Guerlain Shalimar Ode a la Vanille ~ fragrance review

Guerlain Shalimar Ode a la Vanille

I had little hope Guerlain Shalimar Ode à la Vanille would be a good perfume. Ode à la Vanille PR didn’t stress the fragrance but the Jade Jagger redesign of the Shalimar bottle, which Guerlain is using for Shalimar Eau de Parfum and Shalimar Ode à la Vanille. Harrods even had an online feature showing Jagger, looking a bit uncomfortable at a desk, ‘sketching’ her designs. Harrods listed the iconic perfume as “Shalimar by Jade Jagger”!

Guerlain house perfumer Thierry Wasser developed the new, vanilla-enriched Shalimar Ode à la Vanille; it includes fragrance notes of lemon, bergamot, rose, jasmine, iris, incense, opoponax, tonka bean and two types of “infused” vanilla: Madagascar vanilla and Mayotte vanilla. Shalimar Ode à la Vanille starts off with a wonderful leather-tinged bergamot-lemon note. Quickly, Shalimar Ode à la Vanille begins to smell “creamy” — like a chilled vanilla-citrus custard. The florals, especially the rose and jasmine, are discernible in mid-development but really become apparent in Ode à la Vanille’s extreme dry-down. As Shalimar Ode à la Vanille segues from middle to base notes it becomes amber-y-floral — first, with dark vanilla, opoponax, a hint of frankincense, some tonka bean and leather-musk notes, then with a vanillic flower accord.  (There’s also a transitory indolic note that stays close to skin.) Shalimar Ode à la Vanille smells natural and delicious.

Guerlain, as is its wont, describes Shalimar Ode à la Vanille as “feminine.” Usually, Guerlain’s old fashioned views on who wears what type of fragrance can be ignored, but Shalimar Ode à la Vanille’s soft, hazy florals in its base do give the perfume a feminine/"pretty" character. Still, I was ready to buy Shalimar Ode à la Vanille when a certain “perfume-blog mistress” suggested I compare it to classic Shalimar in Eau de Parfum and Parfum versions. I followed orders.

Today, “classic” Shalimar Eau de Parfum* smells rather bright, clear and high-pitched — not as creamy and rich as it used to smell. When first applied to skin, Shalimar Eau de Parfum smells harsh, synthetic and metallic (imagine the scent of lemon pound cake in an overheated toaster oven), and it has more indoles/civet-like aromas than Shalimar Ode à la Vanille. Shalimar Eau de Parfum does not make a good first impression when smelled next to Shalimar Ode à la Vanille, but as classic Shalimar Eau de Parfum dries down it improves dramatically. I love classic Shalimar Eau de Parfum’s strong citrus, leather and musk notes. The scent of Shalimar Eau de Parfum no longer conjures exaggerated femininity — it’s a fragrance a man can wear.

As one would expect, Shalimar in Parfum concentration makes a good showing when pitted against Shalimar Ode à la Vanille; the Parfum’s ingredients are ‘denser’ and high quality. Shalimar Parfum is quite indolic, but though it could once dominate a room and lasted forever on skin, today, even applied lavishly, it’s a subdued and fleeting fragrance.

What if I were ordered to choose and forced to wear only ONE Shalimar fragrance? It would be a hard choice. Ode à la Vanille has a sensational opening and pretty good lasting power; Shalimar Eau de Parfum has great, and more ‘masculine,’ base notes and excellent persistence; and Shalimar Parfum smells good on opening, middle and close but has poor lasting power (and a few too many indoles for my taste). I’d love for Wasser, in Shalimar’s next reincarnation, to provide a perfume with Shalimar Ode à la Vanille’s top notes, Shalimar Parfum’s heft but with more persistence, and Shalimar Eau de Parfum’s glorious dry-down and ‘just-right’ indolic notes content.

In my personal “Judgment of Shalimar,” bold, tough, serious classic Shalimar Eau de Parfum is the winner.

Guerlain Shalimar Ode à la Vanille is a limited edition fragrance; 50 ml Eau de Parfum, £61.50.

*Classic Shalimar notes: mandarin, cedar, bergamot, lemon, jasmine, rose, iris, patchouli, vanilla, benzoin, peru balsam, leather.

