• Scent Semantics no. 4

This month’s word for the Scent Semantics project is TASTE. Merriam-Webster defines taste in several ways, as either a verb or a noun. For the purposes of this post, I’ll use the word TASTE as a noun, and in this particular context/post as: 

  1. The distinctive quality of an experience
  2. Individual preference, inclination
  3. Critical judgment, discernment or appreciation
  4. Manner or aesthetic quality of such discernment

In other words, perfect for a blog post concerning perfume, inclination, appreciation and discernment. It is a marvel, universally acknowledged, that the evolution of a perfumista can create seismic shifts in the quality of an experience, individual preference, critical judgment and the aesthetic quality of that discernment. 

Closeup of the vanilla orchid

When I was given the next word for Scent Semantics, I knew precisely which perfume to write about. The Seismic Shift that was, and indeed is, Spiritueuse Double Vanille from Guerlian’s L’Art et La Matière line of perfumes, created by Jean Paul Guerlain in 2007. 

Spiritueuse Double Vanille, henceforward referred to as SDV, as indeed it is known on many Facebook perfume groups, was a definite seismic shift in my personal perception of Perfume with a capital P. I was never, ever, a gourmand kind of gal, until SDV – and indeed another much-lamented and now discontinued L’Art et La Matière perfume, Iris Ganache – upended all my personal expectations of what, precisely, would be a perfume I wanted to wear without wanting to eat it, and as we all know, no matter how swoonworthy the perfume, all perfume tastes horrible. 

SDV, the gourmet’s gourmand, is to my nose, the Vanilla to End All Vanillas. 

Vanilla as a flavor, inclination or taste has sadly devolved to become a synonym for boring, bland and decidedly conformist. Once upon a storied time, I trained as a pastry chef, and came to know a thing or two about that unassuming orchid that was neither bland nor boring and emphatically non-conformist. Any kind of vanilla heightens all other sensual perceptions, but especially taste, touch and aroma. 

Vanilla planifolia, the OG version, was once upon a time the byword for all things exceedingly costly, exotic and otherworldly. Native to Mexico, it since evolved into three distinct species, all with differing olfactory profiles; Mexican vanilla, closest to the orchid the Maya and Aztecs so adored, is woody and almost chocolate-y in character. No accident it was used as a flavoring in the Aztec drink xocolatl. Tahitian vanilla, on the other hand, is ten thousand shades of vanilla flower, floral and almost psychedelic in its profile, whether as a flavoring or as a perfume, and as any perfumista will tell you, the two are to all extents and purposes the same – indeed, what we perceive as flavor or taste is comprised more than anything of aroma – which is to say, smell. 

Finally, the most common vanilla, Bourbon vanilla, running the gamut between rich butterscotch and caramel, rum and whiskey and the barrels they’ve aged in, too. 

Which brings me back to SDV. Because it is all these things and all these vanillas and none of them. The über-plush silk velvet of vanilla perfumes – trust Guerlain to go all out with vanilla-to-the-max. 

Not two weeks ago, I moved cross-country to a new job and a vastly different life. I brought my last dregs of a modest decant of vintage SDV with me for the purposes of this post, and it is everything I could ever want in a vanilla-centered perfume, in terms of evolution from bright to boozy, richly floral to softly spicy, with a l-o-n-g vanilla drydown that makes it perfect to wear on a cold day spent indoors baking cookies, something I’ve been known to do, before snuggling up with my vanilla-loving cat – and eating all the cookies.

Disturbing rumors breathe that SDV has been reformulated beyond recognition and repair, that it is a mere anorexic shadowy ghost of its blowsy, voluptuous self, that we might as well all look elsewhere for that seismic shift of vanilla greatness. I can neither confirm nor deny those rumors, except to say that it pains me more than I care to admit if they’re true. If anyone has anything to add, let me know below, so I can cry my vanilla-flavored tears, and not waste my money.

SDV changed everything – my inclination, my critical judgment, and my discernment in perfumery. It turned a non-gourmand lover into a vanilla fanatic, and added many orchid-colored dimensions to that aspect of perfumery known … as TASTE.

With thanks and love to Ruth the Perfume Dragon. 

Don’t miss the other contributors to the Scent Semantics perfume project!

Elena  https://theplumgirl.com

Daisy  https://eaulalanyc.com and https://www.instagram.com/coolcookstyle/?hl=en)

Undina  https://undina.com

Old Herbaceous  https://scentsandsensibilities.co

Portia https://abottledrose.com

4 thoughts on “Taste

  1. I also have just a decant of SDV, from a BN split. Oh for the days when these pseudoniche Guerlains seemed so aspirational & so expensive!
    In comparison to today’s pricing of some niche fragrances they look positively affordable!
    Maybe that’s a measure of “taste” too. Heartbreakingly beautiful, well balanced & composed fragrances priced accordingly vs “Ouds” that haven’t been near the real thing, with a bling label, fairy dusting of PR puff & pricing that gives me heartburn!
    I cannot compute a bottle of scent costing more than the mortgage or rent on a sizeable house!
    I see young people buying the latest fad to keep up, then selling it at a huge loss a few weeks later because they can’t pay their bills!
    Now that leaves a bad taste in my mouth!

  2. I love your ode to Vanilla! So interesting to read about the three main kinds. And your insights from pastry are interesting, too. Best of luck with all the recent life changes — may SDV charm all your new adventures!

  3. OOOH Sheila!
    I too love SDV. My first taste of it came from Ruth as well if I remember rightly. Then I stumbled across a bottle on a sale doc. It rarely comes out for wearing because it’s so precious but when it does you have NAILED the experience.
    AL the taste.
    Also, I love reading that you were a pastry chef! WOW!
    Portia xx

  4. What a great post Sheils! And congratulations again on the new job. So exciting!
    I also did not know that you were once a pastry chef! Isn’t it fascinating to think about all these past roles that we have has in life? Speaking of which, I loved how you discussed the evolution of a perfume lover. SDV is so beautiful, but Iris Ganache was the Guerlain that stole my heart. It was also the first time that my bank account felt a seismic shift like that. I was a grad student at the time and that bottle was the most expensive thing I had ever bought for myself besides plane tickets!

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