Mona di Orio Violette Fumée (Les Nombres d’Or)

Source: Fragrantica

Source: Fragrantica

Violette Fumée is a fresh, citric floral musk from Mona di Orio that was posthumously released in 2013 as part of her Nombres d’Or Collection. Madame di Orio was a very talented perfumer who died tragically at the age of 41 in 2011 from post-surgical complications, and Violette Fumée was her last creation. It was originally made as a personal, private gift to her business partner and the company’s co-founder, Jeroen Oude Sogtoen, based on his favorite notes. He decided to release the scent publicly in 2013 as an homage to her.

Source: Luckyscent

Source: Luckyscent

Violette Fumée is described as an “eau de parfum intense” on the Mona di Orio website, and also as an “Oriental Balsamic Floral.” The official description for the fragrance is interesting, as it discusses some elements that are not actually included in the accompanying note list:

With the creation of Violette Fumée, Mona composed the melody of my favorite passions, memories and materials.

With flirty florals like violet and rose fumed with pipe tobacco, the exquisite smoothness of cashmere and suede, and deep resinous undertones, this warmly smoldering scent evokes my sensorial love for luxury, and makes me feel, dream, travel and remember.

Revved at the start, crisp, fresh notes of herbal lavender and sparkling bergamot pair with inky oakmoss and get a twist as the scent unfolds into the elegance of vetiver and clary sage.

VioletsThe shy violet and iconic rose develop into a powdery and gourmand fume and then ramp up as spicy and savory notes of aphrodisiac saffron and smoky bois de gaiac communicate with the florals and begin to ignite.

The smoldering continues as resinous opoponax, myrrh, and musky cashmeran dive slowly into an intense velvety embrace.

Top notes: Mediterranean Lavender, Bergamot from Calabria, Oakmoss from the Balkans
Heart notes: Violet flowers and leaves from Egypt, Turkish Rose, Vetiver from Haiti, Clary Sage
Base notes: Opoponax and Myrrh from Somalia, Cashmeran.

As you can see from the description, saffron, tobacco, and guaiac wood are mentioned, but they do not appear on the actual list of notes. I detected small, minute traces of the last two notes, but not the saffron.



Violette Fumée opens on my skin as a very cool citrus, aromatic, and floral bouquet. There is crisp, chilled bergamot and pungent, herbal lavender, followed by dewy, metallic violets, its crunchy green leaves, and tendrils of light, sheer smoke. The violets smell slightly dewy and liquidy, but primarily carry the aroma of its crunchy, fuzzy, peppered leaves. There is a metallic sharpness that violets can sometimes demonstrate, but the note is also accentuated here by clean, synthetic, white musk. Touches of clary sage waft about, emitting a slight soapiness amidst the plant’s lavender and leathery undertones. Vetiver trails behind it, smelling both green and mineralized.

Oakmoss or tree moss.

Oakmoss or tree moss.

A few minutes later, another green note arrives on the scene: oakmoss. Like the vetiver, it initially has a mineralized aspect and doesn’t smell plushly green. Yet, it is not completely the grey, fusty, dusty, more pungent version, either. It lies somewhere in-between, supplemented by the bergamot to prevent the mosses from feeling too austere. As a whole, Violette Fumée is a visual palette of green, yellow and purple, with small streaks of black. It is initially a very cool fragrance in temperature as well, thanks largely to the chilliness of the crisp bergamot and the violet’s floral liquidity.

The black smoke that ties the aromatic, citric and floral elements together is very muted on my skin. It is a subtle touch which I wish were far stronger. Interestingly, the first time I wore Violette Fumée, the smokiness was much more apparent than on my two subsequent tests and I have to wonder if temperature was responsible as it was far cooler that first time around. Yet, even so, if I were to quantify the smoke on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest, it was a 3 in my first test and perhaps a 1.5 at best on subsequent occasions. In short, rather minor as a whole. Even more minor is the tobacco undertone that I detected in one test, but which never subsequently reappeared.

Violet Leaf via

Violet Leaf via

Violette Fumée slowly shifts, though by very fractional degrees. After 10 minutes, the fragrance feels softer and warmer. The bergamot’s zesty briskness turns sweeter, while the lavender and clary sage lose some of their sharp, herbal pungency. The violets grow stronger, their scent feeling more floral now than just the crunchy, piquant green leaves. Their dewiness and metallic edge fade away, though the clean musk remains. In fact, the latter’s synthetic sharpness is consistently intertwined with the bergamot note, resulting in a clean lemoniness that I think has a very harsh edge. It continues largely unabated until the very end of Violette Fumée’s development on my skin, and it is the thing that I like the least about the perfume.



Violette Fumée begins to turn abstract and wispy 45 minutes into its development. There are fluctuating levels of greenness, but the smokiness has faded away, along with the lavender and clary sage. The oakmoss feels almost nebulous, more like an abstract suggestion than anything clearly delineated. In fact, many of Violette Fumée’s notes lose their distinct shape, except for violet and the lemony musk, and the perfume feels very sheer.

What appears instead is a generalized, rather amorphous woodiness. Neither the guaiac nor the cashmeran are detectable in any individual way, but they blend in with the other notes to create a sort of nebulous, “woody musk” cocoon in which the violets are nestled. The cashmeran is noticeable mostly through the growing touch of creaminess in Violette Fumée’s base, almost like shea. By the 90-minute mark, the perfume is primarily a fresh, violet floral scent with strong bergamot musk and a touch of sweetness, all resting upon a thin base of creamy woods. A hint of vetiver lingers in the background, but there is no smokiness, very little sense of oakmoss, and only a suggestion of crisp greenness. The perfume now lies just an inch, at best, above my skin.

As a whole, Violette Fumée is a very airy, lightweight fragrance with soft, quiet sillage. Three smears amounting to 2 small spritzes from an actual bottle gave me 2 inches in projection. Applying a larger quantity did not significantly change that number. By the end of the second hour, the perfume is a skin scent on me and feels very thin.

Artist unknown. Source: pinterest via eBay.

Artist unknown. Source: pinterest via eBay.

At the start of the 3rd hour, Violette Fumée is a fresh, light, largely abstract floral with a vague suggestion of violets, followed by sharp, synthetic, lemony musk, all atop a base of generic woodiness with creaminess. As a whole, the perfume feels very clean and has something of a soapy nuance, thanks to the fabric softener musk. The impression of greenness has completely disappeared, but a slight powderiness has taken its place.

Violette Fumée remains largely unchanged for hours to come. The rose makes a quiet appearance at the end of the 6th hour, but it feels thin, pink, and very wan. The general bouquet is now primarily an abstract “floral” accord dominated by citric cleanness and a touch of vague woodiness. Even the creaminess in the base feels more muted and thin. In its final moments, Violette Fumée is a blur of something floral and clean. All in all, the perfume consistently lasted between 10 and 11 hours, largely because my skin holds onto clean musk synthetics like the devil.

Photo: My own.

Photo: My own.

Violette Fumée has generally received very good reviews, both from bloggers and on Fragrantica. The Non-Blonde writes, in part:

Violette Fumée is a gender-bending fragrance. Smoke and flowers, delicate tendrils and petals against musky creamy wood. Pipe tobacco that has an almost fruity core, a rich texture with a modern sensibility. I wanted to describe the dry-down as a purple cloak, but that’s a bit over the top, while Mona di Orio created Violette Fumée as a wearable and sophisticated personal fragrance for a man with an impeccable urbane taste.

