The Grown-Up Guide to Vanilla Fragrance


Isabella Behravan

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 blond, 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 also the strength of the fumes. 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? Warm Vanilla Sugar from Bath & Body Works. 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 Elizabeth and James Nirvana Black ($85) or Byredo Flowerhead ($150), and my boyfriend says one whiff of Gucci Guilty ($78) 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 six vanilla fragrances that are the opposite virginal—but ever sweet, just the same.

Keep scrolling for the grown-up guide to vanilla fragrance.