Category Archives: Vanilla

THE BLACK NARCISSUS GUIDE TO VANILLA

 

 

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A small parcel arrived in the post yesterday from a friend who has just been to the island of Réunion. In it was a bottle of freshly distilled ylang ylang oil called ‘Ylang Ylang Compte Goutte’, a heady, extravagant liquid coloured a light apricot-orange that was deliciously, pungently exotic. Even more excitingly, in a light brown manila envelope as well, were some freshly cured vanilla beans from Madagascar, lying enticingly as though they had just been bought from the market in Antananarivo in their new paper bag and somehow found themselves awakened in Japan.

 

 

The combination of these aromas, plus the letter-stamped knowledge of where they came from, filled me with an instant luscious high on this rainy afternoon in October, as I have always – naturally and instinctively, even before I had been to any of these places –  loved the life-affirming voluptuaries of the tropical: ylang ylang flowers; frangipani, coconut milk, pikake – but in particular the scent, taste, and emotion of vanilla.

 

I have long been obsessed with this note:  not the cheap, synthetic floriental vulgarity of all the current, pink, booblicious, cheap thrill nasties, but rather the vanillin-specked, dark glistening pods fermenting within their sweet odour in the sun; the beans I saw up close and learned how to grow on my stay on an organic vanilla plantation in Indonesia, that ultimate vanilla odyssey,which, for me, was like a dream come  true. Those tiny flecks of beautiful vanilla you see suspended in custards and yoghurts that so entice the air and the buds; concentrated; miniscule dots of aphrodisiacal pungency, flowing out knowingly, and coolly into the lactic, surrounding deliciousness…

 

 

Ah, vanilla….

 

 

 

 

I suppose in scent terms, to quite a large number of perfumists reading this, the thought of stepping out of the house, sweet, smothered and vanilla-drenched, in an aura of yellow, angelic sweetnesses, into the dark and fur-coated night might seem horrendous. We want our oudhs and our green chypres; our fresh, perennial florals, our taut, brisé incenses, our classics:  the dignity, and poise, and people-distancing respect those categories of scent can induce: the elegance. For other people though, for longterm oriental and vanilla lovers like myself, this nerve-appeasing and physically and bodily satisfying perfume ingredient is, when the right mood strikes,  a wonderful, pleasure-filled indulgence – pure cocoon – especially in winter or when at low ebb: a halo of security, and a psychological ploy, always against the long-dreaded, incipient cold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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VANIGLIA DEL MADAGASCAR / FARMACIA S.S. ANNUNZIATA DAL 1561

In its first stages, Vaniglia Del Madagascar, quite possibly the best vanilla there is strangely reminds me very much of the bathing rituals at Japanese hot springs and sento –  or public baths –  where families, individuals and couples go to soap down, switch off, and relax in cleansing pools of contemplation. The smells of steam, active ions, citrus soaps, and saunas made of hinoki wood are somehow encapsulated in the top notes of this delightful perfume of lemon, florals (almost imperceptible), and minerals. There is a fresh, misty saltiness to this stage of the scent that is probably quite an acquired taste but which I have come to really appreciate (maybe because I know just what’s to come…….)

 

 

 

Despite its name, and the fact that this is only available in parfum concentration, the smell of vanilla isn’t obviously present in this fragrance at first, just subliminally. It takes quite some time to appear, in fact, as compressed atoms of natural vanilla molecules seem to dilate outwards, slowly, at their own prehistorically ambered pace.

 

 

When it finally does emerge, though, this vanilla smell is glorious; perfection, and it lasts on the skin all through the night to the next morning, when you have completely succumbed to its heat-charged fullness – draped in its caresses like a cream-silk blanket.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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VANILLE / MOLINARD

 

 

 

Icicles dangle over pure water in the vanilla glen. Fairies flit and sip mischievously on vanilla vodka….

 

 

 

Less heavy and direct than most vanillas, Molinard’s refreshingly simple scent is still vanilla-bean centered, naturally, and eventually quite sweet: yet it is also cool, delicious – the flavour you know from glacés, and sorbets. With a spritz of alcohol, a milky ice cream coolness graces the skin, softening nicely to a subtle, skin-close, crystalline vanilla I adore.

 

 

 

 

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TIHOTA / INDULT

The vanilla diva’s cult classic favourite, Indult is a perfection of high quality vanilla bean essences – Tahitian, in particular – encompassing and caressing like a soft, expensive shawl on an island sunset. But is the white musk accord that is the question here: the crux of whether you will fall for this uncompromising elixir or not. Sensual, salty, body-kissing, this note is amalgamated, synergistically, fused effortlessly and fulsomely with the vanilla at the heart of the fragrance, to form an apogee of these two notes that is irresistibly carnal, if a tad boundless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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VANILLE EXTREME / COMPTOIR SUD PACIFIQUE

 

 

Another cult product that pushes to dangerous breaking point the limits of sweets and the popular childish goo goo ga ga, many people, probably even the most committed vanillista, will find this scent intolerable. It is the Room 101 of Sweet Vanilla Horror.

 

 

 

Vanille Extrême, an intensely strange and addictive perfume, smells, to me, of Play-Doh and My Little Ponies – that chewy, scented plastic rubber; of the cheap, vanilla candles in all those ‘Angels and Healing’ stores; of all the frilly infantilia of the American childhood bedroom, the volume on the pink music speakers turned up to a deafening ten…..

 

 

 

A couple of sprays on your skin….

 

 

 

Good Lord.

 

 

 

You are puking, sweetly, alone, in a vat of mallows. But just when you think you have made a very grave mistake in allowing it on your skin and are deliriously trying to locate the washbasin, your head exploding in Don Quixotian mania, a few minutes in, the perfume suddenly becomes so edible : a spiced Tahitian warmth – rich, cute, lickable; a warm and tenacious vanilla that you leave on, tentatively and begin to savour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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VANILIA / L’ARTISAN PARFUMEUR (1978)

L’Artisan’s Vanilia, unfortunately now discontinued but available online if you look hard enough, was a very original interpretation of the vanilla pod that I always felt whisked up the note to an airy, floral delicacy you simply couldn’t find anywhere else.

 

 

 

Rather than focusing on what humans do with the essence (ie. making cakes and perfumes), Jean LaPorte had the originality to take an innocent, exterior snapshot of the entire plant, from bean to flower, as if from outside, and from botanical distance.

 

 

Light as a meringue, this much missed scent opens with an aerian, orchidaceous top note of vanilla flowers and high grade ylang. It seems to dance on air, undercut with subtle notes of nutmeg, clove, and ambergris, the overall effect adding up to a perfume that charms and magnetizes with its carefree, beautiful seamlessness.

 

 

 

 

 

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SPIRITUEUSE DOUBLE VANILLE / GUERLAIN

This perfume, initially released as a limited edition, is now safely part of the main collection, so its many devotees can breathe a sigh of relief. A Guerlain take on vanilla that takes the note into cherry red territories never chartered before, the ‘spiritueuse’ of the name alludes not in fact to spirituality, nor some form of ‘spirited’, or spritely vanilla, but is in fact an allusion to alcohol. Spirits: a honeyed, liquorous cherry brandy with a ‘double shot’ of vanilla: ambrosial, kirsch-like glints of ylang ylang, jasmine, rose, incense and pink pepper, boosted with warm, golden undercurrents of cedar and benzoin.