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  1. RusticDove says:

    Hi Kevin. Your review of the Ode a la Vanille has created a lemming and it raises hope that this will be the Shalimar to work for me. I admire the original Shalimar, but on my skin it’s screechy and rather one dimensional [even though the notes sound like it would be perfect]. The parfum works the best on me, but not enough to make it a favorite like other Guerlains [Mitsouko being one of my top 5 favorite perfumes of all time]. Just for the heck of it – I will revisit it again later today – it’s been quite a while – and I’ll see if my opinion changes. Obviously, I’ve been frustrated by my efforts to ‘get’ Shalimar and may have to accept that I never will.

    • Kevin says:

      RusticD: ah…too bad I’ve made a lemming out of Ode…it’s HARD to find!

    • lemonprint says:

      Hi Rusticdove,
      I completely sympathize because those are very similar to the reasons I wanted to try OalV. I don’t adore Shalimar in any formulation, including a vintage extrait I picked up in my ongoing effort to “get” it. I tried OalV at our local Bergdorf Goodman to see if I would like it more. It really is a gentler, more vanilla version, and that’s what I wanted – a less acidic top, a softer overall fragrance.

      I feel sure that the New York Bergdorf Goodman still has some – you’d need to call the Guerlain counter. They have been very nice to me.

      • Joe says:

        I’m glad that both of you (Lemon & Rustic) have similar experiences — Shalimar has not grown on me, but Ode worked. Rustic, maybe you’ll have that experience… though our dear Daisy, also challenged by Shalimar, was not swayed by Ode.

        • Daisy says:

          I might have “swayed” a little as I dashed to the sink to begin the scrubbing…..or maybe it was stumbling…it’s a tough call. ;-)

        • Daisy says:

          Okay, okay…I’m exaggerating. It wasn’t that bad. The indolic note in Shalimar (see? I didn’t even call it you-know-what) and also in Ode just are so overwhelming on me….it just obliterates all the other notes. I still have a couple minis of Shalimar, but maybe it’s officially time to stop trying.

          • Joe says:

            I don’t get anything “indolic” or poo-like in either one.

    • RusticDove says:

      Well, I did give Shalimar another try yesterday [parfum and EdT] and I had a more positive experience this time. I’ve come to this conclusion: Top notes – still a difficult difficult stage for me. Dry down stage: pretty enjoyable this time. It’s the screechy beginning that’s demanding. Once it settles, I get a smoothness and compexity that I’m begginning to appreciate. Oh, and I don’t get even a hint of indoles, but I do think that my skin, or maybe it’s my nose, mellows that sort of thing out.

  2. maggiecat says:

    Thanks for the comparison! I thought my small sample of Ode a la Vanille was quite similar to old Shalimar Light, but I never got around to doing a side-by-side sniff. I’ll have to dig out that sample again….I will say – I’d love to smell this on a man!

    • Kevin says:

      MaggieC: don’t think I’ve ever smelled the “light” version of Shalimar.

      • mals86 says:

        Well, dang. Because that was what I was going to ask – that you compare it to either version of Shalimar Light/Eau Legere. I love those, but I can only wear classic Shalimar (I have a tiny bottle of vtg parfum de toilette) at certain times, and only a drop at a time.

        • Kevin says:

          Mals: sorry! (and I’m Shalimar’ed out after a week of non-stop testing. HA!)

          • mals86 says:

            Well, if you change your mind at some point I have loads of the JPG version and at least a sample of the M Laurent (first) version that I could toss your way.

            If it wouldn’t, you know, kill you. I couldn’t do All Shalimar All Week either…

  3. Abyss says:

    Funily enough, when OdlV appeared at the local Guerlain counter, I also decided to compare it side by side with Shalimar EdP. Just like you, I decided that Shalimar was the winner. “Bold, tough and classic” is exactly right. It has personality.

    By comparison, OdlV was just nice. I didn’t really care for the top notes and the vanilla was a bit too….well…vanilla. You know how Ernest Beaux bemoaned the fact that when working with vanilla he got crème anglaise while Gurrlain got Shalimar? Well, this is crème anglaise. Nothing scary about it but, to me, it just lacks character.

    • Kevin says:

      Abyss: for me it was the floral base that scared me away from Ode.

  4. SensualistGeek says:

    I have, to my great shame, no real idea what classic Shalimar smells like. On skin, that is. I have a vague recollection – from either smelling it on someone once or on a tragic magazine strip. There really is no excuse, I should get on it!

    Great review, Kevin! :-)

    • Kevin says:

      SensualistGeek: DO smell Shalimar! It’ll be easy to find compared to Ode a la Vanille.

