I’m fascinated by how my relationship with perfume has changed over the years—I went from avoiding it completely to enjoying it as the cherry on top of my extensive beauty routine. Years ago, I categorized fragrances into two buckets: the classic, powdery florals that I could only describe as “grandma perfumes,” and the overly sweet vanilla scents that wafted down the hallways in middle school and filled the humid air of my bunk at summer camp. If you’re a millennial or elder member of Gen Z, the sheer mention of Pink Sugar might bring the memories rushing back. The sickly sweet, caramelized vanilla perfume could be smelled on thousands of adolescents during much of the 2000s and 2010s. Needless to say that my narrow view of fragrance didn’t exactly make me want to douse myself in the stuff.
But when I started my career in the beauty industry, I found myself in environments that allowed me to expand my knowledge of fragrance and have the opportunity to be exposed to it in new and different ways. Read: at meetings with master perfumers, attending events at fragrance houses, and even interning in product development at a fragrance company. While I’ve never quite come around to floral scents, vanilla is an entirely different story. Through lots of experimentation over the last several years, I’ve learned to appreciate the beauty and versatility of this popular fragrance note. When I think of vanilla, Pink Sugar is no longer the first thing that comes to mind—it’s been replaced by some of my all-time favorite perfumes that combine vanilla with other notes to create intoxicating, nuanced fragrances. Despite what I thought as a pre-teen, not all fragrances in the category will lead to a pounding headache after a few hours of wear.
Ahead, find my favorite vanilla perfumes that range from spicy to woody, and everything in between.
Byredo Vanille Anitque Eau de Parfum
This fragrance has quickly become one of my absolute favorites in my vast perfume collection—so much so that it’s my number-one pick in the vanilla category. It’s warm and sweet without being overpowering, and the addition of amber and cashmere woods gives it a luxe, rich quality that makes it extra special. It’s certainly wearable for daytime, but the hint of darkness and subtle smokiness makes it a no-brainer for nighttime wear. If you’re looking for a grown-up take on a timeless vanilla scent, you can’t go wrong with this one.
Price at time of publish: $335
Key Notes: Freesia, Plum, Amber, Cashmere Woods, Madagascar Vanilla Beans | Size: 50ml
Commodity Gold Expressive
If you love a classic vanilla fragrance and you’re looking for a sophisticated version, this one is perfect. It’s simple and well-balanced, and the addition of creamy musk gives it the appropriate amount of sensuality. This perfume also comes in a light airy version, Gold- Personal, as well as an amplified version, Gold+ Bold. So no matter your intensity preferences, you can enjoy this scent to the fullest extent.
Price at time of publish: $25, $135
Key Notes: Molten Amber, Vanilla, Creamy Musk| Size: 10ml, 100ml
Skylar Vanilla Sky Eau de Parfum
Applying a few spritzes of a warm, cozy fragrance is one of my favorite ways to embrace the cold weather. Think of this one as a slightly warmer take on a traditional vanilla. Cappuccino mixes with pure vanilla to give it an extra dose of sweetness—but don’t be fooled by the gourmand blend, it’s not sickly sweet or overpowering. The addition of caramelized cedar gives it just a hint of woodiness that provides the right balance.
Price at time of publish: $29, $85
Key Notes: Cappuccino, Pure Vanilla, Caramelized Cedar | Size: 10ml, 50ml
KILIAN Paris Love, Don't Be Shy
I tend to stay far, far away from floral and sugary sweet scents as they cause headaches, but there’s something about this one that I absolutely adore—and considering how popular it is, I’m not alone. The sweetness of vanilla and marshmallow balances the headiness of orange blossom, and I love that the amber base provides a rich, sophisticated twist. This powerful fragrance is certainly not for those that prefer subtle scents, but it’s a fantastic option for special occasions or people who want others to notice what they’re wearing. It’s also worth mentioning that I find the lasting power to be outstanding—so if you struggle with fragrances fading on you, this one is worth a try.
Price at time of publish: $48, $265
Key Notes: Orange blossom, Vanilla Absolute, Luscious Marshmallow | Size: 7.5ml, 50ml
Best Warm Spicy
Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille
One of my favorite things about fragrance is its unique ability to make the wearer feel something. This perfume makes me feel empowered—it’s like a confidence boost in a bottle. Creamy tonka and vanilla blend with tobacco leaf, ginger, cocoa, and dry fruit accords to create a stunning perfume that’s equal parts warm and spicy. To me, it smells like a chic jazz club in downtown New York City, making it one of my favorite scents to wear on a night out.
Price at time of publish: $70, $175, $285, $390
Key Notes: Tobacco Leaf, Vanilla, Ginger | Size: 10ml, 30ml, 50ml, 100ml
Best Cool Spicy
Snif Burning Bridges
If you told me a few years ago that there’s a difference between a warm spicy fragrance and a cool spicy fragrance, I would have looked at you with an expression of utter confusion. But it’s true, this is a spicy scent with a cool, crisp opening. Madagascar vanilla gives it the perfect amount of sweetness which becomes more apparent as it dries down, and I love that it has what smells like a subtle peppery quality which provides a unique, fresh element. If you’re looking for a spicy vanilla fragrance that feels fitting year round, this is an excellent choice.
