Wanderlust isn’t the primary theme of this perfume collection by New York couturier Shalini, but her stories all link to travel in some way. It’s an unfamiliar smell, a hue of sunlight specific to a coordinate on the globe, the sensation of night air in the Persian Gulf; her stories all take place in a different part of the world, yet each perfume tells a very human story.
Vanille Rêve is the sixth perfume in Shalini’s olfactive anthology. To date, it’s the only complete collection by master perfumer Maurice Roucel. The pair have been collaborating since 2004 when Shalini launched her first eponymous perfume – a decadent white floral garland of citrus blossoms, tuberose, ylang ylang and tiaré flowers.
One of two 2021 launches from Shalini, Vanille Rêve is set in Tahiti, home of the tiaré flower. Botanists call it Gardenia taitensis. These fragrant white flowers have been a favourite of native Polynesian people for centuries. British botanist Joseph Banks discovered the species on his maiden voyage through the Pacific Islands, Australia and New Zealand with Captain James Cook in 1769. Although he mistakenly identified it as Gardenia florida, his team's meticulous engravings drawn in situ (pictured) make no mistake.
The flower’s potent scent exudes the delicacy of jasmine and the creaminess of tuberose. With a coconut-like accent, it lacks the fruity-green and mushroom facets of typical gardenias. Tiaré is the solar scent of the tropics.
A perfect setting for a love story, Shalini speaks of Bora Bora and her vision for the fragrance: “The journey of our soul’s greatest desire is to find its twin. Then the sweetness of life unfolds in the embrace of entwinned love, realizing life. This love is the very essence of our being.”
Another flower native to French Polynesia which is harvested for culinary and fragrance industries is Vanilla tahitensis. Both Bourbon and Tahitian vanillas are some of perfumery’s most costly ingredients. Vanilla perfumes have the innate ability to draw those who smell them towards the wearer. Perhaps this is the reason why vanilla is often used by perfumers to convey a feeling of sensuality.
While many vanilla perfumes can be cloying, Vanille Rêve doesn’t entrap those who enter its olfactive orb. Quite the opposite. The perfume’s tropical outlook makes me think of lying on a quiet tropical beach where the only visual reference is the horizon on the shoreline as I occasionally cock my head up off the beach towel to check the angle of the sun. Vanille Rêve smells radiant, expansive and carefree.
M. Roucel opens the perfume with an unexpected note of star anise, which is fresh and aromatic. Anise extends this tasty palette with spiciness and adds a gritty sand-like texture to what is otherwise a smooth and creamy fragrance. Next, notes of tiaré, tuberose and jasmine unfold on skin. This bouquet’s creaminess is also a little bit salty, like the scent of sunscreen absorbing into skin beside the beach.
At the soul of the perfume is vanilla. Its warming aura builds with gradual momentum until it eclipses the other notes. That’s not to say it silences them. Like any good relationship, there is harmony and here vanilla amplifies the attractive qualities of the other ingredients, in turn their complexities embellish vanilla’s.
While most Australians have spent a majority of 2021 no more than five kilometres from home under a pandemic lockdown, perfumes like Vanille Rêve are a lovely reminder of the luxury of being able to travel. Fingers crossed we get to do some in 2022.
Sample provided for review by Shalini.
Image 1 credit: Shalini. Image 2 credit: Alecto Historical Editions