This perfume reminded me immediately of Magritte’s question: is it a pipe if you can’t stuff it? Is an image of a pipe the same as a pipe? The treason of images…
Vanilla fragrances are not on my radar because gourmand fragrances are not easy to wear in warmer climates and vanilla is the queen of foody notes. But like many Serge Lutens releases this one takes the path more ironic. It opens with a note half way between coconut and butter and it is a sweet opening. What comes in next is a counter-intuitive note of immortelle. I happen to believe that immortelle has a wide range of nuances (bacon, liquorice, coffee, curry, and the undefinable core of El Attarine) and here the aspect used is that of caramelized coffee. The effect of roasted coffee mixes with the buttery coconut to create an impression of caramelized coconut. And actually this is where Jeux de Peau started. Un Bois Vanille is obviously the seminal idea that was reworked to give birth to this more recent release. The difference is that Jeux de Peau decided to become a gourmand while Un Bois Vanille chose the difficult path of using gourmand notes to create a non-edible flavour. Christopher Sheldrake uses a woody note, what smells like guaiac wood to my nose and just a hint of saffron to cut through the foody stuff and add a dangerous, almost toxic accord to the mix. Saffron for me is the smell of freshly polished leather. So imagine the mix of caramelized coconut, dusty guaiac wood and bitter leathery saffron. So where is vanilla? Vanilla is there, right from the beginning. It runs like the creek hidden under deep foliage: you know it’s there but with so much else happening it is hard to focus on it. Once again Sheldrake chooses to develop a note by expanding and developing each minute fraction of peripheral characteristics, like he did with tuberose and carnation, creating a prismatic view of vanilla. The creaminess of vanilla is exacerbated by the coconut, the warmth is echoed in the coffee. The woody complexity is translated by guaiac wood and the dark, deeper nuances are mirrored by the leathery saffron. Vanilla is still the cause and focal point of al this but it has never felt more explained. In a genius twist at the end of the composition a surreal floral note anchors the base with musk.
My immediate reaction when I first smelled this was: toxic! Olfactoria’s dark review also focuses on the dangerous personality of this vanilla. Although Un Bois Vanille is not the fragrance I would easily wear I am glad I tried it. It is an elegant mind game. Like Magritte’s question about the pipe, it is open to many answers. Is it really a vanilla if you can’t eat it?
Magtitte’s painting via http://www.library.yale.edu/librarynews/2008/12/