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.)
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.
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.
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.
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 Lutens‘ Un 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.
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!
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.]
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.