Get a whiff of this:
You’ve walked into a gentleman’s sitting room, filled mostly with refined-looking men and women conversing in small groups enjoying scotch, and cigars or pipes. Something is being celebrated and the happiness is unrestrained, familiar, genuine. The formally dressed guests are standing, but many are also sitting on the rosewood furniture, or the dark mahogany leather chesterfields. There are numerous open decanters of scotch sitting invitingly on beautifully ornate wooden side tables spread around the room. The yellow lighting from the tiffany lamps warms up the rich darkness of the room, and there is plenty of banter and laughter. Thick wafts of tobacco smoke glide from one part of the room to the other, but the smoke is not screechy or suffocating. The remains of a dense fruit cake with a bowl of vanilla cream for topping is sitting on top of a serving cart just by the massive window overlooking the courtyard filled with trees whose colourful leaves are just about the start falling, although it’s too dark outside now to know for sure. Judging by the fact that a staff member has not yet come to fetch the cart now stacked full of empty plates, the cake was only recently devoured. Perhaps a crumb or two made it to the tailored fronts of the revelers who had to practice restraint to eat such a succulent treat so politely. Ah here comes a staff member now, dressed in uniform – she leaves open behind her the door to the hallway, which leads to the kitchen – from which an array of warm and inviting spices can now be perceived.
Released in 2007 for Tom Ford’s private blend series by Olivier Gillotin, Tobacco Vanille quickly became a much–loved and even much obsessed-about classic. Olivier is actually the executive perfumer and vice president at Givaudan NY, so this nose knows his stuff, I would say.
Like other Tom Ford Private Blend fragrances, this does not come cheap. And that is the first major drawback to this fragrance. The second negative? Well, much as I do absolutely adore this fragrance, I don’t think it’s particularly versatile. And these days, I also think there is a third drawback, and that is that if you’re willing to compromise just a little, you can find alternatives that won’t break the bank. I’ll talk about a couple of those in a little while as well. These three points explain why I only have this decant, and not a huge bottle of the stuff. To be clear though, if I were gifted a big bottle, I’d be happy as a pig in mud. Here are the notes:
- tobacco leaf, spicy notes
- vanilla, cacao, tonka bean, tobacco blossom
- dried fruits, woody notes
At first sniff you get a blast of cherry tobacco. I know this might not be in the memory of younger generations because – thankfully – fewer and fewer people smoke these days, but for me, the opening takes me back to the early days of my childhood when my dad still smoked a pipe. I don’t really have memories of him smoking it – likely I was highly put off by the smoke, but I do remember handling the empty pipe when he wasn’t looking. I remember the smooth feel of the cherry oak device in my hand, and my obsession with putting my nose up to it to get the remnants of honeyed, molasses-like, damp tobacco and dirty ash tray. Tobacco Vanille reminds me of this, but sweeter and minus the ash tray vibe. There is thankfully no hint of combustion in this liquid concoction.
The robust vanilla in this composition grounds the fragrance and it’s nicely accented with soft, spicy notes in the form of apple pie with plum sauce that give it a kick. It’s very deep, rich, heavy, and high calorie, made all the more delish by the cacao that is mixed in, but the cacao is not powdery; it’s delivered in more of bean paste, if you will. Although it’s flavourful and scrumptious and cozy, it just boarders on gourmand; it’s not full-blown edible. Especially today, you can find way more saccharine fragrances on the market if you have a sweet tooth. This one somehow manages to flirt with sugar and spice, yet remain naughty… devilishly nice. In addition to the vanilla at the base, I think there might be the tiniest tinge of something else dark and mysterious in here that is helping the vanilla to both elevate the fragrance and also tie it down so it doesn’t float away. Sandalwood or cedar perhaps?
The fragrances in Tom Ford’s Private Blend collection are all meant to be personal and unique, and also often idealized expressions of their main components. So Lost Cherry is all about that cherry (and divine it is), Plum Japonaise is all about the plum, and yes, Tobacco Vanille is just as its name implies – a vanillic tobacco. If you don’t care for Tobacco scents, obviously this one is going to be a pass for you. And that is vraiement dommage, because this really is a beaut.
Unless you’re in Cuba or in some other hot country that embraces the cigar, I think you’ll want to avoid this fragrance in hot or even warm weather. It’s got far too much of a warm and cozy fireplace and cuddles feel to it. I think the perfect time to wear it is over the winter holidays, due to the boozy, spiced fruit – specifically Christmas. You’re at least slightly dressed up – no ripped jeans with T shirts. You’re surrounded by loved ones at the fireplace enjoying a mulled adult beverage, or perhaps a spiced Chai latte, but there is also a romantic interest present. Perhaps a new girlfriend or boyfriend that you’ve brought over to meet family, or perhaps there is an attractive “friend” that a sibling has invited over. This is a snuggly fragrance, but not soley comprised of platonic cuddles, although it may seem so just on the surface. Nope, once you get an attractive, warm heartbeat pressed up against you, I’d say it’s game over – male or female. Uh huh – this is definitely unisex to my mind, though 14 years ago I can see where people might think it was more masculine. But Mr. Ford himself never saw it that way; in his Private Blend fragrances he prefers to focus on memories, places, or emotions rather than gender.