  5. jonr951 says:

    Great review Kevin. I am so looking forward to experiencing Ode a la Vanille. Does anyone know if and when it will launch in the U.S.? Thanks! : )

    • Robin says:

      Butting in — as I understand it, it has already launched, although as near as I can tell, no US stores are carrying it online and some may have already sold out. If you want some, you could try the Guerlain counters at Bergdorf Goodman or one of the larger Neiman Marcus stores, or the Guerlain boutiques in Florida, Las Vegas or NY. Maybe someone else can chime in with more recent info (?)

      • jonr951 says:

        Oh thanks so much Robin! : )

      • helenviolette says:

        Ordered mine(unsniffed!) from Bergdorf- called the Vegas store and they said they had already sold out- ordered more and sold out again!
        AND….I love it! I also love Shalimar-especially vintage and parfum- and I liked Shalimar light (swapped it away)- but this is beautiful. Feels very modern to me- dry- understated but sexy. Shalimar is very beautiful and opulent but this is a more ready-to-wear version. I’m smitten.

  6. Kitty says:

    Great review, Kevin. My assessment (in simplistic terms) was similar to yours, but I’m enjoying my sample. Jonr951: I got my sample at TPC and will enjoy every drop.

    • Kevin says:

      Kitty: I was lucky too…a friend gave me a BIG sample/decant of Ode.

  7. Dzingnut says:

    Kevin, I covet your nose. Wonderful review! I have not had much luck with any version of Shalimar, and I want to like it because the bottle is so pretty.

    • Kevin says:

      Dzing: I love the old bottle best…the bottle for the Shalimar parfum is gorgeous.

  8. halimeade says:

    The more I hear about this, the more I want a decant of it! I’ve never had the chance to try anything stronger than the EdT of the classic Shalimar (which my mom used to wear a lot when I was young); I love the smell, but it is too sharp (and perhaps masculine?) for me to want to wear around. Ode sounds like it would be perfect for me. I will have to try TPC to see if I can snag some.

    • mals86 says:

      I think the edt is really rough. I still don’t *like* Shalimar all that much, but it’s much more wearable in the higher concentrations.

      • AnnS says:

        See it’s so funny how our noses are all different. I have some 80s era edt, and I think it smells like a big powder puff. To me, it is so similar to vintage Emeraude that I can barely tell them apart.

        • mals86 says:

          NOOOOOOO! (Covers the ears of dear sweet plushy vintage Emeraude – “Don’t worry, sweetie, she was oversimplifying. You’re a lady, Shalimar’s not.”)


        • Joe says:

          Ann & Mals: I find the current edt REALLY rough… my grandmother was given a bottle a few years back and I tried to sneak spritzes of it but it beat me back every time. I couldn’t stand it.

    • Kevin says:

      Halimeade: I’ve never liked the EdT of Shalimar much…the higher up the concentration ladder you go the smoother and bolder it gets…though the parfum disappears on me quickly.

  9. sunsetsong says:

    I tried Ode a La Vanille on a whim in Debenhams, Inverness. As the real Shalimar in its various guises hates me (imagine fumes of decaying custard if there could be such a thing) , I didn’t expect to adore it, but it smelled LOVELY on me. Awaiting the transition to the dreaded custard I strolled off for an hour or more. It stayed LOVELY as it developed and I got one of the two bottles in the store. The quest for my perfect vanilla fragrance is over (for now). Do try it!

    • Kevin says:

      Sunsetsong: this seems to be the quickest disappearing limited edition in awhile! I wonder if Guerlain will keep it around…it seems to be well liked.

    • Daisy says:

      decaying custard…yes! that is a great description… pretty much covers what I get from any incarnation of Shalimar.

      • Ann says:

        Have to agree, the custard comment is spot on.

  10. Joe says:

    Hi there and Happy New Year, Kevin.

    I have to say that I was really impressed with my decant of Ode. I’ve only had tiny samples of “classic” edp and parfum, but it has never been to my taste — I keep trying, but something is always “off”, and I just haven’t warmed up to it. It’s possible that more lavish application than dabs from a sample vial would make me a convert. However, I have really enjoyed wearing Ode for the past month. The lemony top notes are nice and transition into that lovely vanilla.

    I’m impressed with the fragrance, and that bottle is stunning. It seems like it would be a VERY smart move for Guerlain to do something with this scent in the future rather than let it be a one-time, fleeting limited edition.

    • Kevin says:

      Hi, Joe: Happy New Year to you, too! I can’t believe Guerlain will let Ode “disappear” so quickly…but who knows?

