Editor’s Note: This series of posts is written by my friend Neil, an Englishman living in Japan, who is an extremely knowledgeable perfume enthusiast with what I suspect must be an amazing vintage collection. A warm welcome to Neil!
Hello, this is Neil Chapman, aka The Black Narcissus, and I am delighted to have been given the chance to do a guest spot on Olfactoria’s Travels, where I will be writing a short series on one of my favourite perfume ingredients, vanilla.
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. Just as excitingly, in there as well were vanilla beans from Madagascar, lying there enticingly as though they had just been bought from the market in Antananarivo in their paper bag and somehow found themselves in Japan.
The combination of these smells, plus the knowledge of where they came from, filled me with an instant high on a rainy afternoon in November as I have always loved the voluptuousness of the tropical – ylang, frangipani, coconut milk, pikake – but in particular the scent, taste, and emotion of vanilla. I am almost obsessed with the note, and in fact am planning a trip, at some point in the near future, to Madagascar. To be near, if possible, to the vanilla orchids, to see the workers pollinating them by hand; watch the vanillin-specked, dark glistening pods fermenting their sweet odour in the sun: those tiny flecks of vanilla you see suspended in custards and yoghurts that so entice, miniscule dots of aphrodisiacal pungency, flowing out into the cool, lactic, surrounding deliciousness.
In perfume terms, to many people, the thought of stepping out sweet and vanilla-coated into the night will be horrendous. For others, like myself, it’s a wonderful indulgence– especially in winter. One ploy against the incipient cold of the Japanese winter, psychologically at least, is perfume, and there is nothing better for my spiritual insulation than a warm, true vanilla. While in recent times the occasionally infantile trend towards ‘comfort’ fragrances has produced many a goo-ga kiddy scent, vanilla, in the right perfumer’s hands, can be delectable – and the perfect aphrodisiac – gracing the body with sweet, edible warmth. It is a halo of security.
In this series, we will be looking at a selection of vanillas, from the classically animalic dessert-rich odalisques such as Guerlain’s Shalimar, to the newer breed of green-tinted vanillas such as Diptyque’s Eau Duelle and Mark Buxton’s new Sleeping With Ghosts. We would love to hear your vanilla stories as well, so please regale us with your own sugary bean-drenched tales.
VANIGLIA DEL MADAGASCAR / FARMACIA S.S. ANNUNZIATA DAL 1561
My current vanilla love and favourite perfume all round is this unusual scent ( which comes in 100ml parfum only).
In its first stages, Vaniglia Del Madagascar strangely reminds me very much of the bathing rituals at a Japanese 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 lemon, florals (almost imperceptible) and minerals. There is a fresh, misty saltiness to this stage that is quite an acquired taste but which I have come to really appreciate.
The vanilla isn’t obviously there at first, and it takes some time to appear, 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 is glorious; perfection, and it lasts on the skin all through the night to the next morning when you have succumbed to its heat-charged fullness, draped in its caresses like a cream-silk blanket.
VANILLE EXTREME / COMPTOIR SUD PACIFIQUE
A product that pushes to dangerous breaking point the limits of sweetness: many, even the most committed vanillista, will find this scent intolerable.
Vanille Extrême smells of Play-Doh and My Little Ponies – that chewy, scented plastic rubber; of the cheap vanilla candles in ‘angels and healing’ stores; of the frilly infantilia of the American childhood bedroom, with the volume on the pink music speakers turned up to a deafening 10
A couple of sprays on your skin….
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, 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.
Still, that opening…
Look out for Part II next week!