The musky dry-down is of the slightly fruity kind, round, rich and satisfying. It still has those purple fumes surrounding it, and I feel an urge to lose myself in this mist. Despite all of that and the high concentration of the juice, Violette Fumée is not a heavy perfume. Applied moderately, it’s somewhere between a skin scent and a fashion accessory that you notice but doesn’t steal the show from your words.

"Green-purpel Fractal by Aqualoop31." Source:

“Green-purpel Fractal by Aqualoop31.” Source:

For The Scented Hound, Violette Fumée was also a lovely experience, one which reminded him of a “page from a 19th century botanical illustrative leather bound book.” He writes, in part:

Violette Fumee opens with the most beautiful lavender and bergamot combination; it’s herbal and refreshing in a creamy comforting way.  After a few minutes, the fragrance starts to warm and become deeper as a beefy oakmoss emerges from the bottom that envelopes and seems to fold over the lavender.  After about 10 minutes or so, the violet seems to make an appearance from the edge of the fragrance. I know this is going to sound strange, but it’s appearance is like prairie dogs popping their head out of the ground.  What I mean is that the violet doesn’t come out at once, but seems to pop in and out until eventually you feel like you are surrounded by violets tinged with rose.  Violette Fumee at this point still retains its creaminess but it becomes slightly brighter without becoming sheer.  What I love about this is that the herbal aspects of the fragrance keep this from becoming too floral and pretty which allow Violette Fumee to retain a substantive elegance.  After some time, the myrrh and opoponax emerge from below and a slight suede provides for a beautiful finish to this multi-faceted fragrance.



On Fragrantica, most people seem to adore Violette Fumée, with some comparing it to Chanel‘s No. 19 and Cristalle. For example, “kxnaiades” writes, in part:

Violette Fumee is like no other violet scent I’ve come across. I thought Lez Nez’s Unicorn Spell and CDG Stephen Jones were different and unique takes on violet. Mona di Orio’s Violet Fumee pretty much blazes past these and leaves them in her smoke, in terms of originality. This really has to be sat down with and taken time with to enjoy, it’s complex and does not reveal it’s entirety in the first half hour. I agree that it’s opening reminds me alot of Cristalle and the like. Cristalle opens cold and unreachable on me, just like Violette Fumee did. I know perfectly well what clary sage smells like now, the leathery note was clearly in the icy herbal opening. However, making friends does take time and I was patient. My faith was well-placed and with time, the chill air left and I was greeted with a fresh violet with its leaves still green and perky, resins and woods. I much much prefer the warmer drydown to the opening so thankfully this lasts very well on my skin with a single spritz. This is not an easy scent to like, but neither were Cristalle or No. 19 for me intially, but now is a different story from then. Violette Fumee is not for those looking for a sweet violet pastille scent. It’s a decidedly unisex take on violet with a bold entrance and uncompromising quality I’ve come to expect from Mona di Orio. This is no shrinking violet.



For “Mick Trick,” Violet Fumée didn’t remind him of any Chanels but he also really liked the scent, though he does note that the “fumee” aspect was barely noticeable on his skin. He writes, in part:

Violette Fumee opens with a fresh sparkly triumvirate of green violet leaf, a splash of golden effervescent honeyed bergamot and subtle herbal lavender. Towards the heart the violet flower builds, an ultra-fine polished smooth powderiness is present but checked and never overwhelms, as opoponax adds resinous sweetness and a creaminess to the violet, forming the languorous sinuous and slightly shimmering heart of the fragrance. There’s also a very subtle tobacco note appearing at the beginning of the drydown, although I noticed this only on the second full wearing. At late drydown the violet flower recedes and watery violet leaf endures with a soft suede musky aspect (must be the cashmeran).

As others have noted the ‘fumee’ aspect is noticeable by its absence. Although I experienced a couple of phantom smokey tendrils that are gone as soon as I noticed then. It lays close and after around 4 hours is really a skin scent, however I experienced +12 hours longevity, on fabric it’s also +next day material. Not bad at all. There is a sweetness to VF, but it always retains a freshness and never threatens to become cloying. I’ve worn it now three times in the last four days, it’s got a subtle luxurious allure that keeps me coming back for more, I like it very much.

There are only two negative reviews for the fragrance:

  • Awful, smoky and cheap, totally synth. [¶] Crazy price, sillage bad, longevity bad. [¶] Thumbs down.
  • The drydown smells on me like Earl Grey tea leaves.

Violet Fumée is not cheap at $330 or €230, though the bottle is a 100 ml. I don’t think it feels like an eau de parfum at all, something that one Fragrantica commentator also mentioned. For me, the perfume is very over-priced for what it is, and I don’t find its quality to be impressive. The bergamot musk dominated much of the drydown on my skin, which is perhaps why that last quote from Fragrantica mentions “Earl Grey tea leaves,” but it is the sharpness of the synthetic that I found to be particularly objectionable. For $330, I’d like a lot more than citric fabric softener emanating from my skin — and a sheer, wispy, thin, largely abstract floral-woody-musk isn’t it.

In all fairness, I despise clean, white musk — in anything — and other people don’t have the same issues with the note. They also are not so sensitive to synthetics which my skin amplifies quite a bit. Plus, as I’ve tried to make clear, I’m in a distinct, tiny minority regarding this scent. Everyone else seems to be a fan. So, if you love violet fragrances and clean, fresh florals as a whole, then you may want to give Violette Fumée a sniff.

Cost, Sizes, Sets & Availability: Violette Fumée is an eau de parfum, and is available in two different options or sizes. The full bottle is 3.4 oz/100 ml and costs $330, €230, or £195. It is available world-wide on the Mona di Orio website which also sells a 5 ml roll-on bottle for €20. However, Violette Fumée is not one of the fragrances included in the usual MdO Travel set of 3 minis or in the Nombres d’Or Discovery Set of 8 x 5ml bottles. In the U.S.: Violette Fumée is sold at Luckyscent, Parfum1, and MinNewYork. All three places sell samples. Outside the U.S: In the UK, you can find Violette Fumée at Les Senteurs which sells it for £195, and also offers a sample vial for sale. Mona di Orio’s full line can also be found at Roullier White. In Europe, Violette Fumée is sold at Premiere Avenue, Jovoy, and First in Fragrance. The Mona di Orio line is also sold at Essenza Nobile. In Paris, Mona di Orio is sold at Marie Antoinette, and you can email Antonio to purchase. In the Netherlands, the line is offered at ParfuMaria and Skin Cosmetics. In the United Arab Emirates, Mona di Orio is sold at Harvey Nichols. In Australia, Melbourne’s Peony Haute Parfumerie carries the brand. For all other countries from Russia to Spain, you can use the Store Locator guide on the company website. Samples: Samples are available at Surrender to Chance starting at $4.50 for a 1/2 ml vial, at Luckyscent, Parfum1, and many of the European retailers linked to above.

Perfume Review: Mona di Orio Eau Absolue (Les Nombres d’Or)

A lazy day in the sun. The summer’s heat brings out the spiciness of the sugar cane and Jamaican bay trees in the distance. Oranges and lemons hang heavy from the trees in a grove nearby. As the heat warms your body even further, you stretch out on your chaise lounge by the pool and reach for a refreshing glass of lemonade. And then you slather sweet, citrus-infused honey on yourself as if it were suntan lotion.

