Profumum Roma Vanitas: Foghorn Vanilla

Source: Profumum website.

Source: Profumum website.

Death by vanilla. Or, in my case, death after a diabetic coma from sugar overload. Vanitas by Profumum Roma is a fragrance that should come with an advisory label that warns: “For hardcore gourmands and sugar fiends only!” For everyone else, I would advise serious caution. If you’re like me, you should avoid it entirely.

Vanitas is a concentrated eau de parfum that was released in 2008. The notes provided by Profumum on its website are:

Vanilla, Myrrh, Orange flowers, Sandalwood.

Vanitas opens on my skin with burnt sugar vanilla, times a hundred. To be precise, it’s a caramelized vanilla with burnt brown sugar, burnt candy floss vanilla, and a strong dash of orange syrup. Thanks to the myrrh, there are hints of something that is both dark and a tiny bit musty lurking at the edges, but it is a very small undertone that is completely overwhelmed by the burnt sugar. (Please be prepared for the word “sugar” to be used ad nauseam in this review.)

Caramelized oranges. Source: iVillage.com

Caramelized oranges. Source: iVillage.com

The sweetness is extreme. Not even the minuscule pop of quasi-freshness provided by the bright orange syrup can counter the floodgate of dripping, burnt, caramelized, vanilla sugar. Making matters worse, there are also definite plastic qualities to all three of the main components of Vanitas’ opening bouquet: the vanilla, the sugar, and the orange.

Vanitas differs from some of its siblings in the Profumum line. It is a rich scent with powerful projection at first, but it lacks the opaque, chewy density and heft of something like Ambra Aurea. It also differs quite a bit from Vanitas’ fellow vanilla fragrance in the line, Dulcis in Fundo. In my opinion, the latter is less sweet but, also, significantly better balanced in comparison. In addition, Dulcis in Fundo has a waffle-cone undertone that isn’t present here; its orange note is brief but feels genuinely fresh and bright, as opposed to syrupy; and its vanilla creme brulée never feels drenched in candy floss sugar or blackstrap molasses.

Source: bustle.com

Source: bustle.com

In a lot of ways, Vanitas may actually be closer to Profumum’s almond candy floss scent, Confetto. It has the same sort of airy weight but massive potency, not to mention the same candy floss character to its vanilla. Yet, Vanitas skews darker in both visuals and feel. For one thing, its sugar is more like black molasses sugarcane and badly burnt, unlike Confetto’s white variety. For another, the myrrh works indirectly from the sidelines to turn the candy cane floss more into creme brulée vanilla. As a whole, Vanitas has a subtle tinge of darkness that Confetto lacks, and the most important thing is that its sugariness makes Confetto feel like child’s play in comparison.

Burnt caramel via In the Kitchen blog: http://homeschoolinginthekitchen.blogspot.com/2010/03/bad-chemistry.html

Burnt caramel via In the Kitchen blog. (Website link embedded within.)

I find the myrrh to be almost an inconsequential note on my skin. It doesn’t have the usual incense vibe, there is no anisic undertone, and no “High Church” cold incense or mustiness. I suppose I should count myself lucky, as some Luckyscent commentators thought the perfume had a “medicinal” or “musty” quality. It isn’t that way on my skin at all, but there is something dark about the vanilla in the first few hour that is extremely unpleasant. In my case, it is the almost acrid quality to the burnt sugar. Have you ever tried to caramelize something, burnt it, and had the blackened sugar give off sharp fumes? That is what happens on my skin, complete with a burnt plastic undertone.

My God, the fragrance positively tortures me. Its burnt, sugary extremeness is utterly unbearable. I’ve tried to come to terms with Vanitas about 4 times, and each and every time, the perfume makes me want to curl up in a foetal position and scream. In all my tests, at the end of the first hour, I can feel the back of my throat thickly coated with a grainy paste of burnt sugar, burnt vanilla, and gooey orange syrup.

Source: chefmom.sheknows.com

Source: chefmom.sheknows.com

In fairness, my skin amplifies sweetness, and I do not tolerate hardcore gourmands well. Yet, my main problem with Vanitas is that it is both a foghorn and ridiculously unbalanced. Its monolithic singularity takes sweetness to a painfully concentrated level with no alleviating counterbalance. There are no really profound contrasting nuances or layers, either. Just a burnt sugar, molasses bulldozer that rams you over and over (and over again), until you lie prostrate pleading for death. I do admit that Vanitas does get slightly smoother, richer, and calmer by the end of the third hour, but I think it is only a relative matter and a question of (microscopic) degrees.

