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.