 

 

When you first put this luxuriant perfume on your skin, the main impression is of a delicious, boozed down sweetness that you can’t always immediately locate in your mind as vanilla. Lying within this dark amber liquid, though, is a shipwreck of vanilla beans drowning in liquor; hundreds of pods slowly surrendering their scent in brilliantly slowed down time.

 

The final notes (four hours or so after application) embody the true soul of vanille; a fluttering, ripe, hummingbird sucrose.

 

 

 

 

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VANIGLIA DEL MADAGASCAR/ I PROFUMI DI FIRENZE

The Golden Fleece of vanillas? Glinting, concentrated, swimmingly smooth and sweet, this gorgeous monstrosity from Florence is a potent and very gorgeous little vanilla that can send you nuts. I say this because this happened to me personally: my Japanese neighbour had just been to Florence on her first trip abroad and was very pleased with the three perfumes she had brought back from the lovely Profumi Di Firenze boutique there. I quickly snapped them up to borrow and review. Dolce Amaro, yes, very nice. Iris Di Firenze, yes, yes, perfectly fine. But unstoppering the bottle of Vaniglia Del Madagascar I unleashed a dolcissimo, furious, cascade…

 

 

 

Besotted, yet shocked by the exultant sweetness, I found myself using up almost a third of her bottle despite myself in one go: a catnipped, autoerotic frenzy that filled the house with maddening, tooth-loosening scent (I have since discovered that vanilla is made up of certain brain-altering chemicals that include epinephrine, or adrenaline which may somehow explain my excessive reactions….)

 

The perfume’s perfection came a whole day later though, long after this initial stupor, following a very long sleep, when I awoke in my bed on a late Sunday morning with a golden, delicious smell all over my body: the delectable, creamy Bourbon edibility, basically,  of the very best Florentine gelato.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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COLOGNE DU 68/ GUERLAIN

While some purists might string me up alive for including this zingy scent in a Best of Vanilla write up, to me, this delightful cologne, despite its citrus beginnings ( clementine, blood orange, limette); herbs (lavender, thyme); its delicate, petalled floralcy (magnolia, ylang ylang, immortelle); its hint of spice (star anise, ginger, nutmeg) and its subtle woody undertones (sandalwood, vetiver), this is ultimately a Guerlain – that is to say, powdery, vanillic and oriental. Basenotes of vanilla pod, benzoin, opoponax and amber grace the aforementioned eye-opening notes most pleasantly, and the result on the skin is fresh and modern, yet soft and carnal. Clearly a descendant of the great Roma (Laura Biagiotti, 1988), but clarified for a new generation, this is a great summer vanilla.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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VANILLE 44/ LE LABO

 

 

 

Le Labo make good quality, quirky takes on classic notes – stripped down and modern – and their minimalist, unclogged take on vanilla is very pretty.

 

 

Vanille 44 is a light-as-an-egg scent with a lovely bergamot, orange and mint opening that melts into a slightly floriental, warm vanilla note before settling onto a lightly wooded structure of guaiac. It is an optimistic smell: sensual, cute, yet it eschews the heavy-lidded, high-calorie butteriness of some vanillas.

 

 

 

 

 

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NOTE VANILLEE/ MICALEFF

And while we are on the subject of desserts, and crême brulées, and other totally irresistible contrivances (god I have to say that writing this post is making me seriously hungry), let’s take a quick look at Note Vanillée, a consummate – as always – creation by the house of Micallef: that industrious, unsung house of dense, polished, and glinting surfaces and perfumed riches whose scents, to me, always resemble lovingly crafted confections as much as fragrances.

In their jewelled, gilded, almost gaudily decorated flacons these perfumes are always somehow an event, perfume as a ‘touch of glamour’ to one’s evening apparel: the icing, as it were, on the cake. Note Vanillée is like this: glittering and alcoholic, and sugared as a wrapped up marron glacé at Christmastime.

 

 

 

 

 

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JOUR DE FETE/ L’ARTISAN PARFUMEUR

 

 

I have always loved the vanillic, candied coating on Tic-Tac mints and the powdered glazed dusting on sugared almonds, and in 2004 L’Artisan released this rather unique and unusual fragrance – a scent designed to evoke a French Spring fair: the taste of sugared almond dragées dusted with vanilla sugar.

 

Sweet, airy and fun, the initial top note is like cassia trees in the wind you pass under on the way to the fair; the sultry vanilla / smoky almond base note  – far more melancholic and poetic – the story of perhaps what happens next…..

 

 

 

 

 

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SUBLIME VANILLE/ CREED

 

 

In 2009 Creed released Sublime Vanille, a rather beautiful, simple and delicate scent of vanillic translucence that begins with flighty initial notes of lemon zest and Calabrian orange hovering above a gentle floral eiderdown of climbing Tahitian vanilla orchid. A soft diminuendo down to the opalescent base of tonka bean and South American Bourbon vanilla leads us to that familiar metallic, light-infused ambergris-laced sheen that is always very much the signature of Oliver Creed.

 

Sublime Vanille is a very subtle perfume (some might say too much so, more a veneer of vanilla than a full-blown concoction,) but this was apparently the point, as it is furtively aimed at being the world’s first men’s ‘soliflore’ vanilla. It is also extraordinarily expensive, housed in a very suave and regal hand-blown Pochet glass bottle that very much adds to the perfume’s appeal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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VANISIA by CREED

If Sublime Vanille is a blushing and introverted handsome prince, he is nevertheless very much the hen-pecked husband, and his consort – buxom, burnished Vanisia, most definitely wears the trousers. Creed tells us that the illustrious forbears of the house created this lusty perfume for the queen of Spain, who “happened to be the great niece of Marie Antoinette of France. After assuming the throne, the Spanish queen wished to make a style statement like her French relative. She commissioned from Creed a fragrance that was rich, sensual and mysterious: the unforgettable Vanisia.”

 

Believe none of it. Salacious, dry, and libidinous, this perfume couldn’t be more eighties powerhouse if it tried – it is big, voluptuous, curvy, smells exactly like the year it came out – 1987 – and I have the memories to prove it.

 

Back in my home town as a pop-obsessed teenager, I would often go round to my friend’s house to listen to his new Madonna 12”s on his superior powerhouse stereo system. His mother, large and very proud of it, wore Vanisia, and would be quite happy to stroll about in her lacey white lingerie despite (or because of) the generous flesh on offer, leaving behind her in the air a crude, heady  – but delicious –  scent of mama.

 

I had no idea where to look each time and I think she actually loved watching me blush: smoky, dark vanilla with Bulgarian rose and thick, heady jasmine over sandalwood (always a lewd, suggestive accord), together producing a womanly, ‘big event’ scent that though perhaps Creed’s most vulgar offering (if you exclude Royal Delight), is extremely magnetic.

