Creamy vanilla with smoke, multi-faceted inflections, and a hushed breath. That is the core of Vaniglia del Madagascar, a silky parfum extrait from the ancient Italian perfume house of Farmacia SS. Annunziata dal 1561.
As a preliminary matter, the full title of the perfume is Farmacia SS. Annunziata dal 1561 Vaniglia del Madagascar, something which is far too long for me to write out repeatedly. For the sake of convenience, I’ll simply refer to the company as “Farmacia SS. Annunziata” and occasionally shorten the fragrance’s name to a brief “Vaniglia.” (I have an unfortunate habit of mentally thinking of the company as “SS Annunziata,” which sounds like some sort of fascist group or ship, so I may just call it “Farmacia” to avoid an inadvertent malapropism.)
I think the Farmacia is a very under-appreciated company with solid perfumes and an interesting background. It is based in Florence and has a long history that dates back to 1561, when a chemist called Brunetti worked with the Benedictine Nuns of San Nicolò to create all-natural beauty products and potions. Their modern creations are very rich and nicely done, with a style that seems very similar to that of Profumum Roma. Namely, simple, uncomplicated, and unpretentious fragrances that highlight one key note in an extremely concentrated manner. (You should see the Farmacia’s Patchouly Indonesiano. Absolute insanity!)
The same signature is evident in the case of Vaniglia del Madagascar, a fragrance that requires a little bit of patience, but one which blooms into something that is quite pretty. In fact, really quite lovely at times. While Vaniglia del Madagascar may not be my perfect vanilla, it did make me sit up and take notice. I even haunted eBay for 10 days to see if decants were available, and that should tell you something.
Vaniglia del Madagascar is a concentrated parfum or extrait de parfum that Farmacia SS. Annunziata in very simple terms:
Sweet and intense aroma, the scent of a remote island. Recollection of an unforgettable journey to discover an unspoilt island. African sickness.
Top notes: LEMON
Heart notes: FLORAL NOTES, AMBER NOTES
Base notes: VANILLA
Personally, I suspect that there is more going on than that, as I detect distinct smokiness in Vaniglia, as well as a whisper of woodiness. I’ve noticed that some perfume houses, especially some Italian ones like Profumum, prefer to merely give a nutshell synopsis for their perfume lists, so I wouldn’t be completely surprised if that were the case here as well.
Vaniglia del Madagascar opens on my skin with caramelized sugar and candy floss vanilla, infused with brisk, fresh lemon. Tiny hints of smoky woods, ambered warmth and an abstract floralcy lurk deep in the base, but they are very subtle at this point. Generally, Vaniglia del Madagascar opens as vanilla creme brulée with candied, spun sugar and sun-sweetened lemons.
It reminds me of Profumum‘s dreadful Vanitas, but there are differences. Vanigilia has fresh, bright lemon instead of gooey orange syrup; it doesn’t skew as dark in feel or visuals as Vanitas; and it thankfully lacks the burnt, acrid harshness of the Profumum scent. It also feels like an airier, lighter, fresher form of vanilla as a whole. Profumum’s Vanitas has a plasticity to both its orange and its burnt caramelization that I found unappealing, so Vanigilia is much smoother in that regard. Nevertheless, there is no way around their strong similarity in Vaniglia’s opening moments: they are both massive sugar overloads with extreme sweetness.
Vaniglia’s actual feel, though, is very soft with sillage to match. Three good smears equal to two very small spritzes resulted in only 2 inches of sillage. The fragrance may feel very rich in its notes, but it doesn’t convey the opaque density that so many Profumum scents do, and is actually quite light in weight. I wouldn’t call it objectively airy, but it is almost so — relative to what you’d expect from a concentrated parfum or extrait with such strong sweetness.
To my endless relief, the similarities to Profumum’s Vanitas soon weaken. Less than 20 minutes into Vanigilia’s development, the perfume starts to turn creamier and the sugar has already begun its journey to more palatable levels. In a side by side test, at the same point in time, Vanitas was still trumpeting a foghorn call of badly burnt pink sugar with gooey orange and a dash of plasticity. Vanigilia, in contrast, has lost more than half of its unpleasant vestiges, and the vanilla feels deeper. The lemon has piped down a notch as well, while the amber is slowly stirring in the base. Vaniglia is still too sweet for my tastes, but I can see hope on the horizon quite clearly.
At the start of the 2nd hour, golden veins of amber start to seep out to caress the vanilla. A tendril of smoky dryness curls up in the distance. Further still, a microdot of something floral occasionally pops up its head. For the most part, Vaniglia is still just a vanilla scent, but it is deeper, more golden, and richer with substantially less lemon, far greater creaminess, and a clear promise of darkness to come. The perfume is also softer in both aroma and projection. The scent hugs the skin after 90 minutes, hovering perhaps a half-inch above it, and its overall edges feel smoother.
