HABIT ROUGE by GUERLAIN
Jacques Guerlain was right when he said that vanilla is the ultimate aphrodisiac, and it is probably the reason why I am so drawn to the perfumes of this house; even in florals such as vintage Chamade and Nahéma, the vanilla note always emerges, eventually and unblushingly, in the base. The Guerlain vanilla is never banal; always there is a twist, a story that makes it intriguing, such as we find in our powdery, leathery, vanilla: Habit Rouge…
One of the most unique and troubling scents of all time, this, to me, is a ghostly perfume: a powdered, lymphatic octogenarian traipsing about a haunted old mansion at night; red silk dressing-gown rustling round the eaves…
The first impressions of the androgynous perfume, with its crisp rosewood, cinnamon and citrus oils, are astonishing: a headspinning evocation of wintery passages, old armoires and crisp, laundered sheets. Then: a musky, leather vanilla heart more in keeping with the image the name evokes, as the old creature eyes a framed picture of himself in the library from all those years back: a gentleman and his red riding habit, galloping purposefully, and gallantly, out across the French countryside…
CAŠMIR by CHOPARD & UN BOIS VANILLE by SERGE LUTENS
The moment I smelled Un Bois Vanille, one of my favourite vanillas, it smelled quite familiar to me somehow, and it didn’t take too long before its similar, if flouncier, predecessor came to mind: Chopard’s Cašmir. Both these perfumes are sultry, woody, coconut vanillas blended with sandalwood, benzoin and tonka bean; both have fruity, delectably dessert-like, lip-licking openings. But if Un Bois Vanille is a Ladurée macaroon, with a certain ‘baked n’ boxed’ quality, its sweetness of beeswax honeying down measuredly through its delicious, sawdusty depths (I have got through three bottles of the stuff and counting), Cašmir, with its glinting peach and mango shine, feels frayed, cheaper, more lubricious: its filthier base notes far more dress-fallen-down-to-floor.
Still, the release of this perfume by Chopard, along with Rochas’ delicious rose-vanilla Tocade, could be said to have presaged the whole late twentieth century rebooting of the vanillic oriental: among the contemporaneous citric anorexia of CK One and Eau D’Issey, the release of such an overt oriental felt quite risky at the time, even transgressive, and I feel it thus most certainly deserves our attention in the stickily sweet vanilla Hall Of Fame.
VANILLA DEL CRUZ by PACIFICA, VANILLE AMBREE by ACORELLE & VANILLA BOURBON by YVES ROCHER (three inexpensive vanillas)
Though we vanillistas are often quite the extravagant lot (Spiritueuse Double Vanille costs the equivalent of 366 dollars at the Tokyo Guerlain boutique!) we don’t always want to break the bank. Yves Rocher, in my opinion, are the unsung heroes of well-crafted, affordable perfumery, and Vanille Bourbon is one of the best bargains out there (8 Euro! I stock up on this, and the exquisite Noix De Coco De Malaysie, whenever I go to Berlin.)
Essentially a chocolatey, modern white musk with crisp top notes of orange, this cheerful vanilla scent has a warm, almost savoury aspect to it that makes it more casual, and possibly more masculine, than many vanillas: wearable; easy; and fine on almost any occasion.
Vanille Ambrée, in contrast, is a light-as-a cloud eau from Acorelle, an all-natural perfume house based in Paris. A tiny spritz of mimosa in the head notes, coupled with balsam of Peru and patchouli over a slight, ice-creamish vanilla, creates a very fleeting, but subtle, mood-enhancer, like drifts of freshly cut pineapple floating up by an open window. A mere trifle, this straightforward vanilla organic is simple; nothingy; but somehow strangely essential.
Pacifica’s Vanilla Del Cruz, another natural perfume, is in a similarly translucent vein: a mariney, and very Californian, breezy floral vanilla with green, calyxed extruberances from that rare genus, the play-doh orchid; as though a pure-cheeked cheerleader, lured into the botanical gardens, had lost her pom-pom in a hothouse. It is cute; fresh; if a little too cup-cakey, too pony-tailed fantasia for my own personal use.
VANILLE ET AMBRE & VANILLE COCO by E COUDRAY
To finish, reluctantly, the first volume of this vanillic odyssey, (and thank you all so much for not only tolerating, but drowning in the eight-week luxuriance with me), let us take a bath together. In the silken, heavily perfumed vanilla bath crèmes by E Coudray. Sink into the waters; dream…
Emerge, soaped down, clean and towel-dried; ready to be smeared, over legs, torso and shoulders, with the luxuriant sheen of the Coudray body oils – which, with their dense sultriness and thickness, feel to me feel like some kind of old-school Parisian sin itself. Because if the great and unstoppable Shalimar is a courtesan, with her vanilla and opoponax feathers dipped, stretched out and doused, in that rose, and iris, and lemon, the Coudray vanillas are a harlot: simpler, more fused-together scents, melding baby-powdery musks, vanillas, and an almost tauntingly putrid sweetness with quite edible, orangey, cinnamony, ambery glints, or else subliminal strokings of coconut (whatever your poison…)
But wait for a moment; the oil has to absorb in your skin and dry. Now clothe yourself. Then, just before we head out into the cold winter night, a couple of spritzes, on your neck, behind the ears, of one of the eaux de toilette…
Editor’s Note: This concludes Neil’s series for now, but I hope to have him back in the summer. Please chime in in the comments, if you would like that too! To read up on Neil’s vanilla shenanigans, here are the other installments of Sweet Little Thing.
