Sweet Little Thing – The World Of Vanilla Part V

By Neil

Happy New Year to all you vanillophiles, and welcome back to Sweet Little Thing, Friday’s exploration of all smells vanillic! (Here are Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV.)

I went into Tokyo yesterday in order to freshly reacquaint my nose with more vanillas for this post, stupidly forgetting that January 2nd is probably the busiest day of the whole year in Japan, the heaving multitudes cramming by the thousands into department stores for the January bargain sales, not to mention an equal number of people thronging the shrines in order to pray for good fortune; an annual tradition known as hatsumode. It was practically impossible to walk on the streets it was so crowded, and as for Isetan, Shinjuku’s best department store and the only real place in Tokyo to find good niche, it was hell: sheer claustrophobia. Still, the unusual number of customers meant that the snooty, exquisitely maquillaged sales assistants were busy for a moment and I could spray to my heart’s content without that look. And spray I did…



Over 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 yesterday in this 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 Shalimar-esque 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.


orchidee vca

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 cool 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.



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 to be worn with caution.


vaniglia smn

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

Editor’s Note: Don’t you adore Neil? I know that I do! His passion for perfume and his glorious way of writing make me run for my own vanilla scents every time. He agreed to continue to share is vanilla treasure chest with us for a few more posts until the end of January. I can’t wait for next Friday’s installment!


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This entry was posted in Fragrance Reviews, Gourmand, Guerlain, Lush Gorilla Perfumes, Santa Maria Novella, Sweet Little Thing, Van Cleef & Arpels, Vanilla and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

46 Responses to Sweet Little Thing – The World Of Vanilla Part V

  1. poodle says:

    I had to laugh at your description of the crowds. I’ve been known to decide there are too many cars in the parking lot and it’s not worth the aggravation and I just turn around and go home. In this case though I’m glad you went sniffing for us. I’m still searching for my vanilla favorite. Vanillary and Vaniglia are interesting to me.

    • ginzaintherain says:

      Ooh, but don’t let my words sway you. Both are rather odd: Vanillary is all aromatherapy sandalwood, and Vaniglia is a papery old dame from Florence trailing silk scarves and comeuppance…I used the word peculiar, and peculiar it most definitely is!

      • ginzaintherain says:

        and crowds, in Tokyo, mean CROWDS, as I am sure you can imagine. There is nothing like it; seemingly millions. The radio said that at one department store on January 1st there were 20, 000 people outside waiting to charge in an grab the magic goody bags……my idea of hell on earth for so many different reasons

  2. Tara says:

    Neil, I’ve loved every instalment of your vanilla series and this one is no exception. Lovely to hear a bit more about Japan too.

    Vanillary sounds too va-va-voom for me but I’m dying to try it! Gourmand Coquin has too much almond for me (I am almond-phobic but working on it) though I think it’s great. I’ve been really wanting to try Vanille Orchidee so it was good to get your take.

    I hope I find my ideal vanilla but I’m sure enjoying the journey 🙂

    • ginzaintherain says:

      Tara: glad you are enjoying it as much as I am smelling and writing it! Ultimately I would say that Vanille Orchidee lacks something; I have to say that, but I also think that it is kind of perfect in its unchallenging way. I am thinking about getting a bottle. It is undeniably lovely, and clearly just about vanilla, and that is definitely something you sometimes want: something to just spray on and say ah……ah yes, my vanille, if you know what I mean

  3. Alexandra says:

    I am so enjoying these vanila posts thank you! However I find I am cousing myself, the first two sound a little over-whelming (I think still a little wary of anything too gourmand) and then I read your description of Vanillary and I find myself plotting my first opportunity to dash over to Lush!

    • ginzaintherain says:

      No! That was never my intention! I think I was trying to WARN people about Vanillary in this review as it is so vulgar in a way..and yet I do feel that it could smell damn sexy on the right person if you can pull off that jasmine absolute/sandalwood thing..very natural, easygoing with one’s own body…kind of base, but also friendly and lovely with that coconutty halo…oh I don’t know

      • ginzaintherain says:

        …and I also think that Vanille Orchidee is not really gourmandy at all if I think about it carefully…there are HINTS of all that, but it is essentially a light, infinitely wearable, flower-thinking VANILLA, and nothing more: all the other notes are just part of the canopy. Go for that before Vanillary I beseech thee!

  4. Alexandra says:

    ‘cousing’ should read ‘confusing’!

  5. ringthing says:

    Neil, I have thoroughly enjoyed these posts! You always inspire new *must try* ideas. I am of mixed feelings about Lush just because of sensory overload in their stores, but now I really want to smell that Gorilla vanilla.

  6. ginzaintherain says:

    ..if it can even be called a vanilla. It is as if the pods are hiding behind the lianas as the sandalwood and tonka swing by, beating their hairy chests and queen Jasmona ululates from above (ie. absolute sensory overload!)

