Vanilla-Scented Orchids in Perfume

Stepping inside the Princess of Wales Conservatory during Kew Gardens’ annual orchid festival—it usually runs from February to March—is a chance to discover how beautiful the fragrance of these opulent tropical flowers can be. 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.

One such scented orchid is 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 the recent studies of orchids and their aromas.

For instance, L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Couleur Vanille uses a combination of vanilla orchid and vanilla bean to weave a story of tropical paradise. It opens on a marine accord evoking a sea breeze and warm sand before taking a detour into a forest festooned with vines and flowers. The vanilla bean’s richness is toned down to retain the radiant, airy feel of the fragrance—and to emphasize the bright sweetness of blooming orchids.

The iconic British house of Grossmith likewise turned to the charm of vanilla orchids for its perfume Floral Veil. The mélange of white blossoms in the heart of the composition creates a heady effect, while the green notes add a crisp contrast. For even more drama, instead of wrapping the perfume in the gourmand sweetness of vanilla, Grossmith chose a finish of cashmere woods and amber. The layers of Floral Veil are sheer, but its embrace is sultry.

Another fragrance that captures the nuances of vanilla orchid’s aroma is Van Cleef & Arpels Collection Extraordinaire Orchidée Vanille. The creamy orchid at its heart is the creation of perfumer Randa Hammami, who wanted to evoke not only the scent of the vanilla flower, but also its pastel color and seductive shape. Her orchid is inflected with mandarin and litchi, fresh fruity notes, while the illusion of curvy, lush petals is conveyed by milky almond and musk. It’s a fantasy flower, but it’s sumptuous enough to compete with the real thing.

What vanilla fragrances with a floral inflection do you like?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin



  • Andy: The scented orchid blossoms that skew towards musk, honey, and vanilla are usually my favorite to smell. My nearest botanical garden did not hold their usual orchid festival this winter, and I was cross about it until I visited last week to see all the tulips in peak bloom (which smelled like white pepper and the skins of green potatoes).

    Since orchid is a kind of fantasy perfume note, I don’t always get orchid from perfumes inspired by the flowers, which disappoints me for my lack of adequate imagination than for the perfumes themselves. However, Tom Ford Champaca Absolute and Mona Di Orio Musc both combine vanilla and floral notes, and remind me of orchids in their own way. Neither smell like any single flower I’ve smelled, but both somehow convey the right feeling for orchid. I’d love to hear others’ recommendations, too.

    Additionally, on vanilla—I had a memorable vanilla bean experience at a botanical garden in Mexico last year. The grounds included a vanilla garden, where the pods are grown and harvested to be used on the premises. From the vanilla they produce, I tasted a vanilla bean mojito that was flecked throughout with seeds. The vanilla flavor was unbelievably clear and rich, even moreso without the accompaniment of fat or dairy that are so often there in vanilla-flavored things. April 17, 2023 at 9:44am Reply

  • Anastasia: I lived in London for a while about 10 years ago, but I had no idea about the Kew Gardens’ orchid festival! What a shame…I might organize a trip. Orchids is another hobby of mine (apart from fragrances). They are living pieces of art and indeed some of them (not the usual phalaenopsis) are very fragrant and I love them.  I haven’t found orchid fragrances in perfumery that smell like the real thing, but maybe it’s better this way. I loved the article Victoria, thank you!  April 17, 2023 at 11:19am Reply

  • Princess Tonk: This was a thrilling reminder to wear VCA Orchidée Vanille! Beautiful scent. April 17, 2023 at 11:49am Reply

  • Klaas: Victoria, your writing is so evocative you make me want to like vanilla fragrances…….

    In the real world however, vanilla is one of the only notes in perfumery that I struggle with. I can only handle a very subtle hint of it and still……..I find it hard to pull off. In deserts however……. yumyum!!! April 17, 2023 at 12:25pm Reply

  • Figuier: Thanks for this Victoria; I’m going through a vanilla phase and have been wearing Eau Duelle edt a lot. Thinking of ‘orchid vanilla’, I don’t know if Hermes Vanille Galante actually has notes of orchid vanilla, but it certainly is a green, banana-leaf scent with just a vanillic tinge. My sister used to wear it, and I think it’s lovely. April 17, 2023 at 1:18pm Reply

  • Natalie: Vanilla has been a long time favorite perfume note for me. A specifically vanilla orchid favorite of mine was Jo Malone Vanilla & Anise which has notes purple vanilla orchid. I used to wear this years ago and it was discontinued. It came back in their archive collection, but the reviews online for it say it does not smell the same as it used to and is not as good anymore sadly. April 17, 2023 at 1:34pm Reply

  • Tracey: I too am lusting after the perfect vanilla probably because we are heading into winter here in Australia. So far, Eau Duelle is on high rotation, but please advise me of your recommendations. April 18, 2023 at 3:22am Reply

  • Aurora: Orchid festival at Kew, how wonderful, Victoria, I’ve never been even though I’m in the UK. One such perfume I have is Fragonard Les Naturelles Fleur de Vanille, it also has chocolate but what I smell is a floral vanilla, very delicious. April 19, 2023 at 10:39am Reply

  • JulienFromDijon: My latest vanilla discovery is “Couleur de la nuit” by Voyages imaginaires, the independent brand of Camille Goutal and Isabelle Doyen. It lives up to its promise.

    Maybe because of the “all-natural” constraint, the vanilla in the basenotes is glorious. It reminds me of the natural vanilla efforts in the late “Shalimar” extrait versions.

    There is also a vegetal amber that is very “ciste” oriented. It’s more thick and caramel-like, less monotonous over time, than the usual labdanum extraction of ciste-labdanum. A hidden mint facet -carvone- is liking the basenotes with the top notes, that reminds me of “Vol de nuit” and “Jicky” (white flower? “lavandin” rather than lavander?). The 10ml are worth it, for it’s close to extrait in quality, and Guerlain masterpieces in execution. April 20, 2023 at 4:36am Reply

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