7 Sexy Vanilla Perfumes For Grown-Ups

When I worked in retail and distribution of perfumes, I learned fairly quickly that one universal note was a perennial favourite. It was the note that the most people said they loved, and was quite often the predominant note in whatever perfume they were currently wearing. That note was, and likely still is, vanilla. There is a comforting quality in the scent of vanilla. It is often associated with early memories of things like baking and the sweets we enjoyed as children. It’s ubiquitous, and can be found in fragrances like baby powder and even fabric softener.


The first perfumes marketed at teenagers had vanilla – scents like Love’s Baby Soft and Avon Sweet Honesty, and even Chantilly. Then there came Coty’s Vanilla Fields and Ex’cla-ma’tion, both vanilla centric, and more recently, Pink Sugar and Britney Spears Fantasy. The latter are a bit cupcake overdose for my nose, but I know that generation loved it. Adult perfumes followed quickly with releases like Thierry Mugler Angel, Dior Hypnotic Poison and Dolce Vita – super sexy powerhouses that were the opposite of the Love’s Baby Soft type of vanilla. I found them unwearable, but can certainly appreciate the artistry, innovation and genius composition of these now iconic scents.


In which no one is surprised, I like my vanilla perfumes soft and easily wearable. I don’t want too much sugar or frosting, and I prefer no cupcakes at all with my perfume, thank you very much. Not that there is anything wrong with that! It’s just not my jam. My favourite vanilla perfumes are smooth and soft, with a sophisticated edge and a touch of gourmand. I prefer a balance of fruit, flowers and woods with vanilla vs more sugar. I also adore a powdery vanilla. The powdery aspect is often from an amber note, which often smells like a dry and slightly sweet powdery whisper, or can be full on amber incense and powder, depending on how much is used.

Elizabeth & James Nirvana Bourbon and AERIN Tangier Vanille
Elizabeth & James Nirvana Bourbon and AERIN Tangier Vanille

Ok. These are two new releases for Fall 2016, and they are drop dead gorgeous. To me they show a desire for a simple and comforting warmth, for perfumes we can cuddle up with. Vanilla is a crowd pleasure, and these two have mastered cuddle friendly gorgeous vanillas. Nirvana Bourbon tempers it’s vanilla with a hearty heart of woodsy notes like oak to keep it from being too sweet, and then a kiss of surprising tuberose in the base to keep it light. Bourbon is a must try for lovers of the original Nirvanas, and for vanilla lovers. AERIN Tangier Vanille  is beautiful, and for me it’s the combination of amber, sandalwood and musk that makes this one gorgeous and unique. It has that dry powdery amber vibe, but a touch of bergamot and rose keep from being too stark and masculine*. Beautiful! These are perfect worn casually with jeans and a t-shirt, or as the perfect touch with that black cashmere sweater – soft and easy to wear.


Balmain Ambre Gris and Van Cleef & Arpels Ambre Imperiale
Balmain Ambre Gris and Van Cleef & Arpels Ambre Imperiale

In the interest of full disclosure, Balmain Ambre Gris does not list vanilla anywhere as a note. I am taking artistic licence with this beautiful scent and trust me, vanilla perfume lovers, you will love this. Ambre Gris is an interesting example of impressionistic perfumery. Guillaume Flavigny was the nose behind Ambre Gris, and I think he created a vanilla apparition with Ambre Gris. Balmain Ambre Gris stunning must-have for collectors and vanilla lovers, and it’s drop dead sexy with benzoin, myhrr and a spiced musk base. Yum. Van Cleef & Arpels Ambre Imperiale  is so beautiful, it’s one of the perfumes in my collection that I like to lift the cap and simply inhale from time to time. It grounds me, and the synesthete in me thinks it smells like black velvet.  The vanilla in Ambre Imperiale is tempered with the soft cuddly sweetness of tonka, and then amber saves it from tooth curling sweetness. This is one that is smoothly blended and almost makes my mouth water. Try these two when you need to feel ultra cozy and sexy.

