Vanilla Orchids

Stepping inside the Princess of Wales Conservatory during Kew Gardens’ annual orchid festival is an opulent fragrant experience. While the most popular orchids sold by florists are unscented, there are also many perfumed varieties, with their aromas spanning the full olfactory spectrum from effervescent lemon to dark chocolate.

In my recent FT article, Vanilla Orchids, I describe one of the most famous perfumed orchids, Vanilla planifolia. Perhaps it’s not surprising, since this plant produces one of the world’s most fragrant spices. The flowers have a delicious aroma reminiscent of creamy jasmine and green grape. Although more subtle than the scent of vanilla pods, it has inspired perfumers to create fragrances around vanilla flowers, relying on recent studies of orchids and their aromas.

“For instance, L’Artisan Parfumeur’s new Couleur Vanille – which launches on 2 March – uses a combination of vanilla orchid and vanilla bean to weave a story of tropical paradise (£124 for 100ml EDP). It opens on a marine accord centred around the immortelle flower, evoking a sea breeze and warm sand, before taking a detour into a forest festooned with vines and flowers. To continue reading, please click here.”

Do you have favorite vanilla fragrances, reminiscent of orchids or of the vanilla bean?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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28 Comments

  • Andy: Such pretty photos from Kew! I stopped in at Longwood’s Orchid Extravaganza this year and was impressed. I’m always there too early in the day to catch the spicy, sweeter night-scented orchids, but there was plenty to sniff. Old-fashioned corsage cattleyas are often scentless, but on the plant many smell spectacularly fruity and ripe in the daytime.

    I haven’t tried Couleur Vanille yet, but it sounds tempting. If I want a perfume that reminds me somewhat of orchids, Champaca Absolute seems to convey the atmosphere around an orchid-filled greenhouse and certainly the promise of something tropical, unusual, and bright. March 9, 2020 at 8:13am Reply

    • Victoria: I like the saltiness of Couleur Vanille. It’s such a nice contrast with the floral and sweet notes. March 12, 2020 at 8:26am Reply

  • Monsieur: Une Bois Vanille, Dries Van Noten and By Kilian Love are my favorite vanilla perfumes but they much more gourmand than floral vanilla orchid. Hermes Vanille Galante can be right example for vanilla orchid due to its airy floral heart. March 9, 2020 at 8:56am Reply

    • Victoria: I also like Vanilla Galante for its transparency and airiness. March 12, 2020 at 9:08am Reply

  • Alice: My favorite is Spiritueuse Double Vanille by Guerlain. The association Vanilla Rum is intoxicating. March 9, 2020 at 10:11am Reply

  • Sandra: Our orchid just started blooming again..she only made us wait a whole year..my kids are fascinated.

    I would say my favorite vanilla fragrance is Shalimar (Madagascar flanker) March 9, 2020 at 10:24am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s one of the best flankers of any perfume. March 12, 2020 at 9:09am Reply

  • Lydia: I was at the Met museum last week with a group of people and smelled a really gorgeous vanilla and spice scent as we were walking through the new American galleries. I kept trying to follow it like some elusive, barely-heard melody. I couldn’t figure out if it was a gallery scent, or something one of the students was wearing.

    It made me think about how long it’s been since I’ve smelled vanilla perfumes on people in the city. I wonder now if it was someone wearing the new L’Artisan scent. I didn’t smell salt, but definitely a sophisticated vanilla and a spicy base. Really wonderful. (If NYC doesn’t get hit with mass quarantine this month I’ll try to swing by one if the shops carrying L’Artisan and see if I can try it.) March 9, 2020 at 12:02pm Reply

    • Victoria: These kind of moments are wonderful–a mysterious, alluring scent wafting seemingly out of nowhere. I’ve smelled Insolence on someone at a museum (I ended up asking) and I still remember the context. March 12, 2020 at 9:11am Reply

  • Zazie: I am very familiar with vanilla beans, but I haven’t had the luck to smell a vanilla orchid – it sounds wonderful!
    While I join Sandra in the Shalimar camp, my favorite vanilla “solinote” is the discontinued Havana vanille, or vanille absolument, by l’Artisan Parfumeur.
    As for the tropical fantasy that the flower’s olfactory description evokes, I have so many! White florals, when beachy and sunny or exotic, are just my thing.
    My favorite right now is a relatively new discovery: Revolution de la fleur, by Sana Jardin.
    I am OBSESSED.
    (With the entire line, TBH, but the Frangipani, ylang ylang and vanilla feast of Revolution, and its smoothness…oh my…Nothing revolutionary in the accord, but such a perfectly seamless execution… so easy to wear, so so incredibly perfect.)
    The tropical fantasy, the exotic blooms, bottled.
    🙂 March 9, 2020 at 12:32pm Reply

    • Victoria: Your description alone is enticing! March 12, 2020 at 9:11am Reply

  • Jenni: My winter scents have been dominated by Vanille d’Iris Ormond Jayne — it makes me feel elegant and snuggly all at the same time. I find I really gravitate to orris – but was hesitant on getting this one because of the vanilla — but it turned me around and now, I have fun exploring and discovering vanilla in a wide range of perfumes.

    As for orchards — I do enjoy smelling Tom Ford’s series – Soleil has a smell of the Hawaiian Islands — where I was born – so with a spray or two, i’m transported back to the gardens of Hawaii.

