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.
I think my distaste for flankers has been apparent from the first moment I started writing about perfume. The great majority of the time they are lazy, cynical fragrances with barely there differences. The reason for their existence is sales, as by putting another note or two into the composition its new enough to make someone buy a bottle all over again. Of course there has to be an exception to every rule. The exception to “all flankers are bad” is the variations Thierry Mugler has produced on the classic A*Men. There have been fourteen flankers to A*Men starting with 2006’s A*Men Summer Flash. Two years later the Pure Series would begin with A*Men Pure Coffee. The latest flanker is a continuation of that called A*Men Pure Tonka.
A*Men Pure Tonka is the eighth release in the Pure Series. One thing which has made this set of flankers rise above is that the original perfumer behind A*Men, Jacques Huclier, has been the man behind all of the flankers. What that has helped with is M. Huclier knows the nuances of his A*Men foundation. Instead of shoehorning a note or two in the Pure Series he has done on overall fantastic job of adding in a few new materials. This allows you to re-examine the A*Men you generally know so well. A*Men Pure Tonka is focused a bit on the coffee from the original. It also adds another bean in the tonka. There is a roasted quality to both beans which help give a new perspective on the A*Men foundation.
Pure Tonka starts with a naked lavender. In the original A*Men lavender is but a component of the top accord. In Pure Tonka it is out there all by itself. I am a big fan of lavender so I didn’t miss the aldehydes and mint that are present in the original. The lavender is pitched at a moderate level which allows the herbal quality to slightly take the lead. Roasted coffee has always been part of the A*Men formula. In Pure Tonka it is much more pronounced. Patchouli is paired with it in the heart which allows for it to feel like its parent without being entirely derivative. Then the tonka arrives. When tonka is around in quantity there is a combination of toasted nuttiness as well as a subtle hay-like quality. Both of those are on display in Pure Tonka. Together with the coffee the middle part of the development, where the two beans are out in front, is very good. I was worried that the chocolate and caramel of A*Men were going to come along and crash the party. Instead M. Huclier just adds a bit of vanilla to up the sweetness quotient without turning it completely deeply gourmand.
A*Men Pure Tonka has 16-18 hour longevity and way above average sillage. Very easy to spray too much.
M. Huclier has once again deconstructed his creation and found new places to elucidate by allowing some of the parts of the A*Men ensemble the chance to solo a bit. The lavender, coffee, and tonka take advantage of the spotlight. This is another winner in the Pure Series while being different enough to justify owning it.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Thierry Mugler.