Vaniglia’s second and final phase begins a little after the 3rd hour rolls around, and this is where things start to get good. The perfume’s crust of caramelized pink sugar has been replaced by a thin layer of amber, and infused by a whisper of smokiness. Something about it suggests a trace of “opium flowers,” a fantasy accord that I experienced with Profumum‘s Fiore d’Ambra. With Vaniglia del Madagascar, the “opium flowers” lurk in the background in a very subtle, muted way, but I’ve noticed them every time I’ve worn the scent. I’d also swear that there was also a suggestion of dry woods far in the distance, even if there is no such note mentioned in the official perfume pyramid. The whole thing feels very smooth and positively silky, but it is also very soft. Vaniglia is almost a skin scent at this point, though it’s still very rich and easy to detect when sniffed up close.
By the end of the 6th hour, Vaniglia is really like creamy vanilla silk. It is infused with wisps of darkness and subtle smokiness, but there is no lemon, no pink sugar, no creme brulée, or even some creme anglaise. An occasional suggestion of Bourbon vanilla pops up now and then, but there is nothing boozy about Vaniglia. Only real vanilla creaminess with just a touch of dark, dry smokiness to keep interesting. It isn’t a truly dark or dry vanilla, but I kept sniffing my arm appreciatively, though I have to be honest, I did have to bring my nose really close to the skin. At the risk of sounding repetitive, Vaniglia is very soft.
However, the perfume also has killer longevity. At the start of the 12th hour, I thought Vaniglia had finally died, but the perfume clings on with great tenacity. It may take some effort and hard sniffing to detect it, but this is a determined survivor. There were definite traces of Vaniglia on several areas of my arm at the 16th hour, and, to my disbelief, its delicate, smooth silkiness clung to one patch of skin at the 22nd hour. Granted, it was a small patch, and I had to put my nose right on my arm to detect it, but it was definitely there.
I think Vaniglia is a really nice scent that I thoroughly enjoyed testing, but it isn’t my perfect vanilla for a few reasons. First, I don’t like the sugariness of its opening hours. Second, it is far too discreet for my personal tastes. That said, the loveliness of its core bouquet did tempt me enough for me to haunt eBay for a while. What I liked the most about Vaniglia from the very first time I tried it is that it seemed to have an unusual degree of micro-inflections. Tiny, prismatic nuances — even during its sugared creme brulée phase — that surprised me. Whiffs of abstract flowers, smoke, dry woods, the almost ghostly pop of something “opium,” and an amber that occasionally felt like ambergris. Again, these are all so subtle at times as to warrant a “micro” description, but they are there. Vaniglia is one of those fragrances that rewards really close attention.
There is much love for Vaniglia del Madagascar amongst those who have tried it. On Luckyscent, the overwhelming majority (18) give the fragrance five stars, followed by a handful (3) who give it four stars. Only one person rates it as a 3, but there is nothing lower than that. People use words like “holy grail,” including one person who says they don’t particularly like vanilla fragrances at all. A sampling of opinions:
- Holy grail indeed. I don’t even like vanilla scents, especially when they’re screaming ‘You’re a cupcake and Imma eat you now!’ HOWEVER, although this is a true vanilla scent, it is not ridiculously sweet or synthetic like many others. The opening was a little strange for me…reminded me of a soda pop candy I had as a kid. But within a half hour the scent really began to open up and breathe, and become this delicious floaty vanilla…much like a true vanilla bean. After a few hours it turns into something even better…something warm and woody and almost smoky. Sillage is soft and polite, but longevity is fantastic. 12+ hours on me. I’m amazed at the depth of this of this ostensibly simple perfume.
- THE most exquisite Vanilla scent I have ever owned. It is perfection. Opens with a slight hint of citrus,lemon, and then it’s rich creamy vanilla all the way. It lasts a good 8 hours on me and it’s quite subtle not an ‘in your face vanilla’ at all. Worth every single cent
- I don’t think that I have ever smelled a vanilla this good. I have always loved the idea of wearing a smooth, creamy vanilla, but up until this point have found most to be cloying, sickeningly sweet, or chemical. This is a beautiful vanilla with lasting power, rich and true to the actual pod (or extract, as another reviewer commented). It is still sweet, but in just the right places, and the other notes do a nice job of balancing the vanilla with a rich and smoky feeling (thank you, amber). If you love the idea of wearing a vanilla but find most end up smelling synthetic on you, give this a try. I’ll definitely be ordering a bottle.
- This scent is great! I am a guy and I think it smells great if not a little too feminine for me, but if you want some advice add 1 part of this to Tom Fords tobacco vanilla and you will have the best cologne you have ever smelled guaranteed. Tobacco vanilla isnt sweet enough, but add this and its amazing! I found the best smell ever, I got 4 compliments just today!Amazing stuff!
