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 my 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.
I also realize that I am sometimes being a titillator 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, but Vanille Des Isles, by the mysterious Parfums De Tahiti, is a very good example of a ‘pure’ vanilla, if not quite what you might expect from its name.
From all accounts, 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 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.
VANILLE ABSOLUMENT/ HAVANA VANILLE by L’ARTISAN PARFUMEUR
Similar in its theme if not in its execution, this love-it-or-hate-it creation by Bertrand Duchaufour is so quirky and divisive that, according to Perfume Shrine, it is soon to be discontinued.
I am afraid I belong to the haters: I detest Vanille Absolument.
In fact when I went to Isetan department store in Tokyo recently with a friend, he was also so aghast upon spraying this curiosity on his hand that the horrified look on his face was priceless, the clear aggravator being those top notes from vanilla-bound hell.
Where some get rum, leather, and cigars (and I know this is very well regarded, so truly, honestly, I was trying), I myself sense only the fresh-air smell of hung-out laundry and excited dogs that have been running about in the cold – and I can tell you very sincerely that the wet canine whiff is not one of my favourite smells in the universe.
My friend Nina pictures the inescapable ozonic note differently: for her, it as though a child had just spilled a vanilla ice-cream cone onto his freshly washed T-shirt; making it liberating, carefree; and while it is true that the vanilla, when it eventually frees itself, is somewhat gorgeous, for me it is more like frustratingly peering at petridished vanilla pods (knowing they are in there, smelling delicious), through a upside down, thick-glassed bottle full of lab-quality oxygen. They are there, trapped in that space-age chrysalid, and will eventually be released, dreaming their android dreams of cloves, narcissus, and dried fruits; the problem being (if there is one) that I simply don’t have the money, the inclination, or the patience, to wait for them.
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…
Now I remember: there it is, that was what I was looking for…