So you think you hate… vanilla?

Love it or loathe it vanilla is everywhere. Touted as the aroma found most universally pleasing, there are many who reel back in disgust at the mere mention of the ingredient. But vanilla doesn’t just smell like an explosion in a cake shop:  it’s kind of magic, in flavour and perfume terms.

When we smell or taste anything, our ‘receptors’ constantly wipe those fleeting encounters to prepare for the next flavour or a smell.  But when vanilla is added to food or fragrance, naturally-present vanillin (and other vanilloids, which we’ll talk about in a moment) work to ‘hold open’ our vanilloid receptors, slowing down this wiping process – which in turn gives us more time to perceive, experience and enjoy both scents and flavours. (Vanilloids are also found in cocoa, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and hot peppers – which partly explains why they’re all such ‘taste sensations’.)

Vanilla comes from the seeds of a dried pod from a climbing orchid-like plant which flourishes especially well in Madagascar;  the very best quality of vanilla comes from the Île Bourbon, now known as Réunion. It gets its name from the Spanish word ‘vaina’ (meaning sheath or pod, and translates simply as ‘little pod’.  (Strangely, the flower itself is scent-less.)

Perhaps because vanilla is the second priciest spice in the world, after saffron, the vanilla you smell in many perfumes today is synthetic vanillin:  clever chemists have worked to mimic the real thing – although the most gifted noses will probably tell you that real vanilla is earthier, with touches of treacle and a touch of ‘booziness’.

We love this legend about vanilla which we found on the excellent Perfume Shrine blog. ‘According to the Australian Orchid Society, “Old Totonac lore has it that Xanat, the young daughter of the Mexican fertility goddess, loved a Totonac youth. Unable to marry him due to her divine nature, she transformed herself into a plant that would provide pleasure and happiness – that plant was the Vanilla vine. This reputation was much enhanced in 1762 when a German study found that a medication based on vanilla extract cured impotence — all 342 smiling subjects claimed they were cured.”’

Vanilla’s reputation as a powerful aphrodisiac endures, and it’s often present in ‘sexy’, come-hither fragrances, especially Orientals and gourmand fragrances, as well as ‘girly’, ‘younger’ creations (and perhaps why vanilla naysayers have come to shun it).

Times have changed, and vanilla is used in all sorts of interesting, innovative ways within fragrances, now. I guarantee that none of these smell like cupcakes, so come on: it’s time to challenge your own perfumed preconceptions once again…

JULIETTE HAS A GUN
VANILLA VIBES
This vanilla’s sliced through with a healthy sprinkle of sea salt, plunging us immediately to childhood memories of the beach, sandy picnics and sticky fingers hastily licked as ice cream melts. Natural vanilla absolute is noticeable in the opening, but take a while to drip fully to the orchid-laden heart – and all the while a transparency completely prevents the sweetness from overtaking, it’s the salt on centre stage: a tremulous sunshine-filled daydream that shivers in the breeze.
£110 for 100ml eau de parfum
harveynichols.com

PERFUMER H
DUST
You need to move fast to catch this intimate and intriguing take on vanilla, for twice a year, like the scent couturier that she is, Lyn Harris unveils her seasonal offering of (mostly) new fragrances. Spring/Summer 2018 sees citrus Petit Grain, floral Suede, fougère Pink Pepper and woody-as-it-sounds Indian Wood in the collection. But the compulsive wrist-sniffer this time, for us, is this exquisite Oriental – a gentle, powdery miasma of iris, raspberry leaf and orange flower, benzoin resin, opopanax, sweet musk and that deliciously dry vanilla.
£130/£350 for 100ml
At Perfumer H

ANNA SUI
FANTASIA MERMAID
Like the sparkling light reflections that shimmer on the sea, Fantasia Mermaid weaves radiant ingredients together. Blood orange, mandarin and cooling cardamom make for an effervescent start. Aqueous blooms float together in the heart of this scent, with peony, jasmine and watery lychee. An incredibly uplifting floriental, soft wisps of spices are woven throughout, and the vanilla is a cushion for the other ingredients, not a smothering blanket.
£40 for 50ml eau de toilette
qvcuk.com

[You can try BOTH the Juliette Has a Gun and Anna Sui scents in our Globetrotter Discovery Box, £19 / £15 for VIP members, part of ELEVEN fragrances to try at home with extra beauty treats – perfect to take on you travels…]

