It just so happened (I do not know whether it was intentional or accidental) that two recent perfumes from the Private Blend line by Tom Ford are devoted to two of perfumery’s chief ingredients that are responsible for the emergence of perfumery the way we know it today; those two forever changed our perception of perfumes and based on each, an entire trend, a huge branch of perfumery was formed. I am talking about Vanille Fatale, the perfumes constructed around the note of vanilla and its indelible part and chief odorant  – vanillin, and Fucking Fabulous, where the leading role is given to tonkabeans and the key component of their scent, coumarin.

Coumarin vies for the laurels of the world’s first synthetic material ever used in perfumery: it was first synthesized in 1868, and then, once its industrial synthesis had been introduced, coumarin was immediately put to use as a perfumery ingredient. In 1884, Houbigant Fougere Royale appeared, followed by Guerlain Jicky, were coumarin undoubtedly plays the most essential role, in 1889. Those two perfumes are often mentioned as the first two compositions done the modern way, so coumarin can thus be considered the godfather of the entire modern perfumery. The aforementioned perfumes formed the fundamental perfumes type known as fougère. Throughout the course of a century, the structure of the fougère perfumes has endured many a transformation, but probably the one thing that unites all fougère perfumes is the presence of coumarin or very similar smelling substances in their formula. The majority of the perfumes labeled as masculine on the market are fougères, but lately we have seen more and more of decidedly “feminine” fougères.

Vanillin was first synthesized in 1874. The aforementioned Jicky already contained synthetic vanillin it its formula, but the ingredient found true fame with the launch of Guerlain Shalimar in 1925. perfumes with a megadose of vanillin shaped an entire perfumery direction known as Oriental, a perfumes type that is enjoying popularity to this day.

Vanille Fatale is not the first perfumes from Tom Ford where vanilla takes center stage: in 2007, Tobacco Vanille was a huge hit and spawned a lot of dupes. Perfumer Olivier Guillotin created a blockbuster for the brand, and later he developed the tobacco theme in his Tobacco Oud perfumes. Creating a second vanilla for the collection was definitely a challenge, which was accepted by perfumer Yan Vasnier, who earlier had created a couple of other rather successful perfumes for Tom Ford.

Possibly, the easiest solution in such a situation would be to shift the focus to vanilla as much as possible, completely departing from the ‘tobacco’ concept, but Yan Vasnier had something different in mind.

Vanillin Vs Coumarin Vanille Fatale And Fucking Fabulous

Vanille Fatale is a composition in the at this point in time very relevant ‘non-gourmand vanilla’ genre (The Different Company Majaïna Sin, Chopard Vanille de Madagascar, Arquiste The Architects Club) which is in contrast to the traditional culinary take on the note (e.g. Jacques Zolty Private Session). There is a certain hint at tobacco here, but it is nearly completely devoid of the damascone aspect of candied dried fruit. We are reminded of tobacco by the cold coumarin tone that is especially noticeable in the base, as well as by tobacco’s faithful travel companions, i.e. leather and spices.

Vanilla is the name of the fruit of several perennial vines of the orchid family (Lat. Orchidaceae), primarily that of Flat-leaved vanilla (Lat. Vanilla Planifolia). Vanilla requires a large tree in order to grow, it grabs onto its trunk with special ‘hooks’, which are often mistaken for hanging roots. However the plant is not a parasite, receiving all of its nutrients from soil and air.

The Latin name stems from the word vanilla, which means ‘little pod’, and the fruit of vanilla are often called beans, even though, from the botanical point of view, such fruit, as any fruit of the orchid family, is called a “pod.” Vanilla is native to Central America and Mexico, and there it is pollinated by local microscopic insects. The first Europeans who brought vanilla from America were able to plant vanilla, but did not succeed in getting any fruit. The method of ‘manual’ pollination was discovered only 300 years later. That method is used in other places where vanilla is now cultivated: on Madagascar (80% of all vanilla), Réunion (which is often mentioned as the world’s best vanilla), Tahiti, Comoros, Indonesia, Seychelles, and Eastern Africa.

Vanilla fruit ripens for 8-9 months, after which they are harvested: green, scentless and possessing a very bitter taste. After that, the fruit are left to ‘mature” for three months, during which time fermentation, similar to that of tea and tobacco, occurs.

The natural vanilla absolute prepared for perfumery purposes contains about 10% vanillin, so we cannot say that synthetic vanillin is an adequate substitute for the natural materials. Due to the above, in the more than one hundred years since the affordable synthetic vanillin has been around, the demand for natural vanilla has only increased. For example, three times as much of the so-called Bourbon vanilla is grown on Madagascar now compared to fifty years ago.

And since we are talking about vanilla in the context of Tom Ford, the perfume brand, we should mention that vanilla is the only natural plant of the orchid family that is used to obtain natural perfumery raw materials from. There are about 25000 varieties of orchids, and only about 15000 varieties’ flowers possess a discernible aroma, indicating that ‘notes’ of black, purple and other orchids in a perfumes are merely a perfumer’s fantasy.

