Thanks to the plethora of gourmands in recent years, vanilla fragrances can have a cheap ’n nasty reputation. Fortunately, for those of us with more grown-up tastes, this selection proves vanilla = sophistication.
This post may have affiliate links, meaning we earn a small commission on purchases through the links (at no extra cost to you). This does not change our opinion but does help support the site. Thank you!
But before we take you through our best vanilla fragrance selection, which includes a variety of styles to suit all budgets, let’s take a quick look at its origins.
Did you know that the spice vanilla is obtained from the seeds of dried pods from orchids of the genus Vanilla? And the word “vanilla” comes from the Spanish word “vaina” (“little pod”)?
Although originally from Mexico, it’s now also grown in Madagascar, Indonesia, Tahiti and Uganda. It’s expensive to produce (the second mostly costly spice after saffron), so the synthetic vanillin is often used as a substitute.
Where known, the perfumer’s name is included in brackets after the perfume’s name.
Our Shortlist for Best Vanilla Fragrances
Givenchy Pi EDT (Alberto Morillas)
Let’s start with an all-time, multi-faceted classic from 1998. There’s the subtle herbal aromatics of tarragon, rosemary and basil in the intro. Concentrate hard and you’ll pick up a feint licorice-ish vibe, courtesy of aniseed, in the background you can’t miss the vanilla. Sweet, for sure, but elevated above the ordinary with nutty notes of almond and tonka bean and the resinous sensuality of benzoin.
Purists will insist it has been reformulated. They might have a point, but that still doesn’t prevent it from being a worthwhile purchase more than two decades after its debut.
Atelier Des Ors Lune Féline EDP (Marie Salamagne)
This 2015 release from the French niche brand’s Black Collection is seriously seductive stuff. The sensual tone is evident from the start, with the warm spice of cardamom and cinnamon setting the tone.
It gets all musky with notes of synthetic ambergris and styrax. They give the creamy Tahitian vanilla an animalic quality that’s impossible to resist, while Peru balsam brings earthy spiciness to the mix.
The house’s 2020 release, Rouge Sarây EDP, is also worth checking out for its more Middle Eastern-inspired fruity interpretation of vanilla.
Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille EDP (Olivier Gillotin)
If you want to know why Tom Ford’s Private Blend Collection is so highly regarded, look no further than this 2007 release. Part of the launch range, it’s inspired by an English gentleman’s club.
The opening lays on the tobacco leaf. Luxurious and warm, it’s complemented by spice aplenty, especially ginger. The spicy facets of vanilla are maximised, with notes of cacao and tonka bean accentuating the effect.
Settling with a dried fruits accord (dates stand out in the mélange), it’s a spectacular scent. The smoky and complex Tom Ford Vanille Fatale EDP gets our vote too.
Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male EDT (Francis Kurkdjian)
When a fragrance becomes a best-seller, it’s easy to forget what made it special in the first place.
If 1980s male fragrances were defined by their potent, uncompromising masculinity, this 1995 debut by Jean Paul Gaultier heralded a blurring of the lines between the genders and a move to sweeter fragrances for men.
It opens with the distinctive fresh spiciness of mint. Notes of cardamom and bergamot enhance the mood.
The clean aromatics of lavender, with hints of powdery cinnamon in the background, meets the warm sweetness of vanilla in the dry down.
Traditional and modern at the same time, it’s aged better than many of its contemporaries from the 1990s. If ever a bottle was designed to be displayed, it’s this one.
Chanel Allure Homme Édition Blanche EDP (Jacques Polge)
We love a fragrance full of contrasts and this 2014 release gets that mix exactly right. It starts in sharply fresh territory, with cool citrus notes of Sicilian lemon and Calabrian bergamot.
The 2008 EDT version is also worth checking out if you’re looking for something sweet and powdery.
Diptyque Eau Duelle EDT (Fabrice Pellegrin)
There’s sticky and icky vanilla. And then there’s complex and sophisticated vanilla. This 2010 release delivers a big dose of the latter. Taking its cue from the spice route, it begins its journey in fresh spicy territory, courtesy of a pink peppercorn note.
Top quality-Bourbon vanilla from Madagascar makes its presence felt with its creamy sensuality and gentle sweetness. Its appeal is deepened with the addition of earthy calamus and smoky cypriol notes.
It all adds up to create an exotic experience for grown-ups wanting to reclaim vanilla from its recent over-use in gourmands.
Versace Eros EDT (Aurélien Guichard)
Love it or hate it, the 2012 release was one of the smells of the last decade, most noticeably wafting its way on many a sweaty nightclub dancefloor, pre-Covid. Its popularity was fuelled by the larger-than-life campaign featuring Brian Shimansky. You know the one…
The opening is immediately recognizable – fresh, fruity, spicy and green – thanks to notes of lemon, apple and, in particular, mint.
Tonka bean accentuates the sweet vanilla, with musky Ambroxan and cedar bringing depth to the drydown. Yes, it’s commercial, even synthetic, but there’s no denying its winning formula.
FYI: The recently released Versace Eros Parfum features a toned-down vanilla.
We approach much-hyped releases, such as this 2016 launch from the Turkish niche brand’s Rumi Collection (the title comes from a poem by the Persian poet), with caution and criticality.
