In my perpetual hunt for the perfect vanilla, I decided to try Guerlain‘s Shalimar Ode à La Vanille Sur La Route De Mexique. The very first “Shalimar Ode à La Vanille” was released in 2010, and was a gourmand, vanilla-centric flanker to the great Shalimar that was subsequently followed by another limited-edition gourmand version in 2012 called Ode à La Vanille Sur La Route De Madagascar. In 2013, the Mexique version was released, also in limited-edition, but this one is still easily found on a number of online retailers for a great, discounted price. It’s not my perfect vanilla by any means, but I can see why some people like the fragrance, especially those who struggle with the 1925 Shalimar original and dislike its dark, smoky, leathery, and animalic undertones.
Shalimar Ode à La Vanille Sur La Route De Mexique (hereinafter just “Ode à La Vanille” for speed and convenience) is an eau de parfum that was created by Thierry Wasser, Guerlain’s in-house perfumer. Surrender to Chance explains how this version is meant to differ from its predecessor: “[a]ccording to Guerlain, the Mexican vanilla extract used in this fragrance has notes of prune, caramel and chocolate and is fruitier than the Madagascan version of Shalimar Ode a La Vanille which was released in 2012.”
According to Fragrantica, the notes in Ode à La Vanille (Mexique) are:
caramel, chocolate, incense, iris, opoponax [sweet myrrh], vanilla and tonka bean.
Ode à La Vanille opens on my skin with piercing lemon and bergamot. The note list may not include either element, but almost everyone smells the notes which are, after all, such a key part of the original Shalimar’s opening. The bright citruses are followed by spicy anise (or fennel) that is too green to be like licorice. Sweet vanilla with a hint of confectioner’s powder is infused throughout it all. There is a suggestion of incense lurking far, far on the horizon, but it is very muted and muffled at this point.
For the most part, Ode à La Vanille is merely a more citrusy, lighter version of Shalimar Eau de Toilette. It doesn’t have any of the latter’s profound darkness, leatheriness, or animalic qualities, but there is also not a whiff of chocolate or caramel, let alone the “prune” nuance discussed by Guerlain and referenced by Surrender to Chance.
Ode à La Vanille shifts a little as time passes, but its core essence remains practically unchanged from start to finish. The lemon grows stronger and stronger as the minutes tick by, and the incense suddenly appears at the edges after 5 minutes. By and large, it doesn’t feel like black frankincense or the oriental variety of smokiness. Rather, it feels almost entirely like myrrh and sweet myrrh combined. The former can manifest distinct anise tonalities, as well as a warm, slightly fusty, church-like incense. The latter can take on a light undertone of nuttiness. All those aspects are present here on my skin.
For much of the first hour, Ode à La Vanille is piercing citrus combined with fresh anise and myrrh all over Shalimar’s vanilla base, then dusted with patisserie powder. The fragrance softens a little after 40 minutes to feel slightly better balanced, but the lemon is still pretty extreme on my skin. In fact, I find the fragrance to have a very sharp edge that verges on shrillness, the way that some eau de toilettes can be. Ode à La Vanille is theoretically an eau de parfum — which is a concentration that is meant be smoother, richer, and deeper than an eau de toilette — but it doesn’t feel like it.
The fragrance generally feels very light and airy, though initially strong when sniffed up close. Using 3 small smears or the equivalent of 2 tiny spritzes, Ode à La Vanille opened with about 2 inches of projection at first before the scent dropped after 45 minutes to hover just above the skin. It turned into a pure skin scent on me at the end of the 3rd hour.
Ode à La Vanille turns smokier at the start of the 2nd hour, as the myrrh and incense grow in volume. They, too, feel sharp on my skin, with a slight nuance of mustiness. At the start of the 6th hour, the vanilla base feels fractionally creamier and deeper, so I suppose one could call the perfume a lemon pastry with myrrh smokiness and confectioner’s powder, but that’s as far as I can go in terms of “gourmand” undertones. Really, though, by and large, Ode à La Vanille is just sharp Lemon Shalimar on my skin. Not one of my tests yielded a single whiff of the alleged caramel or chocolate.
Ode à La Vanille continues to be Lemon Shalimar patisserie with smoke until the very end. It dies away after 8.25 hours when I applied the 3 small smears, but after 6.75 hours when I used less. I wasn’t enthused about any of it, and I happen to love original Shalimar in its vintage version. In fairness, I’m not particularly one for citrus overloads, so that has something to do with it, but the linearity of the scent and its sharpness were also contributing factors. If there had been any plush coziness in the drydown, any hints of cocoa powder (something I love in perfume), then I might feel differently.
As it is, my response veers sharply between boredom and irritation. Making a flanker to a flanker to a flanker to the legendary Shalimar — and, even worse, having only minute differences between them all — really seems like corporate greed and a lack of creativity on the part of LVMH. I suppose no-one can blame them for knowing which side their bread is buttered on, but colour me unimpressed.