 

 

 

 

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UN BOIS VANILLE/ SERGE LUTENS

Un Bois Vanille is still a nice woody, sawdusty licorice vanilla with a dry, bitey, facet of coconut macaroon that makes it quite appealing. Pre-reformulation, though, it was far more delightful. There was an almost extra-sensory, pillowing softness of texture here that made it delectable: the scent would hover about the mouth of the bottle and, like Alice, urge you to drink me, which is why I got through three or four bottles of the stuff and its drug-like vanilla ending until I put on some perfume from a new, changed batch and the magic had gone

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GOURMAND COQUIN /  GUERLAIN

Over the holidays, one Christmas and New Year, I attempted to perfect the art of making mulled wine by adding my own twist of Madagascar vanilla beans to the brew along with the other spices, letting the base blend macerate for a couple of days before adding the wine, brandy, and a soupçon of Cointreau. I was thus astonished to find this effect replicated almost perfectly when I first smelled the  exorbitantly sweet and boozy perfume by Guerlain, which in its initial stages smells almost identical to what I was imbibing over the holidays. Spices, rum, and dark cacao simmer sumptuously over roses and Shalimaresque vanilla pods before settling down gently to a cheekily luscious, chocolatey vanilla that while sweet, has enough character and taste to never quite go over the edge.

 

 

VANILLE ORCHIDEE/  VAN CLEEF & ARPELS

Yet another vanilla perfume with a touch of enticing gourmandise is Vanille Orchidée by Van Cleef, a well-regarded scent that might possibly be the ideal ‘straight’ vanilla. A sherbety mandarin-lychee opening is a nostril-tickling ballet of delight, as particles of freshness dance before your eyes, edible and delicious as a lemon soufflé: a citric, effervescent apéritif that soon segues into a lightly floral, smooth and warm scent with delicate remembrances of the dessert trolley, bitter almond, cedar, and white musk. Perhaps a touch undaring in its coy, floral femininity, the perfume nevertheless has perfect balance, and a light, smooth, stable, vanilla base note that lasts for hours on the skin yet always remains subtle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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VANILLARY by GORILLA PERFUMES

Feral, indolic, Vanillary could hardly be a more different experience of vanilla. This all-natural creation by perfumer Simon Constantine is a very lush and overripe perfume that begins with a blast of animalic jasmine absolute and tenacious, coconutty sandalwood, over a thick meniscus of insistent vanillic sweetness and tonka bean. Like a powdery, heavy black-winged moth dragging itself slowly through the heat and viscid, dripping jungle sap, we drift along languidly in the heat but find ourselves suddenly subsumed by a giant, flesh-eating flower. All is rough; unseamless; driven – I find Vanillary to be a very erotic and id-driven perfume that will be worn to quite magnetic effect by the sultry and sexually confident, but it is probably to be worn with caution.

 

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VANIGLIA by SANTA MARIA NOVELLA

This elegant, cultured, Florentine creature would simply faint, like Lucy Honeychurch in A Room With A View, in the presence of the hairy vanilla gorilla above.

 

The Santa Maria Novella profumi are about as far away from Anglo-Saxon literalness, or that charged, coquettish French volupté, as it is possible to be. Though sensual and rich, there is always an indefinable chastity in the monastery’s perfumes; a lack of sugar and nonsense that distinguishes them from other houses. Vaniglia is one such fragrance; liquorous, and savoury, it is a frankly peculiar, but rather pleasingly idiosyncratic scent from another time that to me smells like spilled white wine and overdone crème brulée; yesterday’s sandalwood, and imperious, old fashioned, buttery musks – an unusual vanilla with a nostalgic, coppery reserve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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SLEEPING WITH GHOSTS/ MARK BUXTON

The curiously named Sleeping With Ghosts may sound dark, daunting and gothic but the name is misleading: this is in fact a distinctly appealing, fruity vanillic scent that while linear and monothematic, is immediately touching and uplifting. It is a composition dominated by a sweet, spectral vanilla suggesting poignant memories; a lover’s body that has graced your sheets but has now gone, leaving nothing but the sensation that they are still there… just traces. These are the ghosts that the perfumer seems to be alluding to; those feelings of infatuation, happiness and spontaneity that love and reminiscence evoke, and a sense of yearning for those feelings again come springtime.

 

If vanilla is usually custard yellow (like, for instance, the Van Cleef & Arpels above), this perfume is pink ivory white: pitched higher on the musical scale, creamily fruit-tinged, an insidious, addictive smell that dominates the scent, fused with barely perceptible touches of leather and vetiver. The beginning of the perfume is the stage I like the best though, as it is all about the vivacious smells of tagetes, peony flowers and, notably, a very bright and deliciously juicy quince, an unusual note in a perfume and one that works perfectly over the softer notes in the base. It is a perfume I would love to wear on an early sunny morning on a winter’s day in London, the fruited opening brisk and optimistic under a crisp white shirt, the softly tenacious sun-licked vanilla note rising up at various points in the day.

 

Despite the slight disappointment I feel in the base notes, when the vanilla becomes a touch too subdued for a fiend such as myself, this is, for me, one of the happiest scents around.

 

 

 

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EAU DUELLE/DIPTYQUE

In vanillic terms, I think of Eau Duelle as Sleeping With Ghosts‘ sister, because they share a similarly light vanilla and ease of temperament that is quite different to the more voluptuous Bourbons that we are used to in most perfumes of this type. Eau Duelle is no odalisque: she is a green vanilla, a gazelle of the forest; shy, demure even. She holds something back. Maybe too much so: like many other people who have been underwhelmed by this release by Diptyque, there somehow seems to be something, that indefinable magical extra ingredient missing in the scent, as though it needed just that extra sprinkling of sugar.

 

 

Nevertheless, the intrinsic duality of the fragrance, in which strangely verdant notes of calamus grass, juniper, tea and elemi contradict spitefully with the ghostly frankincense and pepper underlying these cool and aerial groves of vanilla, makes Eau Duelle a youthful, spritely scent, delicately attractive and understated, the tendrils of chlorophyll cradling the vanilla right into the drydown as the deer disappear back into the hedgerow at the first primordial light of dusk.

 

 

 

 

 

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VANILLE TONKA by PARFUMS DE NICOLAI

This sophisticated, adult, even ‘difficult’ vanilla by Patricia Nicolai, who never toes the line of what is considered fashionable, but simply follows her well-esteemed instincts, is worth your consideration if you like darker, sultrier vanillas. Like Eau Duelle, Vanille Tonka features frankincense in its heart but far more intensely interwoven with a incensey vanilla and dry cinnamon charge that takes the note in new directions. No ingenue, this is a feathery, silky boa of a perfume that has seen a few things in her time: topped with tart, tangy notes of basil, tangerine and lime, she settles into her own dark terrain of vanilla, ensconced in her corner; harder, more aware and brooding than her coquettish, lightweight contemporaries, biding her time, eyes lowered…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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VANILLE DES ISLES by PARFUMS DE TAHITI

 

 

When it comes to vanilla, it is possible that I am something of a purist. Though I do enjoy novel approaches to framing the bean, ultimately, I don’t usually want anything extraneous getting in the way of the pleasure. For me, the vanilla, preferably of the best possible quality, should be enthroned at the heart of the perfume, and all paths should lead inexorably to its magnificence.

 

 

 

 

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I also realize that I am sometimes being a titillator on this blog, with my tales of the Tokyo flea market and its treasures (which have really buffered up the bounty of my perfume cabinets over the years), and I am not entirely sure either what the Perfumista Ethical Committee take is on describing perfumes that are impossible to find, either, but Vanille Des Isles, by the mysterious Parfums De Tahiti, is certainly a very good example of a very ‘pure’ vanilla, if not quite what you might expect from its name.

