Perfume Lovers London – A Vanilla Affair, with Neil Chapman

Thursday, 27 March 2014, happened to be the day of my very last lecture of my entire undergraduate life. And what better way to celebrate (or mourn) it than in the company of fellow Perfume Lovers? And I must warn you, there will be plenty of name-dropping in this post, seeing as there were many recognisable faces around as well as new friends made! As we squeezed into the cosy upstairs room of the New Cavendish Club, the pre-event chatter soon petered out and the proceedings of the evening commenced. This month, we had the pleasure of welcoming Neil Chapman, who writes over at The Black Narcissus, to present his selection of Vanilla Perfumes. I believe Tara of Olfactoria’s Travels will be writing about the very same event soon, so do keep a look out for it. In any case, I thought I would jot down my thoughts on the fragrances that were presented. I must apologise in advance for the lack of any pictures taken at the event itself; I had clean forgotten to do so due to the fascinating conversations I was having with my new-found perfume friends. Without further ado, here are the perfumes in the order that we smelt them:

1. Vaniglia Del Madagascar by SS Annunziata

This was described by Neil as ‘Japanese hot springs’ due to its salty, mineral quality. I found it to be a very sheer, dialed down vanilla, as one might expect of the smell of one’s clothes after one has left a cake shop. It seemed to me to be rather like an Eau de Merveilles Vanilla, which as it dried down started becoming like a marshmallowy orange blossom akin to ELdO‘s Divin’Enfant. It was one of the more well-received perfumes by the audience, although I found myself rather underwhelmed. It was pleasant, but that was it.

2. Vanilla Marble by Agonist Parfums

Neil coined the term ‘Play-Doh cathedral’ to describe Vanilla Marble. I got the Play-Doh part, but not really the cathedral. I found it to be more coconutty than vanillic, although I suppose it is easy to see how the two notes would go together. Members of the audience variously described it as ‘bacardi rum hairspray’, ‘Body Shop stuff’ and ‘lacking gravitas’. Well, I agreed with them. At £125 for 50ml, I’d say you’re better off using your bank notes as toilet paper. Sorry. Ok, I’m not sorry.

3. 7 Billion Hearts  by CB I Hate Perfume

Neil described 7 Billion Hearts as a ‘furniture showroom’. Others described it as the smell you get when you ‘sniff magazine sheets’. I found it to be slightly smoky old wood, with just a hint of vanilla. Additionally, I found it to contain a very similar base to M3 November, which is by the same house, and at £200 for 100ml for 7 Billion Hearts compared to £90 for 100ml for M3 November, I find it hard to recommend the former. It’s not bad, but just not worth shelling out so much for. In general, my preference tends towards the green and floral scents by the brand rather than their woody/foody scents.

4. Songes by Annick Goutal

I struggled with Neil’s inclusion of Songes under the banner of Vanilla Perfumes. I mean, I don’t deny that there’s some vanilla in Songes, but then there’s vanilla in plenty of fragrances anyway, where vanilla doesn’t take centre stage. No, Songes is predominantly a white floral fragrance, with creamy jasmine, ylang ylang, and frangipani. I found it to be a heady concoction, but not to the point that it was cloying. Sabine, who was sitting next to me, found it to be far too strong for her to wear. I suppose I must be immune to heady white floral fragrances at this point of time, having worn Carnal Flower far too often than I would care to admit. Yes, I’m in love with Carnal Flower. But Songes was really quite good, and I liked it; it just wasn’t vanilla enough, though.

5. Vanille by Mona di Orio

Neil included this under the boozy vanilla category, and I am inclined to agree. I found it to be a smoky barnyard that was very earthy, and I thought it actually captured the scent of vanilla pods better than the earlier fragrances had. It was described as having too much galbanum by someone in the audience, along with other remarks about how it smelt like that was orange in there as well. I suppose Vanille is the sort of fragrance that a non-vanilla lover would like, which makes me just the candidate. Saccharinely sweet just isn’t my thing.

6. Orchidee Vanille by Van Cleef & Arpels

I didn’t actually jot down many notes for this, so I’ll just present to you exactly what I wrote down: “Ok. Meh.” That sums up how I feel. It’s wearable, but it just failed to evoke anything else in me. I think some people in the audience liked it for its classiness. However, do try VC&A’s Bois d’Iris for some lovely, dry, woody and smoky iris.

7. Vanille Insensee by Atelier Cologne

“Sheer nothingness”. I’m not kidding, I really wrote that. Liam of ODOU Magazine (do check it out, it’s great!) stated that it was a ‘why bother kind of perfume’, and I agreed with his assessment of Vanille Insensee. I think ‘insensee’ is supposed to mean insane in French (but please correct me if I’m wrong as I’m not sure), but the only way Vanille Insensee would drive me insane was if I tried to smell it and derived nothing in return.

8. Spiritueuse Double Vanille by Guerlain

This has been described as the ‘gold standard’ for vanilla fragrances, and was described as ‘cherry brandy’ by some members of the audience. I found it to be very refined, boozy and smooth, but otherwise it didn’t rock my world. Like I said, vanilla really isn’t my thing, unless it’s paired with other things. Spirituese Double Vanille is evidence that vanilla works best when it is well-whipped into a composition of other things, such as Shalimar. I found it to lack depth and complexity for a fragrance of its price.

