Can the Real Vanilla Please Stand Up

By Jo Phillips

Can the real Vanilla please stand up? Having been an ingredient in perfume since the early 20th century this much-maligned ingredient has been somewhat used and abused. A Beautiful ‘creamy’ facet that is part of many great scents yet has also been somewhat overexposed often badly, so that many don’t really know what a true Vanilla scent should smell of, Step up BDK with their take on this rich elegant note. Find out about her real scent in Can the Real Vanilla Please Stand Up here

Vanilla is a taste most of us know. In fact, it’s a taste and smell that if breastfed as a baby, is deeply subconscious. Breast milk has a Vanilla facet to it, which could be why so many people love its smell. For them it’s comfort and security; think of being swaddled in love with this note. Hence why this style is sometimes referred to as a lactonic (milk) note. In the past, it was seen as a decadent, seductive note because it was expensive and exotic.

Warm, comforting and rich, it has the power to evoke pleasant memories of childhood and the lingering aroma of baking cakes, ice cream and other sweet treats. Vanilla is actually a mood enhancer and it aids in the soothing of anxiety and stress by its power to recall happy times but by also stimulating the production of serotonin, our happy hormone.

But there is more still to this creamy note. Science stepped in to reveal it has other interesting properties, as well as having a reputation as a powerful aphrodisiac and is often used in seductive gourmand and amber fragrances.

As a note, it actually has an ability to ‘hold itself open’. Strange as that may sound unlike a lot of perfume notes that are fleeting and don’t last Vanilla ‘expands’ and also allows other notes with it to open up and last longer alongside it. Its molecular abilities work like a fixative in scents. Basically, it opens our own vanilloid receptors slowing everything down as we smell it hence a feeling lasting longer.

It is also a very versatile ingredient and can perfectly complement an endless amount of other notes to create a new and unexpected facet in almost all olfactory families. Think musky Vanilla, citrus Vanilla, woody Vanilla, and even spicy Vanilla.

The first time Vanilla appeared in the modern world of perfumery was in Jicky an iconic fragrance made by Guerlain in 1921.

Sadly the journey with perfumery and Vanilla went very downhill from there. That’s not to say that there are not some extremely important perfumes with Vanilla in them think Black Opium by Yves Saint Laurent, Tom Ford’s rebellious Tobacco Vanille, Allure by Chanel and of course the hugely impactful Angel by Thierry Mugler and Flowerbomb by Victor & Rolf.

Real Vanilla, derived from orchids is a labour-intensive and expensive crop to produce and has even induced robbery in its history, often referred to as Vanilla Rustling, as it raises such a high price. After Saffron, Vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world because of its difficult production.

Its history goes back to Mayan civilizations coming from a specific orchid called Vanilla planifolia. It is now mainly produced in Madagascar, Papua New Guinea and Tahiti and the French island Réunion. Because of its expense synthetic versions exist, vanillin and ethyl vanillin which can be as much as twenty times cheaper than real Vanilla.

It may well be that science, has allowed for many new versions of synthetic Vanilla that can be relatively cheap as to one reason why so many modern fragrances have been created and of course, become hugely successful.

Ever since the scent Angel came out with its Vanilla sugary notes the world of ‘gourmand’ (sweet foody smells) perfumes has blown open. Often seen as gateway perfumes to attract young customers the shelves of chemists and perfumery are awash with sweet ‘Vanilla’ scents evoking cakes, ice creams, sweets and caramels. Selling the idea of sexy, come-hither fragrances, a youthfulness ‘soft skin’ scent. But most of these will not be real Vanilla but substitute synthetics because actually, Vanilla as a note is not sweet at all.

So can the real Vanilla please stand up? What facets make up this misunderstood note? Real Vanilla is made up of layers that include rich earthy, woody, leathery even brandy-like boozy facets and can also go smoky or even slightly floral and nutty. Alongside, of course, its warm silky, sensuous ‘creamy ‘ layers.

So it’s great to know that Vanilla can be found in distinctly sexy grow-up and even unisex fragrances as its real authentic self. Sometimes in perfumery, it takes someone from the niche world to remind us just how good an ingredient can be, and with Vanilla it took David Benedek from fragrance brand BDK to introduce us to something rather special.

BDK’s Vanille Leather on the surface is an Amber Floral fragrance for women and men. But don’t take that at face value. Having smelt a new Vanilla accord David was driven by its beauty to ask its creator master perfumer Dominique Ropioin to collaborate for the first time with a BDK scent.

Ropioin is as good as it gets in the world as a perfumer having worked on greats such Euphoria by Calvin Klein, Armani’s Acqua di Gioia, six perfumes for Jusbox, Alien by Mugler, Olympia and Invictus by Paco Rabanne, Flowerbomb for Viktor and Rolf, Ralphs club for Ralph Lauren as well as a whopping 12 perfumes in within Fredric Malle label.

The coming together of a master like Ropion who was born in Paris in 1955 with the youngest niche perfumer working today as David is a mere 33 years old. This meeting of hearts and minds has made for extraordinary results.

Firstly, this elixir honours the precious spice from Madagascar, in a multi-faceted smooth rounded scent. Alongside the floral, opening notes are made up of bright spice via pink Peppercorn and a powdery, woody, floral note of Violet accord.

This melds in the heart with a trilogy of florals that are made up of Indian tuberose, Egyptian jasmine and orange blossom deep seductive and here melodic.

But the base is what gives this fragrance its magic and point of difference. The woody and leathery depth of the fragrance brings a mysterious and bold character to it. The Vanilla here is of course true to its original self, so earthy soft deep and slightly smokey and not sweet, but all the facets of the vanilla are backed up by the other base notes that include Patchouli, Oak Wood, a leather accord alongside Orris(the root of the iris flower) and Benzoin resinoid

Each note in the whole perfume is like a reflection of every facet of the hero Vanilla; Every single one is there to magically reflect back the pureness of the keynote Vanilla being celebrated. From spicy to earthy leathery via floral, soft, warm and smoky making for a master class in the use of this exotic spice.

A journey that settles on the skin harmoniously, intoxicating as only a vanilla can be. You can’t stop sniffing because the core Vanilla is so familiar and comforting but handled so elegantly and it’s quite likely the recipe of smoke leather and Vanilla is totally new to you.

My intention was to combine the precious vanilla pod with a bouquet of white flowers to slowly reveal its warm and sensual personality. The vanilla is adorned with the sulfurous and slightly honeyed tones of tuberose, then drinks in the powerful sweetness of jasmine and finally melting into the round, carnal notes of orange blossom. To intensify the trail, I chose to work around the notes of oak wood and patchouli’.

Dominique Ropion

The perfume is housed in one of BDK’s deco-style glass flacons with a gold ‘roof’ and sits perfectly with the style of the house. Known for taking the idea of truly traditional French perfumery and absolutely shooting a shot of modernity to them.

Growing up David’s family owned a perfume shop (his grandfather open their perfumery shop in 1959 and his parents took over) and so from a young age, he was surrounded by the best perfumes. So think of BDK as Contemporary French Perfumery one fit for a modern wearer with their own minds and thoughts. This new scent highlights Vanilla is a genderless scent to be worn by anybody, anytime

Thankfully for us, it took one established talent to meet with one new young blood to remind us of the majesty of this venerable ingredient and bring us a version at its absolute purest and most expressive.

So now again Vanilla can hold its head high and stand up to be counted.

Find all the perfumes from BDK including Vanilla Leather here


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