 

 

Tahitian vanilla is more delicate, floral and exquisite than its Malagasy counterpart, so I assumed that this scent, which was just sitting there at one stall at the flea market one day, would be light, monoï-ish, breathed upon by coconut winds. Instead, it is a perfect example of a boozed-up, smoked, and very full vanilla, as though strands of tobacco and well-cured vanilla pods had been steeped for years in caskets of rum.

I can’t say it is an easy wear: the vanilla within smells almost toasted, and it is masculine enough, to be honest, for a pirate, but it smells so natural, expansive and rugged, that if vanilla perfumes like this really are available all over the islands, you can put me on the first plane to Papeete.

 

 

 

 

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VANILLA SMOKE/ AFTELIER

From my unforgettable experiences in Java, I am now intensely familiar with the smell of natural vanilla. Intensely: as if somehow I myself, in a former life, had been a grain of unctuous vanilla ‘caviar’, emanating oily vanilla-ness gaily from within my own warm, brown seed pod.

 

 

Having stayed with my lovely Indonesian family, and seen the process of vanilla bean cultivation and its after-production first hand with their employees: standing in the drying attic in the house’s roof,and being overwhelmed by the utterly intoxicating smell; from crates and crates of the beans just stacked there in open caskets, giving off scent, each one of them replete with vanillin and hundreds of other natural aromachemicals, so different, so so different from the ‘vanilla’ you get in most perfumes – far deeper, leathery, textured, complex and animalically three dimensional (if not as easy or even as necessarily pleasing), I learned, with own my nose, that this is a fulsome, living and breathing smell; of a multi-dimensionality you simply don’t get from the synthetic vanilla we all know so well  –  a much clearer smell that maintains a smoother, lighter, more crystalline and ice-creamy transparency.

 

 

No. Vanilla beans in the flesh, and in great profusion, so strong that your brain tastes of it and you dream it again at night, are far more savoury, masculine and obstinate than one might expect; percolating and ruminating within themselves oleaginously, and without compromise. As a result, I think of vanilla pods almost more as creatures than as just a ‘spice’, the way in which the air root of the vine is constantly searching and moving down towards the ground to gain anchor, the fact that the vanilla orchid flowers on one day and on one day only (and if you miss it, you miss the pollination, which is done by hand); the way the pods have to gestate for such long periods, hanging fecundly and with high suggestiveness, before they are ready to be plucked; even the curing process itself, when the beans (which have no scent until cured) are ‘killed’ before being wrapped up in shrouds, and put in wooden boxes, and lovingly and caringly placed in the sunlight to sweat and be cured, and embalmed, like mummies.

 

 

When I came back to Japan with my suitcase (illegally) full of vanilla beans and living orchids that we managed to keep for a fairly long time (though ultimately the climate was wrong for them here), I tried, without much success, to make decent perfumes of my Javan vanilla beans; doused in spirits; soused in vodka to infuse the browning, tangible molecules I was always trying to get the blend right with (see my Black Narcissus Java review for the one exception that didn’t turn out too badly). Yet there was always something ‘off’ in one or more of the later stages; the strange, bodily, dirtiness always coming out on the skin at some later point, just one of the vanilla pod’s inevitable facets, something skeezy you don’t get in the ‘purer’ synthetic (which is probably why Shalimar is so seamless). The Pod always seems to spread itself out and not curtail its unrulier, oozier elements – it is quite a difficult essence to control, actually – which is why it is very interesting for me to smell Mandy Aftel’s very original take on natural vanilla extract, Vanilla Smoke.

 

From the first microsecond of smelling this perfume, I was plunged immediately back into the world of vanilla steeping – the type here is unquestionably natural –  and I found the vanilla pod department of my brain cells lighting up the second I whiffed it – but it has also been cleverly smoothed out; lit up, decorated, but also rounded, in all the right places with intuitively (and counter-intuitively) chosen aromatics. We are immediately aware of a smokiness, as the name of course suggests, but here it is a fuzzy and soft, warm and gustatory smoke, rather than, say, the broiled ham of Le Labo’s Patchouli 24 (I used to love the bonfire aspect of that scent, with its strong vanilla undertones, but once I had honed in the birch tar, barbecued meat-fest lurking at the heart, I could never put it on again). No. This is rather the mellow, snug infusion of lapsang souchong tea leaf extract (a very acquired taste among teas, but one which is very atmospheric I always find; somehow nostalgic and touching; historical) fusing together with the vanilla in great ease, cradled with some ambergris, some coumarin, and some synthesised vanillin, so that in the base, once the hazy, autumnal-wintery vibe of the opening (also tinged with mandarin and saffron) subsides, you are left with a sweet, and quite comforting scent that clings peacefully to the skin.

 

While this may not be an ‘event’ oriental in the style of the traditional grand parfum (it is hard to imagine anyone wearing this to a gala for example, or to the opera), every well made perfume has its place. Rather than a paen to extroversion, Vanilla Smoke is more for the indoors and for the introverted, or at the very least a scent to snuggle up to. Caught on the wool hairs of a sweater, for instance, or on a soft and favourite scarf, as you wrap yourself up and step out into a cold winter’s day, this strangely touching vanilla perfume is really rather lovely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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7 BILLION HEARTS by CB I HATE PERFUME

 

 

7 Billion Hearts (named for the world’s population and its inexhaustible love of the vanilla bean) is a vanilla that you should definitely try if you really like them dark and smoky: it really is the woodiest, most smouldering vanilla I know (my own private name for it is “The Pod And The Plank”), and many perfumists, vanilla lovers or no, have fallen head over heels for it. Costly vanilla absolutes from Tahiti and Madagascar are combined, according to creator Christopher Brosius, with ‘smoky, resinous notes…the vanilla slowly emerging through a veil of smoke…’

 

 

 

To this nose, although the base clearly contains very high quality vanilla tinctures, and I can intellectually appreciate the artistic impulse to ‘reinvent’ vanilla, upon each application of this perfume I feel that I have suddenly been teleported, unwillingly and in Star Trek-style, to IKEA.

 

 

An intense blast of woody-woody home centre greets my nose: plastics; paint-strippers; and polyurethane-wrapped kitchen cabinets surrounding and suffocating me in their oaken overcoats…

 

 

 

Dulled by the softly softly muzak and the lighting, I drift along the aisles, half-zonked and mindless, until I come across a food section, the smell of wood shavings and sawdust still grinding me and my brain, slowly, to a halt.

 

 

Leaning forward, brainless and floppy at the spice racks, I find myself ogling, suddenly and desperately, an attractive-looking jar of vanilla beans…

 

 

Reach out my listless hand; prize it open; taking time to correctly remove the gentle, plastic lid…

 

 

 

Stick in my nose, oblivious to the basket-carrying zombies that mill around me…..

 

 

 

And I recall…

 

 

 

 

Ah yes!