    Thanks for reading.

  7. Civava says:

    Valnillary is like rough timber against the other polished vanillas up there. Different and mysterious in a simple way and therefore very interesting to me.

    • ginzaintherain says:

      ‘Rough timber’ is a perfect way of putting it: this perfume is bristling and ALIVE compared to the frou-frou creams and pinks of the other vanillas. The sandalwood is the key player, really.

  8. Lady Jane Grey says:

    Ach, Neil, this time you brought two of my favorites : the Gourmand C. and the Van Cleef & Arpels. I sooo like that unspectacular understated elegance of the latter one and is going to be my parfum for tonight. I’m looking forward to your next Vanillas !

    • ginzaintherain says:

      Lady Jane I think you have hit the nail on the head! The ‘unspectacular understated elegance’ is exactly what I like about it as well. It is just…there, and ready, and you don’t have to swim through a whole load of BS to get what you are looking for: pure vanilla.

  9. lucasai says:

    Gourmand Coquin is stunning, Orchidee Vanille not a little less 🙂 Don’t know the others.

  10. catcardamom says:

    I love the sound of your mulled wine. Wonderful review!

    • ginzaintherain says:

      Thanks: I drank rather too much of it though it was so heady and delicious! The vanilla is definitely worth adding.

  11. ginzaintherain says:

    The Santa Maria Novella vanilla is rather odd I must say; essentially a silvery, sandalwood musk with vanilla undertones somewhere in the base. Vanillary is more of a beast – but a warm and smiling one for sure.

  12. Eva S says:

    Your review reminded me that I have untried samples of Gourmand Coquin and the Vanilla Gorilla somewhere, I’ll must go dig them out!

    • ginzaintherain says:

      You may as well! I think Gourmand Coquin could be really gorgeous on the right person: a sweet stunner. On my own skin the chocolate note doesn’t QUITE blend easily enough with the spice and the vanilla rose florality, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. The Gorilla is..a gorilla. Or a gorella.

  13. ninakane1 says:

    Loving this vanilla series Neil. Superb. Looking forward to next week’s instalment x

    • ginzaintherain says:

      Thanks Nina. Have you ever worn a vanilla?

      • ninakane1 says:

        Yes. I love Vanille Absolument (l’Artisan Parfumier). The vanilla evokes the summery smell of ice-cream dropped on a child’s t-shirt, and the rum in it makes me very assertive! A warm, confident and easy-going scent – but a little preoccupied too. I always wear it when I need to throw caution to the wind, ignore extraneous concerns and just focus entirely on one thing. It is quite light so helps one keep perspective I think! A perfume bargain for me – £5.99 in TK Max, but I’m using up the bottle faster than I should be really!

        • ginzaintherain says:

          You should talk to Duncan about this. We were sampling vanillas and I made him try this on (because I can’t abide it myself – that overwhelming note of ozone (which for you is like a child’s t-shirt) is sickening to me. But to Duncan it was ABHORRENT. He DETESTED it!!!

          • ginzaintherain says:

            I am fascinated by this scent in some ways though, to be honest. I might even review it on here next week!

          • ninakane1 says:

            Objectively -speaking I can see why! It’s a really funny scent but it totally grabs me. It set off a particular reminiscence from when Dante was five, which is possibly why I’ve hooked into it – in fact i found myself writing a story about this memory last night, but i won’t write it here. It’s a very peculiar warm vanilla indeed (almost like ice-cream dropped on kid’s t-shirt drying and congealing for a couple of days) but utterly full of kiddy beach bliss and cream cone abandon. The ozone in it jars with me too – sudden note of something akin to jif toilet cream cleaner- very disconcerting – and then that brash rum. When I first wore it I didn’t know it had rum in it but went straight into a bar and ordered a rum n lime which i don’t usually drink. The bar woman said ‘well, it’s nice to find a woman who knows her own mind and what she wants!’ Then she sorta did a double-take and looked a bit surprised like it’s not something she’d have said normally. I’ve found that this perfume evokes that caution-to-the-wind upfrontness – immediate honesty and confidence perhaps! I sat at the bar mulling over the rum’s tawny hue like an old sailor whilst spritzing my tk max bargain! Find it totally focusing but easygoing too. It’s great that it provokes such an extremely opposite reaction in you two. A polemical perfume!

  14. brie says:

    Great description of Vanillary! I rather like the Lush fragrances perhaps b/c of their high usage of natural essential oils. I also had the good fortune of sampling Orchidee and thought it full bottle worthy (until I saw the pricetag 🙂 !!). Nice review. Looking forward to future installments.

