When I was in middle school, Bath & Body Works' Warm Vanilla Sugar ruled my world. I wore it everywhere, smitten with its sickening, freshly-baked scent, and totally convinced everyone around me who smelled it was, too. And then, around 14 or so, a whiff of anything half as sweet would instantly give me a headache. Didn't matter if it was a candle, a perfume, or a room spray—anything with the words "sugary" or "vanilla" in the title left me nauseated, forcing me to say "RIP" to my Warm Vanilla Sugar Body Spray (my parents likely said, "Good riddance...")
In the 15 years since, I've never met a vanilla scent that *didn't* give me a headache. So, when I had the opportunity to test Ellis Brooklyn's new scent, Vanilla Milk ($105), I was very hesitant. But to my pleasant surprise, it's the first vanilla-scented fragrance that I don't just tolerate, but genuinely enjoy, eons away from anything I sprayed on myself in seventh grade.
Top: Creamy milk accord, frangipani, peony rose
Mid: Bourbon vanilla bean, Madgascar vanilla bean
Dry: Benzoin resinoid, amyris, sandalwood, musk
Also available in a Travel Size ($30).
I'm not the only one who's struggled with gourmand fragrances—Bee Shapiro, founder of Ellis Brooklyn, has struggled with them, too, as have thousands of other sensitive noses. Generally, anything that smells like dessert—think: cookies, butterscotch, coffee, and caramel—can be pretty polarizing or "headache-inducing", she explains. It's partially due to the quality of the ingredients in the perfume, something Shapiro and her team have been trying to nail down for years.
- Bee Shapiro, beauty columnist for The New York Times and founder of the sustainable fragrance brand Ellis Brooklyn.
"The part I find so challenging is that actual, real vanilla on its own—the quality stuff—is magical and stunning," she says. "Most vanillas end up smelling the same because it's usually your typical formula of vanilla and woods, or vanilla taken down a very dessert-like route... That's why I love the idea of taking gourmand into a more sophisticated direction."
I'll admit, Vanilla Milk is a lot more sophisticated than the $10 body spray from my youth. To me, most vanilla scents scream "artificial," but this one doesn't. On top, you've got this creamy, milky accord that's a tad reminiscent of the Frangelico my grandfather sips each year at our Christmas Eve parties. It's not as much rich as it is warm, and just the slightest bit sexy. But it's spicy and woodsy, too, blended with notes of amber and sandalwood that's rounded out with an ever-so-slight burst of peony. Tl;Dr—it's less cheugy "Sugar Cookie" candle and more elegant French creme bruleé.
"I personally don't love gourmands that are overly literal," Shapiro says. "I wanted to stay away from all the treacly, heavy gourmand scents. Vanilla can so easily go in that direction."
And, again, that's largely thanks to the formulation itself. The ingredients are all nontoxic, cruelty-free, and vegan, bottled in trendy, Earth-friendly glass packaging. While a blend of synthetic and natural ingredients make up Vanilla Milk, two types of real vanilla extract were included, including CO2 extracted from the vanilla bean to give the scent an airier, lighter note over something rich and indulgent.
Now, as with any scent, it's easy to overdo it. I do find Vanilla Milk's stronger than my normal, clean, aquatic fragrances, so I use it very sparingly. Literally, a single spritz at arm's reach will do the trick. Or—and I'm not a perfume expert, so sorry if this is the "wrong" way to apply fragrance—sometimes I take a note from my middle school self and spray it in the air, give it a second to diffuse, and walk through it. Anything more feels like too much, but this method is just right.
Suffice to say, it's nice to finally meet a vanilla scent that doesn't make me want to gag. It's creamy, delicious, and tolerable long beyond the first whiff. If you've been meaning to give vanilla a try, get Vanilla Milk here, in either the full Eau Du Parfum ($103) or Travel Size ($32).
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