 

 

 

 

Now I remember: there it is, that was what I was looking for…

 

 

 

 

Vanilla.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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COLOGNE OF LOVE: : : EAU AIMABLE by LE COUVENT DES MINIMES (2015)

 

 

 

 

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Sometimes a perfumer reaches an alchemical perfection, in which all the elements within not only balance and harmonize each other but reach for something further: that intangible, effortless loveliness that we ultimately want from a scent ( I am rarely in search of difficulty:  I want ease, and immediacy, and pleasure ).

 

 

 

‘Eau Aimable’, or ‘Botanical Cologne Of Love’, achieves these criteria with flying colours. An inexpensive creation, it nevertheless has a bridling, emotional simplicity in which a warm and endearing note of orange blossom and neroli is combined with oranges (petitgrain, bergamot, orange essence and mandarin); some wild rose (or eglantine), some sugared almond vanilla, and – the stroke of inspired genius –  a bitter dash of capucine (tropaeolum magus), a form of nasturtium flower – pictured above – that cuts through the feathery softness of the blend like a Campari drunk at sunset.

 

 

 

There may be oranger scents available on the market, but this is the orangest.                  Soft, smile-inducing, and somewhat reminiscent of the quite similar By Kilian’s Love, Eau Aimable is nevertheless less rigidly confectioned than that delectable portion of vanilla meringue; more ephemeral, fleet of foot. The perfect pyjama-donned, bedside sleep scent, it is a lovely, gentle, cologne that just comes on; winks angelically; and, as you fall into dreams –  a mere halo of eiderdown now remaining on the skin –  has gone…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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IN SEARCH OF : : : GOLD by AMOUAGE (1983) + PIRATES’ GOLD by HOVE PARFUMEUR (?) + HABANITA by MOLINARD (1921)

 

 

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Although most of our physical and emotional energy has recently been sucked up by the demands of the school new term on top of the exhausting (but marvellous) complications of making a sumptuous and ridiculous comedy horror movie up in Tokyo, there are still times when a relaxed and quieter weekend here in Kamakura are what the doctor ordered. The other weekend was just that: a Saturday spent just pottering about at home, and the Sunday a walk down into the small but ancient capital of which we are so fortunate to be residents.

 

I had noticed a small bottle of scent that I had somehow become oblivious to. I suppose there are so many perfumes just lying around in various nooks and corners of the house that I sometimes just overlook them. This one, though, I didn’t even realize I had: an extrait sample bottle of Hové Parfumeur’s Pirates’ Gold, that I had received, along with Spanish Moss (now where has that one got to?) when I bought the delightful Vetiver and Plage d’été from that glorious shop in New Orleans back on New Years Eve, 2015.

 

That city still haunts us and we want to return.  This time, in summer perhaps, to drench up the heat and the atmosphere even more – I don’t mind how sweltering it gets; it couldn’t be any hotter or more humid than Japan is in August and we can both handle it fine – there was just something about that place; so spirit-filled and weird, that I think we both have ‘Southern Gothic’ now permanently infiltrated as part of our psychic bloodstream.

 

I had just been reading Daphne DuMaurier’s page turner Jamaica Inn (1936), a surprisingly violent but very exciting thriller set in Cornwall about pirates and all manner of plundering, murdering and generally fiendish devil-doing, and so the sudden sighting of Pirates’ Gold, a small bottle standing on some furniture in the piano room, seemed opportune. Prising open the lid (I don’t think I had ever smelled it, even though it had been there for over a year) I was greeted with a warm, dense, rich and golden smell of aldehydes and spice; of leather and old-fashioned hunk papa and thought to myself yes, this refulgent specimen might make a very nice Sunday afternoon scent for the D – I’ll get him to try it when we go out.

 

And he did. It was glorious on him, (he now keeps the little bottle tucked inside the change pocket of his wallet, which was scented by me with pure patchouli oil and gets people swooning when it is opened; you can see pupils slightly dilating when he gets his money out to pay), especially when then pared, later, with a dose of vintage Amouage Gold Man, a bottle of which is available at a Kamakura antiques shop I frequent for 20,000 yen (about 200 dollars, but she says that it would have originally cost about 100,000; this is a boxed set with soap in the almost ridicuously adorned gold Arabic bottle) and which she allowed us to spray on Duncan even though I wasn’t planning to actually buy it. I think I have bought enough things from her now that she knows that I can be trusted and that when it comes to perfume, I am the real deal.

 

 

We went to a Turkish restaurant. The food in Japan, whatever you eat, is always high quality. Whether you are an aficionado of washoku traditional Japanese cuisine or not ( and I am not, on the whole, I like about half of it), whatever you eat is delicious, fresh and aeons better than anything you can get back home or in the majority of other countries. The French bread is as good as that in Paris, the Chinese food unbelievable, even cheap, basic Japanese eateries incredibly well made and good value, and this is why eating out here in this country is always such a pleasure. The simple fact is that a mediocre establishment just won’t get any customers (as food is basically life here in this culture, to an extent that annoys me if I am truthful), and so to survive, you have to be good and incontrovertibly oishii (delicious).

 

 

And so it was. But what was stimulating my senses far more than the delectable beef in yoghurt and tomato sauce that I was eating along with some very fresh and piquant meze was the smell, from across the table, of Duncan’s combined gold. Amouage is an aldehydic, floral, and very animalic sandalwood, resplendent and regal, that wasn’t quite his actual cup of tea for its rosy, almost ruinous sourness, but which I can tell you from my end where I was sitting, smelled very erotic (was it the civet, the rock rose, the glorious dryness of the blend, whose tenacity was getting on his nerves, particularly when mingling with the male repleteness of the Pirate?) I don’t know. But what I do know was that it made me realize quite profoundly how little perfume is consciously and intelligently used these days as a purposeful object of desire: that a well chosen scent selection can be a genuinely seductive swirl of odours that discombulate the senses and scythe effortlessly through the resistance of the rational; that the inhalation of a beautifully made perfume emanating from the body of a human being can root you in a moment of sensory perception that has nothing to do with politics or logic or the everyday and for a few seconds at least can plunge you into something that feels like eternity.

 

 

The texture and the heft, the dense thickness of these scents with their varying layers of wood and ambered perception then got me dreaming back to Mexico City. We went there about ten years ago before attending a friend’s wedding down south in Guadalajara, and I still remember the joy, after the endless journey from Japan, of waking up in such an unfamiliar – and for a British person living in Japan – very exotic location, in our hotel room, and the pleasure of unpacking and taking out the new perfumes I had brought with me. All perfume lovers know this  feeling. Yes, you have your essential fragrances with you in your suitcase that you know you will wear sooner or later, once you are a few days into your vacation. But what a thrill to arrive in a brand new place and after your first shower of that day to apply something you have never even tried before, a heady collaboration of sense and temporality as the perfume fuses with the sensations you are experiencing as you head out the door and let the new environment just wash over you. I remember on that sun-filled August  morning I was wearing Yerabate by Lorenzo Villoresi, a lovely hay-like green aromatic citrus that was perfect with my morning coffee, but then as the evening wore on I  took out from my pocket the vial of Habanita parfum that I had got from Les Senteurs on Elizabeth Street, London, and which I had saved until this sunset moment, and wore like a cloak.