In Vanille Fatal, vanilla begins its solo loudly and immediately, almost without a prelude. Provisionally, a hint of citruses can be mentioned as the opening note, but they are very nominal and allegorical here; notes that evoke apple cider are more prominent, with something similar to be experienced in The Promise by Frederic Malle (this similarity is additionally strengthened by the rose and plum aspects of the scent, so probably the perfumer could not avoid damascones altogether). The slightly boozy opening notes are continued with a barley malt extract (“Orpur”, a natural product subjected to molecular distillation, a perfumery material of the highest quality and a Givaudan exclusive): sweet-ish, caramel-like, slightly honeyed, with a decidedly roasted quality, which is supported by coffee absolute. An excellent supplement here is narcissus; honeyed and animalic-phenolic at the same time.

Vanillin Vs Coumarin Vanille Fatale And Fucking Fabulous

Vanillin vs Coumarin Vanille

The spices part is played by Safraleine (a substance with the scent of saffron, tobacco, and leather accents, which, when highly concentrated, gets a rather medicinal, iodide aspect). The leather side of Safraleine is likely additionally developed and highlighted in this case. We find something similar in The Different Company Adjatay. In the base, the vanilla gets a balsamic character to it, thanks to frankincense and myrrh, and becomes woodier and drier.

Looks like the name in this case should be perceived quite literally: it is a ‘fatal’ vanilla that manipulates you and attracts you beyond your will. As a person who is quite indifferent to most of the gourmand interpretations of vanilla, I can say that this one is hard to resist, I definitely enjoy such vanillas. Looks like the creators have spent a lot of time to come up with a perfumes that would be favored by a great many people. So please be vigilant: at first the perfumes pretends to be something quite different from what it actually is and, just when you let your guard down, it shrewdly subordinates you and you are ready to go to the cash register.  .

Fucking Fabulous is remembered by most as the first perfumes that contained the f-word. Humanity was instantly divided into two camps, with one grumbling and lamenting the dire moral state the world is in today, and the other giggling and admiring the audacity. The flacon donned a “censored” label for the more puritan countries. However, since we are not discussing invectives but perfumery here, let’s leave any further research on the fun subject to those keenly interested and continue with the perfumes itself.

Vanillin Vs Coumarin Vanille Fatale And Fucking Fabulous

Fucking Fabulous is a classic fougère that has the trusty lavender-coumarin contrast used for decades; it mainly attracts you with the fact that the lavender in this case is augmented with a generous dose of highly obvious sage, which happens less and less these days. To be fair, I have to say that sage here is neither sterile nor augmented by animalic notes, as it is, let’s say, in YSL Kouros.

The scent of coumarin is often described as something halfway between vanilla and bitter almond, and in this perfumes both of those facets are developed and augmented; bitter almond is expertly inserted in-between the lavender and the sage, while the coumarin-vanilla pair is basically indivisible.

The so-called “tonka beans” are the seeds of a fruit that grows on a tall tree called dipterix or Brazilian teak (Lat. Dipteryx Odorata). Dipterix is primarily cultivated in South America: Venezuela, Bolivia, Guyana, Peru and Brazil.

Tonka bean is widely used in cooking, the “pre-sale processing” often includes steeping them in rum (the cheapest alcohol in the region), after which the beans are dried and coumarin crystals emerge on their surface. This is mainly done for aesthetic purposes, since the presence of crystals on the surface is not at all a quality criterion.

For perfumery purposes, tonka beans are used to obtain their absolute. For that, people either subject it to a two-step extraction procedure or obtain it directly with aqueous alcohol  (70-85%), typically not heated, followed by ‘freezing’ of the waxy part of the extract. The absolute contains 20-45% coumarin and its aroma is much more complex than that of synthetic coumarin, so tonka bean absolute is still very much in demand as a perfumery ingredient.

A special type of absolute is obtained from roasted beans – the material possesses a unique and very pleasant coffee-smokey aspect. Such absolute was used, for example, in Ella K Epupa Mon Amour.

The macho part of Fucking Fabulous is underscored by a leather accord, which is second in importance in this perfumes after the fougère one, however, the general sweetness of vanillin and coumarin, played up by a powdery violet-iris accord, maintains the right ‘unisex’ balance in the perfumes well. To complete the mental image, add a noticeable amount of cashmeran to all of the above, which imparts a light saltiness and some intimacy to the composition (a slight nod to Dans Tes Bras by Frederic Malle) – and you roughly get the ‘effing fabulous’ Tom Ford.

Vanillin Vs Coumarin Vanille Fatale And Fucking Fabulous

Coumarin Vanille

I have always thought that fabulous was a very British word (as in Daarling, you are soo fabulous – oh thank you my dear), so the name rather links it to classic gentlemanly perfumes characterized by resinous lavender and the ubiquitous soapy-shaving foam accord. I am impressed by the perfumes, but I much prefer to catch a whiff of it off someone else than wear it myself. Apparently, I’m not fabulous enough for it.

Which of the two perfumes do you like more? Which image is closer to your heart: the languid spicy oriental one or the cocky boorish dandy? Camp vanillin or camp coumarin?

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