Comprehensive. Anticipating volume 2 in due course. I only have Vaniglia Del Madagascar from
Farmacia SS. Annunziata and need no other.
It is the best!!
Loved Casmir but never owned a full bottle as I good friend of mine had about 7 bottles of it and I always stole spritzes whenever I visited her!
So nice to see the Pacifica mentioned! That was my daughter’s favorite but it always smelled a bit like playdoh on me.Sadly it has been discontinued to be replaced by Island Vanilla…that one is ubersweet and gorgeous!
Looking forward to your return in the summer!
Thanks Brie. It’s been fun.
Thank you so much for this wonderful series, Neil. It would be great for you to come back in the summer. Have a great trip to Madagascar and I hope to be able to read about it at some point.
I will be checking out Vaniglia Del Madagascar and the Coudray body oils thanks to you.
Funny; I layer those very two!
But seriously, the Coudray oils are SWEET.
Un Bois Vanille is a beauty. To me it smells like a vanilla and caramel pudding.
I love(d) it, but am convinced it has been reformulated. The bottle with the new label is less lustrous, less swirlingly coconutty in the top notes. I can’t believe I am already thinking ‘vintage ‘ with something so recent!
I have no idea if it was reformulated or not. I like the scent, but not FB worthy for me.
Thank you for broadening our vanilla horizon. It was a pleasure being tempted by your seductive reviews every Friday.
You make me feel like I need to make a retirement speech!
I have always found Casmir to be breathtaking. The problem is that most reviewers agree with the adjectif but in the worst possible way. I have always found it to be a vanilla bomb that remained transluscent and fresh, which is a big accomplishment. It also has that quality that makes it memorable and recognisable from the first spritz. It is nice to see someone appreciating it.
I like it too, and it is very original, though something quite voluptuously rotten lies down there in the mix
I truly enjoyed the journey to “The World of Vanilla”…
Thanks so much!
There is still a great deal to be discovered, but thanks for coming along for the ride!
I have thoroughly enjoyed this series and look forward to the next! You’ve inspired many future sample purchases.
I hope I don’t let you down! Please let me know I have do
Sorry: autocorrect hell: IF I DO!
I’ve really enjoyed your series, Neil, even though I’ve never had a yearning to explore vanilla-sentric perfumes and thus am familiar with only a few that you’ve talked about. I do love a more complex perfume with a great vanilla note in the base, though (like Yosh Ginger Ciao and Parfumerie Generale Un Crime Exotique) and I also love my bottles of Mona di Orio Vanille and Montale Boise Vanille, both of which explore the note in a left-of-center way.
Guerlain Habit Rouge (in the eau de parfum concentration) struck me as shockingly flamboyant the first couple times I wore it, and yet intriguingly so … there is a sophistication to it, to my nose, and very quickly the shock wore off (I almost wish it hadn’t) and I fell in love with it.
Serge Lutens Un Bois Vanille is one I should re-try. I sampled it years ago and thought it rather plastic-y and cloying. It certainly has a lot of fans, though, which makes me think I should give it another shot. Of the perfumes you reviewed today, the Yves Rocher Vanille Bourbon sounds most appealing … vanilla with a masculine bent, mmmm!
…. though cheap as chips do hardly high art….. mmm, the Montale you mention: most definitely need to smell that one again and that ginger thing is by all accounts quite heavenly!
Neil, thank you for the journey!
As I’ve probably mentioned in the previous comment, I’m not a huge vanilla-centric-perfumes lover but you made this note sound so appealing that, against my will, I’m tempted to try many of the perfumes you reviewed for the series.
From one committed perfumista to another, this registers greatly. I love your comments and your spirit.
I tried Casmir earlier this year, and have only a hazy recall of it, but feel that a perfume you saw fit to dub “lubricious” bears closer investigation! Of this sub-collection Un Bois Vanille is my favourite, though it took me a while to appreciate – I think the bread sauce-meets-bread board facet weirded me out initially but I am happily reconciled now.
Me too. There is an entire earlier review I wrote about six years ago in which I compared Un Bois Vanille to the scene in SE7EN when the skinned man is revealed in the bedroom full of magic trees….It was too macabre to bring out again but when I first smelled Un Bois Vanille it really did remind me of the vanilla ‘magic trees’ that hang in taxis, or in this case, in that terrifying scene in the film. Also, I found the ‘baked’ aspect too….not chewy, but hard, or overly compressed or something. And then one day it just clicked and I was positively pouring it all over myself!
Do I go too far with ‘lubrious’? Possibly. But it is quite dirty, at least very sultry, that perfume, in its later stages. Worth a try as it can be bought very cheaply.
Just checked the definite meaning of ‘lubricious’ again in the dictionary. Yep: that’s Casmir… ‘intended to arouse sexual desire’ and ‘smooth and slippery with oil or another substance…’
What a wonderful series, Neil! Thank you for taking us along a fragrant tour of the world’s loveliest vanillas 🙂 That Guerlain vanilla is wonderful. So distinctive too!
It is. Thanks for reading!