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.