 

 

The experience of both Golds on Duncan somehow suddenly caterpulted me back to this first wearing of Habanita as we recklessly explored all neighbourhoods of Mexico City, later that evening and night, heedless as to which parts might be more dangerous than others ( if this was even true)  my tobacco-fused vetiver vanilla, dark and a little bit dastardly,  the perfect accompaniment. And on that Sunday in Kamakura, as we sat in the Turkish restaurant by a window overlooking the main town square, my smell brain had strangely brought it back to life so completely I found that I was craving it (anyone else out there love Habanita?): that elegant fusion of smoky, sinewy richness that was so ripe, and alluring, in that new and thrilling Latin context.

 

 

In my view, perfume does not need to be just this tame, thoughtless afterthought that it is for the majority of people who just wear any old cheap commercial rubbish that has no spirit or tangible greatness. It can flood the sky and the air all around you, be the colour that cradles your brain and your day as you three dimensionalize what you are living with sight, and sound, and the memory of smell. With perfumes this sensual and rich, created by knowing perfumers who have perfected their art and filled their languid liquids with intelligence, sensuality and poetry, it can be an anchor.

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Filed under Floral Aldehydes, Flowers, Sandalwood, Vanilla, Vetiver

SNUG : : VANILLA SMOKE by AFTELIER PERFUMES ( 2015 )

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I am intensely familiar with the smell of natural vanilla. Intensely: as if I myself, in a former life, had been a grain of unctuous vanilla ‘caviar’, emanating oily vanilla-ness gaily from within my warm, brown seed pod.

 

Having stayed on a vanilla plantation in Java and seen the process of vanilla bean cultivation and after-production first hand, standing in an Indonesian family’s drying attic and being overwhelmed by the intoxicating scent of natural vanilla; from crates and crates of the beans just stacked there in open caskets, giving off scent, each one of them replete with vanillin and hundreds of other natural aromachemicals, so different, so so different from the ‘vanilla’ you get in most perfumes – far deeper, leathery, textured, complex and animalically three dimensional (if not as easy or even as necessarily pleasing), I learned, with own my nose, that this is a fulsome, living and breathing smell; of a multi-dimensionality you simply don’t get from the synthetic vanilla we all know so well  –  a much clearer smell that maintains a smoother, lighter, more crystalline and ice-creamy transparency.

 

No. Vanilla beans in the flesh, and in great profusion, so strong that your brain tastes of it and you dream it again at night, are far more savoury, masculine and obstinate than one might expect; percolating and ruminating within themselves oleaginously and without compromise. As a result, I think of vanilla pods almost more as creatures than as just a ‘spice’, the way in which the air root of the vine is constantly searching and moving down towards the ground to gain anchor, the fact that the vanilla orchid flowers on one day and on one day only (and if you miss it, you miss the pollination, which is done by hand); the way the pods have to gestate for such long periods, hanging fecundly and with high suggestiveness, before they are ready to be plucked; even the curing process itself, when the beans (which have no scent until cured) are ‘killed’ before being wrapped up in shrouds, and put in wooden boxes, and lovingly and caringly placed in the sunlight to sweat and be cured, and embalmed, like miniature  mummies.

 

When I came back to Japan with my suitcase (illegally) full of vanilla beans and living orchids that we managed to keep for a fairly long time though ultimately the climate was wrong for them here, I tried, without much success, to make decent perfumes of my Javan vanilla beans; doused in spirits; soused in vodka to infuse the browning, tangible molecules I was always trying to get the blend right with (see my Black Narcissus Java review for the one exception that didn’t turn out too badly). Yet there was always something off in one or more of the later stages; the strange, bodily, dirtiness always coming out on the skin at some later point, just one of the vanilla pod’s inevitable facets, something skeezy you don’t get in the ‘purer’ synthetic (which is why Shalimar is so seamless). The pod always seems to spread itself out and not curtail its unrulier, oozier elements – it is quite a difficult essence to control, which is why it is very interesting for me to smell Mandy Aftel’s new and quite original take on natural vanilla extract, Vanilla Smoke.

 

 

From the first microsecond of smelling this perfume, I was plunged immediately back into the world of vanilla steeping – the type here is unquestionably natural, and I found the vanilla pod department of my brain cells lighting up the second I whiffed it – but it has also been cleverly smoothed out; lit up, decorated but also rounded, in all the right places with intuitively (and counter-intuitively) chosen aromatics. We are immediately aware of a smokiness, as the name of course suggests, but here it is a fuzzy and soft, warm and gustatory smoke, rather than, say, the broiled ham horror of Le Labo’s Patchouli 24 (I used to love the bonfire aspect of that scent, with its strong vanilla undertones, but once I had honed in the birch tar, barbecued meat-fest lurking at the heart, I could never put it on again). No. This is rather the mellow, snug infusion of lapsang souchong tea leaf extract (a very acquired taste among teas, but one which is very atmospheric I always find; somehow nostalgic and touching; historical) fusing together with the vanilla in great ease, cradled with some ambergris, some coumarin and some synthesised vanillin, so that in the base, once the hazy, autumnal-wintery vibe of the opening (also tinged with mandarin and saffron) subsides, you are left with a sweet, and quite comforting scent that clings peacefully to the skin.

 

 

While this may not be an ‘event’ oriental in the style of the traditional grand parfum (it is hard to imagine anyone wearing this to a gala for example, or to the opera), every well made perfume has its place. Personally, I would like it stronger and more intense, so am interested in sampling the perfume version as opposed to the edp (and it is crying out for a really intense solid version, surely; it would be lovely to have a secret compact of Vanilla Smoke in my pocket to just open and dab on at the right moment in winter) but even in this concentration, the scent, rather than a paen to extroversion, is more for the indoors and for the introverted, or at the very least a scent to snuggle up to. Caught on the wool hairs of a sweater, for instance, or on a soft and favourite scarf, as you wrap yourself up and step out into a cold winter’s day, I imagine that this could be really rather lovely.

 

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FIVE SWEET INDULGENCES: ANIMA DULCIS by ARQUISTE (20I2) + L’HISTOIRE CHARNELLE by CREATIONS HUBERT MAES (2007)+ CARA by FARMACIA SS ANNUNZIATA + GOTHIC II by LOREE RODKIN (20I3) + NOIR TROPICAL by MARIA CANDIDA GENTILE (20I3)

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A strange thing has happened to me. I have gone off vanilla. And although I think I can trace the moment this happened (and some of you were there with me), it still kind of shocks me, having spent the most beautiful holiday of my life two summer ago on a vanilla plantation in Java, swooning with vanilla suffocation in the upstairs drying room as the beans gave off their woozy, heady smell, gazing at awe at the vines; and more than half a lifetime of being swathed in vanilla-based, sweet and orientalic perfumes. (me sneaking out at dawn with a shaky iPhone, to take a short video of the exquisite environs of our little cabin (Duncan is curled up asleep inside) : Durian fruit, coffee trees, and papaya – which you can’t see –  but most of all snaking vanilla vines climbing up trees; workers in fields, and me in a state of in-the-moment bliss)

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I think that the Vanilla Talk I gave at Perfume Lovers London last spring just probably took me (and the collected audience) somehow over the edge (“I’m in a vanilla coma” said one attendee”), like a heroin user blowing his synapses with his final hit, or an alcoholic teetering over his own mental brink with his final bottle of Dewars. There was so much vanilla, what with my preparations and selections leading up to the event, to sampling and appraising various different parfums vanillés ad nauseam, to reading up on tons of vanillic historical and agricultural facts, that by the time the night was over and the air was replete, claustrophobed, and stinking with sweet, sticky perfumes that were being sprayed left right and centre during the talk itself (along with the savouring and appreciation of different vanilla bean varietals: Tongan, Tahitian, Indonesian, Indian…) and all the spraying of samples into little vials for people to take their vanilla fix home, that the sheer sensory overload, not to mention the volume of nervous terror that had preceded my first ever public speaking (I think it is probably more this, actually: that connection, in my subconscious: although I really got into my stride and eventually enjoyed it, meeting people and letting my passions show, my natural extrovert coming to the fore, before everyone arrived I was possibly more nervous than I ever have been in my entire life and was practically ready to hurl myself from the window. If Helen hadn’t been there to sort me out I think I might have). Perhaps this sheer adrenaline overdrive, anxiety, all compressed within the potent, deep brown sweetness of vanilla, was the catalyst that took my feelings for this beautiful substance from love and ease to quease.

