Vanilla gets a bad rap for being plain, basic and boring when it’s anything but. In fact, it’s so sensual, vanilla was once considered an aphrodisiac.
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The problem is it’s the second most pricy spice in the world (after saffron) so many bad vanilla imitations have crowded the market and made us forget what a powerhouse real vanilla can smell like. We’ve rounded up the best vanilla perfume to re-experience vanilla in its full glory.
What is Vanilla?
Vanilla comes from the pods of the orchid genus Vanilla. Vanilla originates from Mexico and it’s believed that it was first cultivated by the Totonac near Veracruz during Aztec times.
Vanilla first arrived in Europe (along with chocolate) in the 16th century. Now it is grown in the tropics and subtropics globally with different attributes by location, specifically Tahitian vanilla from French Polynesia, Mexican vanilla, and Bourbon vanilla from Madagascar, Runion, and other Indian Ocean Islands.
What Does Vanilla Smell Like?
Vanilla has a creamy, warm, comforting, yet also slightly exotic scent. It’s a gourmand, intertwined with baking and food flavoring, but a good vanilla perfume has more complexity than a simple sugar-cookie or vanilla ice cream type smell. Scientific research has also shown it’s a calming and universally pleasant scent.
While there are popular perfumes featuring pure vanilla, many perfumers blend vanilla with florals for a classic, rich feminine scent. More recently perfumers have branched into more experimental combinations such as spice and tobacco, which are also worthy of a try.
7 Best Vanilla Perfumes That Will Make you Re-Think Everything Vanilla
Beyond warm sensuality, vanilla is popular in perfumes because it augments a wide variety of other fragrance notes, from fruity to spicy.
Best Overall Vanilla
Mancera’s Vanille Exclusive is a pleasant floral-vanilla with some light fruity touches where the vanilla stays firmly in the foreground. The floral blend of violet, osmanthus, tuberous and jasmine elevate the vanilla without dominating it. Similarly, in the dry down the sweet vanilla is balanced, but not overwhelmed, by notes of sandalwood, white musk, and amber.
It’s a pleasant, well-blended perfume that showcases the eponymous vanilla without smelling bakery-like or overly feminine.
Sweet & Popular Vanilla
Looking for the sweeter side of vanilla? Lancome La Vie Est Belle is the fragrance for you. It starts with top notes of black current and pear, followed by heart notes of orange blossom, jasmine, and iris balanced on base notes of patchouli, tonka bean, praline and of course vanilla.
La Vie Est Belle is one of the best-selling perfumes of all time and in some ways has been a victim of its own success. If you’re looking for a unique fragrance that no one else will be wearing, LVEB is not for you. If you’re looking for a sweet vanilla perfume that has stood the test of time and has great sillage and projection, give it a try.
Comforting & Creamy Vanilla
Kenzo’s Amour highlights the soft and cozy side of vanilla. It’s like wrapping yourself in warm fuzzy blankets on a cold winter day. The vanilla notes are complimented with rice and frangipani and give it a creamy, sweet, almost rice pudding-type scent. Just lovely.
Sexy & Spicy Vanilla
On the other end of the spectrum is Tom Ford’s Tobacco Vanille which highlights the seductive and sensual side of vanilla. The perfume opens with a big intoxicating blast of both vanilla and tobacco. While the vanilla starts off as a sugar-sweet gourmand, it quickly turns into a more subtle and dark sweetness.
Subtlety comes later when the wood, chocolate, coffee, and tonka bean start to emerge. Perfect scent for evening, romantic or colder weather.
Feminine & Fruity Vanilla
A versatile, elegant and well-blended scent, despite its name Ralph Lauren Midnight Romance, can easily go from day to evening wear. Prominently featuring raspberry and lychee notes, it’s a soft, feminine scent that smells rich without being overpowering. An amber base perfectly balances the sweetness and provides warmth.
Subtle & Woody Vanilla
Sometimes you want vanilla that doesn’t scream vanilla. Annick Goutal’s Vanille Exquise is a subtle, restrained, prim and proper vanilla perfume. It is perfectly blended with the vanilla sweetness balanced with sandalwood, guaiac wood, musk, and almond. It’s a versatile fragrance perfect for someone who wants the warmth of vanilla without the sweetness.
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Powdery & Versatile Vanilla
YSL Cinema explores the powdery side of vanilla. It was the last fragrance created by the fashion house under Tom Ford’s direction. As you would expect, YSL Cinema is a smart and sophisticated scent that deftly avoids vanilla perfume stereotypes. An elegant and balanced light green-fruity floral that avoids excessive sweetness. Meanwhile, dark jasmine adds some mystery and depth to the fragrance. A beautiful and versatile everyday perfume.
Selena Marc is a fragrance enthusiast, freelance writer, and dog mom living in Houston, Texas. When she's not writing about her favorite new perfumes, you can find her enjoying yoga or a morning hike.