Price at time of publish: $65
Key Notes: Madagascar Vanilla, Tobacco, Rose, Fresh Spices, Freesia | Size: 30ml
Best for Daytime
Maison Margiela REPLICA Coffee Break Eau de Toilette
When the cool weather rolls around, I love wearing warmer fragrances, but I find that many of them are a bit heavy for daytime. This one however, has been a longtime favorite of mine for daily wear. Vanilla, milk mousse and coffee accords give it a sophisticated, confectionary element, while the addition of lavender makes it fresh and incredibly intoxicating. It strikes the perfect balance between cozy and fresh, and I’ve received tons of compliments when wearing it.
Key Notes: Coffee Accord, Lavender, Milk Mousse Accord, Vanilla | Size: 10ml, 30ml, 100ml
Price at time of publish: $32, $76, $144
Best for Nighttime
Henry Rose Dark is Night
There are plenty of vanilla perfumes that feel fitting for nighttime, but I keep coming back to this one. To put it simply, this is one of my favorite vanilla scents of all time. The combination of vanilla bean and woody notes make it warm, earthy, and undeniably sexy. It’s an intense fragrance with a soft finish, making it a great choice for a night out or a date night at home.
Price at time of publish: $35, $120
Key Notes: Green Grass, Vetiver, Patchouli, Vanilla Bean | Size: 8ml, 50ml
Jo Malone London Myrrh & Tonka Cologne Intense
Oddly enough, some of my favorite fragrances are those that I can't quite figure out—and this is one of them. Notes of lavender, myrrh, and tonka blend together to create a sensual scent, but there’s an unexpected quality that I can’t put my finger on. Perhaps it’s the aeromatic opening that to me smells almost a bit minty, or maybe it’s the hint of tobacco that gives it an earthy twist—but whatever it is, it works, and I can’t stop smelling it.
Price at time of publish: $145, $205
Key Notes: Lavender, Omumbiri Myrrh, Tonka Bean | Size: 50ml, 100ml
Ellis Brooklyn SCI FI Eau de Parfum
Filing a vanilla fragrance under the fresh category might seem odd, but hear me out. This unique vanilla scent opens up with a burst of citrus and green tea that give it a—you guessed it—fresh, aromatic quality. These notes are grounded by vanilla beans and cashmere woods for a warmer drydown. Together, each note plays a role in making this sweet, juicy fragrance truly one-of-a-kind.
Price at time of publish: $32, $105
Key Notes: Bergamot, Green Tea, Vanilla Beans | Size: 10ml, 50ml
Diptyque Eau Duelle Eau de Parfum
If you like earthy, herbaceous scents with a hint of sweetness, this is the one for you. The warm, vanilla base is sharpened by pink peppercorn, and given a rich, spicy quality thanks to cypriol, a plant similar to papyrus. It’s a mature, dark fragrance that captures the best parts of decadent vanilla and earth’s herbaceous offerings.
Price at time of publish: $205
Key Notes: Vanilla, Pink Peppercorn, Cypriol | Size: 75ml
Yves Saint Laurent Libre Eau De Parfum
Despite my distaste for flowery fragrances, I’ve come to love this floral, vanilla scent. Warm vanilla and musk accord are brightened by lavender and orange blossom to create a balanced perfume that screams sensuality and confidence. It’s a well-loved member of the YSL fragrance family, and it comes in a variety of sizes so you can try it out before committing to a big bottle.
Price at time of publish: $30, $85, $119, $140, $180
Key Notes: Lavender, Orange Blossom, Musk Accord, Vanilla | Size: 10ml, 30ml, 50ml, 90ml, 147ml
What to Look for When Buying Vanilla Perfume
Additional Fragrance Notes
As you can tell from this list, not all vanilla perfumes are the same. In fact, the notes that are included in a fragrance to complement vanilla can make a massive difference in the outcome of the scent. So when you’re shopping for a vanilla perfume, keep your fragrance preferences in mind and look for complementary notes that support them. For example, if you tend to enjoy fresh or citrusy perfumes, look for notes of orange, bergamot, cotton, or mint. If this sounds appealing to you, go for the Ellis Brooklyn SCI FI Eau de Parfum. If you like warmer, more rich vanilla scents, look for fragrances that include other sweet notes, like coffee, caramel, or chocolate. The SKYLAR Vanilla Sky Eau de Parfum is a great example of this.
Like with all beauty products, taking ingredients into consideration when buying perfume is wise. If you have sensitive or reactive skin, opting for a clean fragrance that’s hypoallergenic and safe for sensitive skin is ideal. If this sounds like you, we recommend Henry Rose Dark is Night , Ellis Brooklyn SCI FI Eau de Parfum and SKYLAR Vanilla Sky Eau de Parfum.
What layers well with vanilla?
If you like to layer fragrances so that you can mix and match to create a custom scent, you might be wondering what layers well with vanilla. There are no rules when it comes to layering scents, but classic vanilla tends to layer nicely with woody, spicy, or smoky notes. So if you have a favorite sweet vanilla fragrance (like KILIAN Paris Love, Don't Be Shy) and you want to give it a sensual, nighttime flair, try layering it with something like TOM FORD Tobacco Vanille.