I have never once managed to endure a full wearing of Vanitas. I cannot emphasize enough how the perfume physically coats the back of my throat with its acrid sweetness, so five hours has been my maximum. After that I point, I’ve crawled to the bathroom in abject surrender to scrub it off. Part of the problem is that Vanitas never improves in all those hours on my skin. Most Profumum fragrances are soliflores that highlight one single element, so they rarely have twists and turns — and I don’t expect them to. I always say that there is nothing wrong with linearity if you adore the note(s) in question passionately, but Vanitas shrieks linear sugar without any of the key balance demonstrated by so many of its siblings in the line. And, every time I’ve worn it, five hours was enough to make me die a little inside. Given that some Profumum scents can last well over 15 hours on my perfume-consuming skin, the thought of enduring Vanitas for the full time made me turn pale with horror.

The response to Vanitas on most sites is extremely positive. I’d even venture to describe the majority consensus as adoring raves. Yet, I am not the only one who has struggled with the scent. On Luckyscent and elsewhere, there are a handful of detractors in the sea of love for Vanitas, and they often point to its cotton candy sweetness as the problem. Again, these are minority opinions, but they do exist. For the most part, however, people just gush and gush, saying how much better Vanitas is than such notable vanilla fragrances as Indult‘s Tihota, Serge LutensUn Bois Vanille, or Farmacia SS. Annunziata‘s Vaniglia del Madagascar. I have tested the latter and I think it is a far, far better fragrance than Vanitas with some important differences, especially in terms of balance.

Source: wallpaperscraft.com

Source: wallpaperscraft.com

For fairness sake, here are a sampling of opinions on Luckyscent to give you a counterbalance to my own views, with only one negative review tossed in:

  • This is a far superior version of Serge Lutens’ Un Bois Vanille but without the jarring coconut and burnt sugar notes. The vanilla and woods are better balanced here, making this the best creamy vanilla I’ve ever smelt. Longevity is excellent too. Yummy!
  • yuck!!! I had really high hopes for this perfume but they came crashing down once I tried this on. As the review says, the top notes hint towards a medicinal odor and for me that medicinal feel never leaves but gets blended with a vanilla which really doesn’t work. I don’t even know what else to say, it’s a total scrubber for me.
  • Profumum Vanitas is gorgeous! If you are a vanilla fan, then this is a must try! To my nose, it smells very similar to Farmacia SS. Annunziata dal 1561 Vaniglia del Madagascar, but with a “kick” – I think it’s the myrrh. Yes, it’s a sweet vanilla, but the myrrh gives it a cool and crisp aspect, which keeps it from becoming sickly sweet. The sillage is strong, but it’s not in-your-face; rather, it’s quiet (but not as quiet as Farmacia’s VdM) and slowly tiptoes out into the spotlight every so often. The lasting power is phenomenal and I only have to apply once in the morning and it’ll last all day. I have never smelled a “chilly” vanilla, but I must say, I love it! I will definitely purchase a full bottle once my wallet recovers from my recent full bottle purchase of Indult’s Tihota!
  • I have been smelling every vanilla I could for the last 10 years looking for the “one”. Well, here it is. I feel like this smells like a beautiful pale blonde wearing head to toe black. It’s sweet but a tad lethal. I have never recieved more compliments from a fragrance. People beg for it’s name. I give it but then they find out how expensive it is, but it’s also 100ml. It’s a big bottle but sadly in 3 months I’ve used 3/4ths of it. But I will be buying a replacement which I hardly ever do of any one fragrance. It is truly a work of art […]
  • a more interesting and long lasting tihota at the same price but 3x+ the size. would highly recommend as tihota was a long time favorite but this just wins!
  • Source: colourbox.com

    Source: colourbox.com

    This, on me, is delicious, rebellious vanilla. It actually makes me think of Havana Vanille, and I was surprised that no alcooholic notes were listed here. I would also love to smell this on a man. I generally feel like wearing this when I’m feeling very sexy, relaxed, empowered and kind of secretly mischievious. (A bit like Havana Vanille but where HV is slowly, lazily sipping a syrupous exquisite golden drink, on a deck, in the summer, with the sunset warming your neck and chest, Vanitas is an isolated simple cabin in the woods in the fall with your lover, feeling the luxurious white fur throws on the sofas on your naked bum, the rough wind coming in and not giving a damn, and strangely enough, at the same time, evokes cuddling near a cracking fire with polar throws, for me.) Very evocative perfume, simple notes that smell like something instead of smelling like “perfume”. [Emphasis to names added by me.]

Pink candy floss or cotton candy. Source: Favim.com.

Pink candy floss or cotton candy. Source: Favim.com.