  15. ginzaintherain says:

    Thanks Brie. I think I love the idea of the Lush perfumes as I love their standpoint. And I am definitely going back to try more: Lust smelled quite intoxicating. I DESPISE The Breath Of God but I think it is kind of brilliant, and any perfume that gives you that reaction is worth taking note of I reckon. Which ones do you like? I loved Ladyboy as you know, and though Imogen Rose seemed quite good as well. I am yearning to smell Vanillary on some Liberian Girl on a beach, covered in sand and seawater of an evening; I am sure it would then smell incredible. I have a feeling about it. As though it were a perfume waiting to erupt in the right circumstances. On my own skin it is an absolute no-no though as I can’t take that non-Mysore sandalwood; it is just so sweaty and hormonal somehow. I can wear patchouli and vetiver raw no problem, but not sandalwood. We are just not celestially matched.

    • brie says:

      I am quite the opposite with sandalwood… a match made in heaven! I think Breath of God is interesting and I very much like the orange blossom one (can’t remember the name off hand). Lush is an interesting line as they seem to attempt the unusual in an affordable sort of way…does that make any sense to you?

  16. Vanessa says:

    I was walking along today wearing Aomassai, which has vanilla in it but wouldn’t be considered a “vanilla scent” per se, and decided that vanilla is without question my favourite note. I am not a fan of some of the heavier gourmands featuring it, mind – I think that Van Cleef one was a bit much for me, though never say never – but I am a vanilla lover, no question.

    • ginzaintherain says:

      Aomassai is very interesting for sure, but there is something in that buttery cacao formula that gives me the creeps for some reason!

  17. Juraj says:

    Hello Birgit,

    Recently I was in Berlin and finally had a chance to sample out Van Cleef & Arpels line. It’s really strong but interesting. I found it very gourmandish… I agree with you totally, it really is floral femininity. I love your choice of Vaniglia, I think it’s the most distinguished from the list 😉


    • Olfactoria says:

      Hi Juraj,
      this is Neil’s post, so I’m just quickly chiming in to clarify that and then let Neil answer. 🙂

      • ginzaintherain says:

        Hi Juraj

        Sorry for the confusion! I think ‘distinguished’ is the perfect word for Vaniglia: that was one of the first things that struck me about it. Very self-contained, nonchalant, almost aristocratic..

  18. I love Guerlain, Gourmand coquin, its a cute and nice scent perfume. Kiss to all Marie

  19. ginzaintherain says:

    Definitely cute, if ridiculously expensive!

  20. Gracious. I have some catching up to do. Roger et Gallet Vanille, anyone?

  21. FeralJasmine says:

    I’m on a voyage through the vanilla scents, and I’m glad that I came across your series of posts. Will definitely try the Gorilla. I’m very interested in the wilder aspects of common fragrance notes. I recently got a sample of the Santa Maria Novella, for which I found love on a number of blogs, and on me it fell within minutes into bug-spray hell. Really. I have never had it happen that I got a Raid accord, but it was unmistakable. I’ll send it off to someone with skin that lets it do its usual stuff. Can’t wait to read more of your series.

  22. ginzaintherain says:


    I was trying to be diplomatic about the Santa Maria Novella, as I know EXACTLY WHAT YOU MEAN. It is odd as hell. And yet, I can really see that elegant, old world other side as well…

    I can’t recommend the Gorilla wholeheartedly as a vanilla per se, but it DOES have something, and as your name is feral…..

  23. Mai Burt says:

    Sleeping With Ghosts (” a fantasy of extreme tenderness”), my own favourite in the collection, may sound daunting and gothic but like all the Mark Buxtons, the name is misleading (or at least playfully titillating): what you might imagine to be an incensey, ghoulish scent in fact a very fruity and vanillic thing that while linear and monothematic, is touching. It is a composition dominated by a sweet, spectral vanilla suggesting poigant 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.

  24. Pingback: Chasing Chaste Vanilla In Venice – Review: Santa Maria Novella Vaniglia | Olfactoria's Travels

  25. Mikael says:

    I was just browsing through this World of Vanilla -series (love it!) and the mention of Vanillary as an all-natural made me grit my teeth a little. I don’t work for Lush and I don’t have a GC, but having sniffed around for quite a long time I can say with absolute certainty that Vanillary is not all-natural. Lush has this funny way of highlighting some of the naturals (those that are “appropriate” for the perfume in question) in the ingredients listings and their stories BUT there’s a huge black hole called “perfume” (which can comprise an arsenal of both natural and synthetic fragrance components) in the lists as well. And with Lush’s marketing tactics this black hole is naturally explained as “…minuscule supporting amount of synthetic ingredients necessary… we use the highest qualities of natural… high amounts of natural…” etc. I don’t diss naturals, I don’t diss synthetics, but I diss greenwashing.

    • Olfactoria says:

      Comment coming from Neil:
      Thanks for this. You are right, naturally, about the ‘all natural’ scam. I was perhaps a little naive and hasty in just imbibing the blurb without thinking properly. Also, thinking of the smell, while it is certainly more raw and less ‘composed’ than more obviously synthetic-containing vanillas, it does have some sort of twang that wouldn’t come from just essential oils.

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