December 8, 2013

Gourmand Perfumes or The Scent of Vanilla Perfumes (and sugar, berries and cream)

As a pastry chef, it’s a no brainer I’m fond of perfumes that fall into what the fragrance world categorizes as the ‘gourmands’ group of perfumes. This means foodie notes – and predictably, that often includes vanilla, fruits (peaches, grapefruit), berries, caramel, chocolate, coffee, tea and often times a healthy dose of sugar or honey. It can also include spices. At the least, if you choose a vanilla or gourmand perfume, it’s low calorie indulgence.

But there’s nothing more heartwarming, especially in the chilly holiday season, than vanilla-based perfumes. More often than not, when I’m stopped and asked 'what I’m wearing'. Yes, I live a red carpet of scent – the ‘what are you wearing’ to me is never about Gucci or Zak Posen, and my answer is usually, I'm wearing Guerlain, Chanel and other perfumers). Nothing is more flattering than to wear a scent that doesn’t overwhelm or upstage but instead, has people stopped in their tracks and asking you what your fragrance is.

Of course, a lot depends on which vanilla perfume you choose (no one wants to smell like a cookie or cupcake….or do they?) but if you are open to it, you’ll find there’s something in the vanilla/gourmand spectrum that’s sure to please. There’s pretty well a vanilla scent for every personality out there or your many moods or personas. I’ve worn every perfume on this list and I’ve also been known to tuck a vial of vanilla oil in my purse for a quick dab, en route to tango or touch my wrists with Nielsen Massey Double Strength Madagascar Vanilla).

What’s remarkable about vanilla perfumes and their fruity, sugary cousins, is the various approaches perfumers use on the pathway to perfumes that are warm, sensual, comforting and simply….delicious. There’s also a price-point vanilla perfume to suit every budget from the most bargain priced vanilla perfume oil (Bigelow) to the most extravagant (Guerlain’s Spiritueuse Double Vanille).

If you like vanilla perfumes, there’s no need to stop with one. I’ve adopted a posse of great vanilla scents – as well as sugared berried treats that to my mind, fall into this same luscious category. Here’s my stash of vanilla favorites.

Perfume Supplier:; I’ve included direct links to the products at that site). Otherwise you can find these at their brand sites (if not carried by

Angel Perfume

Top Notes: Bergamot, Mandarin Middle Notes: Passion Fruit, Peach, Apricot Base Notes: Patchouli, Vanilla, Chocolate, Caramel

When Thierry Mugler launched his famed Angel perfume in 1992 the love affair between this iconic gourmand fragrance and its devotees was like most great love affairs: instant and durable. The fragrance notes of Angel as per perfume descriptions on perfume sites and what fragrance counter representatives will tell you is only part of the story. There's also rumour of vanilla, caramel, sandalwood, patchouli, blackcurrant, fresh citrus, melons, peaches and plums.  What is agreed on, across the board, is that this is angelic perfume that you almost want to lick off whoever is wearing it or drink it straight from the bottle. To say it’s for the hedonist is no understatement – and to suggest it takes it’s fragrance notes from home comforts and recipe books on classic desserts – is not far off the mark. This is a fragrance for the food fanatic – and the sort who eats dessert first.

Serge Lutens Un Bois Vanilla

For a vanilla perfume, this Oriental classic is as nice on men as it is on women (or so it seems to me). This is an adult, gently leathered vanilla, by nose Christopher Sheldrake (2003), and is delivered via a route of caramel, bitter almond, coconut milk, beeswax, benzoin, tonka bean, guaiac wood, musk and sandalwood. It has almost an incense-like tone to it and it warms and evolves the longer you wear it. Sweet, girlish vanilla –this is not. It's serious but warm and lingering and definitely about being a woman who knows what she knows.

