Philip Jenkins of Morocco is an entrepreneur who states that vanilla is a beloved ingredient in many sweet treats, but it is also a common scent in perfume. Vanilla’s warm and comforting aroma has been a popular fragrance note for centuries and can be found in a wide range of perfumes, from delicate florals to bold orientals. In the following article, Philip Jenkins explores the history of vanilla in perfumery and the different ways it’s used by perfumers today.
Vanilla can often be synonymous with “boring”, however when it comes to fragrances it is one of the key notes that a lot of us look for and love in scents. So, how has vanilla developed within the perfumery sector?
Originally used as a flavoring for chocolate, vanilla grew in popularity as a food additive before ending up being incorporated into perfumes in the 1920s. Since then, it has become a signature scent when it comes to creating a sense of luxury, seduction, and comfort within the fragrance industry.
What is Vanilla
Vanilla is an edible fruit from the orchid family of flowers and is in fact the only edible fruit that this plant family produces.
Vanilla is extracted from the bean pods, which blacken as they ripen, and the fragrant seeds and flesh inside can then be used to flavor dishes or used as a scent.
Philip Jenkins of Morocco says that although there are over 150 different varieties of the vanilla orchid that grow natively across the band of the Equator and the 20 degrees north and south of it in the Americas, the most well-known variety, vanilla planifolia grows in the area around the Gulf of Mexico.
Today, there are primarily only 2 types of vanilla that are used commercially both in perfumery and in food production: Tahitian and Bourbon vanilla.
The History of the Scent
Vanilla was traditionally used as a fragrance in shrines and temples, but the world at large learned about vanilla through the Totonac people, who cultivated the plant. The Totonacs would go on to be conquered by the Aztecs, who flavored their chocolate with vanilla. The Aztecs were then subjugated in turn by the Spanish conquistadors in the 15th century, who quickly brought vanilla and chocolate back to Spain.
Philip Jenkins of Morocco explains that chocolate and vanilla went hand in hand, until in the early 1600s, an apothecary in the service of Queen Elizabeth I created sweetmeats that were solely flavored with vanilla. The queen absolutely loved them, and they became all the rage at court.
From there, people started to experiment with it, with the French incorporating it into ice cream, and the flavor making its way over to America in the 1780s thanks to an enamored Thomas Jefferson.
Philip Jenkins of Morocco says that the first use of vanilla as a scent in perfume was seen in 1921, when Guerlain released their Jicky fragrance.
Why do Perfumiers Use Vanilla
Much like how vanilla in cuisine can pair with almost anything, it has this property when used in perfumery, too. It evokes a feeling of comfort and nostalgia, which is important when many perfumes are sold based upon the feelings they evoke in those wearing and smelling them.
It is commonly used in amber and gourmand fragrances, helping to add depth and warmth, as well as a seductive and moreish quality. Woody fragrances can be enhanced by vanilla to help them to be richer and smoother.
Philip Jenkins of Morocco reports that vanilla is also a long-lasting fragrance, helping to provide longevity to whatever perfume it has been added to. As a result, it is much more common to see it used as a heart or base note rather than a fragrance’s top note.
Famous Fragrances with Vanilla
Philip Jenkins of Morocco also notes that although vanilla is a popular scent, it is much more common for perfumiers to use synthetic vanilla fragrances, as using natural vanilla is incredibly expensive. True vanilla therefore is usually reserved for the most expensive and luxury perfumes.
Some of the best vanilla-based perfumes on the market are:
- 1996 by Byredo
- Eau Duelle by Diptyque
- Love, Don’t be Shy by Kilian
- Black Opium by Yves Saint Laurent
- Tobacco Vanille by Tom Ford
- Kayali Vanilla
Guerlain and Vanilla
And of course, the fragrance that started it all, Jicky, is still being made by Guerlain to this day. Vanilla is so integral to the Guerlain perfume house that they even count it as essential to “Guerlainade”, the fragrance signature of the perfumier alongside other signature scents such as tonka bean, rose, and jasmine according to Philip Jenkins of Morocco.
The Future of Vanilla in Perfumery
Philip Jenkins of Morocco says that although many people might be wary of vanilla fragrances, thinking that they may be too sweet or overpowering, they can actually help to create some of the most seductive and sophisticated scents.
Not only that, but people will continually be drawn to vanilla-based perfumes even if they don’t realize, thanks to the fact that vanillin has been ranked as the most popular smell in the world. It looks like we will be seeing more gourmand fragrances for many years to come.