Images of sun, heat, honey and citrus are what come to mind when I wear Eau Absolue, the latest release from Mona di Orio and part of her Nombres d’Or Collection. Mona di Orio was an extremely talented perfumer who died tragically at the age of 41 in 2011 from post-surgical complications. Yet, the new Eau Absolue is her creation, based on a formula made by Ms. Orio before her death as an ode to the Mediterranean. According to an article on Now Smell This, Mona di Orio’s business partner and the company’s co-founder,Jeroen Oude Sogtoen, was determined to remain faithful to her formula, her vision, her style and her legacy, so her formula has not been altered in any way.

Mona di Orio Eau AbsoluePart of that Mona di Orio signature style is something called “Chiaroscuro.” It is a term which refers to the interplay between dark and light, and a way of creating depth or three-dimensionality by using sharp, bold contrasts. The chiaroscuro construction is very much at play in Eau Absolue which is described on the Mona di Orio website as a “Hesperide Woody Balsamic” with the following character:

Eau Absolue is a memoir steeped in Mona di Orio’s love for the Mediterranean. Composed in her signature olfactory chiaroscuro construction, the scent envelopes in joyous warmth.

Eau Absolue effervesces like a summer breeze carrying a zestful bouquet of bergamot, mandarin, clementine and Petitgrain. These bright, convivial citruses splash against the epicurean spice of pink peppercorn.

The scent becomes earthy and softly floral, with whispers of geranium, dry vetiver and balsamic St Thomas Bay Leaf. The nocturnal shade intensifies, arching ever deeper, until plunging directly into a caress of cistus labdanum, the ambry smell of the Mediterranean, and sensual musk, an elegant and intoxicating denouement.

Eau Absolue Notes:
Sicilian bergamot, clementine and Petitgrain Citronnier, Litsea Cubeba from China, Egyptian geranium, vetiver from Java & Haiti, Jamaican St. Thomas Bay Leaf, pink peppercorn from Peru, cedar wood from Virginia, musk, cistus labdanum.

A brief explanation of some of these notes may be useful. According to my research, Litsea Cubeba (or “May Chang”) oil comes from an evergreen tree or shrub native to China. It possesses a lemon-like odor that has sometimes been compared to lemongrass or lemon verbena, thought it is supposedly sweeter than lemongrass. As for Jamaican St. Thomas Bay Leaf (Pimenta racemosa), its aroma isn’t like that of the dried leaves used in cooking. Instead, it is said to have a spicy, balsam-like odor that is like a resin, though some say it’s also a little like cloves due to all the eugenol in the plant.

Orange and lemon via Herbal Teas InternationalFrom the very first sniff, Eau Absolue is a rich lemon-honey fragrance. The honey is not dark but sweet, imbued with delicate floral notes and strong dashes of that litsea cubeba. It really smells as described: like lemongrass but sweeter; like verbena but richer and without any soapiness. It’s heady and beautiful. There is also a subtle, sweet muskiness underlying the notes. Slowly, slowly, as if on tiptoes, there is: a hint of juicy, fresh mandarin orange; the spicy resin of the St. Thomas Bay leaf; a ghostly bit of petitgrain with its bitter, woody nuance; and the merest pinches of cedar.



And that generally is the sum-total of the entire fragrance for most of its lifespan on my skin. Eau Absolue fluctuates in the depth, degree or intensity of some of its notes, but the primary bouquet remains the same with absolutely no change or additions. Even out of those original notes, the main, dominant scent on my skin is a lovely lemon-infused honey with spicy resin, orange and a whisper of musk — the remaining notes merely circle around the back like shadows in the sunlight. Around the 40 minute mark, the honey turns richer, deeper, and darker, while also taking on a slightly sulfurous nuance, similar to that in Vero Profumo‘s Onda. I don’t mind it, but it can be a little sharp for a while.



Two hours into the perfume’s development, Eau Absolute softens, losing a bit of that edge, while simultaneously becoming even more resinous, spicy and balsamic as the St. Thomas bay leaf becomes much more prominent. Interestingly, there is also a sudden, but subtle, flicker of smokiness to the base which intensifies as times goes on. If Eau Absolue were a recipe, it would now be something like this: 2 cups of honey with 3 teaspoons of sun-sweetened lemon; 2 teaspoons of spicy resin; a teaspoon of warm, juicy orange; a teaspoon of dark smoke; and a dash of light, soft, sweet musk.


Caramelized sugar cane cubes. Source:

The perfume remains that way until the drydown starts at the top of the sixth hour when Eau Absolue turns into sweetened, spicy woodiness infused by smoky, caramelized honey and the merest hint of orange. The smoky nuance is fascinating because it’s almost like singed sugar cane, both the leaf and the sugar cubes itself. It’s beautifully warm, woody, dry, spicy, and molten — all at once. There is also an occasional note of melted wax, as if the honey had deepened to the point that it had turned into solid beeswax and then been melted. It’s not prominent and is just a subtext to the overall honey note, but it’s there. Another note that has deepened is the musk which has now taken on an ambery quality. It’s not animalic, raunchy or intimate at all on me, but feels more like the light muskiness from heated, sweetened skin. The whole combination is incredibly light and airy, though it is also a skin scent at this point.



The drydown begins at the sixth hour, but Eau Absolue is by no means finished. On my voracious, perfume-consuming skin, Eau Absolute lasted almost another 8 hours! Granted, I frequently thought it had vanished, only to be surprised by its tenaciousness as it chugged away subtly and silently as the most infinitesimal veil. In its final three hours, Eau Absolue turned into general, abstract, nebulous, sweet muskiness and nothing more. All in all, it lasted just short of 14 hours on me, even if was an amorphous, sheer skin scent for eight of those hours. The longevity was astounding, especially as I did not apply any more than my usual quantity. In terms of sillage, it was quite powerful at the start, radiating out a good 5-6 inches for the first hour before becoming a little bit softer. Even when the perfume was wafting only an inch or so above my arm, the notes were still potent and very strong within that small cloud.

I am a sucker for honey fragrances, so I absolutely adored Eau Absolue, but I must advise caution when it comes to this perfume. Honey is one of those notes which can turn rancid, intimately animalic, funky, or sour on one’s skin, depending on skin chemistry. And the same applies to labdanum which can often manifest itself with a honey characteristic. I’ve noticed that my skin not only amplifies labdanum, but also minimizes the barnyard aspect, one of its many possible nuances. While I’m lucky that both honey and labdanum bloom on me, that’s not the case with everyone. Take, for example, a friend of mine who is an experienced perfumista and whose skin chemistry normally works well even with a rich, musky, labdanum, slightly animalic perfume like Maison Francis Kurkdjian‘s stunning Absolue Pour Le Soir. She had an atrocious experience with Mona di Orio’s Eau Absolue. She gave me permission to quote her private description to me: Eau Absolue “was instant nose wrinkling, gasping, rotten, fermented body odor and stinky shoes.” Oh dear.