VAN CLEEF & ARPELS
COLLECTION EXTRAORDINAIRE RÊVE DE YLANG
Concocted around one of perfumery’s most noble ingredients, the ‘flower of flowers’, here we see how vanilla can whisper to a flower, and Rêve de Ylang captures the heady, exotic, intoxicating and spicy aroma of the ylang ylang flower being softly seduced. Perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin used an invigorating cardamom and a whisper of saffron to enhance the opulent spiciness and warmth of ylang ylang, while an aromatic vanilla and rich patchouli add depth. The result is a fabulous, ultra-luxe floral nectar, pierced with light.
£260 for 125ml eau de parfum
harrods.com

GIORGIO ARMANI
SÌ EAU DE PARFUM FIORI
The gifted Julie Massé reinterprets Sì’s so-classic Chypre theme in a fragrance that bursts into life with sparkling green mandarin and blackcurrant – the familiar twin signatures of this contemporary classic – before white floral neroli unfurls its lush petals. As the temperature rises, prepare for an encounter with the vanilla – all diaphonous gown barely concealing the va-va-voom, leaving with a trail of white musk.
From £54 for 30ml eau de parfum
Armanibeauty.co.uk

Perhaps you’re thinking that, apart from the name of the first fragrance suggested, here, there’s no overt focus on vanilla, but that was the whole point of this post – to show just a fraction of the ways vanilla can surprise, cosset, whisper or seduce. To put it another way: we didn’t want to ram vanilla down your throat. But, we have to say, if you try some of these, we feel you’ll be reaching vanilla again and again – there’s a reason it has a reputation for being addictive, you know…

By Suzy Nightingale

 

Fragrance Family Friday: Oriental

As part of our ongoing feature – Fragrance Family Friday – today we focus on: Oriental. What fragrances are found in this category, and which should you try? (Find a link below, too, for the perfect set to help you explore this category at home…)

With their spices, musks, incense and resins, the Orientals are rooted in perfume’s own history, using many of the same ingredients today that were first enjoyed in the orient – India and Arabia – at the dawn of fragrance creation.

Ingredients like heliotrope, sandalwood, coumarin, orris, vanilla and gum resins are classically used within an Oriental fragrance structure – though these can be tweaked, for men, women (and fragrances designed to be ‘shared’).

Seductive, voluptuous and with a va-va-voom, Orientals tend to feel ‘grown-up’ – and many have a warm, heavy, diffusive richness that’s more suited to after-dark wearing.  They linger sensually on the skin:  they’re heavy on the base notes, which tend to last longer. However, there is a new ‘mini-family’ of fresher Orientals, with a lighter touch, and a more ‘daytime’ feel.

Many of the original fragrance families have additions and cross-overs of sub-categoreies, so none of them are set in stone, and you’ll find much discussion in books and online, on eactly which fragrances should be in which families. Nobody seems to absolutely agree! So we’ll focus instead on some fragrances you might like to try under the umbrella heading of ‘Oriental’…

Memoize London are a niche house that excel at crafting exquisite scents – Orientals being a particular passion of theirs – celebrating ‘the importance of creating a harmonious balance between fragrance and emotion’. The discovery set has been curated to explore the Seven Deadly Sins, with orientals being the perfect family to explore the sultry, addictive theme, hence why five of the eight fragrances are Oriental in nature!

 

TRISTISIA

FAMILY: Oriental
TOP NOTES: red roses, jasmine
HEART NOTES: vanilla
BASE NOTES: oudh, patchouli, civet, amber

A wonderful Oriental blend with rich red rose and white jasmine top notes beautifully balanced with creamy vanilla heart wrapped in warm base notes of oudh, patchouli, civet and amber.

 

 

Avaritia:

FAMILY: Oriental
TOP NOTES: orange , bergamot, armoise, Geranium
HEART NOTES: jasmine, cedarwood
BASE NOTES: patchouli, musk, amberwood, sandalwood

Moreish woods with unsparing jasmine will leave you craving for more. An Oriental blend of amber and patchouli, with sweet musk, interlaced with vanilla and spices, and a top note of citrus and herbs.

 

 

ERA

FAMILY: Oriental
TOP NOTES: saffron
HEART NOTES: iris, ylang ylang, jasmine
BASE NOTES: myrrh, amber, oudh, leather

A sophisticated and rich Oriental fragrance that reveals a saffron top note that mingles with a beautiful iris, ylang ylang and jasmine heart. Exotic, warm base notes myrrh, amber, oud and leather create the depth in the blend.

