    you're welcome!

    I suppose we have nicely amassed here all the people who find vanilla a difficult note to render right in a relatively simple composition (me included).

    Pity about the deNicolai, it's got lots of fans but I can see how it might be too much for some due to the incense component.

    Glad you're enjoying the series!! There are at least two more installments coming up ;-)

  10. Phyllis,

    great scents, enjoy! (I did like Havana Vanille a lot, yet didn't get a bottle when I had the chance, the new name seems a bit...well...full of itself? I don't know).
    I hear good things about 7.000.000 hearts, need to try!

  11. M,

    Jicky is (was) a dirty beast and it's marvellous for it! ;-)

  12. Ines,

    it's a relatively inexpensive thrill and I highly recommend trying it. It's a good balance between boozy and sweet.

  13. A,

    Yves Rocher has done some pretty spectacular things, especially for the budget, so anything off their range which makes it on these lists is really really good.
    It looks like I have missed on not having tried the lotion. :-) Thanks!!

  14. Jolene,

    so kind of you to say so. Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy the next part or two as well. :-)

  15. Anon,

    ah, Idole is a wild one all right, lovely. Boozy for sure!
    Korrigan I don't really recall. Must refresh my memory. Thanks!

  16. JW,

    isn't it lovely that MdO vanilla? I wouldn't have thought it, but it's very good.
    The TF is a bit too sweet for me, but it's well done all the same, very rich, very "full", very satisfying but not cloying (a feat).

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  18. I love Vanille Noir, it was made for me. Strangers stopping me at streets asking what I am wearing. but for some reason I get a stroke with moss/cedar in the drydown as well.

  19. morticia03:29

    Booze,vanilla,incense,leather and cigarette ashes, count me in!!! I never would've thunk it because I hated vanilla in the past. Some time ago I got a sample of "Monk" by Michael S. and didn't like it. Recently tried it again and I'm addicted (it's now gone). I read reviews about it and suggestions of others that are similar. Boy oh boy are they all pricey and I'm sure they are worth it but until I hit the lottery, no can do. Your site is delicious Elena... I'm always lurking and love to read everyone's responses.

  20. H,

    I can't say I feel that but it's not entirely just vanilla, which is its charm. I think it's patchouli myself.

  21. Morticia,

    thank you so much for your lovely compliment, it's very heartening! Glad the site is providing such pleasure and assuredly the readers do provide a lot of the enjoyment as their comments are always so rich and nuanced.

    I agree that darker vanillas are more appealing, to me as well. I loved Monk, I think it's Storer's best, but never upgraded to a bottle and it's a shame. What alternatives were you given, pray tell?? I perceive it as incensy-woody.

  22. ART06 from PROFUMI D'ART
    is based on Vanilla Beans !

  23. Gopika Madhav13:29

    Nothing seems to hold a candle to Fragonard's Miranda. What category of Vanilla perfume was that? And what's the closest replacement I can find to it (cause I think it was discontinued)?

    Brilliant job on the blog, by the way! :)


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