  11. Tama says:

    I have to say that bottle in person is really beautiful – sleek and elegant.

    I so want to try this – so many Shalimar haters have liked this one and I do pretty badly in Shalimar edp. I had the extrait on a card in my bag and got really queasy from it. But, sounds like even if I tried it and liked it, it would be really hard to find. I didn’t see it on my big Guerlain boutique in NM.

  12. Bonbori says:

    You guys! I was like many on this page, desperately seeking a Shalimar that worked for me because I *get* Shalimar, I just cannot wear it!!! But this wasn’t that magic I sought!

    Unlike the original, this is VERY linear-smelling blend and it never acheives that “alchemy” — you know, where you forget the parts for the whole effect — that makes the original work. Agree with Abyss, “You know how Ernest Beaux bemoaned the fact that when working with vanilla he got crème anglaise while Gurrlain got Shalimar? Well, this is crème anglaise. Nothing scary about it but, to me, it just lacks character.”

    It actually smells alot like SDV in the drydown with some off-putting (IMAO) resin and sandalwood. I say NO! Save your money or turn to Les Voyages Moscou instead which is also vanilla-sweet, citrus top, floral, resin, etc. and IS well-blended, never breaking down into announcing “here are my ingredients” like Ode does.

  13. Ann says:

    Hi, reading about those of you trying to “get” Shalimar makes me feel so much better. It blooms into a headache-inducing, overpowering powder on me, but in its defense, I have not tried the richer concentrations. I do have a sample vial of the Ode and it is more approachable. But I think several spray trial wearings of it is called for. I will pop into my Neiman’s tomorrow and see if they have it. And thanks, guys, for helping me not feel so alone. :)

    • Ann says:

      Hi all! I ran by Neiman’s today and they have 1 bottle left, a 1.7-ounce spray that the SA said was $110. If you’re interested, here’s the number:
      4042668200, ext. 2145 and ask for Dulce. She was very nice and helpful and even made a sample for me.

  14. Absolute Scentualist says:

    Shalimar EdP is such a big fragrance that the first time I tested it, I felt it was wearing me and not the other way round. But much like Angel and Fracas, I tried once more with a lighter application and it was just magic. The only problem is DH’s mother doused herself liberally with it once upon a time so at this point I have to wear the EdP when he’s out.

    Shalimar Light was just perfect for both of us. For me, it had all the brightness with a hint of bite and for him, the more subdued interpretation was far enough from his memories that it wasn’t a problem. To me, the original Shalimar EdP is sexy in a take charge sort of way, Shalimar Light is flirty with unspoken promises and I imagine Ode to be more indulgent and languid. I can’t wait to try it.

    I really wanted to test this before buying a bottle, but if they’re flying off the shelf so quickly, I might have to adjust my wish list and spring for one. I’ve liked all the versions I’ve tried so far (including a lovely vintage EdC) so can’t imagine it wouldn’t be a very strong like at the very least.

    Thanks for the review and comparrisons, Kevin. :)

  15. hongkongmom says:

    Great review Kevin
    I am a shalimar lover…and I agree on it being more “ready to wear: and modern. I wore it this morning and a good 7 hrs later I am in the floral dry down which I love as well as the opening lemon, bergamot contrast! I was too busy in the day to really sniff, so I guess it will need another trial run, before I deem it full bottle worthy. The fact that it is a special edition and the bottle is GORGEOUS is adding

    • Kevin says:

      HKMom: I’m predicting a purchase. HA!

  16. aliciaanne says:

    Really interesting investigation. I dig this incarnation of Shalimar, despite being initially turned off by the Jade-fueled PR as well.

  17. geordan1244 says:

    I got mine through Saks in NY. Perhaps they still have some?
    Anyway, I got a decant, also, but ordered the bottle because I heard it was so scarce and was scared that I was going to love the decant and be unable to get my hands on a bottle. And I love it. All except the really citrusy opening. I never thought I would love a Shalimar, then I got this, and then got an Eau de la Shalimar very soon after in a swap. I adore both (which is funny because many don’t like the Eau – so glad I didn’t go just by reviews). They are both now staples in my wardrobe (although I wear Eau more for work and Ode when I want to be more playful). I haven’t tried the parfum, but would be willing to do so if I had the chance.
    Great review! Thanks!

  18. FOandW_oh_my says:

    Well, I happen to live this. Thank goodness as it was an unsniffed purchase!
    Yum, yum, yum!

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