 

 

SUPERBIA

FAMILY: Oriental
TOP NOTES: rose, ylang ylang, orchid
HEART NOTES: cedarwood, sandalwood, saffron
BASE NOTES: oudh, leather, amber, musk, patchouli

A luxurious fragrance opening with floral top notes of rose, ylang ylang and orchid infused by fine woods resting on a bed of rich oudh wood, leather, amber, musk and patchouli notes.

 

 

BLACK AVARITIA

FAMILY: Oriental
TOP NOTES: grapefruit, honey
HEART NOTES: ambrette, cistus labdanum, incense, Kashmir fusion, oudh, violet
BASE NOTES: amber, cedarwood, musk, powder, sandalwood, vanilla, vetiver

A woody Oriental fragrance leading with top notes of grapefruit and honey. A luxurious heart of ambrette, cistus, incense fusion, kashmir fusion, oud and violet, rests on a base of sandalwood, cedarwood, amber, musk, vanilla and vetiver.

 

There’s much to explore in this sumptuous set and we know you’re going to adore it as much as we do. Apart from the five oriental fragrances we’ve highlighted as a must-try, here; there are a three fragrances to explore, included in the set: Luxuria, a beautiful floral fragrance, opening with waves of juicy cassis and raspberry; Gula, a complex floral weaving jasmine and galbanum with sandalwood, vetiver, vanilla and black musk; and Invidia, a floriental (sub-section of orientals) marrying white tuberose, orchid and ylang ylang with undertones of woodiness and tobacco.

So prepare to have your senses tantalised by these opulent orientals and their equally fabulous floral and floriental friends – and be one of the first to discover this new fragrance house…

 

Memoize London Discovery Set £57 – find it here

The first gourmand: Brillat-Savarin – an 18th Century chemist who knew you are what you eat (and smell!)

Long before ‘gourmand’ foodie-inspired fragrances were even dreamed of and while smell was still perceived as the poor cousin of our other senses, one 18th Century polymath was championing the exquisite pleasures that taste and smell bring to everyday life. And more than mere pleasure alone: in fact, he heralded the proper appreciation and scientific study of these long-foregranted senses…
‘Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.’ So said Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, 1755-1826, a French lawyer and politician whom, apart from law, studied chemistry and medicine, and eventually gained fame as an epicure and gastronome.
 

 
His seminal work Physiologie du goût (The Physiology of Taste), contains Savarin’s philosophies and observations on the pleasures of the food, which he very much considered a science – long before the birth of molecular gastronomy and serious studies of taste and smell had begun. And smell was very much at the forefront of the gastronomique experience, Savarin had worked out; exclaiming:
‘Smell and taste are in fact but a single composite sense, whose laboratory is the mouth and its chimney the nose.’
Previously considered the least important of the senses – indeed, smell remains the least scientifically explored, though technology is making huge leaps in our understanding – Savarin proclaimed that,’The sense of smell, like a faithful counsellor, foretells its character.’
 

 
Published only two months before his death, the book has never been out of print and still proves inspirational to chefs and food-lovers to this day.
 

 
Preceding the remarkable leaps in knowledge high-tech equipment has allowed and revealing how entwined our sense of smell is to the taste and enjoyment of food, Savarin also observed how our noses protect us from eating potentially harmful substances, explaining ‘…for unknown foods, the nose acts always as a sentinal and cries: “Who goes there?”‘ while coming to the conclusion that a person’s character may be foretold in their taste and smell preferences… ‘Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.’
We devoted an entire issue of our award-winning magazine The Scented Letter (now available in print, and with online subscriptions worldwide!) to taste and smell – as of course we are gourmand fans in ALL the senses. And so it is heartening to know that Brillat was on our side here, with this extremely useful advice we selflessly pledge to carry through life:
‘Those who have been too long at their labor, who have drunk too long at the cup of voluptuousness, who feel they have become temporarily inhumane, who are tormented by their families, who find life sad and love ephemeral… they should all eat chocolate and they will be comforted.’
Wise words, indeed. We plan to enjoy all the sweet temptations that come our way, in scent form and in chocolate. Talk about having your cake and wearing it, too!
Written by Suzy Nightingale

Scents of solace: five fragrances to love and Hygge

There are times when a hug from someone you love is not possible, when well-meaning words of kindness simply will not suffice. It is then we reach for other sources of comfort – a cosy blanket, a much-loved book, a favourite fragrance…
2016 has witnessed various outpourings of sadness as much-loved celebrities have passed away and world events have bemused, bewildered and terrified in turn. You’ve probably noticed the Danish and Norwegian word, ‘Hygge’, is everywhere – not easily translated, it basically invokes a feeling of cosiness, hunkering down and surrounding yourself with comforting, nurturing things. Those of us who treasure the power of perfume know only too well its ability to amplify or even alter our mood, so is it any wonder we may turn to fragrance when seeking solace from one thing or another?

