I’m on an unofficial, totally nonsensical mission to get all my friends to have the same signature scent: Kayali Vanilla 28. Mind you, I’m by no means a fragrance influencer. Many of my friends are true fragrance aficionados, while I don’t know oud from amber. I simply know a delicious scent when I smell one.
Whenever I’m hanging out with my friends, they inevitably ask what I’m wearing, though. My answer is always “Kayali Vanilla...the same perfume I was wearing last time I saw you.” Eventually, I get texts reading, “OK, I’m fully converted to Kayali Vanilla now.”
But my friends and I are not the only ones who can’t get enough of Kayali Vanilla 28. The eau de parfum, which was brought to fruition by Mona Kattan, is getting major hype on social media. (For those unfamiliar, she is the co-founder and global president of not only Kayali but also her sister’s namesake brand, Huda Beauty.) In fact, Kayali’s Instagram is flooded with comments like “I don't want to wear anything else” and “I just ordered my fifth bottle.” Dozens also share their complaints about Kayali Vanilla 28 selling out around the world. Kayali has even taken note of the demand and just launched a limited-edition set for the scent.
What makes the lauded juice, as Kattan delightfully calls it, so beloved among fragrance novices and experts alike, though? Allow me to dive into the intricacies and simplicities of Kayali Vanilla 28 that make it so universally appealing.
The Origins of Kayali Vanilla 28
Only the best vanilla fragrance on the market could be created by a verified vanilla devotee. “If I had to pick one note that I loved the most, it might be vanilla,” Kattan once told me during a chat we had in Dubai back in December 2019.
The rest of Kayali’s lineup is proof of that. Vanilla is also a note in Utopia Vanilla Coco 21, Déjà Vu White Flower 57, and Sweet Diamond Pink Pepper 25. However, Kayali Vanilla 28 came first as part of Mona Kattan’s debut into the fragrance world, alongside two other note-focused perfumes: Citrus 08 and Musk 12.
Before hitting the market, Kayali Vanilla 28 took 28 iterations — hence the number in its name — to master with the help of Swiss perfumery Firmenich. This company is also behind the equally adored fragrances Marc Jacobs Daisy, Yves Saint Laurent Black Opium, By Killian Good Girl Gone Bad, Diptique Eau de Minthé, and Gucci Bloom.
True to its name, Kayali vanilla is an unapologetically vanilla fragrance, says Sable Yong, who is not only one of my dear friends but also a beauty writer and the co-founder of scent-focused podcast Smell Ya Later. Although “the larger mainstream interpretation tends to lump vanilla scents in with desserty sweetness, Kayali’s version doesn’t add sweetness so much as it adds more of itself —vanilla,” she tells TZR.
Creamy vanilla vibes are brought to you by a mixture of vanilla orchids sourced from Madagascar and tonka by way of Brazil. The latter “has a muted sweetness, along with a nutty spiciness,” according to Tynan Sinks, the other co-host of Smell Ya Later and winner of The Fragrance Foundation’s 2019 award for Editorial of the Year – Digital.
Vanilla orchid, on the other hand, is the flower from which vanilla beans are harvested — they are actually seed pods plucked from vanilla orchid vines. With this in mind, Kayali Vanilla has a true “warm, strong, and boozy” vanilla extract quality to it, Sinks tells TZR. Then, the sweetness of Kayali Vanilla is boosted by brown sugar. This confectionery ingredient adds a rich caramelization to the scent, Sinks notes.
Layers of musk, patchouli, and amber woods also add a smoky depth to the juice, while florals keep it from being seemingly cavity-inducing just from inhaling it. These additional notes help balance out the yin and yang of Kayali Vanilla 28, says Fiona Co Chan, the founder of TikTok-famous makeup line Youthforia. “The jasmine notes are flirty and feminine, while the earthiness is very strong and bold,” she tells TZR. “Vanilla is one of the notes that play perfectly in between floral and earthiness.”
Overall, Kayali Vanilla 28 “pulls from everything that pairs well with the note — spice, florals, and woods — but anchors it all in a true, raw vanilla,” Sinks explains. “It is both a literal take on vanilla and an artistic expression of it. It's both the truth and the daydream. It’s fact and fantasy.”
