Serge Lutens un Bois Vanille, 2003

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(Image from Robert Franks’s Cocksucker Blues.)

Mick and Keith. Serge and Chris.

Vanilla is a key component to both the contemporary dessert/gourmand and the classic amber oriental. Vanilla is almost inescapable in perfumery, but it’s usually found in the familiar company of labdanum, balsams, resins, spices or ethylmaltol in the above genres. It takes effort to dissociate it from the foody, cuddly feel. Despite its brief plastic/cotton-candy camouflage topnote (wonderful!), un Bois Vanille does just this. After the foody misdirection, un Bois Vanille avoids the expected. The tease of edibility shows itself as a licorice note, not cotton candy. The licorice also keeps un Bois Vanille from going the amber/oriental route since the genre is almost by definition warm, round, thick. Licorice here comes off as anisic-like not candy-like. It’s cool and focussed and it brings out vanilla’s sharp, bitter side, making it more potent than plush.

After the expansive opening the heartnotes are fairly quiet, with a dry, airy feel that I would think to associate with frankincense, not vanilla. By drydown un Bois Vanille is dusty but still taut, reinforcing the point that vanilla can be strong and direct without being noodley. Un Bois Vanille stays cool as it winds down and resists becoming a skin-scent, further bucking a vanilla stereotype.

Un Bois Vanille solves a problem for me. One of very few in perfume fan-dom, I don’t like Caron Pour un Homme. The lavender/vanilla combo has no synergy and reminds me of the feel of a stuffy head. In un Bois Vanille, the cool side of the licorice fuses with the vanilla in a way that I imagine Pour un Homme’s minty lavender and vanilla combo works for the rest of the world.

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