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Vanilla: The most popular perfume ingredient of all time

Vanilla is one of the most popular (and polarizing) ingredients in perfumery. Find out why vanilla infused perfume is worth a second sniff this season.

Nov 20, 2013
By
Jill Dunn
Photography
Geoffrey Ross
Vanilla: The most popular perfume ingredient of all time

Sexy. Smooth. Syrupy. In the fragrance world, few ingredients can provoke more polarized reactions than vanilla. For some, it’s simple and cloying; others are lured by its sensuality and stay locked for life. The ubiquitous vanilla note is a victim of its own success; it’s so universally appealing that it can lead many to think it’s unrefined, says Chandler Burr, former perfume critic with The New York Times and curator of olfactory art at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City. But here’s the rub: “As human beings, it seems genetically impossible for us not to like vanilla,” explains Burr, recounting what he learned from lauded French perfumer Christophe Laudamiel.

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Perfumer and fragrance expert Roja Dove has said that although childhood nostalgia plays a part in our attraction to an ingredient so often used in baked goods and ice cream, he believes that vanilla acts as a psychogenic aphrodisiac. Some studies have shown that vanilla produces a calming effect on humans and animals, and the scent has been used to help people relax during medical tests.

Mental-health benefits
aside, vanilla is beloved by perfumers because it has many facets and can easily be associated with different olfactory traits, whether floral, fruity or woody, masculine or feminine. “It is amazingly adaptable,” says Christine Nagel, master perfumer for Jo Malone London, who created Rosewater & Vanilla Cologne Intense. “When I want to highlight a vanilla note, I like to take the raw material, cut it, restructure it, texturize it and magnify one of its facets, depending on how I want to interpret it: sensual, fresh or animal.” Nagel also created Giorgio Armani Sì, one of this season’s most interesting vanilla blends, and says that vanilla is a fundamental material in her palette. Burr believes that this dreamy, comforting note is a more sophisticated ingredient than you may think. “The raw material has an earthiness, darkness and, above all, texture to it that instantly makes it interesting, even if it’s easy to detect,” he says.

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Read more about the popular vanilla fragrances that started it all on the next page...

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