Growing up, the bottles of body sprays, lotions, butters, and eau de toilettes that lined my bathroom vanity were far sweeter than a dessert-filled episode of The Great British Baking Show. My rotation typically included the latest cloyingly saccharine launch from Bath & Body Works; Britney Spears’s Fantasy (or Curious); a pure-sugar scent that, not surprisingly, was called Pink Sugar; and anything else my collection of glossy magazines like Seventeen, CosmoGirl, and Teen Vogue was advertising. If it smelled like a frosted bakehouse cookie with sprinkles or the Cinnabon stand at the mall, I was—without a doubt—wearing it.
I’ll always love unapologetically sweet scents, but now, my tastes have graduated to fragrance blends that are warm and woodsy or grounded with spices, leathers, or classic florals. That said, signature sweet notes like vanilla are often at the heart of my all-time-favorite perfumes. They’re just far less overpowering. Being a beauty editor and all, I always have an overflowing stock of perfumes, so I decided to start a little experiment earlier this year. Instead of sticking to my normal trajectory of signature fragrances, I went on a perfume-wearing spree, if you will, in which I wore a different scent every day for about of month, taking note of which formulas I liked best and which blends won me the most questions, comments, and compliments. In review, I noticed something intriguing: The top 12 scents all had a common, not-so-secret ingredient, vanilla (a result that very much proved my hypothesis that vanilla is still relevant post–seventh grade and outside the kitchen).
Below, I’m sharing the top 12 fragrances I’m currently obsessed with and which never failed to earn me compliments from strangers and loved ones alike. Keep scrolling! The best vanilla perfumes lie just ahead.
1. Byredo 1996 Eau de Parfum
Key fragrance notes: black pepper, juniper berries, leather accord, orris, violet, black amber, patchouli, and vanilla
Meet the Byredo fragrance you’ve never heard of but absolutely need on your radar. I realize describing a scent as “intoxicating” might sound dramatic, but I’m seriously so addicted to this enveloping mix of black pepper, leather, patchouli, and vanilla, which, in retrospect, is pretty amazing since I would never classify myself as a lover of peppery scents. This is a deliciously smooth and velvety perfume that’s sweet enough to feel elegant and lovely but complex enough not to feel basic or like anything you wore back in junior high. In fact, I love it so much I keep the Hair Perfume ($78) on my nightstand at all times. I feel like people in L.A. don’t like to ask “what are you wearing?” (the fear of seeming uncool or tryhard-y), but it’s a no-fail occurrence whenever I’m wearing this Byredo scent and this Byredo scent alone.
Other perfumes I love from Byredo:
Key fragrance notes: bergamot, juniper berries, lemon, pepper, incense, orris, pine needle, amber, sandalwood, and vanilla
Key fragrance notes: ambrette, magnolia, sandalwood, violet, cedarwood, chantilly musk, and crisp amber
2. Krigler Lovely Patchouli 55 Classic Eau de Parfum
Key fragrance notes: amber, musk, patchouli, red fruits, and vanilla
Fun fact: This best-selling fragrance from iconic perfume house Krigler has been worn by many members of Hollywood (and historical) royalty and was Jackie Onassis’s signature scent. I know I just said that I’m not usually a patchouli type of gal, but this is another exception just because of how gorgeous it is. Though it is sweet, the amber, musk, and patchouli ground any overt saccharine notes from the vanilla and red fruits, and it basically transforms into the most sophisticated version of the scents you might have loved when you were younger, like Britney Spears’s Fantasy. It’s sweet, spicy, woody, and definitely one of the best vanilla perfumes money can buy.
Other perfumes I love from Krigler:
Key fragrance notes: aldehyde, geranium, musk, rose, and violet
Key fragrance notes: grapefruit, jasmine, neroli, orange blossom, white flowers, white musk, and ylang-ylang
3. Maison Margiela Replica Coffee Break Eau de Toilette
Key fragrance notes: pepper essence, orange flower petals, patchouli, cypriol, tonka bean absolute, vanilla, cedarwood, and vetiver
I’ve always been a huge fan of Maison Margiela’s lovely line of eau de toilettes, Replica, and one of the latest releases is this yummy (but far from cliché) mix of coffee, pepper, vanilla, orange, and cedarwood. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever smelled before, and the compliments have been coming in hot ever since I added it into my regular arsenal of fragrances. According to the brand, it’s supposed to evoke the warm and comforting feeling of a coffee shop—creamy, escapist (especially in the middle of winter), and savory with hints of sweetness reminiscent of pastries. It’s a truly dreamy scent that deserves your attention.
