Vanille Tonka, the 1997 creation of perfumer Patricia de Nicolai, a grand-daughter of Pierre Guerlain, is quite different than the many vanilla-centered perfumes in my wardrobe. Most of the time I like my vanilla to be sweet, rich, sometimes foody. Vanille Tonka is dry, crisp and has no gourmand vibe whatsoever. The combination of a Guerlain descendant and the words vanilla and tonka bean should not mislead you: the classic patisserie note is not here. Instead, Patricia de Nicolai created a very modern, unisex and sophisticated spicy incense perfume that has the depth and mystery of tonka bean.
Vanille Tonka opens with a cold blast of cinnamon and something pine-like. It warms up slowly with a light smoky note, but it still keeps a certain poise and distance- this is not a cuddly scent. The incense becomes more and more pronounced, there's a whiff of the outdoors but also of dark, plush rooms furnished with expensive antiques and kept immaculate. There is an ambery vanilla aspect, but the frankincense lends a sharp and clean. On very cold days last winter the perfume smelled somewhat soapy on my skin, but now that the weather is warmer I get a lot more spice and depth.
Parfums de Nicolai Vanille Tonka ($60, 1 oz) is available from Luckyscent and BeautyHabit. In NYC, the line is available at New London Pharmacy, though Vanille Tonka is not listed there right now (their shipping fee is outrageous, by the way). If you live in Europe, you might be lucky to have a Nicolai boutique somewhere nearby and can experience the entire range, including their home products.
Photo from The Late Romantics series by Helmut Newton, US Vogue April 15, 1967