I think my skin chemistry’s interaction with labdanum explains why I found “honey” to be the primary essence of Eau Absolue on me, while other reviewers had quite a different experience. For example, it was all green, citric, soapy, animalic notes for Now Smell This whose review reads, in part:

Eau Absolue is citrusy, but because of the perfume’s weight and other notes it smells to me more like a green fragrance with bergamot, lemon, and orange rather than like a classic Eau de Cologne. On first sniff, Eau Absolue is thick with a mélange of tart citrus rind and smashed green stems. Bay leaf smoothes away any sharp edges, and an underpinning of cedar casts an almost horsey-animalic note deep in the perfume’s heart.

All in all, Eau Absolue feels clean and green-fresh, reminding me of an expensive bar of artisanal soap. Over time the citrus ebbs, and the fragrance becomes a tiny bit sweeter but remains green. Eventually it gracefully fades, growing quieter, but still true to the perfume’s overall story. Like the other Mona di Orio fragrances I’ve tried, it’s dense and warm, not an airy tingle of citrus like, say, Guerlain Eau de Cologne Impériale.

Lucas of Chemist in the Bottle also got lots of green notes, along with a very pulpy citrus opening (that he briefly found to be reminiscent of household cleaners), then petitgrain, big doses of geranium, light cedar, a slightly burnt and mineralized amber and, in the final drydown, a “sweaty feel” to the base. He was not a fan.

As always, my experience was closest to that of The Non-Blonde (we really must have extremely similar skin), though she doesn’t seem to have experienced heaps of honey:

Eau Absolue opens with a rather misleading burst of citrus. It’s bracing and lemony, dry and slightly bitter like a very grownup drink. This early summer morning is followed closely by unfolding layers of crisp aromatics, woods and spices that surround and protect a resinous-incense core. Cistus labdanum can turn quite dirty and musky. In Eau Absolue Mona di Orio kept the barnyard at a safe distance, though there is an animalic presence in the late dry-down. Somehow the fragrance manages not to get its white shirt soiled even though it steps dangerously close at times.

The juxtaposition of clean and dirty notes makes the dry-down of Eau Absolue very enchanting. It’s warm and slightly ambery, you can almost feel and smell crumbling soil that has soaked sunshine and clean air all day. Eau Absolue is almost bursting with life– it’s zesty, peppery, and just animalic enough to feel the heartbeat under the surface.

Sunshine and warmth, after the start of a cool citrus drink. It’s very much what Eau Absolue evoked in me, too. And that impression extended as well to a reviewer on Fragrantica who called Eau Absolue “breathtakingly beautiful” with a “warm and summery… Mediterranean vibe[.]” (The only other review currently up on Fragrantica simply says: “it is a cologne, yet rather animalic.”) 

My suggestion to you is to try Eau Absolue if you know your skin chemistry works well with animalic notes, honey and/or labdanum. I didn’t think the perfume was animalic at all (beyond general, light muskiness), and The Non-Blonde thought Eau Absolue kept “the barnyard at a safe distance,” but if your skin tends to amplify those notes and, more importantly, if you hate the result, then you may feel the distance is not far enough. As for me, I adored Eau Absolue’s beautiful honey-citrus essence and plan on getting a decant for myself — something I’m not frequently inspired to do. I don’t think I’ll want to smell of honey every day and I don’t know how versatile it is, but I find something incredibly soothing, comforting, cozy and relaxing about Eau Absolue. I swear, I think my blood pressure and stress level went down two notches while wearing it. I give it two thumbs up.

Cost, Sizes, Sets & Availability: Eau Absolue is an eau de parfum, and comes in a variety of different options and sizes. The full bottle is 3.4 oz/100 ml and costs $230, €160 or £135.00. It is available world-wide on the Mona di Orio website which also sells a 5 ml roll-on version for €12 or a Travel Set of 3 x 10ml bottles for €85. There is also a Nombres d’Or Discovery Set of 8 x 5ml bottles which is sold for €90 and, for the company’s website version at least, Eau Absolue is included. (Boxes from other vendors don’t seem to have been updated yet to include this brand new fragrance.) In the U.S.: you can find Eau Absolue at Luckyscent, Parfum1, and MinNewYork (which also offers free shipping within the US). All three places sell samples of the perfume. LuckyscentParfum1 sell the Discovery Set of 8 x 5ml roll-on bottles of the entire Nombres d’Or for $145, while MinNY discounts the set for $5 off, pricing it at $140. Luckyscent’s version of the box doesn’t currently include Eau Absolue since it is so new, so you may want to buy the set offered directly from Mona di Orio’s website if you’re interested in trying Eau Absolue as well. You can also purchase a bottle of Eau Absolue in the 100 ml size from Olfactif which has a perfume subscription service. Outside the U.S: In the UK, you can find Eau Absolue at Les Senteurs which sells it for £135.00 and which also carries a sample vial for sale. In Paris, I see Mona di Orio listed on the Marie Antoinette Paris website but can’t find prices or individual perfumes for the line. In the Netherlands, Eau Absolue is carried at Skin Cosmetics. For the rest of Europe, you can turn to Germany’s First in Fragrance which carries the perfume for €160.00, along with a sample for purchase. In the United Arab Emirates, the Mona di Orio line is sold at Harvey Nichols. In Australia, Eau Absolue is available at Melbourne’s Peony Haute Perfumerie for AUD $230. For all other countries from Russia to Spain, you can use the Store Locator guide on the company website. Samples: Samples are available at Surrender to Chance or The Perfumed Court (both of whom sells vials starting at $6.99 for a 1 ml), at Luckyscent, Parfum1, and many of the European retailers linked to above.

Perfume Review: Mona di Orio Ambre (Les Nombres d`Or Collection)

Vanilla Beans

Vanilla beans.

The chef’s kitchen was airy and sparkling white, almost dainty at times. So too was his mise en place: small crystal bowls filled with ylang-ylang, a silver tray covered with the finest Madagascar vanilla bean pods, and a large pile of cedar. He began with the vanilla pods, slicing them horizontally, scooping out the tender flesh inside and grinding it to a thick paste. He added some butter, a few yolks and gallons of cream, then whipped the whole thing into the airiest custard possible. Nay, actually, by the time he finished, it was more like a vanilla custard mousse, flecked with bits of the black bean pod.

Chef Tre Ghoshal via Flickr.

Chef Tre Ghoshal via Flickr.

The chef was a talented man who believed in invention and originality in his food, so he turned his attention to the ylang-ylang. It was a rich, buttery, heady flower that felt very yellow to him. So he ground it down into an emulsion filled with a few pinches of butter. He thought it would bring out the flower’s intrinsic nature. He took the emulsion, folded it into the vanilla mousse and then set about for the twist: he whipped in the lightest pinch of black pepper, and covered the whole thing with a veil of white, confectioner’s powder. With great care, he placed the bowl of powdered vanilla-ylang-ylang mousse over a smoker filled with cedar chips. As he set fire to the wood, its delicate smoke wafted up into the air. The chef added a glass dome over the contraption, trapping the smoke and letting its delicate tendrils seep into the powdered, floral, vanilla custard mousse. Phase One was complete.

Chef Michael Gillet of The Bazaar by José Andrés. Photo: Antoinette Bruno. Source:

Chef Michael Gillet of The Bazaar by José Andrés. Photo: Antoinette Bruno. Source:

Phase Two was almost a completely separate affair. About three hours after the frothy, airy smoked-infused mousse was finished, when all the powder had vanished, and only woody elements really remained, he waved his culinary magician’s hand over the creation and turned it to amber. He would never reveal his secret of how he made his dessert suddenly turn into something very different — far from the almost Guerlainade-like opening with its dainty vanillic powder and the unexpected cedar smoke atop that airy, custard mousse — but it was different.

