2022 has been an incredible year for perfume and whether you love it or loathe it, TikTok has been the driving force behind the popularity of most trending fragrances. But only a handful of these scents have achieved viral status across the globe.
Take Maison Francis Kurkdjian's Baccarat Rouge. With earthy saffron, syrupy jasmine, peppery amberwood and woody cedar, it evokes luxury and excess. Over the course of the year it has established itself as the perfume that'll get you stopped in the street, cornered in a store changing room and even give you an out-of-body experience, according to this TikToker.
Then came Phlur's Missing Person. With comforting musk, zippy bergamot, sugary orange blossom and creamy sandalwood, it's famous for making people cry (in a good way). Supposedly concocted to smell like a lover or the person you miss the most, it has tugged on the heartstrings of influencers, fragrance connoisseurs and ordinary people. It's no wonder that the perfume has earned a tremendous 1.7 billion TikTok views to date. But as we look to 2023, something different is casting a spell on perfume enthusiasts and quietly blowing up all over social media.
Though it only burst onto the scene around a month ago, Vanilla Royale (a sister perfume to the brand's often sold-out Vanilla 28) has already amassed 94.4 million TikTok mentions, countless five-star reviews and has sent fragrance experts into a reverie. "Vanilla Royale is Vanilla 28's rich auntie," said fragrance fan @funmimonet on TikTok. "This auntie has been around the world," said Funmi. "She has taken lovers in many countries. She's been included in a few wills."
@funmimonet One thing I can’t resist is a vanilla perfume and @kayali @monakattan put their entire foot in Vanilla Royal Sugared Patchouli 😮💨 #perfumetiktok #vanillaperfume ♬ Rich Flex - Drake & 21 Savage
Funmi isn't the only one enchanted by the perfume. Others have been compelled to craft an entire narrative around it. "She is cultured, refined, multifaceted and multidimensional," said @cee.loux. "She is boujie. She's got her things together. You know when you see those women in Selfridges? You can tell she's a grown woman – and she's got money." TikTok's @travaulyawallace is equally obsessed. "You feel grand, you feel seen," Travaulya said in a recent video. "You know whoever you're going to be around, they ain't gonna be able to handle you with this one on. And I'm not kidding. I don't work for this brand. I don't sell for this brand. I'm not endorsed by this brand. None of that bullshit. But this is so good."
The two noses behind the perfume taking social media by storm are Mona Kattan (founder of Kayali and the sister of beauty guru Huda Kattan aka Huda Beauty) and expert perfumer Gabriela Chelariu. The latter has dreamed up fragrances for the likes of Escada, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Kors and Guess so it makes total sense that Vanilla Royale would follow in their footsteps and become arguably the most talked-about perfume at this very moment.
@cee.loux @kayali New Limited Edition Vanilla Royale Sugared Patchouli | 64 Review✨ #ceeloux #perfumetiktok #sotd #kayali #perfumereview #kayalivanillaroyale #vanillaperfume #viral #uk ♬ original sound - Cee Loux
Vanilla has been closely linked to breast milk and baby formula. There are vanilla notes within the milk, which trigger a sense of comfort in us as adults.
What makes it so special, according to Mona, is the way each moreish note melts into the other. The perfume is comprised of golden rum (rich and intoxicating), crème brûlée (sweet and creamy), brown sugar (providing a burnt quality), royal oud (slightly woody) and sugared patchouli flower (earthy, spicy and sweet in equal measure). "I love patchouli but it is a polarising note," Mona tells R29. "In fact, a lot of retailers told us to stay away from it because people typically either love it or hate it." The sugared patchouli in this fragrance is dark and intense with a sweet linger, while the oud (so expensive that it is considered liquid gold in the beauty industry) lends longevity and gives the fragrance that deep richness that everyone observes, explains Mona. "If you told me this was a Tom Ford perfume," said TikToker @noobrising, "I would believe you."
But it's the addition of vanilla surabsolute, said to be the highest quality of vanilla, which has really won hearts. Vanilla is Mona's all-time-favourite perfume note but its enduring quality goes deeper than simply liking the way it smells. Amanda Carr, fragrance trend forecaster and cofounder of We Wear Perfume, says that for many of us, vanilla is closely linked to a feeling of home. "Think baking," says Amanda, "particularly cakes and sweet biscuits. If you have good memories of a warm and happy kitchen during your childhood, then vanilla can take you straight back to this. Not only is it easy to recognise but it's a very transportive scent and it evokes familiarity."