Guerlain’s classic Shalimar, is also rife with incense tones and a good (and balanced) dose of vanilla

There’s also Guerlain’s special edition Shalimar, Ode de Vanille. This gorgeous scent is not as easy to procure but stay tuned, Guerlain might have some news. Here again, Guerlain house perfumer Thierry Wasser developed a new, vanilla-enriched Shalimar Ode à la Vanille; it includes fragrance notes of lemon, bergamot, rose, jasmine, iris, incense, opoponax, tonka bean and two types of “infused” vanilla: Madagascar vanilla and Mayotte vanilla. As Shalimar Ode à la Vanille segues from middle to base notes it becomes amber-y-floral — first, with dark vanilla, opoponax, a hint of frankincense, some tonka bean and leather-musk notes, then with a vanillic flower accord.

Guerlain’s Spiritueuse Double Vanille

 Introduced in 2007, is almost a perfume collector’s vanilla because it's both exceptional and it’s not always easy to find but it’s worth it – and is described as the queen of ‘boozy’ vanilla fragrances. That’s not the full story – this glorious vanilla masterpiece also has some wood, spice and a heady pear offering to make this the stuff of a femme fatale. Beware of women wearing vanilla – not all vanilla is innocent and this one is sensual, sophisticated and wrapped in mystique.

Falling In Love, Philosophy
Blackberries, bit of musk and vanilla – people fall in love with you (for a moment) when you wear this innocent (not so long lasting but then, love is like that) scent.,default,sc.html


by Viktor and Rolf, launched in 2004 has become a classic. It’s as romantic a sweet perfume as you can fine and combines hints of tea, freesia, jasmine, rose orchid and me thinks, a hint of vanilla and/or orris root which reminds of vanilla in an incense sort of way. This is a fluttery, sweet scent that (a lot of) men swoon for. It was banned at my tango class – so that tells you something.

Jean Paul Gauthier Classique is a sweet, fruity, vanilla and musk are the main wafts and yet done, as only the French can do such combinations, with total sophistication. I smell a bit of apricots, sugar and orris root which makes the whole concoction magical.

Vanilla Oil from Bigelow Chemists

If you like your vanilla straight up, pure and seductive, this amazing, iconic little amber bottle of Bigelow Oil of Vanilla is addictive. I sense a touch of musk or patchouli but it’s mostly vanilla. People swoon when I wear this.

Yves Rocher Organic Bourbon Vanilla
Totally affordable vanilla that’s very true to the scent. It’s not long lasting but then it’s not offensive either. A nice introduction to vanilla sort of perfume.

Pink Sugar by Aquolina

Introduced in 2004, this is becoming a classic. It’s a lively, flirty vanilla that is wrapped in cotton candy, raspberries, licorice, strawberry, along with a touch of bergamot, caramel and warm woods. This is just happy vanilla and sugar and no one is immune to it’s balanced sweetness.

Sexual Sugar by Michel Germain
Proudly Canadian (Quebec on top of it!), this warm, quietly seductive sugar scent boasts top notes of wildberries, sugar coated orange zest which is followed by passion and orange flower water, jasmine and anchored with fresh roasted almonds, vanilla crème brulee and sandalwood – a pastry chef’s perfume paradise. This is easily a signature scent if you’re into gourmands but don’t want to overwhelm people – it’s subtle, sweet and simply, lovely.

Hanae Mori by Hanae Moriis a Oriental fragrance for women.Hanae Mori was launched in 1995. The nose behind this fragrance is Bernard Ellena. Top notes are black currant, wild strawberry, blackberry and blueberry; middle notes are jasmine, ylang-ylang, rose and peony; base notes are sandalwood, Virginia cedar, Brazilian rosewood and almond tree. All in all, it’s fruity and warm but the overall bouquet, has a touch of that wonderful vanilla vibe – but it’s really more woods and berries.

