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· Perfume Notes: L'Artisan Parfumeur Vanilia

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Perfume Notes: L'Artisan Parfumeur Vanilia
by Dain

Robert Gligorov, Dollar Note (2006-2007).

Some time in the late 70s, when Jean Laporte held the final formula of Vanilia in his hands, did he know what a monster he would unleash on the world?

Best known for L'Artisan Parfumeur, Laporte (along with Diptyque's Yves Couslant) established niche perfumery's tropes: the impressions taken from reality, terse compositions that illustrate a single olfactory concept, with little more than word-of-mouth for marketing. There are niche brands in 2012 that copy this business model verbatim. There was no established archetype for Vanilia, when it launched, simultaneously with the likes of Santal and Tubéreuse and Vetiver and L'Eau d'Ambre, into a market glut with bombastic chypres and florientals. And Vanilia would achieve further notoriety, as the first known demonstration of ethyl maltol, the molecule that defines the gourmand as a genre. It may have been Angel that pushed ethyl maltol into the public domain, but Vanilia is the origin, the adam and eve of sticky-sweet perfumes*.

In fact, 'fumeheads are apt to bemoan the influx of candy notes in perfume, simply because you can't escape their assault on the olfactory landscape. Next to the full-bodied Shalimar, Pink Sugar and Coco Mademoiselle certainly seem like shallow, juvenile things. And yet, they are equally sweet, and if anything Shalimar is even more vulgar, a deliberate wink that flies in the face of sober good taste. Smelling Vanilia now, which smells like and unlike Pink Sugar, the cheapness so readily attached to today's gourmands lies not in the genre, but the quality of the raw materials. Buried beneath the candy floss, lies a delicate ylang ylang absolute, its banana-like sweetness enhanced by ethyl maltol's own fruity characteristics. In that filigree of smoke—the subtly sweet, papery benzoin—and the mellow richness of tonka bean—there's a nod to Shalimar, after all. In the final drydown, Vanilia settles into a fine and silky musk.

As gourmands go, Vanilia is relatively austere, not given to theatrics. Once it burns through the sugar, it stays soft and close on the skin, its vanillic tendencies not at all syrupy, as if it keeps the memory of the flower still.

Vanilia was discontinued very recently, to make room for—or perhaps updated by—Havana Vanille. Traces of its lineage linger still, but Havana Vanille, a standard gourmand with a pleasant oatmeal-cookie angle, lacks the delicacy, restraint, and intense nostalgia that makes Vanilia such a marvelous perfume, even for those who are normally vanilla-averse. It is still sweet and comforting of course, nowhere near as edgy as Angel or even BVLGARI Black with its own smoky, rubbery vanilla, but all the same Vanilia has a haunting presence unexpected in a gourmand. If you can score a bottle, and the idea of a luminous, gossamer-sheer gourmand appeals to you (or even if it doesn't), it is well worth your time.

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* Much thanks to Elena of Perfume Shrine, the sibyl of perfume land, for helping me with fact checking.

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