One Thousand Scents

Monday, February 09, 2009

Vanilla Extracted

Joel writes of my recent vanilla-heavy suggestions to another reader:

Two very elegant and unsentimental perfumes, each with a pronounced vanilla note are Bulgari Black and Estee Lauder Sensuous. The Bulgari is a weird animal, with topnotes of rubber and a vanilla base, and Sensuous is woods, leaves, a trickle of water, and a very dry vanilla. I compared the two a bit on my blog,

Good catch on the Bulgari, which I wrote about last August. Lots of vanilla there, wrapped up in a truly strange scent.

The funny thing about the Sensuous is that I don't smell any vanilla in it at all. Not a molecule. Not any of those other balsams with a vanillic component like tonka or benzoin, either. Nothing. Not that you're imagining it, because lots of other people consider it a vanilla scent at heart, but I just didn't get that, which is odd, because I have a lot of vanilla scents (which should have been obvious from the original post) and they uniformly smell good, and vanillic, on me. Sensuous smelled good, but where's that vanilla? Drowned in the molten wood? Smothered by the honey?


  • Oh, right, I was gonna post something about the vanilla and then never got around to it. Do-over!

    Anyway, what about Jicky? Every time my wife wears it I'd swear she's been baking, because she smells delicious.

    (Also? Why is it that Angel seems to be considered the first gourmand fragrance when the oldest continuously-made fragrance still out there smells like pastry? Have I badly misunderstood the concept of "gourmand"?)

    By Blogger D.J., at 7:28 AM  

  • I don't know Jicky well enough to say one way or the other, but if I remember correctly, it doesn't start out as vanillic--in fact, the official notes don't even list vanilla, though benzoin is in there--but only has that quality nearer the end. My main experience of Jicky was of a dry, rather gasoliney herbal scent which took quite a while to warm up.

    I think we could define a gourmand scent as a warm, sweet oriental which is dominated by, or based on, food notes--one which, at every stage, gives the sense of edibility. Although lots of fragrances used edible notes in the past--peach, plum, vanilla--Angel was really the first widely marketed scent that was entirely about food, with (and I think this is crucial) no floral notes, which was what made it seem entirely new.

    Compare Anisia Bella with Lolita Lempicka, for instance. Both are licorice-based, but the former is bright and outdoorsy, while the latter is sweet and cozy. LL is a gourmand: AB is not.

    There were foody scents before Angel, of course. Comptoir Sud Pacifique, now completely dominated by vanillic gourmands, had a couple of food fragrances in the seventies and eighties, Vanille (now Vanille Passion) and Pain D'Epices, a gingerbread scent. Whether those qualify as gourmands is not for me to say.

    All of this depends on your definitions. If you think of a gourmand scent as one that's dominated by vanilla, then there were lots of early gourmands, of which Shalimar is probably foremost: that's all about vanilla (and in fact some people think of Shalimar as Jicky-plus-vanilla). But Shalimar is an oriental; the vanilla was just part of the perfumer's arsenal for giving a scent that sweet, warm, resinous/balsamic quality. A true gourmand scent makes you think about food: there's no question when smelling, say, CSP Amour de Cacao or A*Men Pure Coffee that the perfumer has deliberately created something that smells as if you could consume it, or the wearer. If Jicky has this effect on you, then you could certainly argue that it's a gourmand, and maybe the first. I'll have to suspend judgement until I know it better.

    By Blogger pyramus, at 11:52 AM  

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