Golden Champagne via PicStopinSuddenly, it was ambered, golden-bronze, dryer, smokier, spicier, and with a surprisingly unexpected undertone of nutty hazelnut. Or was it actually a light dusting of marron glacé? Whether it was glazed chestnuts or toasted hazelnuts, he would never tell, but everyone who tasted his ambered vanilla wondered. Their greatest surprise, however, was the complete disappearance of the powder, to be replaced by something that would have been boozy had it not been so gauzy and lightweight. It didn’t matter — they liked it. Even the critic who normally despised anything with a gourmand character liked it. Not enough perhaps to go out and actually buy it, but the critic would absolutely eat it again if it ever fell into his lap.

The chef’s tale is really the tale of Mona di Orio‘s Ambre, a surprising perfume that perhaps doesn’t warrant the name “Amber” for the full first half of its development but which I liked quite a bit. It is an extraordinarily easily, wearable perfume that traverses from being a slightly modern twist on Guerlainade — Guerlain’s signature of vanillic powder that is at the base of all their classic perfumes — to a completely different end of the spectrum. In a way, it’s almost as if Mona di Orio has upended the usual Guerlain pyramid that traditionally starts with one thing and ends with vanilla powder. This is the complete reverse. And, at all times, it’s light, airy, almost frothy and cheerful, with unexpected twists of cedary smoke, bits of pepper, and then, later, boozy amber whipped into gauzy air.

Mona di Orio AmbreAmbre was released in 2010 as part of Mona di Orio‘s Les Nombres d`Or Collection. It is an is an eau de parfum, though Luckyscent and Fragrantica both erroneously list it as an eau de toilette. The company categorizes it otherwise and, naturally, we’ll go with their designation. Mona di Orio’s website describes Ambre as follows:

As delightfully sensual as bias-cut silk, Ambre draws you in to its world with curls of smoky amber. Cedar draws you further into the mystery while vanilla adds a slightly sweet resinous kick that can’t help but delight. Ylang ylang adds a glaze of innocent soapiness to the Film-Noir aspects, but never completely obscures them; who would want to? Easily as at home, at a ball or an intimate evening out, Ambre manages to be both reminiscent of something from long ago yet as fresh as tomorrow, and always very, very French.

Its notes include:

Cedarwood from Atlas, Ylang Ylang from Comores, Benzoin, Tolu [amber resin], Absolu Vanilla from Madagascar.



The very first blast of Ambre on my skin is vanilla. Rich, concentrated, almost buttered, and very much like the paste that you scrape out of a black Madagascar vanilla pod. Immediately on its heels come the bucketfuls of the ylang-ylang. The flower’s similarly buttered, rich, almost banana-like nature feels almost velvety. When combined with the vanilla, result is the overwhelming impression of a thick vanilla custard — except this one feels so light, it might as well have been whipped into a mousse! The pairing of the two rich notes is prevented from being cloying or overly sweet by a heavy dose of cedar, adding a lovely, dry counterbalance to the perfume’s richness. It’s not peppery but, rather, more akin to tendrils of woody smoke. Amber is the last one on the scene, smelling like vanillic benzoin instead of anything thick, balsamic and molten like Tolu.

For my tastes, this is much more my sort of “vanilla” than Mona di Orio’s super-popular Vanille (also from Les Nombres d’Or collection) which I thought was painfully excessive in its buttered undertones and sweetness. Then again, I cannot abide gourmand perfumes as a general rule, and I rarely succumb to any vanilla fragrances to begin with. Perhaps the appeal of Ambre is that the vanilla is not meant to be the primary focus but, rather, second or third to the floral and woody notes; it falls much more in the oriental category than in any gourmand one. I know that when I think of Ambre, months from now, I will always think of it first and foremost as a vanilla perfume infused with florals and smoke, before having to remind myself about the amber.



I was musing on the issue of Ambre’s surprising appeal when, suddenly, less than three minutes in, I was hit by a huge wave of powder. It isn’t like makeup powder or talc but, instead, evokes a white veil of confectioner’s sugared powder suddenly blanketing my vanilla-ylang-ylang-smoke mousse. It takes over Ambre completely, dominating the top notes and leaving the ylang-ylang to peek up from underneath.

When the powder combines with the vanilla, the result calls to mind a riff on Guerlainade, the signature base for classic Guerlain perfumes. Here, it’s much tamer than in the old French classics, mostly due to the impact of the cedar. Though it seems completely non-existent in any individually distinctive way, the note’s effects are present in a certain dry, smoky woodiness at the base that alleviates that Guerlainade a little. Mona di Orio’s airiness is another difference which impacts the nature of the powder. In Guerlain perfumes, especially in its vintage beauties, the famous signature base can sometimes feel very heavy and plush. It’s also often marked by orris root which creates a makeup or lipstick impression. Here, however, the absence of the orris root — and the presence of the smoky wood in a perfume that is quite airy overall — shifts the Guerlainade-like note away from the full-on, traditional, makeup powder and to something much more modern. To me, it feels closer to confectioner’s powder with its sweetened nature, but I know others smelled only lipstick.

Less than fifteen minutes into Ambre’s development, it starts to shift a little, like a mousse that is starting to settle. Its sillage drops and the perfume softens. It feels incredibly floaty (to invent a word), hovering like gauze just an inch above the skin. The notes have blended into a perfect whole: powder-and-vanilla-custardy-mousse-with-florals-and-light-smoke. And it remains that way for quite a while, with only minor changes. Slowly, the vanilla feels less custardy and much lighter, while the powder element slowly starts to drop in prominence. The cedar with its light tinges of smoke begins to rise much more to the surface until, suddenly, three hours in, Ambre has completely changed. Now, it is smokier, dryer and with an unexpected booziness that definitely feels like the super-rich amber resin, Tolu Balsam. The powder has finally become less predominant, though it continues to mix and meld with the vanilla. In the background, subtle tinges of ylang-ylang adds some subtle, creamy, velvety richness.



For the most part, however, the impact of the powder and floral notes is minimal because Ambre has finally begun to match its name. Tolu Balsam is one of my favorite ambers because of its spicy nuance and its slightly smoky feel that, here, is further accentuated by the cedar. The wood, in turn, has shifted a little to reveal a tone that just almost, just barely, verges on peppered. And the whole thing sits atop a base of warm, cozy, rich vanilla infused by smoke. There are flickers of something interesting in that combination of Tolu and concentrated vanilla: nuttiness. There is definitely an undertone that calls to mind roasted hazelnuts with the smallest, faintest suggestion of marron glacé. The whole thing is extremely subtle, almost ghostly, especially given the strong vanilla note, but I found myself sniffing my arm in appreciation for its occasional flickers here and there. As a whole though, the perfume is primarily a vanillic-amber in nature.

