Van Cleef & Arpels entered the prestige “niche” market in 2009 when it debuted its Collection Extraordinaire. Orchidée Vanille (hereinafter just “Orchidee Vanille”) was one of the six fragrances, a vanilla soliflore with subtle floral and gourmand accents that I found to be surprisingly pleasant.
Orchidee Vanille is an eau de parfum created by Randa Hammami. The official description for the perfume as provided by Neiman Marcus is as follows:
An intoxicating journey through the Indian Ocean and Asia, Orchidee Vanille explores all the richness of vanilla.
A floral, gourmand fragrance with a subtle blend of fruity notes (mandarin orange and litchi), combined with tastybitter almond and dark chocolate, and accented with sensual European flourishes of Bulgarian rose and violet notes. The vanilla pod is faceted with woody cedar and balsamic tonka bean and notes of transparent white musk.
Van Cleef & Arpels, the world-renowned Paris jeweler, pays tribute to nature with a range of magnificent fragrant compositions inspired by its Les Jardins (“The Gardens”) jewelry range. Created with the finest raw materials in the great tradition of French luxury perfumery, Van Cleef & Arpels debuts the Collection Extraordinaire with six scents, each given a formulation number by the master perfumer and presented in a hallmarked and embossed presentation gift box.
The succinct note list is available from Luckyscent:
Mandarin orange, litchi, bitter almond, dark chocolate, Bulgarian rose, violet, vanilla pod, cedar, tonka, and white musk.
Orchidee Vanille opens on my skin with clean vanilla, followed by abstract floral and fruity notes, hints of cedar, and clean white musk. There is a brief suggestion of something unctuous, reminiscent of vanilla extract paste melted in butter, but it is fleeting. Moments later, tiny flickers of almond, chocolate, and orange appear at the edges. They continue to flit in and out for the next 20 minutes, but rarely detract from Orchidee Vanille’s main focus which is clean vanilla with a floral facade, a hint of woodiness, and white musk.
The secondary notes are interesting. On my skin, the chocolate doesn’t seem dark, powdered, or much like chocolate at all, to be honest. It’s really more of an abstract, nebulous suggestion, and akin to something approximating “chocolate.” The almond is infinitesimal, and there is no clear rose, violet, or litchi whatsoever. The orange is more noticeable in a concrete, individual way, but it feels almost translucent and ghostly, darting in and out of background in the opening stage.
The cedar is the most prominent of the lot at first, and it combines with the white musk and vanilla in a way that reminds me of Tuesday 4160‘s Sexiest Scent On The Planet. There are differences, however. Orchidee Vanille feels significantly more expensive and luxurious. The “Sexiest Scent” is apparently close to 70% synthetic, and it smells like it with its heavy, walloping amounts of ISO E Super and something strongly resembling white musk. It is also a much woodier scent, by and large, than the Van Cleef & Arpels fragrance which feels more supple and creamy.
The similarity between the two perfumes doesn’t last for long. Orchidee Vanille begins to change less than 15 minutes into its development, though the perfume is so light that the transformation is initially quite subtle. The most noticeable thing is that Orchidee Vanille starts to turn creamier and smoother, as the vanilla deepens. The clean, white musk softens; the cedar becomes weaker; and the orange, cocoa, and general fruitiness fade to the periphery. The already abstract floral notes become even more of a nebulous, vague suggestion, and melt into the vanilla. They exist just enough to ensure that the perfume never smells like a cupcake or vanilla icing, but, rather, more of a “floral” vanilla.
That’s generally about it for Orchidee Vanille’s development on my skin. All that happens over the many hours which ensue is that the perfume becomes creamier, softer, and more intimate in nature. The clean, white musk fades away after 30 minutes, though it returns later at the very end of the perfume’s development in a light way. There are occasional, microscopic suggestions of something vaguely chocolate-y lurking in the background, though it often feels more like a sprinkling of the white variety than the bitter, dark chocolate listed in the notes.
The overall impression is of a very creamy (but airy) vanilla scent with just the lightest suggestion of something floral about it. On my skin, there is absolutely nothing about Orchidee Vanille that is purely and solely foody, evocative of the dreaded sugared cupcakes (which is a trap that many vanillas fall into), or cloyingly sweet. It’s not dry, woody, or buttered, either. By and large, Orchidee Vanille is a very simple floral vanilla fragrance, though a very adult take on the genre.
It’s also extremely light and subtle on me. Three very large smears (amounting to two sprays from a bottle) create a very gauzy cloud that initially hovers 2 inches, at best, above my skin. It’s not as thin and translucent a bouquet as “The Sexiest Scent,” but it definitely lacks the richness or heft of a Profumum vanilla for example. The sillage is extremely intimate on me, and Orchidee Vanille turns into a skin scent before the close of the second hour. However, the perfume has excellent longevity. With a smaller dose of 2 moderate smears, Orchidee Vanille lasted just over 10.5 hours. With the 3 smears, the number was just short of 11.75. Some of the perfume got onto a shirt I was wearing in one test, and the scent lasted for well over a day.