I haven’t been able to wear it since.

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A perfume such as Maria Candida Gentile’s Noir Tropical, then, which I discovered at a trendy Shibuya shop along with four or five of the Arquiste range yesterday as we walked in a sun-filled daze after a hedonistic night in Shinjuku, just isn’t quite right for my current sickly-averse mindset, even if a deeper part of my brain stem is still instinctly drawn towards anything with the word ‘tropical’ in it (I was imagining some kind of dark, pineapple-permeated fug). In fact, this is a very well made, natural-bean scent with a pronounced sweet and tipsy rum and sugar cane note running underneath a sublimated almond interior, wafting for hours on the skin, with some vague similarities to Vanille Absolument/Havana Vanille by L’Artisan Parfumeur only more organic; rich; densely packed. There is definitely a sweating, hidden- histories-of-the-southern-seas aspect to this scent I can imagine enjoying this on someone else, but for the reasons I have already explained above, I just can’t go there at the moment.

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Some perfumes, particularly of the classical, ‘Golden Age’ school, are complex, gradated and layered, almost like symphonies or chamber works with different movements and emotions concealed within themselves only to be released, delicately, at a later hour. The modern niche aesthetic is often more of an ‘instant hit’ – what you see is what you get- even when the ingredients are of the highest quality. A Rothko block of dense colour rather than an dappling Impressionist painting: a potion or elixir, an accomplice. And although I sometimes miss the great pointillist balance of classical perfumery (the pure genius involved in controlling such a panoply in a way to make it sing), I also just enjoy a really good smell, if you know what you mean; a dot of deeply concentrated scent that you can just put on your skin, live with , and enjoy as it accompanies you throughout your day.

Loree Rodkin’s Gothic II and Farmacia Annunziata’s Cara are of this breed – rich, pleasing smells that will work if you like unadorned gourmand simplicity. Though the word gothic usually signifies something shadowed, sinister, vehement, Gothic II is anything but: it is homely, comforting, trustworthy, and easy. A deep patchouli heart (with both Indian and Tunisian essences,) is fused with rich Madagascar vanilla in the familiar, blocked, manner, although the addition of nag champa, incense and cloves produces a more overall effect of honey, an effect that continues for a long time on the skin until the patchouli and vanilla again come to the fore. What is good about this scent is that there are no rough or unpleasant edges detracting from the core theme, which, though a touch unimaginative and simplistic for me, is nerve-numbing, consoling, and potentially addictive.

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Cara is much lighter: a mere trifle, really, but if you like your almond and vanilla mixed together in one blend, this works nicely as a very light and airy-sweet mood enhancer, with a talcum caramel heart and fresher, almost sport-fragrance top notes that give the perfume an ethereal edge. It is hard to imagine a more unthreatening perfume (which isn’t necessarily a recommendation), but there is also a reassuring familiarity about it, a play-doh, vanillic halo that I can imagine swirling around someone in a clean eddy of light, veiled, childlike innocence (which is).

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L’Histoire Charnelle (‘a carnal history’) is another sweetened patchouli perfume, albeit with an unusual twist: a fruited, spiced, coconut aureole up top that to me on first smell smelled as though it had been buried in turmeric. There is an extremely dusty quality about this perfume (something I always associate with that spice), possibly the combination of nutmeg and cinnamon (and pear, of all things), alongside the tangerine and bergamot that, all combined, I find slightly offputting, even as I am tempted to smell deeper. Eventually, as the fizzy bristle of the top accord subsides, the coconut/vanilla/tonka theme then becomes more apparent and solidified, with the very lingering, resonant patchouli beneath consistenly making itself known and apparent. This is quite a sexy, unusual scent I would say, and it could make a good signature scent for a woman or man who wants to remains outside the loop, though I am not ultimately sure whether the perfumer, Hubert Maes himself, has all the disparate notes within the blend sufficiently sewn together.

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AD-Eau-de-Parfum

The same cannot be said of Anima Dulcis, a perfume that caused quite a stir when it came out three years ago when the new perfume house of Arquiste was launched by founder Carlos Huber. I immediately liked the range when I smelled them then in London at the Harrods Haute Parfumerie, particularly Fleur De Louis and Flor Y Canto as I just love well made, entrancing florals, but Anima Dulcis (‘soul of sweetness’) is also a very well-executed scent that quite appeals to me- a rich, deep, but appealing spice-chocolate perfume with a curious and unusual concept attached: a seventeenth century convent in Mexico (The Royal Convent Of Jesus Maria), the nuns absorbed in the preparation of of chilli-infused chocolate drink in the hallowed halls, strirring and chatting amongs themselves as they wait for the head sister, the only nun who can finish it (the recipe is secret). Like all the perfumes I am discussing today, this is another vanilla-centred scent with a strong patchouli facet, but here, there is much more heft, the main theme being a very brooding and hypnotic natural cocoa absolute, infused with cinnamon and chililes a la Mexicana ( I also always drink strong, thick,hot chocolate with vanilla bean and red chillies – I love it on a hot winter’s night). This idea is translated here very well into perfumery – everything is harmony. Though not as distinctive or odd as I was perhaps expecting it to be given the chilli idea – this is an eminently wearable perfume – Anima Dulcis strikes me almost as being a kind of next generation Opium: tightened, no way as leopard-printed and satin-scarved as that seventies classic, but still, sultry, dense and magnetic, and with floral orientalized reverberations of that orange-licked spice (It also quite reminded me of Histoire De Parfums George Sand).

I found myself going back to my wrist again and again as we headed home towards the station, the spot where I had applied the perfume a source of continuing dark, exotic scent: the level of sweetness just right, the vanilla – that beauteous, brain-altering substance – not dominating, here, lolling somewhere softly condensed down deep side within the blend, undulating, but still kept quite comfortably in check.

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Filed under Almond, Chocolate, Gourmand, Patchouli, Vanilla

I AM LOVE : : : : : MONA DI ORIO VANILLE (2011)

 

 

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‘Io sono L’ amore’, or ‘I am love’, is the self-consciously, meticulously rapturous film by Italian film director Luca Guadagnino that had the art house cinema crowd in a flutter a few years ago:  the ‘must-see’, gorgeously romantic, ‘exquisitely crafted’ work of the season that had the critics, and some of my friends, swooning, and foaming, at the gills.

