My first encounter with vanilla perfume happened during middle school when I hugged a popular girl named Rachel as a greeting before after-school choir practice and was immediately enveloped in a warm, sweet-smelling vanilla cloud. Rachel was blonde, pretty, and had perfect teeth, and the fact that she smelled like freshly baked sugar cookies when you were lucky enough to hug her seemed like the ultimate proof that she was indeed the epoch of all things desirable.
“What perfume are you wearing?” I asked her, slightly breathless from excitement and the fumes' strength. Perhaps if I procured this magical perfume, the boys would fawn over me and tell me I smelled “delicious” too. (Looking back, I’m fully aware of how creepy this language was. But at the time, there seemed no higher compliment.)
The intoxicating scent that seemed to embody sophistication, sweetness, and sexiness all at once? Bath & Body Works Warm Vanilla Sugar ($20). The next day, I promptly bought a body spray version of the scent for myself (the actual perfume version was too expensive for my eighth-grade allowance) and misted my entire body with abandon any time I was trying to make an impression. No one ever told me I smelled delicious, but every time I spritzed myself, I felt instantly more desirable (though probably just gave my crushes major headaches).
Since then, I’ve graduated onto a more sophisticated fragrance wardrobe and traded body sprays for actual big-girl eau de parfums. My vanity is well-stocked with fragrances both luxe and indie, but none have yet to elicit the same response Rachel brought out in my middle-school self. I get compliments when I wear my Byredo Flowerhead ($190), and my boyfriend says one whiff of Gucci Guilty ($135) instantly makes him think of when we first started dating (it’s truly a fragrance for seducing), but I want someone to tell me I smell delicious, dammit.
With this in mind, I’ve recently started exploring vanilla fragrances again. It turns out the grown-up versions of Warm Vanilla Sugar are just as intoxicating—but more mysterious, layered, and complicated. (This is where my power suit-wearing, Adriana Lima–looking alter ego would flip her silky hair back and purr, “Just like me.”)
If the saccharine-sweet vanilla perfumes of middle school were Madonna in her Like a Virgin years, these grown-up scents are more like sultry Madge in “La Isla Bonita” with just a hint of “Human Nature.” Ahead, you’ll find seven vanilla fragrances that are the opposite virginal—but ever sweet, just the same.
Keep scrolling for some delicious-scented vanilla perfumes that will have you sniffing your wrists all day long
Ex Nihilo Sweet Morphine Eau de Parfum
What's more grown-up than a scent named Sweet Morphine? This fuchsia-hued perfume from avant garde–inspired Parisian brand Ex Nihilo smells fresh and clean with notes of lilac and iris, but has a powdery, slightly lascivious undertone—like clean sheets freshly mussed after a passionate romp. The vanilla doesn’t come through until hours later when the perfume has become one with your skin—and even then, it’s never in your face.
Byredo Gypsy Water Eau De Parfum
A little sweet, a little spicy—Byredo’s Gypsy Water smells like the glowing embers left at the end of a campfire attended by the world’s chicest people. The top notes of bergamot, juniper berries, and pepper waft and flutter when you first apply, but it’s the amber, sandalwood, and vanilla base that stays with you. Pair this with your favorite worn-in leather jacket to increase your smolder factor by tenfold.
D.S. & Durga White Peacock Lily Eau de Parfum
This scent from indie fragrance darling duo D.S. & Durga might not seem like a vanilla perfume in the slightest, but be patient—you’ll see why it made this list after letting it settle into your skin. With top notes of oleander and grapefruit, and heady heart notes of cream lily and Egyptian jasmine, it smells like fog after a thunderstorm, or morning dew on freshly mowed grass.
Diptyque Eau Duelle Eau de Toilette
Diptyque's Eau Duelle doesn't have a lot of projection—but that's the magic of it. This spicy, vanilla scent, with notes of bergamot, pink peppercorns, and cardamom, sits really close to the skin to create a creamy, intimate scent.
Heretic Dirty Vanilla Eau de Parfum
Heretic is a clean perfume house that uses all-natural ingredients in its formulations. Cedar, sandalwood, and coriander make up the "dirty" part, while vanilla rounds out the blend to create a gorgeous, creamy scent—think cozying up by the fire in December or the smell of a sweater after a day in a bakery.
Henry Rose Torn Eau de Parfum
If you want to smell like vanilla but not in an overly cloying way, go for Torn by Henry Rose. Lush vanilla beans are married with an earthy vetiver note for a scent that smells like a long hug from a best friend.
La Collection Privée Christian Dior Vanilla Diorama
Most of the scents I've talked about have been vanilla with a hint of spicy, woodsy, or clean notes, but if you're looking for a full-on vanilla gourmand dream, Vanilla Diorama is it. Rum and cacao notes add a nice depth and warmth, while cardamom and citrus give it a touch of spice. This is the one to pull out when you want to turn heads.