It is the same story on Fragrantica where people write orgasmic paeans to Vanitas, use words like “masterpiece” or “holy grail,” and talk with awe about how the perfume’s sillage is a “nuclear bomb.” A few people find similarities to Pink Sugar (which should tell you something) and some prefer Montale‘s Vanille Absolue, but negative reviews are generally few and far between. A rare criticism comes from “Tiffingirl,” and talks specifically about the problematic nature of the vanilla:

A hefty does of cotton candy (more ethylmaltol than vanillin) in this. I was expecting something more nuanced and layered, not a smack in the face with a candy bar! I do not detect amber or orange flower. Considering the hefty price tag, you’re better off with Montale Vanille Absolu which (though not cheap) is better value than this or el cheapo Molinard Vanille – both smell very similar although perhaps not quite as potent. It also shares some similarity with Pink Sugar (another ethylmaltol fest) without the annoying hairspray, licorice notes.

Bottom line: if you want a sickly sweet, potent vanilla then this does the trick. But you can get your sugar fix far more cheaply elsewhere.

It’s true, Profumum scents aren’t cheap at $240 a bottle, but they are also 100 ml of something that is really an extrait in concentration. Plus, they tend to last for ages, though their sillage is usually moderate after the nuclear blast of their first few hours. So, in light of all the factors, it may be worth it and a good value if you really love the scent in question passionately. There are certainly few brands on the market that consistently put out such concentrated, rich fragrances as Profumum.

In short, if you adore intensely sweet, extremely sugared vanillas with a touch of darkness and some orange syrup, give Vanitas a sniff. But, if you don’t mind, I’ll stay very far away from you when you wear it.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Vanitas is an Eau de Parfum with Extrait concentration that only comes in a large 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle, and costs $240 or €179. There are also accompanying body and shower products as well. Profumum‘s website doesn’t have an e-shop from which you can buy their fragrances directly. In the U.S.: Vanitas is available from Luckyscent, along with a sample. OsswaldNYC sells both Vanitas perfume, and all the accompanying body products as well. Outside the U.S.: In the U.K., Profumum is sold at Roja Dove’s Haute Parfumerie in Harrods. Elsewhere, you can generally find the Profumum line at Paris’ Printemps store, Premiere Avenue in France (which ships world-wide), France’s Soleil d’Or, the Netherlands’ Celeste, Hungary’s Neroli, Switzerland’s Osswald, and Russia’s Lenoma boutiques. Taizo in Cannes also carries Profumum and says they ship worldwide, but I don’t see an e-store. Some European vendors, especially in Italy, carry Profumum’s new 20 ml “stylos” or decants, but they’re not widely available. In general, Profumum’s website says that their fragrances are carried in a large number of small stores from Poland to Copenhagen, other parts of France, the rest of Europe, and, of course, Italy. You can use their Store Locator Guide located at the left of the page in that link. Samples: I obtained my sample from Surrender to Chance which sells Vanitas starting at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. You can also order vials from Luckyscent or Osswald. The latter has a nice sample program for U.S. customers along with free shipping, though there is a 3-item minimum.

36 thoughts on “Profumum Roma Vanitas: Foghorn Vanilla

  1. Darling K,
    I shall pass and I shall run for my life. Just reading about this perfume made me sick. Burnt sugar is probably the worst smell in perfumery for me. I dare to say I prefer a full on orange peel scent than the stomach turning scent of intense caramel. Yet another no no vanilla for me.
    xxxxxxxxxx

    • Knowing your tastes, I am almost certain that Vanitas would kill you. Kill you dead. You have even less tolerance for sugary sweetness than I do, I think.

  2. I absolutely adore Vanitas… I am a vanilla and gourmand fiend of the first order and I have bought not one but two bottles of Vanitas. I also love Dulcis in Fundo. Hope this does not lower your opinion of me too much! LOL! 🙂

    • HA, not at all! 🙂 We are all different and have different baselines for “sweetness,” as well as different categories we love passionately. You and I share a love for dark orientals, leathers, ambers, smokiness, and feel the same way about soapiness, but we’re not clones. It’s okay if we part ways on vanilla, gourmands, or roses. LOL. I’ll still think you wonderful. 🙂

      That said, I did enjoy Dulcis in Fundo, and it is a scent I would wear myself on occasion if a bottle ever fell into my lap.

  3. Lol! I’m so sorry for your experience hun…. I’ve realised there’s definitely batch variations with regards to Profumum juices. When I first bought my Vanitas I was dissapointed as it was a rather harsh unbalanced vanilla and was different in construction and colour to the one I originally sampled in Roja Dove’s Urban Retreat boutique, thus had to sell it on. The one in the boutique was almost luminous yellow amber liquid. ..the one I had was pale and very light green in colour. The boutiques one I felt the soapiness of the orange blossom interplaying with the dark but slight mustiness of the myrrh with all the rough edges of the myrhh and vanilla smoothened lightly with sandalwood. Anyway since selling it on I purchased another bottle and this one seems wonderful. ….especially for layering when wearing rose based fragrances. …seems to really work synergistically.

