Sweet-Smelling Vanilla Perfumes Are Making An Epic Comeback

The Y2K-era fragrance note is seeing a resurgence.

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Vanilla is one of those aromas that is so well-loved and easily recognized — and especially for those that were around to remember its heyday in the ’90s and early 2000s (hello, Victoria’s Secret’s Vanilla Lace and Bath & Body Works’ Warm Vanilla Sugar body mists), the sweet-smelling scent brings with it a certain nostalgia that truly takes one back to those now-distant core memories.

And just as most trends from the youth of Millennials are making their way into the current day (like, say, frosty blue eyeshadow, velour jumpsuits, and butterfly clips, to name a few), vanilla perfumes have made a major comeback. Though this time, however, the fragrance compositions and scented stories are a bit more modern and elevated for the 2022 consumer.

Gabriela Chelariu, a senior perfumer at Firmenich, muses on the history of vanilla, and why the aroma is so widely beloved around the world. “Vanilla was originally discovered and used in Mexico by the Aztec Indians for trading purposes. [Later], vanilla arrived to Spain in 1516 and soon became popular in fragrances. If we look back at the history of fragrances, we quickly realize that vanilla has always been omnipresent in perfumery. It was a pillar for base notes of amber-y, woody, and Middle Eastern-inspired fragrances which were best sellers during the ’80s and ’90s.”

Chelariu carries on to explore our deep connection to the note: “We recently did a worldwide study based on 4,000 consumers from 11 countries, [asking] which ingredients they associated with which feelings. Depending on the country, consumers found vanilla either joyful, romantic, comforting, relaxed, or sensual — it was always something that enhances their mood.” And according to a recent study published in Current Biology, the scent of vanilla is overwhelmingly loved worldwide and by numerous cultures.

Mona Kattan, the founder and mastermind behind the cult-fave perfumes à la Kayali, chimes in with similar sentiments. “When I think of vanilla, I think of celebrations and birthday cakes. It’s familiar and comforting.”

But aside from the clear emotion-enhancing benefits, what might the vanilla renaissance of the 2020s be attributed to?

Well, both Chelariu and Kattan agree that this resurgence is closely linked to Covid-times. “Since the beginning of Covid, we’ve noticed a real success with comforting smells,” Chelariu explains. Kattan chimes in to share, “vanilla has always been popular, but due to the pandemic, we’ve seen more and more people getting into fragrance than ever before. I think a lot of it has to do with the emotions and moments that are tied to the vanilla note.”

As our world is navigating through a post-pandemic landscape of a looming recession, volatile political happenings, and unsettling injustices — the desire to feel comforted in our personal environments seems warranted to say the least.

Just as so many of the Y2K-era trends have been modernized for today (case in point: frosted blue eyeshadow being rebranded as the more wearable “washed denim” eye), vanilla fragrance compositions have matured into timeless aromas that are rich, complex, and highly versatile. Kattan shares, “as basic as the note may sound, vanilla is one of the most versatile (and expensive) ingredients in perfumery.” And in the case of Kayali’s most recent launch — which just so happens to be created by Firmenich’s Chelariu herself — she explains, “when I started working on Vanilla Royale, I wanted to turn up the intensity on the original DNA of our cult-fave Vanilla | 28 and make something super bougie, opulent, and sexy.”

And TBH, the multi-faceted combination of exotic oud, sugared patchouli, and golden rum in tandem with vanilla epitomizes just how much the nostalgic note has grown up over the years.

Whether you are a lover of all things ’90s and early 2000s nostalgia or perhaps just need a bit more calm and comfort in your life, here are 11 modern vanilla perfumes that have taken part in the gourmand note’s triumphant comeback.

11 Modern Vanilla Perfumes

Filled with a certain exoticism and depth, this limited edition launch takes the vanilla note to a place of sensual opulence.

A true gourmand fragrance that creates a sweet cloud of vanilla around the wearer, Ariana Grande’s latest launch features notes of decadently juicy plum, lush praline, dreamy musks, and of course, comforting vanilla.

The sweet aroma of vanilla milk is met with more earthy notes by way of warm cocoa shells, sultry frangipani flower petals, and softly woody amyris for an aura of unexpected elegance.

Long-lasting and statement-making, this luxe fragrance is filled with empowering aromas, like exotic bergamot, intoxicating vanilla, and otherworldly jasmine.

A genderless scent that has garnered a cult-following, this warm aroma wraps around you like a worn leather jacket as sheer bergamot, heated amber, and decadent vanilla melt together.

An intimate second-skin scent, Billie Eilish’s debut perfume features softly sweet notes of sugared flower petals, decadent cocoa, and creamy vanilla.

This fragrance has the essence of freshly brewed coffee at its heart, while bold tonka bean, awakening orange flower, and creamy cedarwood bring depth and sophistication.

Formulated to be as cozy as a cashmere blanket, this aroma features nostalgic vanilla bean, creamy sandalwood, and a bright tangerine note that adds juiciness and warmth.

Housed in a luxurious bottle inspired by the liquors once present in jazzy speakeasies, this decadent aroma is filled with the essence of boozy cognac, spiced cinnamon, long-lasting sandalwood, and an exotic tonka bean note.

This unique aroma turns up the heat on the well-loved vanilla note with the essence of rich amber, hypnotic sandalwood, and spicy coriander.

Like a comforting cup of cappuccino to start the day, this scent brings all of that cozy warmth by way of pure vanilla, caramelized cedar, and hints of brewed coffee.

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