Whenever I consider the subject of the gourmand perfume I am always haunted by my mother’s ghost. She detested any perfume “that smells of food”. She also loved the garden and hated to be in the kitchen. She would hustle the frozen food into a pan and hurry on out to marvel at her latest garden acquisition and never mind whether or not the thawed peas burned.
Times have changed. You can find nearly anything now at American markets, and the US world of food has turned on a decade or two, to become one of the foodiest in all the world. Take yesterday in Hartford when a brewer (Captain Lawrence) told me that a grapefruit beer was his bestseller. Grapefruit. Beer. Yes. Well, he was quite right it was wonderful.
So let me start this all over again and say that the smells my mother associated with food: synthetic seasonings, smoke (the unintended charred remains of dinner sort) and basic tasteless vegetables awoken from a cryogenic nap in a packet, are not what you get anymore. You get Ahi tuna marinated in grapefruit beer.
Only perfumers have not kept up with all this. The current vogue for heavyset orientals is not reflecting the growing sophistication of the US palate. Synthetic oud again? Really? Um. Pass personally, I’d rather stick with the guy combining malt hops and grapefruit or blood oranges. Now there’s a combination.
So are there any really cutting edge gourmands for grownups out there? Yes. I’m smelling one as we speak and it is Mandy Aftel’s Vanilla Smoke. This is really smoky, the kind of smoke you get in certain cuisines (Swedish, Virginian, Mexican) and it swirls at the very beginning of Vanilla Smoke. Then the perfume becomes softer and more vanillic, the heart becomes an almost tame vanilla which may be due to the fact that there are two vanillas here, one is vanillin and the other is true vanilla. You get the familiar sweetish flattish note, and the darker, more complex fragrance of real vanilla.
But, and there is a but here, the smokiness of Vanilla Smoke never entirely dissipates. That is what takes this perfume from the children’s to the adult’s table. There is a dark cognition to this combination of smoke and vanilla that lends it a knowledge of the unlit part of the sidewalk, and makes the scent intriguing to wear. That probably has to do with the presence of saffron, saffron elevates the formula and gives it a lighter touch than the standard bases only orientals out there.
In the very far dry-down Vanilla Smoke is also surprising. Many hours after I had put it on and had assumed it was gone, I caught a wonderful scent of ginger and vanilla. This may have to do with ambergris which very expensive material often turns up in Aftelier formulas and which is much less dense than amber and co the usual suspects in oriental line-ups. This must have been the final bit of Vanilla Smoke evaporating, but what a lovely way to say goodbye it was.
This is one of those perfumes you can’t wear before five p.m. However, wonderful to take to a Mexican restaurant, or to eat really great barbecue, or in my case Thanksgiving dinner. This is elegant but very vanilla at the same time so that lovers of the gourmand do not have to give up sensual satisfaction in exchange for elegance.
As a longtime wearer of de Nicolai’s Vanilla Tonka I have to declare an interest. Notice though, this scent is just as conscious of flavor as the very best chef. That’s important for a grownup gourmand. Why should you wear something that cares less about seasoning and terroir and smoke than you do? No reason I guess. Do yourself a favor and find some of this, or anything else that has a really bold scent profile.
What are you wearing for Thanksgiving this year?