And One More Word on Vanilla

Three dimensional  Vanillin

Three dimensional Vanillin

The word I have in mind is vanillin. Vanillin is one of the earliest synthetics from 1874 actually when first produced by the firm of Haarmann & Reimer, and you would recognize the smell even if you were not fascinated by fragrance because vanillin, like the SPECTRE organization in James Bond stories is everywhere, though mostly these days in food, along with its close associate ethylvanillin. If you’ve eaten candy bars you’ve eaten vanillin.

These days you can’t come across the old synth in fragrance because apparently other newer synthetics mimic vanilla better, most of them derived from guaiacol which sounds like something I didn’t like swallowing as a child with bronchitis, but is the usual suspect in modern vanilla fragrances.

But I wonder. If it’s true that Jacques Guerlain used to mix his vanillin (bought from de Laire a particularly tasty and slightly impure vanillin) could we ever really recover the smell of an original Jicky? Luca Turin in The Secret of Smell contends that Jacques Guerlain mixed his vanillin- that grubby vanillin- with one part actual vanilla to give the result a musky tartiness, the slattern component of Jicky’s deity. So, how does the modern Jicky compare?

I’ll just bet that modern Jicky has cleaned up its act. Modern Jicky, like modern Knize 10, or modern Tabac Blond is probably well washed before going on before an audience and speaking its lubricious lines. But was that always the case? When vanillin was in charge, along with measurable amounts of bona fide vanilla, was the story altogether hairier and sweatier?

Spiritueuse Double Vanille

Spiritueuse Double Vanille

This leads me to another little speculation, that Spirtueuse Double Vanille was perhaps a small allusion of Jean Paul Guerlain’s to that original slightly dirty vanillin mixed with one tenth vanilla? You could be smelling what is essentially only one segment of Jicky, which was to give the perfume its due, reputedly a simple formula. I can see the joke. You take one of the simplest parts of what makes up a vanilla perfume and make it into a blockbuster.

Myself I wear de Nicolai’s Vanille Tonka which is her retread of Shalimar, cast however with what I suspect is real vanilla. Vanille Tonka though has gone through some changes since it was first put on the market, and the bottle I have is probably from that first year in the early 1990s. The perfume is a serious vanilla bath, almost a vanilla wallow, from which you dry off with a dry and nubbly frankincense. My first bottle which dated from some years earlier used to start with a distinct lime note then proceeded to a limited vanilla very specific, as though each note were being ticked off a list, then flowers including a modern carnation and finally frankincense. This bottle, like an old tenor, has lost some of its high notes and moves into the vanilla and carnation bel canto rather quickly, but this does not matter much since I always liked the vanilla part of Vanille Tonka best anyhow. All versions of Vanille Tonka resonate long after you thought the performance over. Half of my jackets and coats smell of Vanille Tonka, and as I once

The Vanilla vine in flower

The Vanilla vine in flower

thought I was being branded a smoker because of that whiff, it’s nice to notice that the older formula is very vanilla centric.

I had to go back and smell Spirituese Double Vanille today just in order to have a sense of how times had changed with regards to vanilla chez Guerlain, and the formula seems thinner to me now. The flowers and the rounder aspects of the vanilla seem to be gone. I appreciate the initial cedar note more than I used to do, but it takes up too much space now, and the ylang ylang though still that wonderful Guerlain version, takes up too little. Back in the day though, was some of Double Vanille’s greatness due to vanillin, like that other great classic a Hershey Bar? I can’t help but wonder.

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7 thoughts on “And One More Word on Vanilla

  1. Can’t speak to SDV as I have never bothered to smell it. (It’s spendy, it’s hard to find, I don’t really dig a just-vanilla scent for all that I really adore vanilla baked treats.)

    But Vanille Tonka was one of the first niche things I fell for, and I still think it’s wonderful. My first decant, ca. 2009, is long gone, and so is the partial 30ml bottle I took off a friend’s hands once she decided she didn’t wear it much anymore. The new bottle I bought last year – also 30ml, God bless Patricia Nicolai for keeping that size – smells very much the way I remember it, with the entire thing reminding me of a Captain Morgan’s spiced rum and Coke, generously spritzed with lime and laced with incense. Delicious stuff. *Nearly* edible. These days I have to be in the mood for it, but when I am, nothing else will do. It doesn’t make me think particularly of Shalimar, or of Emeraude for that matter, but you will note that I own scads of vinty Emeraude, plus two bottles of the long-d/c Shalimar Light, PLUS Vanille Tonka. Clearly something in those citrus-vanilla fragrances strikes a chord with me.

      • Isn’t it odd that neither you nor I actually own a bottle of Shalimar?

        We’ve both worn Shalimer Light, and VT, and Emeraude,(and I have to add to this list Mouchoir de Monsieur which is French for Jicky) but no actual Shalimar. Curious no?

        SDV is cedar wood ylang and VANILLA. It’s like you upended a bottle of Nielson -Massey all over yourself. Quite yummy.

  2. I think the only Jicky I tried is the current formulation but I don’t think I’d like it to be any different because the current formula is probably all I can handle (being NOT a fan of Shalimar, Mitsouko and L’Heure Bleue) but out of curiosity I’d love to smell them all in their original form.

    • So would I. These days I gather that if you go to the Guerlain headquarters they have reconstructed a lot of the old fragrances-not to sell you understand-but just so that people can smell what Shalimar or Jicky or Apres L’Ondee originally smelled like. And then there’s the Osmotheque. I really want to go there. Matter of fact the very next time I get to Paris I’m going out to Versailles, even if I have to walk :-)

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