Anyway, don’t wear this to the office – it’s too fancy and too distracting; don’t wear it out clubbing – it’s too refined, don’t wear this out to dine (more formally, anyway) – it’ll interfere with the food experience, and as I said earlier, don’t wear it in warm weather. To me Tobacco Vanille really does have narrow use scenarios. Perhaps one other time this would be good: a casual weekend walkabout in cool weather – a walk in park, a walk in the rain, an outdoor fall festival in the countryside. You might be dressed casually, but it’s fine in that situation. Your scent trail will attract new friends.
So how about performance? And by performance of course I mean longevity, sillage, and projection. Yes, Tobacco Vanille does live up to expectations. In my opinion, it had bloody better at the price Ford is asking. But it’s not over the top, meaning you’re not going to kill someone with this unless you become trigger crazy with the spray and use it in the summer. With time, the projection calms down, but you do get quite a lovely scent bubble for hours upon hours. I would definitely recommend applying this to clothes rather than or in addition to skin, because it lasts and lasts on most fabrics. On skin I get about 8 to 10 hours. I do have dry skin so it might last longer on you. Actually, for extra skin hydration to help out the scent, it’s always a good idea to moisturize, and if you want an extra pipe tobacco boost, I recommend Demeter’s pipe tobacco lotion. Demeter is the Greek Olympian Goddess of harvest and agriculture, but her name is also an affordable American fragrance brand that focusses on very literal aroma profiles.
Alright. So I promised to bring up a couple of alternatives for those of you less keen to splash out all that cash required for Tobacco Vanille, so here we go. I have one clone and one dupe. To be clear on how I use the terminology – a clone is a fragrance that is unabashedly tries to copy the original, while a dupe is a fragrance that makes no claim to copying but is very clearly inspired by the original.
A clone I have is cased in a massive brown class rock-weight bottle that, with the cap, is clearly referencing Tom Ford. It’s called Charuto and Tobacco Vanille is witten in the subtitles. This brand is Pandora Scents, which I’m guessing is owned by a larger company called Paris Corner. It’s an Emerati brand that appears to do a lot of copycat scents for popular expensive, top-selling fragrances. This particular bottle, however, is something I purchased for a song on eBay. I think I paid almost the same amount for the shipping, which is sadly not uncommon for me living in Japan.
This scent is not indistinguishable from the original. This one has more honey, feels somehow lighter, and stays closer to the skin. I also don’t feel that this one is as smooth and seductive as the original. There is something at the base of the Tom Ford blend that quietly exudes naughtiness. This gives more of a nod or whisper. But honestly, here’s the thing: This fragrance is on the cheaper end of designer fragrances and TOM FORD’s private blend is on the pricier side of luxe perfumes. If you love Tobacco Vanille and simply cannot afford it, what the heck – you might be the only one who knows – this one to me is 90% similar. Of course, the performance is not as good, but you might even like this one more. It does happen. Obviously, I am not 100% against clones – at least in the perfumery industry, and perhaps I’ll explain my reasons in a later post.
Another fragrance I have for you today is not as close to the original, but definitely still carries the same scent profile as Tobacco Vanille. And surprisingly, at least to me, this one is from MAC – a Canadian cosmetics company. The sample I have is part of the MAC Shadescents collection and is called Velvet Teddy. There are notes of honey, amber, musk, and tobacco flower – the same kind of musky-sweet profile that you find in Tobacco Vanille. I feel there is booziness to this, like the stone fruits within have gone a bit ripe and are starting to ferment. It’s less spicy, more floral and feminine, lighter and has less depth. It’s still massively unisex, though. No, it does not perform like Tobacco Vanille and is less luxe but for the price, it ain’t bad, my friends. There are only currently two fragrances on the MAC retail site from the Shadescents collection, by the way, and this is not one of them, so this scent might have been discontinued.
I have a bonus mention, too. It’s not a dupe at all in my opinion, but it does bear a lot of similarities, and I absolutely love this very lovely, underrated fragrance from L’Occitane en Provence called Eaux des Baux. There is not much in the way of tobacco, but it’s a beautifully soft and sexy vanilla-heavy fragrance – targeting men, but I don’t think it runs masculine. It’s impossible to find here in Japan – I think I got my bottle (not my first) in Budapest. This sweet and spicy sent also has tonka bean and vanilla, with pepper and cardamom. It has an earthier quality due to the cypress, but it’s also boozy warm cozy and delicious, and if you like Tobacco Vanille, you’ll enjoy this too, and the price point is just fine. Doesn’t perform the best, however.
So, Tobacco Vanille – addictive, sexy, sweet, sensual, sophisticated, expensive-smelling, and yummy. It’s gorgeous, but use with restraint. I still love it as much as I did when it first came out, even though it’s not something that I can wear every day, is ridiculously priced – at least for me, and is not as unique as it once was. Boy, was it groundbreaking when it first came out though. Does everyone like this scent? No, of course not. The biggest “insult” I’ve heard about TV is that is smells like a Yankee candle. Fortunately, I don’t get that association. How do you feel about it? Have you tried TFTV or any dupe?