- The open is cotton candy, it’s the only way I can think to describe it. Not it a cheap way, but it’s all I can smell. After a few minutes the sweetness is still there but it’s cooled off a bit. It’s definitely still too sweet for me, but if sweet vanilla is your thing you’ll probably love this. I’m also getting a lemony-custard feel. It’s also got hints of… creamy plastic. Again, not in a bad way, I’m just not sure how else to describe it. And interesting vanilla scent, to be sure.
A blogging friend of mine, The Black Narcissus, is both a vanilla addict and quite an expert on the various varieties of the pods used in vanilla fragrances. I found his review of Vaniglia del Madagascar to be interesting for several reasons. First, he was wholly unimpressed when he initially tried Vaniglia in London and in the summer’s heat. Yet, time, patience, and a change in environment resulted in a very different response, to the point where the brilliant vanilla expert wrote: “it might actually be my all time favourite vanilla.” I think that says something, but the key to it all lies in the very heading of his review: “Delayed Gratification.”
And that is really my second point. As Neil describes so well, Vaniglia del Madagascar feels like a “time release” capusle that pulsates out its prettier points in very slow waves over a long period of time. I urge you to read his review in full if you’re at all interested in the fragrance or a die-hard vanilla lover, but, for now, I will only quote small parts:
In the London summer heat the scent was disappointing, somehow – too thin; at once laboured yet underwhelming. The reasons for this I will come to, but I wasn’t aware of it at the time, and I put the bottle back on the shelf again, hoping its itme would come.
It has. And it has been delicious. But this is a perfume that is set to a strict slow motion, and it to took me a while to get it. […][¶]
…[I]n terms of sillage it barely seemed to register, at least on hot, sweaty nights in London. But since the Japanese weather has cooled […] I have come to realize that the perfume is structured like nuclear fission: compressed atoms of flavour which dilate outwards; slowly, at their own prehistorically ambered pace. This perfume just won’t let you rush it. It is set in thick, glacial, time-spaced layers that cannot be perturbed.
In the rest of his review, The Black Narcissus talks about the nuances he detected in the scent. At first, there was an unexpected “bitter orange top note” which seemed to counter the website’s reference to lemons, but the real surprise was the ambiguous “floral” notes. He found them to be “more like a fresh, misty saltiness,” and something that he’d never encountered in a vanilla fragrance before. Those elements lasted about an hour before
…the vanilla, essentially hidden from view by some alchemical trick, begins to appear and advance in depth and texture over a period of twelve hours or so, until you completely succumb to its heat-charged fullness and drape in it like a cream-silk blanket.
It is then that you realize ah yes, this is a parfum, it really is, especially when you wake up the next day and the sunlight bathes the golden glow. Vanilla, classical, resonating Bourbon vanilla, surrounds you, is set from your pillow. A sense, almost, of achievement. And for me, this delayed pleasure, the sensation of a whole day for the scent to reach its full, tantric potency, is quite glorious.
I’m still in the early throes of mania with this one, but I think it might actually be my all time favourite vanilla.
I am far from being in love with the scent the way that Neil is, but I agree with him on several points. Vaniglia del Madagascar is a lot prettier than it seems at first sniff, especially during the intensely sugared part of its opening hours. I don’t share Neil’s high tolerance for vanillic sweetness and some of the “sugar-icing” fragrances he wears would probably give me a heart attack, but he’s right about how the perfume’s prettiness develops like “nuclear fusion” with a “glacial” pace. Matters aren’t helped by the subtlety of Vaniglia’s later inflections or by its extremely hushed, intimate sillage, so I urge you to be patient even more than he does, but Vaniglia is definitely a scent that is worth trying if you’re a vanilla lover. And if there were ever a vanilla that was wholly suitable for even the most conservative, anti-perfume office environments, this would be it.
Vaniglia del Madagascar is almost “cheap” — relatively speaking and when you take all factors into consideration — and it’s not too hard to find, either. It costs $160, £103, or roughly €115, but Vaniglia comes in a large 100 ml bottle and is concentrated parfum. There aren’t a lot of companies that sell 100 ml of extrait for $160. Plus, a little Vaniglia goes a very long way and, as noted earlier, the perfume has massive longevity. In general, Farmacia SS. Annunziata’s fragrances are available at the usual niche retailers, some of whom also carry the accompanying Vaniglia body products and also ship worldwide. I think I’ve even found a place in Japan that carries Vaniglia, along with fragrances from a lot of other niche brands. Finally, Vaniglia is available for a small discount on eBay.
In short, give Vaniglia a try if you’ve been looking for a creamy vanilla with some darkness. I suspect that the fragrance will still be too sweet for some of you, especially in its opening moments, but be patient. Hope begins after 30 minutes, and things become really pretty a few hours after that. It’s definitely worth a sniff, without a doubt.