Notes: Yellow Mandarin, Siam Wood, Saffron Absolute, Vanillin, Vanilla Absolute, Lapsang Souchong, Ambergris, Coumarin
Shalimar, with its gorgeously smoky opoponax, is the closest I’ve come to loving a vanilla-focused perfume. The usual straight-up vanillas are just too cloyingly sugary for my taste and are often very simplistic.
The only problem with the Guerlain was it just felt too dressy most of the time. Reluctantly, I found loving homes for my little used bottles of the EdP and Shalimar Light.
So my interest was more than piqued when I read about the 2015 creation Vanilla Smoke by talented indie perfumer Mandy Aftel. Could this be the vanilla fragrance that works for me? An order from Surrender To Chance later and I was about to find out.
On application, I get a shot of black tea but this is quickly overtaken by bright orange splashes of mandarin and saffron. Saffron is such a striking note with a luxurious feel, but I don’t like it in overdose. Here it’s mellow, savoury and sophisticated.
With usually weighty ingredients like vanilla and smoke at its core, you’d think Vanilla Smoke would be a heavy fragrance but it’s actually surprisingly sheer. This is what helps to make it incredibly easy and enjoyable for me to wear.
The smoke is provided not from incense but by lapsang souchong tea essence which has been extracted from tea leaves smoked over pinewood. This deep, complex accord wafts up beautifully as if from a piping hot cup and provides a lot of interest and depth in this deceptively simple composition. The lapsang souchong creates a definite fireside effect; it’s not an conflagration like Bois d’Ascese but smoke that rolls off a campfire in the darkness.
Rather than being upfront, the vanilla acts more as a backdrop, providing a beautiful contrast to the overlay of soft, smooth smoke. As well as the more typical vanillin, Mandy uses Madagascan vanilla absolute, with all its nuances. This natural material has facets of spice and woodiness, making it a thousand times more exotic than your run-of-the-mill vanilla fragrance.
While it lasts well, it’s pretty low-key, although there is also a Parfum concentration.
I find the smell of smoke grounding and add some unsweetened vanilla to the mix and you have my ideal comfort scent. It’s just the kind of thing I wish I had in my collection on drab days when I need a bit of soothing but want something with more warmth than incense can provide. It’s not just a scent to ease your worried mind though, it feels incredibly sensual too – I want to bathe in it.
Vanilla Smoke is more than just a grown-up vanilla, it offers me the perfect smoky fragrance, being sensuous and wearable rather than austere and masculine. For this reason I feel more than justified in putting it on my Full Bottle Wish List.
Just when I’d got it down to zero too…
Have you tried Vanilla Smoke? Any Aftelier favourites?