I wish Ambre had remained that way for a while, but it didn’t. The lovely, spicy Tolu Balsam phase lasted just over two hours — and almost as a skin scent at that. Finally, about 5.5 hours in the perfume’s development, the drydown begins. It begins as a simple, vanillic, benzoin amber that has the smallest suggestion of woodiness and powder. It’s so sheer and light, you have to forcefully inhale at your arm to detect it. Finally, just short of the eighth hour, Ambre fades even more to become nothing more than a general, amorphous, woody-vanilla flicker.

Most people seem to classify Ambre as … well, an amber perfume. To me, and on my skin, it was primarily a vanilla. Not a gourmand vanilla, thank God, but definitely a vanilla. And I liked this “vanilla” significantly more than the perfumista favorite from Mona di Orio: Vanille. I truly couldn’t handle it, though I still recommend Vanille for those who enjoy sweet perfumes and want a non-traditional vanilla fragrance with a twist. My problem is that I cannot abide excessive sweetness. As a result, Vanille was too, too much, but — like Goldilock’s porridge — Ambre was the perfect balance with its floral, dry wood, and smoke notes. Taking the issue of relativity even further, as someone who worships potent, massively opaque, moltenly resinous Orientals, I find it well-nigh impossible to think of the perfume as an “Amber.” The strength of that vanilla absolute, even in the drydown phase, makes it the dominant note in my mind.

On that same scale, I have to rate Ambre as a very airy, gauzy fragrance. Others seem to agree, though the term a number of people use on Fragrantica and elsewhere is “silky” instead of “airy.” They also find the sillage to be, on average, very “moderate.” In terms of longevity, the largest amount of votes is for “moderate,” followed then by “long-lasting.”

The consensus seems to end there, however, as reviews for the perfume itself on Fragrantica are sharply split. One commentator, “Hélio Sérgio Rocha,” picked up on the two separate phases of the perfume, writing:

The opening is sweet, powdery and light. [¶] The Ylang Ylang gives a sweet floral aspect to this scent and i can feel some honey too.

Then this perfume gets smoky and silky itself. [¶] I do not see on it distinct phases on the ofactory pyramid, but I feel a combination of two different phases: a sweeter one; and darker another. […] 

Funny how this scent starts with a luminous amber and ends with an resinous aspect, so dark, mysterious and smoky. [¶]  

I felt i was wearing a silk made cloth as a second skin of mine …  [Paragraph and format alterations are my own, due to length.]

Many share his feelings, writing about how Ambre is an incredibly “cozy,” warm, “spiced,” amber fragrance that was “refined and elegant,” or “heaven in a bottle.” (The word “cozy” comes up repeatedly.)

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, however, are those who shudder at Ambre’s powder, finding it to be far too excessive and, as a result, a complete deal-breaker. One woman thought the opening smelled just like baby powder, though she really liked the spicy amber phase (where she, too, smelled a nut-like undertone). And a good portion of men found the perfume to be too feminine, with one writing that it was “not unisex at all in my mind.”

As noted above, I really didn’t find the powder note to be akin to makeup or lipstick, and on my skin, it was far from overwhelming. I don’t like a lot of powder, especially if it smells like makeup or, even worse, like baby powder, so I would tell you if I detected that on my skin. I didn’t. In fact, I actually liked the powder stage a little — perhaps because of the rich ylang-ylang-custard-vanilla-smoke combination underneath it. Plus, I truly believe that the dry, smoky cedar note (and the absence of orris root) prevents the perfume from being very much like lipstick. Nonetheless, I completely agree with much of the other comments about how the amber stage was more enjoyable in its cozy spiciness, and how Ambre leans quite feminine. I don’t think this is a perfume that anyone should purchase blindly.

While I myself would never buy Ambre, I would absolutely wear it if a bottle somehow fell into my lap. I’d wear it frequently, in fact, and for one simple reason: it’s an incredibly easy perfume. I can see this as fitting a wide variety of circumstances, but especially when you’re in a rush and want to spray something simple while you’re on your way out the door. Ambre is the furthest thing from revolutionary, complicated, or novel. It’s hardly a masterpiece, and isn’t even particularly interesting on some levels. But it’s one of those very practical, daily staple-like perfumes that could be a good workhorse scent for someone who would like a little cozy comfort, a little sweetness, and a good amount of vanilla (with light amber) and no gourmand tendencies. Unfortunately, I think a full bottle costs a damn sight too much at $230 for such a simple, staple scent. On the other hand, that price is for a large 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle, and there are much cheaper alternatives available in terms of travel sets and minis. Plus, as I always say, price is a very subjective, personal matter.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that Ambre is not a perfume that will drive people wild with enthusiasm and excitement. But we all need perfumes that are easy, breezy, simple basics; perfumes that you can just spray and go. If you can handle some powder (or, perhaps, a lot of powder?), then Ambre fits the bill nicely.

Cost, Sizes, Sets & Availability: Les Nombres d`Or Ambre is an eau de parfum, and comes in a variety of different options and sizes. The full bottle is 3.4 oz/100 ml and costs $230. It is available world-wide on the Mona di Orio website. In the U.S., you can find it at Luckyscent, Parfum1, and MinNewYork (which also offers free shipping within the US). There is also a Discovery Set of 8 x 5ml roll-on bottles of the entire Nombres d’Or collection which Mona di Orio sells for €90, and Luckyscent/ Parfum1 for $145. MinNY discounts the set for $5 off, pricing it at $140. Mona di Orio also offers a Travel Set of just the Ambre perfume in 3 bottles of 10 ml each, with the whole set priced at €85 (or about $110 with today’s currency conversion rate). That set is not offered at Luckyscent or Parfum1. In the UK, you can find Ambre at Les Senteurs which sells it for £135.00 and which also carries a sample vial for sale. The perfume is also carried on Roullier White in the UK. In Paris, I see Mona di Orio listed on the Marie Antoinette Paris website but can’t find prices or individual perfumes for the line. In the Netherlands, it is carried at Skin Cosmetics, but they say that they are out of stock at the moment. For the rest of Europe, you can turn to Germany’s First in Fragrance which carries the perfume for €160.00, along with a Travel Kit of 3 x 10 ml bottles for €85, and a smaller sample for purchase. In the United Arab Emirates, it’s sold at Harvey Nichols. In Australia, it’s sold at Melbourne’s Peony Haute Perfumerie for AUD $230. For all other countries from Russia to Spain, you can use the Store Locator guide on the company website. Samples: I obtained mine from Surrender to Chance which sells them starting at $6.99 for a 1 ml vial. Of course, you can also find samples at Luckyscent, Parfum1, and many of the European retailers linked to above.

Perfume Review: Mona di Orio Vanille (Les Nombres d`Or Collection)

Untitled (Violet, Black, Orange, Yellow on White and Red), 1949. Source: The Guggenheim Museum.

Untitled (Violet, Black, Orange, Yellow on White and Red), 1949. Source: The Guggenheim Museum.

There is something strangely captivating about Vanille from the highly admired perfume house of Mona di Orio. Vanille is part of Les Nombres d`Or Collection, and it is not your standard vanilla at all. Actually, the best way to sum up the perfume Vanille might be through analogy to the work of the famous painter, Mark Rothko, with his “Untitled (Violet, Black, Orange, Yellow on White and Red) 1949.” Like that painting, the perfume starts out as blood-red orange — and I mean that quite literally. Then, it turns into orange with the merest hints of yellow, before slowly transforming into creamy custardy yellow, custardy yellow on a darker, smoky, woody base, and, finally, into the palest of cream.

