Interview with Sylvaine Delacourte & Pierre Hermé + Article on Spiritueuse Double Vanille by Guerlain {Perfume Q & A}

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Spiritueuse Double Vanille (Liquorish-y Double Vanilla) is a limited 2007 edition by Guerlain, a study on vanilla proposed by perfumer Jean-Paul Guerlain momentarily coming out of his official retirement (also for Vétiver Pour Elle). In 2007 there were at least three vanilla perfumes of note that showed that vanilla can be the main inspiration for a complex composition: Tihota by Indult (Francis Kurkdjian), Spiritueuse Double Vanille (Jean-Paul Guerlain), and Vanille 44 by Le Labo (Alberto Morillas; exclusive to Paris). 

Here is an interview with Guerlain artistic director Sylvaine Delacourte and pastry chef Pierre Hermé on their collaboration around Spiritueuse Double Vanille, courtesy of the Guerlain press service:


How is vanilla used in your two different worlds?

Sylvaine Delacourte: At Guerlain, vanilla is considered as an elegant ingredient above all else. It is always rendered to extremely high standards and is used in many of our perfumes. It is a key feature in “Guerlinade”, a compilation of Guerlain’s favorite raw materials, which include Tonka bean, coumarin, sandalwood and ylang-ylang. This olfactory signature gives our perfumes depth, and imprints them in our memories. If I were to compare vanilla to a woman, I would say that it is not a classic beauty of simple regular features, but rather that her face shows a great deal of character.......

Pierre Hermé: In my profession, vanilla is the base ingredient. You might even call it the baker’s “base note”. This is why working on the theme of vanilla immediately appealed to me. I don’t have a taste signature as such, but rather a style, using distinctive and contrasting flavors. I like to surprise the palate, because this is part of the pleasure of savoring food.

Are the same types of vanilla used in both perfumery and in baking?

Sylvaine Delacourte: There are two botanical species, Vanilla tahitensis and Vanilla planifolia. We usually use the latter as it has more nuances and is richer in flavor. It often comes from the Comoros islands or Tahiti. To intensify the trail of a fragrance, we combine the vanilla (in the form of tincture, absolute and super absolute) with one of its principal aromatic components, vanillin or ethyl vanillin. These raw materials enhance the natural products and give the perfume a true fragrant trail.

Pierre Hermé: I use both species, but I vary their origins to create a special “house” vanilla. My favorite three are those from Tahiti, Mexico and Madagascar.

You are both experts in your respective fields, where do their similarities lie?

Sylvaine Delacourte: First of all, smelling and tasting require training and practice. Great
concentration is needed to perceive the subtleties of a creation. In both cases the ability to
hold them in one’s memory plays an important role. Furthermore, taste and smell
complement one another. For example, a vanilla from Madagascar reveals slightly smoky, almost leathery aromas and is subtly woody on the palate.

Pierre Hermé: Sylvaine is right, and this is probably the reason why I always smell before I taste. I often ask the opinion of a perfumer friend when choosing my vanillas. Another similarity is that the flavors of a pastry develop in the mouth just as a perfume does on the skin. For my house vanilla composition, I chose Tahitian vanilla, which has a roundness to it and lingers in the mouth, this is like the base note. Then I add Mexican vanilla, which is more floral and can be seen as the heart of the flavor. Finally, I include the light woody Madagascan vanilla which binds the other two together.

Sylvaine Delacourte: You make what we call in perfumery a “communelle” which involves selecting ingredients from different sources in order to create a rich and balanced accord. We do this for many of our natural materials, including vanilla. These communelles enable us to guarantee the constant quality of ingredients between different harvests, which is very important for Guerlain.

Pierre Hermé, how did you take inspiration from the Spiritueuse Double Vanille to create your macaroons?

It was the delicacy of the various facets of “Spiritueuse” that inspired me. I cloaked my vanilla accord with cedar so that the two flavors reveal themselves almost simultaneously in the mouth. It is important that neither flavor supplant the other and as you will notice in the fragrance, I added a soupçon of rum.

