There was a time in the late ’90s when you couldn’t walk into a mall or high school without being consumed by a cloud of vanilla perfume and body spray. So, it’s no surprise, with our current penchant for Y2K nostalgia (and mom jeans, biker shorts, ballet slippers, and headbands), we’ve “created the perfect environment for the resurgence of vanilla as a perfume note,” says Yarden Horwitz, co-founder of Spate NYC, an A.I.-based platform that uses data science to predict beauty trends.
Google searches that include vanilla now average 138.6K a month according to Spate, with a growth of 22.1 percent year over year (the most significant positive change for any fragrance note)—and the hashtag #vanillaperfume on TikTok is garnering 4.4M average weekly views.
But today’s take on vanilla is more elevated than most over-the-top-sweet versions we sniffed in the ’90s. “Unlike the vanilla scents from that past era, which were seen as a bit low-brow,” says Horwitz, “today’s brands are iterating on vanilla in a new way.”
The first batch of new, modern vanilla fragrances to gain attention were creamy, soft blends, like Skylar Vanilla Sky, Kayali Vanilla 28, By Rosie Jane Dulce, and Ellis Brooklyn Vanilla Milk. These scents largely paid homage to the gourmand, almost edible elements of vanilla we’re familiar with—but enriched the note with warmer additions like cinnamon and sandalwood, for a sensual, skin-scent-like effect.
“Vanillas now are very grown up, sophisticated, and even challenging,” says Bee Shapiro, founder of Ellis Brooklyn. “It’s a pivot in direction that I personally celebrate as I love polished, sensual fragrances that also take a risk.”
Along with vanilla’s growing popularity, “searches for gourmand fragrances have been on the rise,” says Horwitz, “and, while gourmand does not have to be sweet, for many consumers it translates into a scent that is pretty, sweet, and edible.” This movement likely explains the growing popularity of other edible notes too, says Horwitz, including caramel, bourbon, and nuts (see: D.S. & Durga’s wildly-popular Pistachio Eau de Parfum and Sol de Janerio’s best-selling Brazilian Crush mists).
In addition to evoking nostalgia, vanilla may also be resonating in this moment because of its wide appeal—and, in a world that’s becoming increasingly polarized, it’s one thing most of us agree on: Vanilla smells good.
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