Photo by Urbanara.co.uk
Photo by Urbanara.co.uk

In controlled tests, the smell of vanilla has been shown time and again to elicit a soothing response, with some positing the suggestion the scent links us to childhood memories of warm milk, soft puddings, sticky bags of bonbons or even suckling at the breast. Others point to studies showing the reduced ‘startle-reflex’ effect in animals, when a vanilla smell is dispersed during stressful situations – including those who aren’t naturally suckled – and suggesting something far more complex is at work than a foodie’s blissful reverie.
Our sense of smell is so deeply rooted in emotion and memory, that scientists are only just beginning to piece together a hazy map of understanding which neurones fire-up when certain scents are wafted beneath our nostrils, and why they elicit such intense responses…
9026182971422
For full-on vanilla bean gently buffed by the honeyed piquancy of quince and dark trickle of Peru balsam, we suggest you indulge your inner-magpie with this gloriously glittery bottle of what is, basically, an extremely sexy custard. Or crème anglaise, to put it more chicly. Either way, its decadently delicious and as it’s a limited edition, you should stock up now for future emergencies.
Michel Kors Midnight Shimmer £53.10 for 50ml eau de parfum
Buy it at Boots
Lavender, too, has long been used to soothe more than skin irritations, and Shakespeare’s Ophelia citing ‘rosemary for remembrance’ has been proved very possibly correct, extensive tests revealing concentration and memory can be greatly increased when sniffing the essential oil while studying and then accurately recalling lessons learned.
31tldkmpol-_sy300_One of the first flowers distilled by founder Olivier Baussan, L’Occitane uses lavender sourced from farmers’ cooperatives in Haute-Provence. This aromatic tribute to their homeland is the softest way there is to soothe frazzled nerves. We recommend dabbing directly on the temples and breathing deeply…
L’Occitane Lavender Relaxing Roll-On £12 for 10ml Cologne
Buy it at uk.loccitane.com
It isn’t just sprigs of fresh herbs and pure oils, of course: a perfume of any kind can be a powerful spell, if not to banish the black dog then at least to stop it growling for a while – a fragrance foothold on the slippery slope of adversity. And incense as a perfume ingredient is on the rise once again, with contemporary perfumers not merely evoking the frankincense-infused pews of a church, but using it in more intriguing ways.
205-73060631-dr100mrpf_mFabrice Pellegrin blends bergamot and a bracing splash of petit grain before spiralling into a hint of mint that awakens the senses (without smelling like mouthwash, we are happy to report). The dreamy haze of incense, iris and vanilla drift us to a mellow place where fevered brows are soothed by cool hands and everything is alright.
Dear Rose Mentha Religiossa £155 for 100ml eau de parfum
Buy it at Selfridges
Is there a particular perfume that raises a smile as you picture a loved one – a single spray and they appear: a genie from a scent bottle? Perhaps you have a fragrance to bolster your confidence – one to wear at that tough meeting, a scent equivalent to shoulder pads, a perfectly tailored suit or backbone in a bottle?
narciso-rodriguez-eau-de-toilette-for-her-3423478836952-narciso
Unapolagetically flirtatious, this is a snuggly cashmere stole nonchalantly draped around bare shoulders – white peony and Bulgarian rose melding beautifully into a bouquet that’s distinctly on the naughtier side of floral. And here the base is enhanced with a vivacious vetiver, which we always find becalming, don’t you?
Narcisso Rodriguez £35 for 30ml eau de toilette
Buy it at The Perfume Shop
Whether your choice of scent finds you full to the brim with girlish glee or finding succour in sadness as you revel in the emotion and let it find its natural level – in trying times, those pretty potions can be invisible shields, comfort blankets, a whole panoply of anchors or escape routes, if you only know where to find them.
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A blissful blanket with a steely underbelly sounds like something of a misnomer, but this just seems to exude waves of smooth confidence. ‘You’ll want to wrap it around you, lose yourself in the depth of the moment and suspend time’, they say. With rose, vanilla, a fizzy violet-powdered cloud and base of benzoin, we couldn’t agree more.
Maison Francis Kurkdjin Oud Satin Mood £195 for 70ml eau de parfum
Buy it at House of Fraser
What are your favourite fragrances to spritz when the going gets tough? Do get in touch by Tweeting, posting a picture and tagging us on Instagram or e-mail us – we’d love to know!
Now then, altogether: let us spray…
Written by Suzy Nightingale