I wasn’t a fan of the blood-orange phase, and found Vanille’s opening to be almost a little nauseating, but the middle to end phases captured my interest. Almost against my will, I might add. Those of you who have read me for any amount of time know that I like neither very sweet perfumes nor gourmand ones. But, again, this is not your standard vanilla perfume. You might even argue that it is an Oriental-Gourmand hybrid at times, and one which merely happens to be heavily based on raw, concentrated vanilla. In the end, and taken as a whole, Mona di Orio Vanille was not my personal cup of tea, but I would definitely recommend it to those who adore non-traditional vanilla fragrances.

Mona di OrioThe company’s website explains the inspiration and character of the perfume, with a key point about how their key note differs from that used in some other vanilla perfumes:

When composing Vanille, Mona di Orio imagined a romantic back story involving an old ship from long ago, on its way to Madagascar or the Comoros Islands, carrying precious cargo: rum barrels, oranges, vanilla beans, ylang-ylang, cloves and sandalwood …
Gourmand, smoky, and boozy with a subtle aromatic orange note lingering in the background, Vanille is one Bateau Ivre of perfectly blended notes that will derange your senses with its sensuality.Vanille opens with a shot of rum flavoured with orange rind and spiced with cloves. Amber and tonka further warm up this brew as ylang-ylang’s sharp sweetness joins with rich vanilla. Gaiac wood adds incensey smoke as woody notes from vetyver and sandalwood help to create an elegant finish.

But the real star of the show, not surprisingly, is vanilla. Instead of using ethyl vanillin, one of vanilla’s main components that can come across as powdery and sugary, di Orio used pure vanilla in this elixir. For a moment — amid this elegant orchestral arrangement of notes in the key of Vanilla — the pulpy, sensual creaminess of a split vanilla bean is right there in front of your nose. Delicious!

The exact notes are as follows:

Bitter Orange from Brazil, Rhum Absolute, Petitgrain, Clove, Vanilla from Madagascar, Tolu [Balsam, a resin], Gaiac Wood, Vetyver, Sandalwood, Ylang-Ylang, Tonka Bean, Leather, Musk, Amber.

"The Orange Album - Abstract Art, Custom Painting, Imagery" by Bob Shelley at

“The Orange Album – Abstract Art, Custom Painting, Imagery” by Bob Shelley at

Vanille opens on my skin with a veritable explosion of orange in every form and variation possible. There is what feels like the most concentrated form of floral orange blossom, along with loads of highly sweetened blood orange, browned and very bitter petitgrain, and rummy Bourbon. This is orange to the Nth degree — sometimes blood-red in nature; heavily dark twig-brown; sometimes rum-like orange-brown, and always sweet. So, so sweet. Frankly, I’m a little overwhelmed.

Orange blossom is not listed in the notes but it is one of the most prominent notes to my nose during those opening minutes. Mona di Orio Vanille doesn’t feel like pulpy, orange or citrus fruits, but more like a combination of neroli and petitgrain. It has an oddly buttery feel to it — and I’m talking about actual melted butter. There are also touches of gaiac wood, the merest suggestion of cloves, and strong vetiver, all over a dry, smoky, vanilla base with cups of bitter petitgrain, and galloping gallons of Bourbon.

Bourbon is an American type of whiskey that is extremely sweet, and tinged with the wood from the charred-oak caskets in which it is aged. The alcohol note in Vanille has been compared to rum but, to me, it’s more akin to the woody, smoked aspect of sweet Bourbon. And it is such a huge part of the opening that the only way to really describe it all is to coin a new word: Bourbon-ized. Every note in the perfume is coated with Bourbon, but the main thrust is bourbonized orange blossom.

Vanilla BeansAfter about 5 minutes, the perfume starts to shift a little. Vanilla starts to rise to the surface. It is just like a freshly sliced vanilla pod; rich, raw, custardy, and potent. It immediately impacts the other notes, softening the orange blossom and taming the bitter petitgrain to something a little less sharp. It serves to alleviate some of the heavier aspects of the perfume that were, to me, unbearably cloying. And, with every passing moment, the sweetness drops — matched by a converse rise in the fragrance’s dry notes.

Less than fifteen minutes into the perfume’s development, Mona di Orio Vanille begins to turn into something much more nuanced and balanced. The pepper, smoke and woody notes appear (much to my relief) in a more individually distinct form. The gaiac wood is backed by the merest suggestion of cloves and earthy vetiver, but it is the slow, quiet, almost muted suggestion of smokiness in the background that I prefer. The perfume is still incredibly potent, rich and heavy, but it is not a cupcake sugariness or something that is purely gourmand. However, it is still far, far too rich for those who like airy, gauzy, sheer perfumes.

Clarified butter.

Clarified butter. Source:

The note which perplexes me is something that definitely evokes the aroma of melted, clarified butter. I cannot explain it, but it is inescapable. I’ll tell you a brief story of my experience the other day. I planned to test the perfume, opened the vial to give it a sniff, but, then, suddenly, realised the time and that I had to go to my book club meeting. Unbeknownst to me, I must have gotten faint traces of Vanille on my fingers. Well, for the next two hours, I kept asking my hostess, “What is that smell of melted butter and vanilla?” She looked at me blankly, especially as I kept sniffing the air, my shirt, and parts of her kitchen like some sort of crazy person. I thought it may have been one of her hot, very buttered rolls that she had out, but it didn’t smell anything like the aroma that was haunting me. Finally, I realised that the scent came from two of my fingers. It was Mona di Orio’s Vanille. And, I’m telling you, it was just like the most concentrated form of highly sweetened, pure vanilla extract in a saucepan of bright yellow, sweet cream, Bourbon butter, with a touch of orange petitgrain. The note was there during both of my two, full tests of the perfume — and I really didn’t like it. Something about it called to mind the large canisters of cloying, heavy, butter oil that American movie cinemas use on popcorn.

Forty minutes into the development of the perfume, Mona di Orio Vanille is a strong vanilla custard with buttered Bourbon, followed by orange blossom, and muted hints of smoke and wood. On me, both the clove note and the dry, wood, smoke combination are significantly less than what others on Fragrantica and elsewhere have reported. Then, things start to get interesting. There is the merest whiff of ylang-ylang which just grows stronger as the time passes.

Less than 90 minutes in, the perfume becomes a wonderfully balanced, mellow, smooth, floral vanilla custard. The vanilla is still the dominant note, but it is tinged with airy ylang-ylang. The creaminess of the vanilla is perfectly complemented by the custardy, banana-like aspects of the flower which is, itself, balanced by its sheerness and lightness. Underneath it all, there are whispers of orange blossom, woods and vetiver. The buttery note is much more muted now (thank God), and the perfume feels significantly less opaque, gooey and unctuously sweet. In fact, even the sillage has dropped to a perfect amount, projecting in such a small cloud around you.

I started to smile and sniff my arm with some enthusiasm exactly two and a half hours in, when the sandalwood appeared. Creamy, soft, luxurious, rich sandalwood was intertwined sinuously with the vanilla, creating a silky, smooth, wonderfully blended scent. There were some mysteriously tantalizing hints of smoke and woodiness in the background that made Vanille seem a little more like an Oriental/Gourmand hybrid than a purely gourmand one. It’s almost as if there is some incense note but, like the clove one before it, it’s far from prominent on my skin. I still wouldn’t go so far as to call Vanille an incense-vanilla fragrance the way so many others do, but it is a lovely, subtle touch at this stage.

