I love vanilla. It’s familiar and comforting, very versatile, and can run the gamut from sweet and foody to dark and alluring. So these are my top choices for vanilla perfumes: sugary, dark, spicy, and boozy.
Note: I’ve considered perfumes that prominently feature vanilla, tonka, or benzoin, because they have very similar qualities and the average nose will probably identify a tonka or benzoin note as vanilla. So they’re lumped together here.
Dorian (Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab)
“A Victorian fougere with three pale musks and dark, sugared vanilla tea.”
Dorian is sweet, sugary vanilla and tea with a lemony edge. Tea with an overdose of sugar cubes and no real darkness. There’s a bit of a softness and warmth from the musks but I wouldn’t call it musky at all, they are very pale musks. It’s simple and pretty. Most fougeres lean bitter, sharp, or powdery on my skin, but here the sweetness tames those qualities, leaving just a mild mossy note on drydown. The mossiness and the lemony note give it a slightly cologney vibe, but only slightly. I’v seen Dorian recommended a lot for men, but despite the fougere it’s very sweet and feminine to my nose. Sweet elegant perfection.
The Antikythera Mechanism (Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab)
“Teakwood, oak, black vanilla, and tobacco.”
The Antikythera Mechanism is a very dark vanilla, definitely leaning masculine. It has an almost fizzy quality when first applied and gets darker on dry down, with kind of musty woodiness emerging (especially after 2 hours) and a really phenomenal chewy tobacco note throughout. It’s one of the most prominent tobacco scents I have, but the vanilla is just as much of a star. The vanilla lingers throughout, and it’s mildly sweet but about as far from gourmand as vanilla gets. It’s almost sharp at times, and very woody. Something about the woodiness and tobacco makes it feel almost academic in a Sherlock Holmes kind of way. I love this for a rich, heavy scent on chilly days.
Catrianna’s Cauldron (Deep Midnight)
“Sweet frankincense, rare spices, a warm creamy vanilla, and a pinch of sage, all topped off with a whiff of cauldron smoke.”
Catrianna’s Cauldron starts with a good dash of spices, but as it dries, the creamy vanilla and soft frankincense are the most prominent notes. There’s a little touch of sage and smoke that keep it interesting, though those blend in with the rest by an hour. I’ve had this for a while and while it used to have a bit of sharpness, that’s aged out in the past couple years and it is now supremely smooth with a resinous depth, clearly but softly spiced (not necessarily “spicy”), and just a touch of powderiness on drydown. It’s versatile and a good choice for a wide variety of occasions. This is very similar to Aphrodesia (Alkemia) but Aphrodesia is a little sweeter and more powdery, seeming overall a bit more feminine, and lacks the extra depth from the sage and smoke.
Perversion (Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab)
“Smoky rum and black tobacco with a whisper of steamy leather with a splash of crystalline chardonnay, layered over a sensual, sweet base of tonka.”
Perversion is sweet and boozy and makes me think of a bar, but a classy bar (and not a literal interpretation). It has tonka rather than vanilla, but it still has such a lovely sweet vanilla scent, joined by copious amounts of booze and tobacco. It starts off very sweet, with a heavy dose of tonka and a sparkling champagne quality (it actually smells fizzy!) along with sweet rum. The sparkling champagne is a high note that stops it from becoming a big mass of syrupy sweetness, and it contrasts with the warmth of the tonka and tobacco. It dries mostly sweet boozy tonka with a little undercurrent of wet leather. A bold, sexy evening scent.
For the curious, these were the notable other candidates for my selection of vanillas:
Aphrodesia (Alkemia) (An intoxicating blend of deep eastern spices warmed with creamy vanilla and a few drops of golden frankincense.) I mentioned above that this is very similar to Catrianna’s Cauldron, so it’s really just a slight personal preference. Aphrodesia is still very elegant.
Arabesque (Alkemia) (Beautifully aged Arabian sandalwood, Mysore sandalwood, precious Egyptian kyphi, sweet orris root, benzoin resin, cassia, and blessed spikenard.) This has a prominent vanilla-y note and is one of my favorite perfumes, but I’m saving it for a post on woody perfumes because the sandalwood here is truly stunning.
Dee (Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab) (Soft English leather, rosewood and tonka with a hint of incense, parchment and soft woods.) This is soft and woodsy with prominent tonka, but it doesn’t scream VANILLA enough to win.
I Love New York for All (Bond. No. 9) (Geranium, bergamot, muguet, pepper, cocoa, coffee beans, creamy chestnut, patchouli, vanilla, leather, and sandalwood.) Whoa, non-indie here. This is pure gourmand. It’s very vanilla-y, basically vanilla rice pudding with a dusting of cocoa and it’s kind of odd but in a good way, I think.
Old Cedar Magus (Solstice Scents) (Fresh cedarwood on a bed of mystical incense and soft vanilla.) This seems popular, and in the vial it’s nice vanilla and cedar, but on me, to my nose, it’s fake vanilla candle with a weirdly medicinal/cough syrup quality. But I got a compliment for it so that might just be my picky nose.
Old Scratch (Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab) (Lavender fougere with tonka, amber, rosewood and a whiff of diabolical patchouli.) The tonka is very prominent on my skin, giving it a lovely soft round vanilla quality, but the fougere goes between sharp and powdery and it’s not a winner for me.
Sex in Heaven (Possets) (Coconut, vanillas (two fabulous types: Mexican and Tahitian), and a lashing of sandalwood.) This is very nice, and definitely vanilla-y, but the coconut outshines the vanilla on my skin.
Under the Milky Way – The Church (Conjure Oils) (Toasted black tobacco, oud, aged vanilla resin, roasted almonds and kush.) This is a very dark scent that’s reminiscent of Antikythera Mechanism with the dark vanilla and tobacco, but I prefer the woodiness of Antikythera Mechanism to the sweeter, toasty caramelized quality of this scent.
Vanilla Incensée (Atelier Cologne) (Russian coriander, Italian cedrat, Mexican lime. Egyptian jasmine, Haitian vetiver, Slovenian oakmoss. Madagascan vanilla, English oakwood, amber.) While this is an interesting, woody and kind of spicy, masculine-leaning vanilla, it goes too powdery. for my taste
White Peacock (Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab) (Teak, ebony wood, osmanthus, patchouli, red sandalwood, vanilla orchid, tonka bean, tobacco, wild musk, spikenard, and sugandh kokila.) Generally nice, but has a bit of a sugary vanilla candle vibe sometimes that I’m not fond of.
So, that’s the lot! What are your favorite vanillas?