I wasn't supposed to like Orchidée Vanille from Van Cleef & Arpels' exclusive Collection Extraordinaire. Vanilla aside, there's a litchi note listed there, and I have a general aversion to floral vanillas (I never even enjoyed L'Artisan Vanillia) because they often become very shrill and artificial on my skin. That's why I never bothered to actually test Orchidée Vanille on my skin beyond a quick bottle sniff at the Van Cleef & Arpels counter until a dear friend sent me a decant. By the time the dry-down arrived I was a goner.
The thing about perfumer Randa Hammami's creation for Van Cleef & Arpels is that it's not as floral and airy as I feared. As a matter of fact, Orchidee Vanille has an almost Guerlain-like heft. Hammami is the nose behind Guerlain's Cruel Gardenia and L'Instant Magique, but if I were to classify and label, I'd say that this fragrance is actually a distant cousin of Aqua Allegoria Ylang & Vanille. The non-foody vanilla and complementary creamy flowers create a similar smooth sensation. The orchid image comes from the very opulent violet note. It's interesting how one flower creates the illusion of another, while not trying to fully deceive - you're aware that it's violet, yet you see an orchid. Quite clever, really.
Flowers aside, it's the musk, almond and bitter chocolate note that rule Orchidée Vanille. This reminds me a little of Guerlain's Boise Torride, that also has some cedar in its backbone to keep the non-gourmand balance. While Orchidee Vanille keeps flirting with the edible side, the overall impression is of skin: the nape of the neck, the scalp of a second day hair. That's what makes this Van Cleef & Arpels so incredibly intimate and warm, as well as worth the time of those who aren't necessarily vanilla fiends.
Notes: Mandarin orange, litchi, bitter almond, dark chocolate, Bulgarian rose, violet, vanilla pod, cedar, tonka, and white musk.
Van Cleef & Arpels- Orchidée Vanille ($185, 75ml) and the rest of the Collection Extraordinaire is available from Luckyscent, select Neiman Marcus locations and Bergdorf Goodman.
Van Cleef & Arpels Orchid jewelry at the VC&A Timeless Beauty exhibit from rbjello.wordpress.com.
Solve Sundsbo for Vogue Japan, November 2011 via Trendland.