9. Tihota by Indult

I know that Tihota was a cult favourite that had vanilla lovers up in arms when it was discontinued. It turns out that Tihota has been revived at the command of the vanilla gods, and all the better for it. Tihota was for me a very rich, sickly sweet dessert. Not for me, but I can see why vanilla lovers adore it. Warm, rich and perfectly balanced with musks. This was saved for last, and for good reason.

Well, that concludes the fragrances that were presented, although there were other fragrances as well that we got to smell after the presentation. I found it a pity that Eau Duelle by Diptyque had not been included, as it really is a darned good woody vanilla fragrance that’s safe AND interesting. And what about Tocade by Rochas? Now that’s a rose-vanilla classic if I’ve ever seen one. But then again, it’s really a matter of taste, and if there had been more fragrances presented we would have been there till the next day!

I know I must have come across as somewhat negative in my thoughts on most of the fragrances that were presented, but you’ll have to bear in mind that I came in as someone who really isn’t a fan of vanilla to begin with. I daresay vanilla lovers would have enjoyed the interesting offerings that were presented. All that said, I learnt much over the course of the evening, and the best treat, really, was being able to smell actual vanilla pods that Neil and Duncan had brought over from a vanilla plantation in Java. There were different varieties available for us to smell, including the Madagascan, Ugandan, Indian, and Mexican varieties amongst others. I learnt that the vanilla flowers had to be fertilised by hand and that the ‘gestation’ period before the pods could be harvested was 9 months, the same as for us humans! Additionally, not all the flowers are fertilised at any one time, as this would cause the plant to be overburdened, and result in pods that are too short. All the vanilla pods shared a rummy raisin quality, but my favourite was the Madagascan variety, which was a warm and buttery bourbon that I would gladly wear in a heartbeat were it transformed into a perfume. I suppose Mother Nature really is the best perfumer around!

Having smelt all the fragrances, I settled upon Tonka Imperiale to take home as my sample (I know, it’s not vanilla!), and then stayed on to chat with Olivia, Irum, and Isabelle (and many others!). For once, we decided to head over to a nearby pub instead of heading home, together with Birgit, Tara, Neil and Duncan, but we ended up splitting up into two groups because we stumbled upon Nick Gilbert and co. in that very same pub! Speak of a coincidence. We ended up having drinks (well, what else would you do in a pub? I must confess it was only my third time in a pub at night, and so rather new to the whole pub culture thing) and chatting on about perfume and all things under the sun. I learnt about (well, at least it reaffirmed what I already knew) the Brits’ penchant for chips and sneaked a few for myself, thanks to the generosity of Irum. All in all, I enjoyed myself tremendously, and was very glad to have made for myself new friends who shared my love and enthusiasm for fragrance. We are a crazy bunch indeed, but hey, we’ve got one another! Cheers to that!

~ The Smelly Vagabond

16 thoughts on “Perfume Lovers London – A Vanilla Affair, with Neil Chapman

  1. Vanille Insensee – “Sheer nothingness”? Really?!! Well, I guess, in comparison to others it might seem that way but… Lucky you! 😉 Every time I tried that perfume it made me nauseous.

    I’m not a huge vanilla lover so I haven’t tried half of the perfumes in the presentation (I do not count Sognes since I agree with you on it NOT being a vanilla perfume). With 7 Billion Hearts I was appalled by the price so I didn’t even try to find it for testing. My favorite vanilla is the only perfume in MdO’s line that I can wear – Vanille (so I’m with you on this one as well). And I agree with you on Diptyque’s Eau Duelle.

    Glad you enjoyed the event and look forward to reading other people’s accounts.

  2. It was nice to meet you, but I also wish that we hadn’t split up into two groups. However, there just wasn’t the space available I thought, and I just had to have Birgit to myself, seeing that she had flown all the way from Vienna.

    Definitely agree about Eau Duelle, by the way: I kicked myself for not including it.

  3. Heya Buddy,
    Great wrap up of the night. Quite insanely jealous here to be honest.
    I was surprised at some of the choices, I definitely thought you would have smelled Lea by Calypso St Barth or good old Le Male. I also like Yves Rocher’s Vanille Noire. YUMMY.
    Portia xxx

    • Dear Portia,
      Thank you for your kind words. Ah, if only you could attend these PLL events! It would be a blast. Ah yes, Le Male – it’s a very powdery, sweet lavender! I think Neil made the choices if he thought the main note in them was vanilla, rather than vanilla + something else. I’ve got to try out Lea, have never heard of that one before! Any idea where I might find it?

  4. Thanks for this report, Joshua, bringing back happy memories of a most enjoyable talk – and evening generally. I would like to cast another vote for Eau Duelle, which now shares the top spot in my vanilla scent poll with Vaniglia del Madagascar – big thank you to Neil for including that as it has been on my radar for a while, and I finally got to try it. Vanilla is in fact my favourite perfumery note period, as foretold by my school nickname of ‘Vanilla Mutton’. Oh, and the background info on the plantations was a highlight of the talk for me, though I found the scent of the pods bordering on the bizarre. 😉

    • Dear Vanessa,
      Oh dear, I can’t believe people actually called you that! You’ve actually conjured up images of lamb curry cooked with vanilla seeds… I really loved the scent of the pods and found them to be immensely rich and rummy. I think we’d get a different smell if we had cracked the pods open, although I didn’t think Neil would have appreciated that! 😀

  5. Pingback: Parfumerie Generale – Felanilla | The Smelly Vagabond

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