    • Interesting. I’ve heard of reformulation issues with some Profumum scents (like Santalum, for example), but nothing about batch variations. It sounds like my Vanitas experience was closer to the version in your first bottle, as the vanilla was definitely “harsh” and “unbalanced”. I’m glad you finally found a batch that worked well for you. 🙂

  4. I got three cavities from just one spray!!!!! Seared my nose like ice picks in flesh. This is what I imagine it would smell like if you were able to live through a nuclear blast. It is Unusable, even as a room spay. Thank goodness I only bought a decant.

    • HILARIOUS!!! All of it. 😀 I grinned at the “Unusable, even as a room spray” conclusion almost as much as I laughed at the ice picks and nuclear blast. Thanks for laughs, my dear.

  5. Thank you, thank you, thank you – for saving me. I won’t even touch it !
    I have toothache only from reading the review. I can’t do sweet.

    • By your standards or tastes, the reality of Vanitas is on a whole other galactic level than mere “sweet.” Very wise choice to stay far away from it! 🙂

    • God only knows what your skin would do to this one, James. Whatever you encountered with Un Bois Vanille, this one would be infinitely worse. Infinitely!

  6. Yikes, it sounds like a nuclear sugar bomb. Dulcis in Fundo remains the Profumum vanilla I want most to try. I loathe sugar overload about as much as I love grownup vanillas. Thanks as always, Kafka, for helping me winnow what would otherwise be an overwhelming number of vanillas.

    • You’re very welcome, my dear. There are a gazillion vanillas on the market, aren’t there? And so many of them are all about sugar and pink icing!

  7. Oh, sounds like a little horror trip, how did you scrub it off? I usually use make-up-remover but there are some fragrances which are resistant…
    Now, I am very much looking forward to your take on Vanigilia del Madagascar since I really appreciate the vanilla-inscence combination.

    • Oh God, trying to get this one off my skin was even worse than what scrubbers are usually like! It clung like GLUE, but isn’t that always the case? Ugh. For fragrances like this, the usual methods rarely are enough, in my experience. What I usually do is to cover my arm with a good layer of HE/High Energy Concentrated Detergent, the extra-strong kind, and then rub really hard. I leave it on for a few minutes too. Sometimes, it takes 2 tries, but the concentrate laundry liquid usually does the trick.

      In this case, let’s just say double the measures were required, and it almost took me 30 minutes in my very last test. Vanitas seemed determine to terrorize me to the very last moment. I’m cringing merely thinking about it. LOL.

  8. I think fragrances like Vanitas exist for people who want Pink Sugar, but also want to be showy and spend $240. Profumum Roma’s Acqua e Zucchero: I think that one is aimed at the same market too.

    • I don’t have a sample of Acqua e Zucchero, but I am quite determined now to delay ever getting one. LOL. There is another Profumum scent that I really disliked too, but I haven’t reviewed it yet. Mostly, because I dread ever giving it another test. And it is most definitely aimed at the same market. *shiver*

      • Whatever you do, avoid Volo AZ 686… pure urinal cake. I’m not sure what they were going for with that one but it was ghastly.

        • The comments that I consistently hear about Volo AZ 686…. OMG! Jet fuel, diesel, plastic, burnt plastic, and so much worse. “Pure urinal cakes” is up there with some of the horrified descriptions. LOL.

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  10. Even if I liked gourmands, burnt sugar is such an off-putting smell, especially in perfumery (I do like Crème Brulee, though, but I think a good version won’t quite burn the sugar in the same way I’m thinking). I think it’s because I associate burnt sugar with the taste of truly burnt sugar, which is more or less than worst thing in the world. *shudder*

    Uh, at least it’s potent? That’s nice. LOL

    • A friend of mine who actually loves another creme brulée scent told me that she thinks Vanitas is the absolutely vilest thing ever, and said she had a nightmare about it the night after reading my review. There is nicely caramelized vanilla brulée, and then there is… this scent. I think you’d hate it passionately, given how you have no liking for gourmands in even a small way. lol

  11. You will get a good laugh when I tell you that I wore this to work yesterday and one of my clueless coworkers asked me if she was smelling an air freshener. 🙂 LOL

    • Air freshener??! There are a lot of things one can say about how Vanitas smells, but “air freshener” wouldn’t even be in my top 10. That’s hilarious that she thought that.

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