Truly Yours Reisa and Comptoir Sud Pacifique Vanille Abricot
Truly Yours Reisa and Comptoir Sud Pacifique Vanille Abricot

Truly Yours Reisa and CSP Vanille Abricot are what I would call tropical vanillas, and these work equally well in cool and warm weather. I reviewed Reisa previously here and I love the shimmering jasmine tuberose beauty of this one dearly. But, it’s the delicious vanilla in Reisa that sets it apart. It has a touch of the nag champa vibe of Monyette Paris, which is a delicious and warm tropical floral scent, and to date, one of my biggest compliment getters. Reisa has the same intoxicating effect and the sultry florals are tempered perfectly by vanilla and patchouli. This floral is perfect year round. Ah, what can I say about CSP Vanille Abricot that hasn’t already been said? The signature juicy apricot and papaya dipped in vanilla sugar scent is probably one of the sweeter scents in my collection. It’s a guilty pleasure, just simple fruit and vanilla, and a giant compliment getter. It smells so edible you could almost forget and give your wrist a lick. I have the bottle shown above and it is definitely vintage. It is STRONG and quite concentrated so a little goes a long way. The newer Vanille Abricot in the glass bottles that I’ve tried at Sephora are much lighter and easier to wear – the scent is identical, just more diluted. That’s a good thing, as I like my perfumes lighter. I’m going to get one of the new bottles. Wear these perfumes when you want to be devoured. You’ve been warned.

Au Pays de la Fleur d"Oranger Eau de Madeleine
Au Pays de la Fleur d”Oranger Eau de Madeleine

A Pays de La Fleur d’Oranger Eau de Madeleine stands alone, although if I had to compare it to anything, which is something I love to do with perfumes, it would be Balmain Ambre Gris. It’s not the same, and not really even similar, but it does have that magical non sweet yet still a gourmand vibe. It smells like smoke from a woodfire, sandalwood incense, with a warm base of vanilla and suede. Eau de Madeleine triggers a scent memory for me,  I’m sitting in my childhood living room, my dad is reading, my mother is embroidering, and my brother and I are sipping huge mugs of Ovaltine in warm milk in front of a roaring fire. Beautiful, with a touch of melancholy and a lot of saudade for my childhood. 

The name of this perfume, Eau de Madeleine, is an homage to Proustian Memory.  Au Pays de la Fleur d’Oranger Eau de Madeleine is based on that. Virginie Roux, who is the creator of this beautiful perfume line, was inspired by Proust and memories of her grandmother and a larger search for meaning and our childhood memories. From their website:

We are all in search of our roots. We all have memories of childhood. A “Madeleine” that is ours (An involuntary trigger to memories past). A search for meaning at a certain time of one’s life. L’Eau de Madeleine is a woman’s perfume for a free woman. Dedicated to Virginie’s grandmother. Woman of post-war emancipation. This perfume survives her. L’Eau de Madeleine warms the heart. It is enveloping, reassuring. Everyone can recognise themselves in Virginie’s journey. This fragrance is both melancholic and infinitely subtle. It also carries a strong message about women with powerful personalities. It is saturated with incense. This raw material, widely used for religious ceremonies, is prized in perfumery. Its high concentration gives the fragrance a unique flavor. It is as sacred as the woman who wears it.

There is a scene in the first volume of Marcel Proust’s masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time, he tastes a piece of a ‘petite madeleine’ cake steeped in tea. He experiences an involuntary memory, triggered by the taste and smell of the madeleine dipped in tea. Scent, and I imagine taste as well, are powerful senses that can take us back in time to a time and place we may have forgotten.

But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more immaterial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.
Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time, vol. 1

Marcel Proust
Marcel Proust



*when I use the terms “masculine” to describe notes or fragrances, it’s based on my personal memories and interpretations of traditionally masculine scents. Of course we all know that scent has no gender. Wear what you love!

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Reader Comments

  1. Portia

    Love these choices Jane. I’m a little bit of a vanilla lover and have some of these. Did you ever try Morn to Dusk by Eau D`Italie or Lea by Calypso St. Barth? Two of my faves.
    Portia xx

  2. Jane Daly

    I adore Lea! I often wonder why I don’t own it…so many perfumes, so little time. I’ve added Morn to Dusk by Eau d’italia, it’s one I have not tried yet! xo

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