Opinions on the new Guerlain Shalimar Ode à la Vanille vary greatly. Some say it's a return to Shalimar of yore, or at least to some past version. Other say it's closer to the dearly departed Shalimar Light/Eau Legere or its recent incarnation as the somewhat wimpy Eau de Shalimar. Then there are those who claim it's more powdery/less powdery or whatever. But I doubt anyone would dispute the fact Ode à la Vanille is a legitimate member of the Guerlain family. It is definitely a Shalimar.
I usually prefer to spend more than two days and one night with a perfume before attempting to review it, but considering Guerlain released Shalimar Ode à la Vanille as a limited edition I figured it would be a good idea to hurry up a little. I did test it outside in the crisp(ish) fall air and indoors, slept in it and indulged as much as I could. So, yes, I really really like it.
The name Ode à la Vanille is misleading. It is definitely a vanilla scent, but what Shalimar isn't? Thierry Wasser, Guerlain's in-house perfumer, didn't turn Shalimar into a scary gourmand version of itself and I don't find the famous patisserie accord to be amplified in Ode à la Vanille. I also don't find it especially related to the boozy syrup of Spiritueuse Double Vanille other than in that general Guerlain family resemblance. Now that we established what this new perfume is not, let's see what I can actually make of it.
The biggest difference I find between Ode à la Vanille and several of the Shalimar versions I own is in its relative dryness. Despite the variety of citrus fruit (bergamot, lemon, mandarin orange) used in the opening of Shalimar it is anything but light or sporty. Shalimar is all drama and feels perfectly at home in a red carpet gown and other formal attire. While the vanilla note of Ode à la Vanille is deeper and more complex than what we've gotten from past versions (according to Guerlain it was achieved by using different types of vanilla from various sources), there is a mellowness here that starts at the top notes and makes Ode à la Vanille more laid back scent.
The late dry-down seems to share some of the complexity I find in Bois Torride. They don't smell anything alike, but there's an impression of a dusty bitter dark chocolate in both, and I love it. It's just interesting and quirky enough without compromising wearability or beauty. I find Ode à la Vanille less baroque but very elegant. It holds back a lot more than the original but it's still quite plush- not like the aforementioned evening gown, more like a finely-cut blazer that is made of the best possible materials and you can wear it with just about anything and go stroll the Upper East Side and feel like you belong there.
Is Ode à la Vanille to Shalimar the same as Eau Premier is to Chanel No. 5?
Not really, if you ask me. Eau Premier has done away with the more questionable part of No. 5, the perfumy aldehyde opening, that tends to bother many a modern nose. While the relationship between the two Chanels is obvious, one can easily dislike one and adore the other. It's not that simple in the case of this Guerlain. Ode à la Vanille might be easier to wear for some (men, especially), but it's still very much a Shalimar and those who smell it and run for their life or just object to this style of oriental perfumes would not change their minds all of a sudden. I doubt I'd be able to convince even my own mother to wear Ode à la Vanille for a full hour, but then again she has never met a semi-gourmand perfume she liked.
Guerlain Shalimar Ode à la Vanille ($110,50ml EDP) was released in the new Shalimar EDP bottle (the Jade Jagger design). It's a limited edition and bottles seem to be selling quickly but still available from most Guerlain boutiques around the world (Bergdorf might have run out at this point, but the Vegas boutique should still have it). I don't recommend buying unsniffed, especially if one is a bit iffy about Shalimar. It's a great perfume but hardly likely to rock your socks off if you're not already a fan of Guerlain in general and Shalimar in particular.
Photo of Christy Turlington and Louise Vynet by Gilles Bensimon, 1987