@travaulyawallace #Inverted Kayali killed it with this one. #fragrancetiktok #fragrancereview #travaulyaexperience #fypシ #kayalivanillaroyale ♬ original sound - Travaulya Wallace
Sure enough, research suggests that vanilla flavouring has a strong positive emotional effect. It all comes down to memory, says Mona. "We all remember vanilla ice cream or birthday cake at various events in our lives, for example. Vanilla will always kickstart our memories because it's both celebratory and comforting." Talking of feeling soothed, Amanda says that the smell of vanilla has also been closely linked to breast milk and baby formula. There are vanilla notes within the milk, explains Amanda, which she says trigger a sense of comfort in us as adults. Vanilla is reminiscent of feeling satisfyingly full and looked after.
TikTokers are obsessed with how moreish Vanilla Royale is on the skin and Amanda believes this is because it is a "sugary, spicy bomb" of notes that we recognise as treat smells. "In this perfume, the use of tonka bean (a similar and beautifully complementary note to vanilla) doubles up on the pleasure hit, while the sweetness of the brown sugar and crème brûlée layer on a comfort food vibe that makes it hard to resist." The sweet, all-encompassing vanilla notes are certainly like a reward. Just like tucking into a dessert, a single spritz makes you feel warm, fuzzy and content – exactly what we need after a rough couple of years.
Just like tucking into a dessert, a single spritz makes you feel warm, fuzzy and content – exactly what we need after a rough couple of years.
Whether you're a fragrance obsessive or not, it's likely you've come across the fanfare surrounding 'skin scents' such as Byredo Blanche, Glossier You and Escentric Molecules 01. All three are tied together by musk, which supposedly smells like your skin (clean, powdery and warm) but better. Though appealing on paper, musk smells somewhat sweaty and even pungent to some people. Vanilla on the other hand boasts the clean, powdery warmth associated with skin but without the potentially unpleasant tang.
Universally adored vanilla is what sets Kayali's latest launch apart from the likes of Baccarat Rouge and Missing Person, neither of which features the note. For every person who loves these scents, there's another who isn't quite sure. Baccarat Rouge has been compared to the smell inside a dentist's office, for instance, while Missing Person has been likened to a "musty old lady's closet" or an "old English mom". They certainly divide opinion, whereas countless TikTokers refer to Vanilla Royale as their best 'blind buy' (purchasing a perfume without sampling it first).
Vanilla is the perfume world's jack of all trades. It works in so many popular fragrance families, from gourmand (basically very sweet) to woody, floral and fresh, explains Amanda. "It's a very easy-going note and it's nice to be around so it's not hard to see why perfumers use it so much." Some might see it as the safe option but vanilla rarely appears on its own. It's there to complement countless other scents, says Mona. "Vanilla is a great 'topper' so it adds a final touch to fragrances," she tells R29. "Think of it like the whipped cream to your cake. Your fragrances are not complete until you add a topping of vanilla," no matter how elaborate the other notes may be.
Vanilla Royale is everything you would want in a perfume. It's nostalgic, cosseting and makes people notice you, instantly affirming your personal taste. But it isn't the only fragrance to lean heavily into vanilla as a crowning note and that's just as well, because Vanilla Royale is currently a limited edition (though if anything has the power to make it permanent, it's TikTok).
Narciso Rodriguez Musc Noir Rose, £82, dubbed the "French girl perfume", has also found fame on the platform. Described as a sensual floral vanilla thanks to rose, plum, pink pepper and vanilla, it has amassed an enormous 387.7 million mentions at the time of writing. Then there's Refinery29 Beauty Innovator Award winner Ellis Brooklyn Vanilla Milk Eau de Parfum, £88, chosen by R29 senior beauty writer Amanda Mitchell. "Usually, in my mind, [vanilla perfume] is linked to mean girls in high school," wrote Amanda, "but I'm obsessed with this marshmallow-y, puffy light fragrance. It's not cloying, and sinks into my skin perfectly, but without overtaking the room."
If you have less to spend, try Zara Nude Bouquet, £17.99, with zingy cherry, sweet peony and vanilla, or a personal favourite of mine, Eilish by Billie Eilish Eau de Parfum, £49, which is surprisingly luxe thanks to petals, vanilla and musk.
Kayali Vanilla Royale is the most sumptuous, cocooning and addictive fragrance in my overflowing collection, and it really sticks around. One spray is enough to last for eight hours and, of course, it's the vanilla which bows it out at the end of the day. Mona calls it a "beast mode" fragrance thanks to the impressive sillage (the degree to which a scent lingers in the air). "I really do feel as though this fragrance is unforgettable," she says. "I've never known anything even remotely similar to it, and it leaves a long-lasting impression on the people who smell it on you."
If you ask for any fragrance for Christmas this year, be sure to make it this one.
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