Other Replica perfumes I love from Maison Margiela:
Key fragrance notes: aquatic accord, coriander, and red seaweed essence
Key fragrance notes: pear accord, lily of the valley accord, and musks
4. Kilian Love, Don’t Be Shy Eau de Parfum
Key fragrance notes: orange blossom, honeysuckle, rose, vanilla, and luscious marshmallow
While the combination of vanilla and marshmallow might sound too sweet to handle, trust me—it’s not. This is Rihanna’s signature scent, and the earthy, fruity hits of orange and neroli give it a juicy and robust finish. I never wear it without receiving a compliment, and it’s by far one of the best “grown-up” vanilla perfumes on my vanity. You’ll be obsessed.
Other perfumes I love from Kilian:
Key fragrance notes: apricot, orange blossom, rose, tuberose absolute, jasmine, and narcissus
Key fragrance notes: ambrette seeds, almond milk, iris, and musk
5. Yves Saint Laurent Black Opium Eau de Parfum
Key fragrance notes: black coffee, white flowers, and vanilla
Maybe I’m partial to this classic YSL scent because it’s truly wonderful if you’re after something vanilla but still very, very chic, or maybe I’m partial because it’s Zoë Kravitz’s favorite scent. Or more likely, it’s a combination of the two. I love this fragrance because it manages to feel both light and mysterious at the same time. It’s not too conventional, but it’s also not too complicated. I keep it on my desk for those mornings when I need a jolt of confidence.
Other perfumes I love from Yves Saint Laurent:
Key fragrance notes: lavender essence, orange blossom, and musk accord
Key fragrance notes: strawberry, raspberry, bergamot, pear, orange flower, jasmine, white peony, patchouli, white musk, cedarwood, and crystal moss
6. Henry Rose Queens & Monsters Eau de Parfum
Key fragrance notes: violet, neroli, freesia, jasmine, vanilla, coco musk, and sandalwood
Henry Rose (Michelle Pfeiffer’s the founder!) is the newest, chicest, most important line of fine fragrances you need to know about. In total, it now has six truly breathtaking scents, and Queens & Monsters is the latest installment. I’ve been astounded at the attention it’s garnered at the office when I spritz it at my desk. It’s a woody perfume thanks to sandalwood, but it gets a fresh, creamy sweetness from smooth additions like violet, vanilla, cocomusk, and freesia. It’s gorgeous, and like all of Henry Rose’s fragrances, it’s verified by the Environmental Working Group and certified by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute. The brand is also known for its 100% ingredient transparency and the fact that its fragrances are free of all endocrine disruptors, parabens, phthalates, and carcinogens.
Other perfumes I love from Henry Rose:
Key fragrance notes: vanilla and vetiver
Key fragrance notes: musk and honeyed neroli
7. Lancôme Idôle Eau de Parfum
Key fragrance notes: citrus, rose, jasmine, white musk, and vanilla
This is literally one of my favorite perfumes of all time, and pretty much everyone who I’ve hugged while wearing this fragrance has agreed. It’s been my signature ever since its launch, and the fact that Zendaya (my hero) is the face of this mix of vanilla, jasmine, citrus, and musk makes it perfect. I’ve always been a Lancôme stan (in addition to Chanel—my mom wore a few of its staple scents), so it’s a warm and fuzzy line of fragrances that is only punctuated with this sweet aroma.
Other perfumes I love from Lancôme:
Key fragrance notes: apricot blossom, rose, lilac, iris, peach, amber, sandalwood, musk, and vanilla
Key fragrance notes: iris, patchouli, praline, and vanilla
8. Nest Midnight Fleur Eau de Parfum
Key fragrance notes: exotic woods, black amber, patchouli, night-blooming jasmine, and vanilla orchid
Honestly, I love almost every single perfume from Nest (Wild Poppy, Black Tulip Indigo, and Blue Wysteria are my other standouts), but this one, Midnight Fleur, won me the most questions and compliments. It’s dark, pretty, and woodsy but not overly earthy or piney, which I appreciate.
Other perfumes I love from Nest:
Key fragrance notes: pear, raspberry, apricot, jasmine, and Rose de Grasse