For reasons I can’t quite explain, Mona di Orio Vanille makes me think of Serge LutensUn Bois Vanillé which I like quite a bit. It’s a peculiar thought as they actually aren’t very alike. Mona di Orio’s perfume is monumentally richer, stronger, deeper, thicker, and more Oriental with its floral and smoky touches. The Lutens is milkier, creamier, with almond, licorice, light coconut, and honey. No flowers or buttered Bourbon at all. And the vanilla never feels raw, like concentrated pod paste as it does here with the Mona di Orio. However, Un Bois Vanillé does share the guaiac wood and sandalwood notes which combine with the vanilla to create a definitely smoky, woody, vanilla feel at certain stages — even if it is substantially lighter and milder. Perhaps the similarity in my mind stems from the fact that I haven’t encountered a lot of woody vanilla-sandalwood fragrances, as opposed to purely dessert and cupcake ones (which I despise).

Mark Rothko. "No. 14-10 Yellow Greens."

Mark Rothko. “No. 14-10 Yellow Greens.”

As the perfume starts the dry-down phase, a little over six hours later, Mona di Orio Vanille turns into a tonka vanilla perfume with sandalwood, quiet amber, a touch of wood, and subtle orange notes lurking in the background. It’s sheer, soft, and pleasant. In its final moments, about 9.5 hours, it’s really just simple tonka with some amorphous, lightly musked, woody note. All in all, Vanille lasted just short of 10 hours on my perfume-consuming skin. It was a strong perfume throughout much of its early development, but the sillage went from heavy to moderate by the second hour, then dropped further as the perfume progressed. It became a skin scent around the fifth hour.

The comments on Fragrantica are all over the place for Mona di Orio Vanille. The majority absolutely love it, calling it a well-balanced, smoky vanilla with lots of wood. A number find the opening to be unpleasant; a large number call the fragrance a dirty, complex vanilla that is their favorite; some compare the vanilla note to that in Dior‘s Addict; and a handful comment on how it is essentially “Rum, rum, rum. I hope you like rum, because…rum.” There are scattered statements here or there on how parts of the perfume are stomach-churning or “nearly nauseating.” I would bet you anything that it’s the Bourbonized butter and orange combination that the commentators are finding to be excessively cloying. I certainly felt queasy myself.

Yet, one of the bloggers whom I respect — The Non-Blonde — really adored this fragrance and you may find parts of her review to be instructive:

Vanille is reasonably sweet and somewhat ambery, but the main thing that’s amplified on my skin and tales me on some serious ride is sandalwood. Sandalwood like I haven’t smelled in ages: deep exotic and spicy as well as creamy. It’s a very posh cousin of the chai-sandalwood blend from Kenzo Jungle L’Elephant.

Vanille progresses from slightly boozy and intoxicating to smooth and mysterious. There’s no question about sex-appeal: this would get you sniffed and followed around. The vanilla is woven into every stage of the development and belongs there, be it as part of hot toddy, a treasured spice in a craved wooden box or a rare incense that sends you off on a fantasy journey. 

If I had experienced as much sandalwood and incense on my skin as she seems to have done, I may have been a little more bowled over by the fragrance. I am certain, however, that I would still have enormous difficulty with the opening two hours. I’ve got some more of the Vanille (yet again) on my arm as we speak, and I simply cannot handle the Bourbon butter.

How you feel about Mona di Orio Vanille will really depend on how you feel about the main note, and gourmand fragrances as a whole. Those who love truly sweet, fully dessert-like fragrances may find it not to be sweet enough. This is no simple, uncomplicated Bath & Body Works vanilla. Those who enjoy the note in conjunction with other things may really appreciate this non-traditional, smoky woods and orange version of things. And those who are like me — who love spiced Orientals or super-charged florals, who wouldn’t go out of their way to experience a vanilla scent, and who eschew sweetness in any significant degree — may enjoy parts of the Mona di Orio, but not the whole. I definitely can’t see them being wow’ed enough by the overall experience to want a full bottle of it, especially as it costs $230. There are, however, different sizes and pricing options that may make Mona di Orio Vanille more accessible for those who adore their vanilla.

As a side note, this fragrance is absolutely nothing like Guerlain‘s Spiritueuse Double Vanille. Two very different kettles of fish. It’s been a long time since I smelled Annick Goutal Vanille Exquise, but, going on my memory of it, I don’t think the Goutal is similar, either. Despite deploying an incense twist on vanilla, it’s not as rich as the Mona di Orio, has much less concentrated vanilla, and includes quite a bit of bitter angelica. I believe Montale has a woody, boozy vanilla fragrance amongst its vast line, but I haven’t tried it. Lastly, Mona di Orio Vanille has absolutely nothing in common with Tom Ford‘s Private Blend Tobacco Vanille. The latter has dried tobacco leaves that occasionally create an impression of Christmas plum pudding. No part of Mona di Orio’s notes replicate the predominantly tobacco-woods or the spices in the Tom Ford. Furthermore, the type of vanilla and the fundamental nature of the fragrances are very different, too.

All in all, if you adore rich, sophisticated, boozy, vanilla fragrances with a non-traditional twist, you may want to give Mona di Orio’s Vanille a sniff.

Cost, Sizes, Sets & Availability: Les Nombres d`Or Vanille is an eau de parfum, and comes in a variety of different options and sizes. The full bottle is 3.4 oz/100 ml and costs $230. It is available world-wide on the Mona di Orio website. In the U.S., you can find it at Luckyscent, Parfum1, and MinNewYork (which also offers free shipping within the US). There is also a Discovery Set of 8 x 5ml roll-on bottles of the entire Nombres d’Or collection which Mona di Orio sells for €90, and Luckyscent/ Parfum1 for $145. MinNY discounts the set for $5 off, pricing it at $140. Mona di Orio also offers a Travel Set of just the Vanille perfume in 3 bottles of 10 ml each, with the whole set priced at €85 (or about $110 with today’s currency conversion rate). That set is not offered at Luckyscent or Parfum1. In Canada, The Perfume Shoppe carries its own sort of “Discovery Set” of 4 perfumes in the Nombres d’Or collection, one of which is Vanille. It retails for CAD$100. Oddly, I don’t see the full bottle on their website when searching by brand name, but I found it via a Google search listed here and marked as “available.” It’s also marked as selling for $170, which I don’t understand at all. So, you may want to drop them an email. In the UK, you can find Vanille at Les Senteurs which sells it for £135.00 and which also carries a sample vial for sale. The perfume is also carried on Roullier White in the UK. In Paris, I see Mona di Orio listed on the Marie Antoinette Paris website but can’t find prices or individual perfumes for the line. For the rest of Europe, you can turn to Germany’s First in Fragrance which carries the perfume for €160.00, along with a Travel Kit of 3 x 10 ml bottles for €85, and a smaller sample for purchase. For all other countries from Russia to Netherlands to the UAE/Dubai, you can use the Store Locator guide on the company website. Samples: I obtained mine from Surrender to Chance which sells them starting at $6.99 for a 1 ml vial. Of course, you can also find samples at Luckyscent, Parfum1, and many of the European retailers linked to above.