Facets of Vanilla: Sweet, Creamy, Sexy Fragrances for Fall/Winter
Vanilla is an extremely popular ingredient in perfumery for its creamy, luscious, warm, and almost-edible qualities, but I feel it’s gotten a bad rep due to the endless stream of synthetic celeb- and lingerie-inspired fragrances. (I can’t count how many girls got sucked in by that marketing myth that smelling like a cake will draw men and compliments like ants.)
Don’t get me wrong; the countless dessert-like fragrances (I’ve lost count somewhere in 2005) from Victoria’s Secret and Parlux - who does a lot of the fragrances for celebrities - are affordable, accessible, and smell pretty good if you just want a quick shot of sugar. But when you’re ready to outgrow the cookie-cutter scents and go for some that are just a little more challenging to the nose (and wallet, sadly), here are some alternatives:
L de Lolita Lempicka (Lolita Lepicka)
This comes in EDP (medium concentration) and parfum (high concentration). The splash of orange and the musky spices are more pronounced in the EDP version, while the pure parfum is sweeter, simpler, and cuts straight to a maple-y, buttery vanilla with just a trace of orange blossom.
I mostly dislike fruity-vanillas because they are so overdone and can get so cloying, but the orange here is just beautiful.
Cost: *** moderately-high price in department stores but can be found cheap at discounters, TJ Maxx, etc.
Cheaper alternative: Demeter Orange Cream Pop. Not quite as rich and buttery, or nearly as long-lasting, but still fun!
Hypnotic Poison (Christian Dior)
Musky and darker than your average vanilla scent, HP is a beautifully-eccentric composition that contains caraway, which gives it that characteristic cream-soda feel, while the bitter almond and sambac jasmine adds a coconuty, metallic edge.
It’s smells delicious AND toxic at the same time.
Cost: **** (The price is moderately high even at discounters as Dior manages its pricing very well, similar to Chanel.)
Cheaper alternative: I’m actually hard pressed to find something that’s similar. Most vanillas have more florals or fruits, or else aren’t quite as dark and mysterious as Hypnotic Poison. The ones that are closest to this are equally or more expensive!
The grand dame of oriental scents, Shalimar is actually no longer considered “sweet” by today’s refined-sugar scent standards. This is not a scent that most people will love on first sniff. The vanilla here is a very dark and bitter, like a creme brulee crust burnt to the point of being carcinogenic. Almost scary by today’s standards, and definitely more “Mata Hari” than “Britney Spears”.
Shalimar is smoky, powdery, leathery, dirty, and VERY French. If you’re looking to channel a femme fatale look for Halloween and want a scent to get you in that mood, this is it!
Price: **** (Guerlain isn’t cheap but you can sometimes find it at discounters for 20-40% off the retail price. The EDT is sometimes also priced cheaper although prices vary by region.)
Cheaper alternative: Coty Emeraude. This “good girl’s Shalimar” shares a very similar bergamot-vanillic-powdery-oriental structure, but is a good deal less raunchy and leathery. Seems it’s harder to find outside of the US though.
L’Instant de Guerlain (Guerlain)
Think of L’Instant as a floral-honey scent instead of a vanilla one. It’s a beautiful, luminous, feminine scent; not dark or sugary.
Price: **** (Similar to Shalimar, although prices can vary by country and retailer.)
Cheaper alternative: L’occitane Eau de Miel - sadly this one was discontinued. Another alternative is Guerlain’s Aqua Allegoria Flora Nymphea, which is cheaper than L’Instant, but not really cheap.
Think of all the vanilla-patchouli fragrances that you know.
Now forget all of those.
Coromandel is a modern classic that smells nothing like them. The vanilla takes a backseat and the sappy, earthy patchouli takes center-stage. If you like your scents with some complexity but don’t like the powderiness or leather in Shalimar, Coromandel might be one to check out. But if you don’t like patchouli or earthy fragrances (they can smell a little “unclean”), forget this.
Price: ***** (This is part of the Les Exclusif line and is sold only at Chanel Beauty boutiques. It’s VERY hard to locate at discounters, and you will not be able to find much of a discount usually.)
Cheaper alternative: Jessica Simpson Fancy Nights. Kudos to Ms Simpson for daring to step beyond the norms of the average celebrity fragrance. Fancy Nights shares that same wet, mossy-green patchouli note with an added papyrus accord to shake things up. Definitely not sugary-sweet or for the uninitiated who want a more typical vanilla.
Un Bois Vanille (Serge Lutens)
Arguably the most gourmand of the lot because of its lactonic coconut-milk sweetness. I actually don’t smell as much wood (“bois”) as I’d like, which brings this into full-on edible category for me.
This is sweet, creamy, thick and rich; heavier than L de Lolita Lempicka and very much what you would imagine a $50 plate of coconut-vanilla dessert in an uber-posh patisserie to smell like. Approach only if you absolutely LOVE vanilla with a passion. (Often, this is too much even for me.)
Price: ***** (Niche perfumes don’t come cheap and aren’t easy to find, and that’s a bit of a pain.)
Cheaper alternative: Try Demeter Angel Food or Lush’s American Cream!