Growing up, the bottles of body sprays, lotions, butters, and eau de toilettes that lined my bathroom vanity were far sweeter than a desert-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, my desk is always overflowing with perfume, so I decided to start a little experiment late last 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 10 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 10 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.
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 ($75) 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.
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 Fantasy. It's sweet, spicy, woody, and definitely one of the best vanilla perfumes money can buy.
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.
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.
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.
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 verifiedby the Environmental Working Group andcertifiedby the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute. The brand is also known for its 100% ingredient transparencyand the fact that its fragrances are free of all endocrine disruptors, parabens, phthalates, and carcinogens.
Key fragrance notes: citrus, rose, jasmine, white musk, and vanilla
This is literally my favorite perfume 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 last year, 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 new debut.
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.
Key fragrance notes: cardamom, vetiver, vanilla, and grapefruit
Jo Malone makes some of the most iconic and well-known perfumes, and over the years, I've accrued a few favorites that always win me compliments. When I first sniffed this new debut from the brand, I had mixed feelings, but after I had let it melt into my skin for a few hours, I quickly became kind of infatuated with it. It's strong, but it's been winning more attention than my other standbys (which are below), and I'd be willing to bet my life savings that this luxe vanilla perfume will go down in history as one of the brand's absolute best.
Key fragrance notes: beeswax, caramelized benzoin, bitter almond, gaiac wood, tonka bean, absolute of Mexican black vanilla, black licorice, sandalwood, and coconut milk
This vanilla from Serge Lutens is so supremely decadent and divine. It's my go-to antidote if I happen to wake up on the wrong side of the bed or have an anxiety-provoking day ahead of me. If you're a vanilla lover like I am, this is a scent to worship. It's buttery, warm, woody, and just so mellow and rich. I happen to love what Lutens said of this specific fragrance: "To paraphrase Freud, it's not the evil who are full of regrets, but the good. Both the devil and vanilla like black."