Counterpoint: Un Bois Vanille

Counterpoint: Un Bois Vanille

Happy Monday! Today is May 15, and this is another “Counterpoint” post from me and Portia of Australian Perfume Junkies.

This month’s Counterpoint fragrance is Un Bois Vanille, from Serge Lutens. Launched in 2003, the perfumer who created it is Christopher Sheldrake. It is one of several offspring of Feminité du Bois, created in 1992 for Shisheido by the team of Serge Lutens, Christopher Sheldrake, and Pierre Bourdon. It seems that after FdB, M. Sheldrake explored the innovative woody accords in different directions, including Un Bois Vanille, Bois de Violette, Bois et Musc, Bois et Fruits, Bois Oriental,  and Un Bois Sépia.

Bottle of Serge Lutens' Un Bois Vanille
Un Bois Vanille by Serge Lutens; image from Portia.

Un Bois Vanille is a complex scent that plays off the botanical origins of vanilla, most familiar to us as the sweet ingredient in so many baked goods. Vanilla extract comes from beans that grow in pods on vining orchids in tropical rain forests. The vines climb up trees in their natural habitats; in cultivation, they are often grown on wooden supports. Wood, then, is a suitable companion to vanilla, and they are well-partnered in Un Bois Vanille. The green aspect of vanilla vines is evoked by an anise accord; other notes include coconut milk, beeswax, sandalwood, tonka, almond, benzoin, guiac, and musk.

  1. How did you first encounter Un Bois Vanille, and what was your first impression?

Portia: I’m not sure exactly but it could have been while sniffing with friends in what was our most glamorous Sydney department store David Jones. It also might have been through an early Serge Lutens sampler from Posh Peasant. Maybe around 2010? Yeah, I came to you all quite late. It was a very solo perfume journey for me till finding the scent blogosphere. I liked it early on but it didn’t compete with some of the more outrageous scents in the line. At the time I was all about pushing boundaries, being daring, shocking and pushing every fragrant envelope to its farthest shore. Since those heady days I’ve come to love many of those outrageous perfumes but the ones i tend to wear are much more comfortable.

Old Herbaceous: I came into possession of Un Bois Vanille a couple of years ago, when I found a tester online at a very reasonable price. Since I was, and am still, in the process of educating my nose, I knew I wanted to try some of Serge Lutens’ fragrances, and I had read in many places that Un Bois Vanille was one of his most approachable fragrances, easier to appreciate and enjoy than some of his more innovative scents. So I bought the tester, and it was the start of a small Lutens cluster in my collection. My first impression was that it is a sophisticated vanilla while remaining sweet, but it is never sugary. The beeswax and coconut milk give it a smoothness that I find quite soothing, and I enjoy the anise accord.

2. How would you describe the development of Un Bois Vanille?

Old Herbaceous: To my nose, the vanilla is obvious right away, with a milky undertone. It remains dominant throughout, with anise emerging, followed by phases that smell woody (sandalwood, tonka, almond), then resinous and warm (guiac, benzoin, musk).

PortiaUn Bois Vanille doesn’t have an enormous range through its development when I wear it. It opens hot vanilla caramel bakery, fresh from the oven. As it moves through the heart the nuttiness dries it out but we don’t lose that warmth. Even in dry down when the woods have taken over vanilla heavy amber reigns supreme.

3. Do you or will you wear Un Bois Vanille regularly? For what occasions or seasons?

Portia: Honestly, I’m lucky if Un Bois Vanille gets a wear annually. Vanilla, woods and amber make up a large percentage of my perfume wardrobe. There are a few favourites that are in easy reach, on the grab tray or on my mind. Since my Serge Lutens bottles grab tray got repurposed in the revamp of the perfume/dressing/office room and they are all in a box their wear has reduced a lot. In the 10 years I’ve owned this bottle it has probably only had 10 wears. Hopefully us writing about Un Bois Vanille at the start of the cooler months here in Sydney will rejog my memory and I’ll give it a few more outings. Wearing it the last couple of days, once for bed and today for work, I’ve really enjoyed it. Though it’s not important a couple of people have asked what it is I’m wearing and if it’s still available. So that’s nice too.

Old Herbaceous: I don’t wear it regularly, though I like it whenever I do. Since I’m on the other side of the planet from Portia, we are entering our summer months, and the vanilla fragrance I like for summer is Vanira Moorea by Berdoues. I will try to remember to pull out Un Bois Vanille this fall, though, because I agree with Portia that it is very suitable for autumn and winter.

4. Who should/could wear Un Bois Vanille?

Old Herbaceous: Un Bois Vanille is definitely a unisex scent. Apparently, the genesis of its forebear Feminité du Bois was to show that a woody fragrance, traditionally associated with masculine fragrances, could be made more feminine. Almost every time I wear any vanilla-centric fragrance, I get more compliments than with almost any other scent, usually from men. So it clearly works well as a feminine scent! Conversely, I would find this very appealing on a man, and I need to find out what it smells like on my husband!

Portia: When I spritz Un Bois Vanille it always feels like a rich dessert or cocktail. A fountain of molten vanilla, caramel, coconut and nutty biscuit. Lavish, delicious and playful. It works from slouching in front of the TV to elegant awards nights. While cool weather is my preferred wear time, I can also imagine it working for spring weekends and sensual tropical evenings. Smelling good enough to eat, but in a sophisticated way, is always a winner. Unisex but leaning towards what society expects women to smell like. I say go for the subversive guys, wear against the grain. I can only imagine how amazing this would smell on some beefy hunk of a tradesman as he turns up to fix your power box.

If huge stories float your boat, then Un Bois Vanille might be a little boring for you. On the other hand, if you love to smell good. You like a hefty, rich, not too confectionary oriented gourmand that lasts all day and into the night then you might just have found a new grand love.

Please add your answers to one or more of the questions above, in the comments!