There are two things that struck me about Orchidee Vanille. In the first few hours of wearing the scent, the combination of its intimate feel along with the initial, very subtle suggestion of something both clean and floral evoked the sense of feminine skin. “My skin but better,” if you will, but definitely for a woman. It also evoked the image of a very well-dressed banker in an elegant, restrained, very structured suit who uses Orchidee Vanille as her subtle nod to femininity. Later, however, when the perfume turns much smoother, softer, and creamier, the images which came to mind were those of white, vanilla flower petals blowing in the wind. Creaminess is much more a part of the fragrance than some of the official elements in the note list, and certainly more than any rose, almond, or fruity tonalities.
The response to Orchidee Vanille is generally very positive. I have a number of friends who wear it, and I often see rave reviews for the scent on different sites. The main issues involving the perfume seem to be the usual ones of sweetness and cost. I’ll get to the latter point shortly, but sweetness is obviously going to depend on one’s skin chemistry. The same applies to whatever secondary notes you will experience apart from the vanilla. On Fragrantica, the majority of posters love the scent, and a good number of people talk about the chocolate which was clearly more profound on their skin than on mine. Some also experienced a lot more floral or fruity notes at first. As a whole, people call it “gorgeous,” “one of the best vanilla fragrances in the market,” or “the fragrance equivalent of a string of pearls.”
The Non-Blonde was also a fan of the scent, much to her surprise. For her, Orchidee Vanille evoked the sense of skin as well. Her review reads, in part, as follows:
The thing about perfumer Randa Hammami’s creation for Van Cleef & Arpels is that it’s not as floral and airy as I feared. As a matter of fact, Orchidee Vanille has an almost Guerlain-like heft. Hammami is the nose behind Guerlain’s Cruel Gardenia and L’Instant Magique, but if I were to classify and label, I’d say that this fragrance is actually a distant cousin of Aqua Allegoria Ylang & Vanille. The non-foody vanilla and complementary creamy flowers create a similar smooth sensation. The orchid image comes from the very opulent violet note. It’s interesting how one flower creates the illusion of another, while not trying to fully deceive – you’re aware that it’s violet, yet you see an orchid. Quite clever, really.
Flowers aside, it’s the musk, almond and bitter chocolate note that rule Orchidée Vanille. This reminds me a little of Guerlain’s Boise Torride, that also has some cedar in its backbone to keep the non-gourmand balance. While Orchidee Vanille keeps flirting with the edible side, the overall impression is of skin: the nape of the neck, the scalp of a second day hair. That’s what makes this Van Cleef & Arpels so incredibly intimate and warm, as well as worth the time of those who aren’t necessarily vanilla fiends. [Emphasis to names added by me.]
On Makeup Alley, the main focus of the conversation seems to be on whether or not the perfume is too sweet, or just perfect, followed by talk of its cost. On Luckyscent, Orchidee Vanille receives a lot of compliments, with people calling it “beautiful” or saying that they “love it,” often followed by comments about how they wouldn’t buy it. Bottom line, it keeps coming down to the price. Orchidee Vanille retails for $185 or £126 for a 75 ml bottle and, while pricing is always a very subjective, personal valuation, I share the feeling that the perfume costs too much for what it is. Yes, Orchidee Vanille’s smoothness does feel luxurious and, yes, it lacks the synthetics of many vanilla fragrances on the market, but it’s ultimately a very simplistic scent without a lot of nuances and layers.
However, you can find Orchidee Vanille for a discounted price at a few places, especially eBay. There, you can find unused tester bottles for roughly $89, or unopened, sealed boxes for $114. Amazon is also another option for a more reasonable price. (The perfume also is available from a few traditional retailers in a smaller 45 ml size that costs less than the 75 ml bottle. See the Details section below.) I think Orchidee Vanille is definitely worth it at the lower price for anyone who is a fan of adult vanillas.
As a whole, Orchidee Vanille skews rather feminine in nature, though it does have some male fans. One chap on Fragrantica thought it was perfect as a layering scent with more “manly” fragrances, while another insists that it is wholly “unisex” in nature. Regardless of gender, I think Orchidee Vanille a very office-appropriate scent, even for conservative environments. I should add, however, that a few people struggled with its longevity and lightness. One commentator said that it didn’t last on them more than 4 hours. As always, it’s going to depend on your skin chemistry.
If you’re looking for a creamy vanilla with a more adult character than some of the Pink Sugar varieties on the market and with some subtle floral or gourmand touches, give Orchidee Vanille a try. It’s really quite pretty.