Here is an article from the same Guerlain press release that explains the background to Spiritueuse Double Vanille:

If a colour or fragrance were to be associated with each day, like the planets were in ancient times, sandalwood would be the Sun, saffron would be Jupiter, and without doubt vanilla would be Venus.” 

"Vanilla has always been present throughout Guerlain’s history, appearing in many perfumes as well as eaux de toilette; it is a note that is unexpected in Jicky, subtle in Eau Hégémonienne and lavish in Shalimar.  Above all vanilla has a majestic presence in Guerlain’s signature accord, Guerlinade, which can be found in all the perfume house’s great creations.

Who could best express the extraordinary magic of this vanilla in a perfume? A creative perfumer with a trained nose; one with refined taste buds who is familiar with its every subtlety – Jean-Paul Guerlain.

To understand this Limited Edition Spiritueuse Double Vanille, you must first linger over the name. Spiritueuse? Yes. Exhilarating, compelling. Double Vanille? It could just as well have been called triple; it has such resonance, like an echo rebounding off the other notes in the composition. Finally, it is as much a “taste” as an “aroma”, to be experienced not just once, but two or three times, discovering a different aspect each time.

A single vanilla pod is already a whole perfume in itself. Its many facets were the source of inspiration for Jean-Paul Guerlain’s accord. For instance, vanilla has a spicy aspect, far removed from any sweet sentimentality. Thus, in the top note, slightly piquant and fruity pink peppercorns play with the fresh bergamot that instantly lightens the composition. Alongside the spices, you can very quickly sense a soft, resinous and woody note interpreted by incense, which lingers at the top, giving way to cedar, a key element of the middle note, illustrating the woody aspect of the vanilla pod. Dry and elegant, this is the “backbone” of the fragrance, giving it its character. The flowers, Bulgarian rose and ylang-ylang from the Comoros islands add a feminine touch that further accentuates the refinement of the wood to create an effective contrast. Then comes a base accord with the aphrodisiac sensuality of vanilla underscored by benzoin that keeps the resinous top notes of incense and spices alive.

Spiritueuse Double Vanille is a truly amazing composition in which each component conjures up the image of a boat journey, and the combined scent of the ship’s wooden hull with barrels of rum and crates of spices. It is also the olfactory notebook of an explorer, documenting the finest scents from the ends of the earth.

The bottle recalls the historical link between Guerlain and vanilla. The label sparks off nostalgia for distant treasures and tells the full story of vanilla. As a finishing touch, the bee, Guerlain’s symbol since 1853, with Eau de Cologne Impériale, embodies the transformation from the flower of the orchid into its fruit: the vanilla pod, for it was originally the Melipona bee that pollinated the flower before the process began to be done by hand.

Price:  $200  75ML

Available:  October 2007 limited edition only at Guerlain Boutiques

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3 Comments | Leave a comment

  1. Thanks for this short but informative interview. No one does vanilla as good as Guerlain. I haven't tried Spiritueuse Vanille but I can believe that its a vanilla masterpiece.

  2. I will be able to propose a review of it in early January.

    Yes, in this case, it is more than just an ad copy, it is indeed informative.

  3. Dear Marie-Helene,
    What a truly enlightening interview . I recently purchased this scent GSDV - and have been a bit perplexed how to analyze it. Last evening I was engaged in an online discussion with a sister parfumeur
    9she makes a vanilla scent tinged with a honet accord ).
    She was going to send me samples of vanilla to perjaps create a cream to be used under this Guerlain.I certainly look forward to your review .
    When I 've worn this perfume - I receive compliments although I cannot smell it in myself. It dries down to a warm aura of vanilla -tobacco. Very different from anything else.
    I have used in baking the 3 different kinds of vanilla discussed : Tahitian, mexican and Madagascar . they each have an individual beauty .
    I prefer the Madagascar I think.
    I loved this interview as it enhances the beauty and value of this special purchase.

    Madelyn E

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