Nothing is more pleasant than apricots with vanilla and this classic from Comptoir Sud Pacifique is a gem. It also comes in Vanilla Extreme and Vanilla Coconut.
The only drawback is it's lack of holding power but it's so inviting, lightly floral and still sweet with vanilla and mellow apricots, it's easy to forgive it. (Comptoir Sud Pacifique also has a sublime Coconut Vanilla scent)

The Body Shop Madagascan Vanilla Flower

This is lovely but no where near as amazing as the Body Shop’s previous vanilla oils which were deeply vanilla with bits of musk and florals. But then the Body Shop is famed for discontinuing beloved products without a warning. Perhaps one can learn to love Madasgascan Vanillia Flower sooner than later and stock up!
One of the newest of vanilla scent offerings is Memoir Liquid's Amour, a most gentle, feminine, warm vanilla from Memoire Liquide's quartet of bespoke perfumes. With notes of incense, tonka bean and Madagascar vanilla, this is not for those wanted a complex vanilla but more of a pure and simple, without being banal or candy-like. This is for any age and it brings a lot of compliments and double-takes.
Warm Vanilla Sugar by Bath and Body Works is a Oriental Vanilla fragrance for women. Top notes are floral notes and vanilla; middle notes are coconut, vanilla and rice; base notes are sandalwood, musk, vanilla and heliotrope.
LOVE, by Kilian

For those that like their vanilla a bit dark and beguilingly complex, Love by Kilian, is an option. It's vanilla but dark, moody, nuanced and sophisticated and disproves the naysayers who think vanilla perfumes are too sweet or simple. This is a big girls only, woman-on-a-mission perfume.

And yet some more vanilla treats (not tested but worth trying, in which case, there's always Ebay for sample vials you can get before you commit)

Coty’s Vanilla Fields

French Vanilla by Dana

Love’s Soft White Vanilla

Delicious Vanilla

No longer available but amazing….
A classic from Kiehls that is gorgeous, sweet and warm. But Bigelow Chemist Vanilla Oil is very similar and available.

October 23, 2013

Si, by Giorgio Armani
Elegance, Modernity and Femininity in One Bouquet

Top Notes
: Sicilian Bergamot, Mandarin Oil, Cassis

Middle or Heart Notes: Rose de Mai Absolute, Neroli Absolute, Egyptian Jasmine Absolute, Freesia, Water Jasmine

Base Notes: Patchouli Oil, Blond Woods, Amber, Orcanox, Vanilla Absolute

Miscellaneous Notes
: blond woods, floral, citrus, oakmoss, brown sugar, mint and amber

Let me start defining or otherwise describing Giorgio Arman’s Si by saying it is a fruity floral (cassis and rose makes the case) or gourmand (the warmth of Vanilla Absolute and a touch of brown sugar).  Then let me back up and suggest it’s also a modern chypre (which means somewhere in the mix there’s wood, floral, citrus, oakmoss, mint and amber or a classic ‘chypre accord’) or romantic, musky ‘wood’. This by itself, is an impressive pedigree and in the end, it makes for a scent that is romantic, soft, sweet but subtly complex, memorable and long-lasting (for a subtle scent). There’s definite holding power to this gentle (slightly powdery) bouquet that would suit any age and any occasion (except maybe, the board room – if those still exist). A woman who wears Si is the woman who means business and will get things done, her way but with a charming persistence that apolitically correct could be called….seduction.

Si suggests an elegant woman in a three-piece suit but a suit made of the softest wool and cashmere so there’s no hard edges and no telling where one seams fuses into another – such is the mastery of the nose behind Si, Christine Nagel. There’s also a curious balance of a scent that is feminine and slightly mysterious along with a quiet animalistic or jungle sensibility which is probably whatever Jungle Essence (listed in the PR sheets) is and the essential oils combined with fragrance oils.

 If you’re drawn to florals, a touch of fruit, like vanilla but not intensely a one-note vanilla, and appreciate a slight nod to woody warmth, this perfume is for you.

