Action packed: Mona di Orio Vanille

Dear Scent Diary,

MonaDiOrioVanilleI’ve tried few perfumes that move as quickly as Mona di Orio Vanille. Without exaggeration, you must smell your wrist every couple of minutes or you’ll miss a twist or turn in the development of the fragrance. I kid you not, you must put aside an hour or so if you’d like to catch everything. Half an hour at minimum.

Here’s a recap of the action I witnessed:

The opening is surprisingly fresh with an orange note that second by second gets surrounded by others: vetiver, rum, leather, clove, amber. Within five minutes, it smells almost completely different. Gone is the bright freshness, replaced wholly by darker, thicker notes whose texture you’d visualize as a paste. Tonka bean and amber begin to dominate as well as something, well, burnt.

Within another five minutes that ‘something burnt’ starts to demand more of your attention. Something smouldering, or perhaps smouldering only a few moments ago but now stamped out. Give it a few more minutes and yes, the smell is fully formed: it’s a butted out cigarette – but in a lovely way! I admit to stupidly feeling invincible enough at one time in my life to have smoked and I remember this smell very well. It’s the densely bitter smell of tar combined with the aroma of fresh dried tobacco leaves (the remainder of the cigarette) and a whiff of smoke. Blended seamlessly with the vanillic amber that’s sweetening by the moment, and you have Md’O Vanille at the 15 minute mark.

Within another five minutes the plush vanilla finally begins to take centre stage (a balsamic, leathery bean, not a cupcake). The warm, dry sweetness makes me wonder if it might be twinning L’Artisan’s Vanille Absolutement, another vanilla with a dry, bittersweet tonka note. A spritz of that one denies the resemblance – the remnants of the cigarette butt (in a good way!) makes Md’O Vanille its own perfume. This stage lasts the longest of all the stages so far. A whole half an hour!

The change that happens next creeps up rather slowly. But before you know it, the heavy, burnt darkness of the last stage lifts and reveals a balmy, uplifting vanilla scent that’s rich, feels slightly floral and is grounded with amber, tonka, vetiver and resins.

Screen Shot 2013-06-12 at 7.11.51 PMWatch Mona herself describe the story she had in mind when developing the fragrance in this video. The entire thing is  fascinating and heartbreaking to watch but she talks about Vanille from 6:25 to 11:12.

As you may know, Mona di Orio died on December 9th, 2011 at the age of 42 due to tragic complications after back surgery. This is the announcement on her facebook page on the day of her passing.

I continue to be shocked by her death to this day.


It hates me: Dries Van Noten par Frederic Malle

Dear Scent Diary,

I’m a bit stunned. I’ve been anticipating a mutual love affair with this scent from the moment it appeared on Frederic Malle’s website. I’ve even had moments of blind-buy weakness after having Facebook fragrance group conversations with those who adore it.

If this fragrance loves you, it will put its sandalwood foot forward and let its vanilla gourmandiness support, not star.


If it hates you, as it does me, it will try to choke you to death in the car on the way home from picking up your decant at the post office with a cloud of overly sweet vanilla cake frosting/marshmallow/cupcake/waffle cone.

Unknown-1Once sprayed on skin, the sweetness persists, but now buttressed by a burning rubber accord that takes about a half hour to die down. Mercifully, things do settle and I can sense the sandalwood stepping in, as if being the voice of reason and pulling all the other notes by the collar, off my face. From that point on, everything becomes much more civil.

t.33Now that the sandalwood has things under control, the sweet vanilla frosting becomes more sheer and the freshly baked white cake it’s spread on top of starts to dominate. At this point in the development, I’m so olfactorially relieved that I think for a second that I could actually be friends with this fragrance. Maybe just polite acquaintances, we’ll see.

The perfume universe obviously thought I needed to be taught a lesson and decided to do it with this fragrance. I’m clearly overly susceptible to ‘the idea’ of a perfume from a well-respected niche house and the hype that often warrants. I needed a memorable reminder that fragrance preference is supremely individual and is based on a lifetime of perceptions and associations, making it impossible for any two people to have the exact same experience with a perfume. I also needed a good slap upside the head regarding skin chemistry. I don’t recall hearing anyone mention a ‘burning rubber accord’.

As evidence, these bloggers had completely different experiences with this scent: Now Smell This, Grain de Musc, Bois de Jasmin.

I was given a rather ungentle talking to by Undina of Undina’s Looking Glass in the comments of one of my posts where I considered blind buying this perfume. She was so right. Lesson learned.

Dries Van Noten and Frederic Malle interview

Dear Scent Diary,

Click on the link in the text to see the interview.

Click on the link in the text to see the interview.

Okay, I think the blind buy urge for this scent has passed. But only because I’ve planned a trip to Vancouver this month and expect to sniff and buy. It’s nice to have control over my impulses again. Here’s an interview with Dries and Freddie that’s a bit too long for its own good but definitely worth a watch for as long as it your interest carries you.

Blind buy danger: Dries Van Noten Frederic Malle

Dear Scent Diary,

nd.17481I know it’s not wise to buy online without sniffing first – $200 is a lot to bet on my fickle nose loving this fragrance. But let me make my case, Diary. The reviews I’ve read say it’s a gorgeous sandalwood gourmand that’s long lasting, but not overpowering. You know how much I adore sandalwood, Diary. And you know I love sandalwood for its buttery quality, and this sounds like that aspect has only been enhanced. Here’s a transcript of a conversation I had with someone on Facebook Fragrance Friends who had just received hers (also a blind buy):

Her: “SOTD: The new Malle/Dries perfume came yesterday. Just beautiful!!!!!!!!!!! Warm, spicy, creamy. Def a vanilla perfume but for grown-ups, the sandalwood is gorgeous and does thread itself thoughout the entire perfume start to finish.”

Me: “More vanilla pod than vanilla cupcake? Equal amounts vanilla and sandalwood or more vanilla?”

Her: “More vanilla cupcake but truly not too sweet. I am not usually a fan of goumand let alone gourmand vanillas; ie. I do not like, actually dislike, Guerlain’s SDV or even Luten’s Un Bois Vanille but this one with the citrus, sandalwood and other spices evens out the cupcake type vanilla used in it. The Grain de Musc review mentions smelling something freshly baked vs. a full in your face sweetness and I would say this is very accurate. Mmmm to my nose I get more sandalwood but that may be because this sandalwood is sooooooooooooo good. I can’t think of a sandalwood recently that’s this good. Maybe I notice it more than the vanilla because of that but that may be just my nose. I will say I think the sandalwood as more of a major player in this as it weaves its way from inception to drydown.”

See Diary? I’m dead meat.

Ava Luxe Cafe Noir

Dear Scent Diary,

Oh. My. God. Can’t get my nose off my wrist. This is dark and deep and delicious and aromatic and genuine and well, just plain gorgeous. This is the type of fragrance that tickles the bottoms of my lungs I’m compelled to inhale so deeply. imagesIt’s true I’m a sucker for coffee scents but this one is more than just java. It’s strong black coffee on steroids with a hint of cardamom and lavender giving things an aromatic edge, while sandalwood and vanilla almost imperceptibly round it out. No kidding around though, it’s all about the coffee. I bet there are some who’ll complain that they smell like they spilled a pot of coffee on their shirt or that someone stuffed their pockets full of beans when they weren’t looking. Yuk, yuk, yuk. I guess I’ll just be over here rolling my eyes at them with both nostrils glued to my wrist. Most would probably call this masculine, but as you can probably tell, I call it unisex.