 

 

 

The story of an aristocratic Milanese Russian emigrée, played by the redoubtable Tilda Swinton (acted in Italian, with a slight Russian accent; no mean feat), this is the story of a pale and beautiful, yet strangely unpresent woman, the matriarch and bedrock of her family, lost in her own numb, unregimented life, who comes gradually undone, erotically and socially, at the hands of a brilliant young chef.

 

A friend of her son’s, the handsome man’s independence, artistry, naturalness and almost guileless, masculine simplicity stand in such contrast to the glassed and gilded cage she finds herself in on a day to day basis that she surrenders, perhaps inevitably, to a honey-lensed, edenic ecstacy of eroticism in his hillside flower garden; making love in the guiltless Italian outdoors as butterflies flit above their skin and fronds and eyelashes bat with sunlight;  nature; desire. A latter day Lady Chatterly cleaving to her young, bearded lover in a delectable, unfettered paradise that is aeons away from the gendered rigmarole of her life in the family home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I was assured I would like this film;  no – I would LOVE IT:  it was totally up my street ( am I that predictable? probably ),  but I am never very good at being willed, or expected, or worse, told to love something – I always buck against it in childish rebellion or else find it can’t possibly meet my expectations – and in all honesty, though the film had an undeniably gorgeous sheen and the production and set design were certainly easy on the eye, ultimately I have to say that it left me cold, and Duncan too actually (and, incidentally, Nina also, the one who had sent it to me in the first place – not because she particularly liked it herself, just for the cinematic, indulgent, hell of it.)

 

 

 

 

 

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In any case I was completely unmoved, to the point of irritation, almost;  the scenes of gustatory sensuality ( she is seduced, in the beginning, by his food)  seeming too obvious, somehow – the swiftness of her adultery too much of an improbability. It was all just too……..perfect. Too earnest and wilfull, or simply just not my personal cup of colour-drenched, lurid tea.

 

 

 

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Mona Di Orio’s Vanille, a very well regarded vanilla perfume, had also been highly recommended by everyone and anyone who likes vanilla scents: a new departure; divine; the only vanilla I can wear; the best vanilla of all time, you have to try it you have to try it and so on and so forth, and so I was intrigued, to say the least, by this hugely heralded vanillic masterpiece, from the equally posthumously fêted Nombres D’Or collection, quite desperate to smell it, and I must say that the first laying of this delicate, gold-dusted scent on my skin elicited a small exhalation of pleasure, an ahh….ah yes I see.  Another of her ‘difficult’ perfumes, une vanille compliquée.

 

 

 

Original? Certainly. A sensitive, emotional perfume (like many of the late perfumer’s creations), most definitely, but like the film, so delicately, painstakingly crafted – it didn’t move me at all personally.

 

 

 

A feeling of appreciation for its skill, certainly, and integrity, yes, but not something to touch the Narcissus’s cold, critical heart in reality.

 

 

 

 

So there you have it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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But I am afraid that now I have to retract what I have written above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Saturday morning, for no apparent reason, I suddenly felt an inexplicable urge to watch ‘I Am Love again’.

 

 

 

Even though I had hated it.

 

 

 

And this time……

 

 

 

 

 

Wow, it seared right through me,  this time, like the love-filled adrenaline of the characters in the film.

 

 

 

 

I was RAPT.

 

 

 

 

As I write this I am playing the soundtrack,  on loop,  and my heart is beating faster as a result: I am feeling heightened, alive, even on this gloomy, rainy Friday.

 

 

 

The blurb on the DVD case, and my friends, had told me, I would be breathless, and I was:  in tears, actually.

 

 

 

The film, and the perfume too, in truth, are actually really really quite beautiful. I just needed time (and a big enough sample to try it properly- thanks, Jasmine) to come to this realization.

 

 

 

 

 

Where I had initially found the film to be too obviously in ‘good taste’,  with nothing left to chance, on second viewing, to my surprise, I fell in love; with the house the family lives in and its surroundings (exquisite! ),  the exhilarating soundtrack by English composer John Adams; the kinetic propulsion that runs through the film, and the sense of exciting liberation, as both mother and daughter release themselves from the patriarchal chains that have been binding the family for generations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The perfume, also, on repeated wearings, really stands up;  it is a very sensitive, and poetic creation that seems to contain a story: I may be stretching the film/perfume analogy a little (though I don’t think so; I can feel it ),  but Vanille struck me,  as I rewatched the film,  as having several affinities with Tilda Swinton’s character, Emma Recchi.

 

 

 

 

 

On the surface she is composed, refined, brittle: almost burnished, like the peppery, protracted petitgrain and bitter orange top accord in the perfume; the aristocratic mellow of ylang-laced rhum, as she graciously hosts the grand family celebration at the beginning of the film (carrying obvious echoes of Visconti’s Götterdämmerung):  a liquid, ambery gold that flows under the citruses and spices like meniscus.

 

 

 

 

This stage of the scent, which I really like, has an almost palpably nervous sense to it; a refined heart that is clearly ‘thoughtful’ (unusual in a vanilla perfume, where comfort and/or seduction are usually key);  a lightly cloved vetiver giving further, grounding, dignified resonance ( a word that also, applies equally and strongly to both Tilda Swinton and Mona Di Orio herself). .

 

 

 

 

 

And yet. We sense the warmth and sexuality that is suppressed, about to spill over, and this is the rich, sweet, mellifluous extract of true Madagascar vanilla beating in the heart of the perfume that, like Emma, is waiting unconsciously to be released.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The guaic wood and sandalwood  ( probably the main protagonist in the perfume, I would say)  provide some brakes on fully fledged abandonment, but once she does let go, and fully embraces her lover, Emma efflulges,  and blooms,  and sheds her restraining skins of politesse and hardness, revealing her inner self.

 

 

 

 

The vanilla that finally emerges from her, then,  is of obviously high quality, quite sweet, quite tenacious – I could still smell it on my skin the next morning, and this combination of deep sensuality and refracted refinement could be truly beautiful on the right person whose skin was predestinated to unlock its secrets : I would love to have a friend or colleague who wore this scent; the connections such a scent  could create in others’ minds –  beautiful, but mysterious, are what perfumery is all about.

 

 

 

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Mona Di Orio Vanille is not a scent I could wear myself. I do not really like sandalwood, especially in conjunction with vanilla, and that beginning, though ingenious, is not what I personally like to have in a vanilla perfume ( I prefer simplicity ). At the same time, like the film which I have come to really love  (it is destined, I think, to become one of ‘my films’, those I suddenly crave as much as a person craves food),  I have come to realize that this perfume is raved about for good reason.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It has delicacy. It has soul. And,  like the film by Luca Guadagnino, it is primarily an affecting, and voluptuously executed, elegant work of heartfelt, contemporary art.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Flowers, Vanilla

penultimate vanilla

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Vanilla Part VII has come out on Olfactoria today for all those vanilla nuts who might be interested. We look at Vanille des Isles, Havana Vanille and 7 Billion Hearts this time….

You can read the reviews here

Last part of the vanillathon next week (for the time being…my love for the smell is inexhaustible and, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, I’ll be back….)

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Filed under Vanilla