I remark often on how the gourmand style of perfume is one of the most exciting to me. One reason is it isn’t even thirty years old. It means unlike every other perfume genre it carries around much less history. I have found recent versions of gourmands very interesting because they are not following an existing set of rules. As it is in the third decade of the style the same was true of the very earliest entries, they were defining the boundaries. This month’s Discount Diamonds choice, Givenchy Pi, was one of those.
In 1998 the early gourmands had all gone with deep dense aesthetics. As Givenchy thought to enter the fray Creative Director Francoise Donche decided a different tack would be taken. Their gourmand would focus on one sweet note with less of a heavy presence. Perfumer Alberto Morillas would be given the job of creating Pi.
The idea was to make a gourmand focused on vanilla. The easy way would have been to use the synthetic source of vanilla, vanillin. One of the reasons to decide against it is vanillin is one of the most common ingredients in all of perfumery. It also can become overwhelming as the concentration gets to higher levels. M. Morillas made an intelligent choice to go with a vanilla accord made up primarily of tonka bean and benzoin. It turned out to be brilliant.
Pi opens with a green prologue of rosemary, pine, and mandarin. It carries a freshness which will eventually be overwhelmed by the vanilla. That vanilla shows up subtly at first as tonka bean is the keynote in the heart. Tonka is a natural source of coumarin which has a kind of vanillic scent profile along with a sweeter hay-like component. By itself it would never become vanilla. M. Morillas uses benzoin to combine with the coumarin to form the sweet vanilla accord. What makes this so different from just using straight vanillin is it is a crisper form of vanilla. Most often vanillin diffuses until it becomes powdery. By using tonka bean and bezoin this doesn’t happen. Which means the vanilla lasts and lasts. The light woodiness of guaiac is the final piece of Pi.
Pi has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
If I were to ever write a column on the perfumes I wear which never fail to generate a compliment Pi would be one of the two no-brainers on that list. It is one of those perfumes which breaks through because of the way it is constructed. The advantage of being over twenty years old is it is easy to find bottles for less than $30. Because the ingredient list is so small it has easily weathered any reformulations. Gourmands might be all the rage currently, but Givenchy Pi was one of the first to try something new in the genre.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I own.
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.