It opens with an unusually restrained take on tuberose partnered with powdery peach. Gardenia leads the florals with its creamy characteristics, while powdery orris and musky jasmine make supporting contributions.
All of these set the scene for the large dose of vanilla in the drydown. Its smooth, slightly boozy and spicy, with just the right amount of sweet sophistication. Sandalwood bolsters the creamy ambience. This extrait de parfum lives up to the hype and more.
Berdoues Vânira Moorea EDP (Alexandra Monet)
Something simple? Something a bit exotic? Something that will make you want to smell yourself? Repeatedly. This 2016 release from the Grasse-based company’s travel-inspired Grands Crus Collection will more than satisfy these needs.
Featuring fresh citrus notes of petitgrain and orange, the opening will draw you in straight away. It’s a bright and sunny island mood (even if you’re stuck behind your PC), with green aspects.
And then there’s the vanilla from Moorea, an island near Tahiti. It’s smooth, creamy, and tropical, without being too sticky sweet. Scrumptious!
Boucheron la Collection Vanille de Zanzibar EDP (Nathalie Lorson)
Sometimes we’re not in the mood for the full-on varieties of vanilla. They can be a case of too much of a good thing. No such worries with this 2017 release.
It epitomizes all that we love about the French jewelry brand’s La Collection private range: quality + understated luxury. Although subtle, the opening notes of pear and jasmine are enticing in a refined fruity-floral way.
Fine Bourbon vanilla then comes through with its smooth and buttery characteristics. It’s enhanced by a sensual and warm amber accord. Featuring notes of sandalwood and musk, the drydown is creamy, cosy and (seemingly effortless) chic.
Rochas Moustache EDP (Nathalie Gracia-Cetto)
You might not have had the pleasure of smelling the Edmond Roudnitska classic from the 1940s, but we can tell you that the updated version (2018) of Rochas Moustache is one of the best designer fragrances in recent years. There’s something familiar and reassuring about it, without being in the least generic.
It opens with an appealing dynamic between the slightly sweet citrus of mandarin orange and rosiness of pink peppercorns, while the heart features fruity Bulgarian rose and fresh Atlas cedarwood.
The dry-down is all oriental with accents of smooth vanilla, incense-y benzoin, and earthy patchouli adding to what is a most memorable and enjoyable EDP.
L’Artisan Parfumeur Noir Exquis EDT (Bertrand Duchaufour)
Trust perfumer extraordinaire Bertrand Duchaufour to deliver a gourmand with a difference and without any of the obvious sugar overloads in this beauty.
Taking its inspiration from a rendezvous in a French patisserie, this 2015 release from the niche industry pioneer opens with the aroma of sweet and spicy glazed chestnuts gently infused with orange blossom.
Maple syrup brings toasted caramel nuances to the mix, while strong coffee wafts throughout.
Mellowing with notes of vanilla and tonka bean as it dries down, it’s as darkly delicious as it sounds.
Maison Francis Kurkdjian Gentle Fluidity Gold EDP (Francis Kurkdjian)
This 2019 release from the Paris-based niche brand is a great example of a well-executed concept: two different interpretations of the same notes – Silver Edition and Gold Edition. Featuring juniper berries, the intro is gently fresh and aromatic.
It gets sweeter and warmer with soft spicy notes of nutmeg and coriander. The musks and amber accord surround the spicy vanilla with sensual powderiness, while woody notes bring depth. Some people might find this one too understated. We think it’s got the graceful touch of Francis Kurkdjian, who recently succeeded François Demachy as Dior’s in-house perfumer, all over it.
Dior Vanilla Diorama EDP (François Demachy)
The latest addition (2021) to La Collection Privée Christian Dior is inspired by one of the legendary designer’s favourite desserts, Diorama Gourmand.
A fresh and spicy intro of notes of orange, pink pepper and lemon leads the way to the warm Bourbon vanilla from Madagascar, with its amber-woody tones. It’s infused with sweet boozy rum and slightly bitter cacao.
This skillful balance is complemented by the earthiness of patchouli and the creaminess of sandalwood in the drydown. It’s a smooth, slightly smoky treat. In the mood for a more decadent vanilla-tonka bean combo? Then Fève Délicieuse, from the same collection, is the one for you.
Zadig & Voltaire This Is Us! EDT (Mathilde Bijaoui)
Not all vanilla fragrances have to be expensive to get our approval. This 2020 release from the French rock-chic fashion label is the most youthful in this round-up. Its appeal lies in its simplicity.
There’s vanilla, the sweet and cosy kind, from the get-go. Sandalwood adds a creamy dimension. Powdery musk and spicy Cashmeran mingle with earthy patchouli in the drydown.
Thumbs up also to the brand for going the unisex route with this EDT. Let’s hope more designer brands have the vision to snap out of the male-female marketing straitjacket. Come on guys, it’s 2021!
Pin On Pinterest
Richard Goller is a fragrance and grooming blogger. His blog is called Fragroom. A senior editor with 20 years' experience, his blog allows him to combine two of his passions: engaging content and the always-intriguing world of fragrances. When he isn't blogging, you'll find Richard indulging in his newly found passion for balcony gardening.