My Favorite Things: Tonka

For the first part of my life if you said “tonka” to me I expected it to be a diecast truck for me to play with in my sandbox. Even when I left my sandbox behind and picked up a perfume bottle if you still said “tonka” I probably still would have thought about toys. It really wasn’t until the release of Thierry Mugler A*Men that I ever heard about this perfume raw material called tonka. Over the years since I have come to enjoy the perfumes which put it out in a prominent way so I can enjoy its sweet toasty warmth. Here are five of my favorite fragrances which have tonka out in front.

Tonka had existed from the beginning of modern perfumery as part of the classic fougere accord. But for me it was Thierry Mugler A*Men which showed me the way tonka could be used. Perfumer Jacques Huclier used it as a key component of the gourmand base which has become the DNA of nearly every subsequent A*Men flanker. This came full circle with last year’s A*Men Pure Tonka where M. Huclier put the tonka out in front in the recognizable accord. It is the “one thin mint” of tonka perfumes.

The best use of tonka’s sweeter effect comes in Givenchy Pi. Perfumer Alberto Morillas hard on the heels of the gourmand trend produced a perfume which many will incorrectly call a vanilla perfume. It is because tonka has a very sweet nature like vanilla but it has more warmth and a less aggressive sweetness. Which is why Pi is often the “vanilla” perfume for people who don’t like vanilla. Taking the tonka in the heart and surrounding it with herbal rosemary, pine needles, and benzoin this has become one of my favorite cold weather comfort scents.

Perfumer Geza Schoen would also find tonka a good running partner for balsam and incense in Ormonde Jayne Tolu. In this perfume that accord doesn’t arrive until after an herbal and floral interlude. It provides a different version of the same trio that was used in Pi by going even warmer.

The warmest most embraceable version of tonka appears in Guerlain Tonka Imperiale. Perfumer Thierry Wasser uses gingerbread, honey, tobacco, coumarin along with tonka. This is the perfume equivalent of a Snuggie.

Then there is the perfumer who looks to find some different way to display tonka. Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena in Hermes Hermessence Vetiver Tonka. M. Ellena takes traditional grain notes and matches them with dried fruits. Then where vetiver would provide a sharply green and woody counterpoint he softens the barb with tonka and hazelnut. The vetiver and the tonka go together beautifully and as with the other four perfumes above the wamth it provided the cooler vetiver really makes Vetiver Tonka stand out.

If you need the perfume equivalent of a warm blanket in front of a fireplace these five tonka fragrances cah provide that comfort.

Disclosure: this review based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

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