***There's a giveaway at the bottom of the post, so don't miss it!***
A cup of steaming lapsang souchong, a bowl filled with wedges of bright and juicy mandarin orange, a bottle of aged brandy, a plate of heavily spiced crisp cookies, a fire roaring behind the grate. This is Aftelier's Vanilla Smoke and it puts you right away in the holiday spirit. Perfumer Mandy Aftel did what I've long hoped she will: a vanilla perfume, touching on gourmand but not quite.
Vanilla Smoke is cozy and atmospheric. The opening notes show you the tempting mandarin segments through the smoke, and make you take a step closer, sit at the rustic wood table and inhale the various aromas. That's when the richness of the dark tea takes over, and every sip is comforting and warming. The perfume becomes even bolder, as boozy vanilla and spice unfold on skin. This is not a fluffy pink vanilla and neither a floral-tropical one. Instead, we get the dark and intense quality of an excellent Madagascar vanilla extract: raw, alcoholic, intensely vanillic, and very resinous. There's no hint of sweetness, and even after hours on my skin there's no hint of cupcake. The gourmand elements come from the spices and very grownup drinks (at what age do people start appreciating lapsang souchong?).
The first time I tested Vanilla Smoke I didn't apply enough. It seemed so intense, as many Aftelier perfumes are, that I though one or two drops were enough. But it made me miss parts of the development that I only discovered later when I started wearing more (and more. Because I was developing a mild addiction). Vanilla Smoke remains spicy and smoky, but also takes on a very animalic quality that translates on my skin into worn leather, soft and smooth but neither horsey nor handbagy. Maybe a well-traveled leather trunk or an expensive vintage coat. I think of this perfume as an indoors treat, as I've realized that the harsh chill of a NYC night mutes it until you're back inside and your skin warms up and regains an intimate feel.
Mandy Aftel's interpretation of vanilla is thoroughly gender-free. It's also very elegant and. You can't even compare it to popular boozy tobacco and vanilla perfumes, and not because it's a natural perfume, but because it doesn't try to be sweet or loud, or even what we often consider as "yummy". Mandy Aftel created a seductive perfume that's perfect for long nights whether you wear long flannel pajamas or a silky little thing to be discovered under the covers.
And now for the giveaway: We're doing a random draw of a Vanilla Smoke mini (retail value $50).
To participate please comment and tell us what perfume(s) you're planning to wear the most during the holidays.
The draw is open worldwide (yay!). The prize will be sent directly by Mandy Aftel, so by leaving a comment answering the question above you agree to give her your address. When commenting please leave your name and a way to contact you, since anonymous comment no. 64 is not exactly easy to figure out. The draw is regulated by the State of New Jersey, because it's the law and that's where I live.
The draw will close on Friday night, midnight EST.
Vanilla Smoke by Aftelier ($50-$180, depending on size and concentration, $6 for a sample) can be purchased from aftelier.com. The sample for this review was sent by the perfumer.
Art: Russian Tea Room, 1925, Otto Rothenberg