Stepping inside Kew Gardens’ Princess of Wales Conservatory during the annual orchid festival is an opulently fragrant experience. For while the most popular orchids sold by florists are unscented, there are also many perfumed varieties, whose aromas span the full olfactory spectrum – from effervescent lemon to dark chocolate.
One such scented orchid is Vanilla planifolia, one of the primary sources of vanilla flavouring. While its scent is more subtle than vanilla pods, its flowers have a delicious aroma reminiscent of creamy jasmine and green grape that has long inspired perfumers. For instance, L’Artisan Parfumeur’s new Couleur Vanille – which launches on 2 March – uses a combination of vanilla orchid and vanilla bean to weave a story of tropical paradise (£124 for 100ml EDP). It opens on a marine accord centred around the immortelle flower, evoking a sea breeze and warm sand, before taking a detour into a forest festooned with vines and flowers. The vanilla bean’s richness is toned down to retain the radiant, airy feel of the fragrance – and to emphasise the bright sweetness of blooming orchids.
The iconic British house of Grossmith also turned to the charm of vanilla orchids for its perfume Floral Veil (£185 for 50ml EDP). The mélange of white blossoms at the heart of the composition has a heady effect, while the green notes add a crisp contrast. But instead of wrapping the perfume in the gourmand sweetness of vanilla, Grossmith chose a finish of cashmeran, musk and amber. The layers of Floral Veil are sheer, but its embrace is sultry.
Another fragrance that captures the nuances of vanilla orchid’s aroma is Van Cleef & Arpels’ Collection Extraordinaire Orchidée Vanille (£130 for 75ml EDP). Perfumer Randa Hammami wanted to evoke not only the scent of the vanilla flower, but also its pastel colour and seductive shape. Her orchid is inflected with the fresh fruity notes of mandarin and litchi, while the illusion of curvy, lush petals is conveyed by milky almond and musk. It’s a fantasy flower, but it’s sumptuous enough to compete with the real thing.
Victoria Frolova has been writing her perfume blog boisdejasmin.com since 2005. Her explorations of fragrance touch upon all elements that make this subject rich and complex: science, art, literature, history and culture. Frolova is a recipient of three Fragrance Foundation FiFi Awards for Editorial Excellence and, since receiving professional perfumery training, has been working as a fragrance consultant and researcher.