    I look forward to trying the ones you mention in the FT article. March 9, 2020 at 1:04pm Reply

    • Victoria: A bit of vanilla can often be even better than a full-on number. When it’s use to highlight other notes, especially florals, it gives such a nice effect. March 12, 2020 at 9:12am Reply

  • matty1649: I’m a big fan of Shalimar and Spiriteuse Vanille March 9, 2020 at 1:37pm Reply

    • Victoria: That makes a couple of us in this thread. 🙂 March 12, 2020 at 9:12am Reply

  • Karen A: Oooh, what fun! I’ve been to a nursery in Virginia that specializes in orchids and saw and smelled the orchid that produces vanilla. I now have an incredible respect for farmers growing it as it is incredibly labor intensive!

    I believe the National Conservatory in DC has their orchid show the end of this month.

    The perfumes you wrote about and those in the comment section have made me want to give a try. I have smelled some poorly done vanilla perfumes/body products that put me off it, but now I’m curious! (And will go give my Shalimar a spritz) March 9, 2020 at 4:10pm Reply

  • Safran: I went through a very intense vanilla phase the past 2 years and testet about 40-50 old and new vanilla scents. My favourites are Eau Duelle by Diptyque as an-all-year-around scent, Vanille Tonka by Nicolai on cold winter days, Vanhera by Laboratorio Olfattivo especially in autumn or on hot summer nights and the newest is another all- year-around love, Virgile by Sylvaine Delacourte. The latter is very unusual imo, aromatic, uncomplicated and at the same time elegant in a very easy going manner. March 9, 2020 at 4:28pm Reply

  • Tara C: I have smelled a vanilla orchid, there is a plantation on the big island of Hawaii. My favourite vanilla scents are Profumum Vanitas and Xerjoff Lira. March 9, 2020 at 11:32pm Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: Vanille Exquise by Goutal is quite, well exquisite! I also have two vintage bottles of Bois de Vanille which is woodier. I like smelling both, though rarely wear them. March 10, 2020 at 3:00am Reply

  • Trello: I love fragrant orchids, vanilla especially. I discovered a new perfume in the last year that has a permanent spot on my vanity. It’s Vanilla Woods by The 7 Virtues. A nice solid floral vanilla scent, with a caramel and fruity back to it. It seems to last most of the day for me and layers nicely with my orange blossom hand salve. March 10, 2020 at 3:06am Reply

  • rickyrebarco: The new L’Artisan sounds divine. Must test it soon. My favorite vanillas are Vanilla Orchidee by Van Cleef & Arpels and Guerlain’s Spiriteuse Double Vanille, along with Ormonde Jayne’s Vanille d’Iris. I also enjoy Indult’s Tihota, another lovely vanilla scent.

    I have never been able to sniff a scented orchid. They sound amazing. March 10, 2020 at 2:26pm Reply

  • Tamsin: Can Vanille d’Iris by Ormonde Jayne be beaten? It is pure vanilla without any sweet sickly undertones. Luca Turin said his IQ goes up 10 points each time he wears it! March 11, 2020 at 8:47am Reply

  • N: I love Longwood Gardens. The orchid exhibit sounds fabulous. I went years ago to Longwood’s “Lilytopia” and it was like an explosion(in a good way) of fragrances from all the various lilies. They also had a perfume exhibit then too. It was a very memorable experience.
    I want to try a sample of Couleur Vanille, but the US site doesn’t have samples available yet. I used to be able to try L’Artisan perfumes more easily when they were at Blue Mercury, but now I can’t find them anywhere. March 11, 2020 at 8:19pm Reply

    • Andy: Apologies, I misplaced my reply below. I missed Lilytopia when it happened and have never gotten over it (I’m only partly kidding)! The perfume exhibit was excellent too, really quite fabulously well done. Many of the perfumes that were featured to smell were benchmarks and classics, right beside live growing plants whose essences were featured prominently in those fragrances. Clearly the whole of it had been advised by some very thoughtful experts. Do drop by to see the orchids if you have an opportunity! March 13, 2020 at 6:03pm Reply

  • Andy: I missed Lilytopia when it happened and have never gotten over it (I’m only partly kidding)! The perfume exhibit was excellent too, really quite fabulously well done. Many of the perfumes that were featured to smell were benchmarks and classics, right beside live growing plants whose essences were featured prominently in those fragrances. Clearly the whole of it had been advised by some very thoughtful experts. Do drop by to see the orchids if you have an opportunity! March 13, 2020 at 8:06am Reply

  • Klaas: I’d like to join in the praise for Shalimar…..I just can’t think of any other perfume that makes vanilla smell so intriguing, so delicious and yet so fresh. Vanille Galante is lovely as well, but not my favorite from the Hermessence line.

    Another favorite vanilla smell is that of freshly made creme brulée 😉 March 13, 2020 at 6:40pm Reply

  • Aurora: Great article and the photos, I love the mix of vanilla with citrus like in Dulcis in Fundo and well, you guess it, Shalimar. I also like La Maison de la Vanille Vanille Sauvage de Madagascar (the others didn’t impress me very much), it contains a lot of real vanilla, lavender and vanilla, and there is also Pour Un Homme. In general, I like vanilla in a more supportive role. March 14, 2020 at 7:40am Reply

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