Si works as a daily scent or evening-out scent and is perfect for end of summer, or when fall segues into winter or for a late spring. This is to say, it’s a signature scent for your wardrobe and/or a perfume than handles transitions well –whether you are between seasons, men, or times in your life.

If I had to choose one word for Si, it would be: grace. It has grace and it is graceful – almost balletic and yet like the best of dancers, strong-cored with a certain intent that stays in the room, long after the dance is done. 
wood, floral, citrus, oakmoss and amber
wood, floral, citrus, oakmoss and amber

August 5, 2013

La Petite Robe Noire, Guerlain's Perfect Black Dress Perfume

Top Notes: Black cherry, bergamot, red berries and almond.

Middle Notes: Bulgarian, Turkish roses, licorice, smoked black tea.

Base Notes: Aniseed, tonka bean, vanilla, iris, patchouli.

Before I wax lyrical about Guerlain's La Petite Robe Noire, let me preface this review with two bold statements: 1) you can do no wrong to choose any and every Guerlain perfume, regardless of your taste in scent; 2) Guerlain is in its own class as a perfume maker - few, save Chanel, Patou or the house of Caron come close. Why? Thierry Wasser for one thing - the nose behind more than one Guerlain scent and one of the scent the perfume world's most masterful noses. You could have no innate taste at all and choose Guerlain (any Guerlain perfume) and come out, well, smelling like a rose.

But now to La Petite Robe Noire - it is indeed a perfect black dress perfume - suitable for day or night and for women of any age although it has a definite flirtatiousness about it. It starts sweet and fruity, mellowed with almond nuttiness, segues to floral sophistication of a twin bouquet of roses (Turkish and Bulgarian) and then is rounded out on accords of vanilla, another lashing of licorice (in the aniseed, which is always sporting whimsy and a pleasant candy note) and a quiet drum beat of sultry patchouli. It all leaves an impression of a femme fatale, certain of her own charms - wearing crinoline and black ribbons and underneath has a leather bodice-thing going on, intended for a later discovery. In other words, this is an exceedingly pretty, feminine, deceptively innocent perfume with the spine of a knowing temptress.

For those who hedge at sweet perfumes, relax. If anyone can bring sophistication to a sweet perfume, it's Guerlain. Moreover, the sweetness is so balanced, there is almost a litchee like watery-ness to whole affair that only adds to a feeling of sheer ripeness.

La Petite Robe Noire is in one of Guerlain's vintage shaped bottles, has a youthful black frock on the front and casual script lettering - graphic styling that only makes the potion inside that much more surprising. If you're a Cool Water or White Linen type, La Petite Robe Noire is probably not for you. If you adore being a girl - look no further.

April 12, 2013

Ralph Lauren's timeless take on Romance

The nose behind Ralph Lauren’s romantic, quietly opulent Romance scent is Harry Frémont

Launched in 1998, Romance comes in an aptly romantic pink carton and inside is a simple, clean, almost pure decanter that is square and resolute, without frills. Not too romantic at a glance but the bottle is feminine and fresh - and ok - totally fetching in its way.

At its time, many perfumes smelled similar (Curve is often mentioned as a comparison) but as time has gone on and most similar perfumes have disappeared, it leaves Romance as the best of its genre, still around – making it somewhat of a classic.

The perfume opens with a lush floral waft and it settles down into both warm and powdery notes making it great as a date perfume or daytime, office perfume. It has enough citrus to make it upbeat but enough wood in it, to tone down any edginess.  It’s fresh more than sweet and more 'mature' romance rather than the sheer giddiness of a light dalliance. I often cannot really hone in on what’s beguiling about this perfume but I find myself returning to it nonetheless. The rose notes are cheering and the musk and patchouli warm things up just a bit. All in all, one feels feminine and optimistic setting out for the day, sporting this lovely scent.

Sugarful, Floral Gourmand Top Notes: Tangerine, wild strawberry Middle Notes : Pink Peony, cotton candy Base Notes: Musk, sandal...