The Nostalgia Factor of Kayali Vanilla 28
Every time my mom took me to the mall when I was little, she always had to make a pit stop at Sephora. While she browsed through the latest skin care launches, I went straight for the shelf of Pink Sugar. Something about it was boldly feminine, unapologetically saccharine, and perfectly playful — everything I aspired to be when I was an 11-year-old stuck in South Florida. My mom never let me sink my teeth into a whole bottle of the retro cotton candy perfume, so I chased that Pink Sugar high until I started using Kayali Vanilla 28 in 2020. It represents the woman I am now: comforting, creative, and sweet with a kick.
I discussed this theory with Saphran Eckersley of popular TikTok account @Perfumerella, and she agrees that Kayali Vanilla is like a grown-up version of Pink Sugar. Despite growing up in Australia, Eckersley coincidentally loved wearing Pink Sugar in middle school and later discovered Kayali Vanilla during a trip to Sephora a couple of years ago.
Fans of the fragrance also recall the coziness of Warm Vanilla Sugar from Bath & Body Works when wearing Kayali Vanilla. Consider it a luxurious and more indulgent alternative to the throwback gourmand scent. “Warm Vanilla Brown Sugar body spray walked so Kayali Vanilla can run,” jokes my friend Amber aka tarot card reader and spiritual healer Amber the Alchemist. “Though sweet, it’s layered, so it doesn’t feel juvenile.” These qualities are essential for someone who must perpetually smell edible, warm, and sultry “at the same damn time,” she adds.
Kayali Vanilla has a wonderful way of reminding people of loved ones, too. “The first time I experienced Kayali Vanilla, it enveloped me like a warm embrace,” makeup artist Rose Siard says, while Eckersley tells me it reminds her of all the baking her “Nanna” did growing up.
In other words, “Kayali’s Vanilla takes the familiar comforting gourmet scent and allows it to grow up, so those who adored the scent in their youth can grow with it,” adds Yong.
The Accessibility Of Kayali Vanilla 28
A recent study found that about 1.6 million people in the U.S. have lost their sense of smell due to COVID for more than six months. My sister Taylor is one of these people dealing with chronic olfactory dysfunction. Over a year and a half has passed since she’s been able to take in any sort of sweet aroma, but she can’t leave the house without spritzing on Kayali Vanilla 28. “It’s as essential to me as flossing,” Taylor tells me. “It’s the perfect finishing touch.”
Taylor has long been an avid perfume user, though, especially ones with a warm vibe, specifically with notes of vanilla and amber. Having vanilla as the focal point of its name made Kayali Vanilla a no-brainer for Taylor — and various other fragrance-loving folks dealing with the long-term effects of COVID, I’m sure. She can perfectly imagine what it smells like.
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The Pairing Potential of Kayali Vanilla 28
Kayali Vanilla 28 connoisseurs often attest to its versatility. In the words of another comment I spotted on Instagram, “Vanilla 28 elevates everything.” The note could even be considered one of the most easily layered scents.
Kattan, who is the queen of layering fragrances, compares Vanilla 28 to whipped cream. “You should put it on everything,” she says. “It's like the best topper. On top of any fragrance, it just adds such a nice touch to it.” Her personal favorite pairings for Kayali Vanilla are Love, don’t be shy by Killian, Giorgio Armani’s Sì Passione, and Louis Vuitton Ombre Nomade — just to name a few.
My favorite Kayali Vanilla 28 sidekicks are Tom Ford’s Bitter Peach for a lavish peaches and cream vibe. I also love to layer it with YSL’s new Black Opium Illicit Green when I want more acidic fruitiness and Ellis Brooklyn’s Super Amber to amplify the amber elements.
A TikTok hack I’ve spotted is layering it over vanilla-scented lotion, too, like the Nivea Vanilla & Almond Oil Infused Body Lotion or Laura Mercier’s Ambre Vanillé Soufflé Body Crème, to help the scent cling to your skin for longer. However, Eckersley swears by Kayali Vanilla’s longevity, and Yong attests to its strength on its own, so feel free to mist it straight onto bare skin solo in all its divinely sweet glory.
Where To Snag Kayali Vanilla 28
Have I convinced you to hop on the Kayali Vanilla 28 bandwagon? Well, you can find various sizes of it on hudabeauty.com and sephora.com. The price ranges between $25 and $118, depending on how many ounces you go for. Sinks claims it smells like “it’d easily be a rare, $400 perfume,” though. If you are looking for a cheaper option, you can buy the $15 hand cream version. The aforementioned new set is also available for $85 with 1.7 oz and 0.33 oz bottles.