Review: Guerlain Spiritueuse Double Vanille

Guerlain Spiriteuese Double Vanille may seem intoxicatingly boozy, but those who stop there will miss a brilliantly executed plot twist.

Guerlain Spiriteuese Double Vanille may seem intoxicatingly boozy, but those who stop there will miss a brilliantly executed plot twist.

Review: Guerlain Spiritueuse Double Vanille:

“Did you hear the one about the very boozy vanilla fragrance?”

Admittedly, this was my initial experience with Guerlain Spiritueuse Double Vanille: A very heady, Guerlainade type of fragrance marked by the core elements within all Guerlains. Except at first impression, Spiritueuse Double Vanille strikes one as being intoxicatingly boozy in nature. For many, that may be where the story ends, and those who stopped there will have missed a brilliantly executed plot twist.

By placing naming emphasis on the vanilla ingredient in the fragrance title, Guerlain has thrown us off the trail and in some ways alienated a potential audience. Read on and you’ll discover why the title is simultaneously accurate and a misnomer.

Guerlain Spiriteuese Double Vanille Review: Guerlain Spiritueuse Double VanilleGuerlain Spiritueuse Double Vanille (2007): This is one of the last great works of Jean-Paul Guerlain, a man whose epitaph will more certainly be known for his last off-the-cuff remarks than the exceptional perfumer he was throughout his career. Spiritueuse Double Vanille is a play in three acts that captures you from the opening curtain and transports you on an interesting olfactory journey to the end of the third act and final curtain many hours on.

It begins as a boozy-feeling, Madagascar Vanilla of the highest caliber amidst a pink peppery opening with a hint of bergamot. Act Two becomes the Bulgarian Rose, the woody cedar, the amalgam of spices, and a subtle ylang-ylang to accent the piece. Vanilla lingers throughout the background, ever present playing a supporting role until the Third Act. The curtain opens on a warm amber, benzoin, the specialness of the vanilla in full form, and a background of warm incense to round out the ensemble.  Hours later, the curtain draws to a close, leaving just those base elements in its wake but never neglecting the ever-present and respected pureness of the vanilla.

When I first discovered this a couple of years ago, I thought to myself, “How boozy a vanilla…if you enjoy that sort of thing.” I then put all thoughts of this to one side, feeling that a pure vanilla would hold little if any appeal. On those occasions I would sniff it, I’d initially encounter that heady and bourbon-like blast, feel momentarily entranced and intoxicated, and then shove it to one side as more liqueur than perfume. I had a re-introduction last year when I applied this to skin and let it unfold. Then the mystery became clear:

The fragrance here is in control, and I’m simply along for the ride. And what a ride it was as it unfolded in a way I’d never imagined. The augmentation of that core element was so brilliantly executed that I felt cheated in viewing this as “a vanillic scent”. Vanilla is the core, but it’s only enhanced by the spice/pepper/amber/rose-floral and woody/incense combinations woven into its fabric. And where I’d interpreted this as heavy? Not at all so.  Once it plays out on skin, this becomes more intimate and personal, never shouting or becoming overbearing the entire time yet asserting a quiet control.

Therefore, sillage and projection are noticeable yet mild. Spiritueuse Double Vanille is a present to oneself and perhaps someone with whom you feel close enough to share the secret since the projection is very close to the skin. It’s very well-behaved, thought it’s difficult to know whether who is the tamer of the scent — you, or itself.

Guerlain Spiritueuse Double Vanille has limited availability, either through Guerlain boutiques, specialty retailers, certain Saks and Neiman-Marcus/Bergdorf-Goodman locations.  Pricing for the 75 ml eau de parfum is about $250 USD. Some personal notes on this fragrance as seen from a comparison standpoint.  Foremost, this is absolutely not Tom Ford Private Blend Tobacco Vanille. Tobacco Vanille is a much more synthetic and dirty vanilla, where Guerlain’s is very pure, natural and unadulterated. There is no basis for comparison, since the Tom Ford fragrance is far more the experience of a very typical flavored pipe tobacco when burned…or that of vanilla extract, the sort of experience that smells more of a bakery than a perfume. Spiriuteuse Double Vanille is, unapologetically, a perfume.

Rating: 4.5/5.  Highly recommended. If you are seeking the most gourmand of vanilla scents, Guerlain’s Spiritueuse Double Vanille sets a very lofty bar and an excellent reference standard to which others should aspire. It’s very difficult to dislike how it commands the notes of its composition to form one well-executed work, and a case where the sum is greater than its individual parts.

Despite how we remember Jean-Paul Guerlain’s exit from the practice of perfumery — and public life, in general — this stands among the highlights demonstrating how much a master perfumer he had been, and how he both maintained and even elevated the perception of Guerlain as a house.

This should have been the final bow was taken, and perhaps in due time we’ll view this as his curtain call.

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  • Ron Slomowicz

    Although Tobacco Vanille and SDV are not comparable in scent structure/makup – I group them together as two of my favorite niche takes on vanilla. Along with Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur, I recommend the three to people looking to explore fragrances outside the normal designer realm. So if someone says, I like vanilla..

    Do you have Gourmand Coquin? Try layering that with SDV and you get a great interplay of booze/rum and chocolate/vanilla.

  • The Scentrist

    Great observation, Ron. Gourmand Coquin is a fantastic Guerlainade vanilla, though in a sweeter style than SDV. I don’t have a bottle but I have tried and enjoyed it. From a daily-wear standpoint, SDV seemed to my olfactory palette to be more practical, Coquin more fun and whimsical. But it’s a great choice as is Musc Ravageur.

    Tobacco Vanille? T’cha, you know what? The tobacco never developed for me, though it’s a great interpretation of baked cookies!