The response to Ode à La Vanille seems to be mixed. A friend of mine said unenthusiastically that it was “Nesquik powder,” but a number of people on Fragrantica found Ode à La Vanille to be essentially a sharper version of Shalimar EDT. They, too, experienced none of the caramel or chocolate that was promised. For example, “Jenge” writes, in part:
I agree 100% with Shoshi’s review below. I wore this on my left arm and Shalimar EdT on my right to compare them. To me they were almost identical with the Ode being slightly sharper and more citric, and the original smoother and a more balanced blend.
Unfortunately, I didn’t smell any chocolate or caramel, and the vanilla was buried in the incense. I wanted a huge Ode to Vanilla! The longevity was also equal to the EdT.
Others found the perfume to be either unpleasantly musty or lacking in distinctiveness. A number talk about its thinness or under-performing longevity. However, quite a few people either experienced the promised gourmand notes, happily thought it smelled like lovely “vanilla-lemon cake,” or generally loved it. Several thought Ode à La Vanille was a more wearable, approachable take on the original legend.
A cross-section of the various opinions:
- When Angel met Shalimar then Ode la Vanille Route to Mexique was born… [¶] Realistic, complex scent of vanille, opoponax and cacao…if mixed with dried fruits then you have this limited edition which is generated by Shalimar edp new version (2012)!!!
- Oh, this is a Shalimar I can get behind! I can’t stop sniffing my arm! It is softer in the opening than traditional Shalimar, and I smell cooca. It is simply lovely.
- I was never a fan of original Shalimar but this one… I can’t get enough of it <3 . It starts with a lemon, some bitter lemon, and afterwards vanilla. And that is all i can smell. But it’s beauuuuuutiful. Only thing i do not quite like is that it is short lived 🙁 only few hours, at least on me. I mean, i can still smell it (it’s been about 4 hours) only i have to put my wrist right up my nose. […] It smells like some fine vanilla-lemon cake 😀
- Very strange—this perfume starts out smelling like a toilet full of mildew and a little bit of lemon disinfectant. There is something in it that is a real turnoff. It’s musty and uber powdery in a suffocatingly bad way. However, luckily, and like most versions of Shalimar, the perfume evolves into something rather enjoyable. I was surprised to see only iris listed in the notes, because the scent of jasmine wafts up to my nose in the first hour or so. The vanilla/caramel develops nicely and seems creamy enough. I smell no trace of chocolate. […]
- … the whole perfume smells more like a musty closet than anything else. To me the dominant opening note is opponax and I’m not happy about that. The vanilla is nice but it’s overwhelmed by this desert like dryness. This scent smells almost cold to me, not warm like original vintage Shalimar. This is a serious disappointment. It does get better an hour or so into the drydown and continues to improve but it also fades with each hour. This fragrance is timid and takes far too long to smell anything like the gourmand notes listed. This is not at all what I expected.
- Not really a good perfume to wear on this already ‘spicy’ skin. It just comes out all musty and synthetic, like a skeleton hiding out in some long-dead ancestor’s closet! Not much vanilla, and too much heady spices.
Skin chemistry is obviously the cause for the wide divergence in views. The “musty” aspects stem from the myrrh, but it doesn’t seem to have been a significant factor in the vast majority of accounts. So, if you’re a passionate lover of gourmand notes and tempted to try Ode à La Vanille/Mexique, then don’t let that put you off. Personally, I think it’s far more likely that you’ll experience little to no chocolate than you will “musty” myrrh.
For those who have tried the Madagascar predecessor, the essential difference seems to be that the Mexique version is slightly fruitier. One person on Fragrantica thinks that “Ode Mexique is really different,” though she is yet another one who can’t detect any cocoa whatsoever:
Ode Mexique was a real surprise to me, because after reading several reviews, I was thinking this would be pretty similar to last years Ode Madagascar. But I’ve been proven wrong: Ode Mexique is really different.
Mexique starts with a blast of fruits, where both the original Shalimar as well as last years Madagascar start with a big citrus. But the main difference appears after that.
During the dry down I experienced ‘Mexy’ as a rich vanilla fragrance, chewy and dark, whereas ‘Maddy’ is more true to the original with her powdery and sexy vanilla.
Personally, Mexique smells more modern and with an inheritance to Spiritueuse Double Vanille or Tonka Imperiale, than to Shalimar. It has the caramel, tonka and the rich vanilla. I don’t smell any cocoa, and just a hint of powder. I doubt if I could tell this a Shalimar flanker when tested blindly.
As noted earlier, Ode à La Vanille/Mexique is a limited-edition fragrance, but it is still widely available at a very affordable price on some discount sites if you’re interested in it. FragranceNet sells Mexique for roughly $46, and it has branches for the UK, EU, and other parts of the world. You can find it for about $71 and up on eBay, and much more on both Amazon and Amazon UK. (See Details section below.) I’ve used FragranceNet in the past, as have many of my friends, and have found the site to be very reliable and reputable.
I would personally suggest ordering a sample of Ode à La Vanille/Mexique first, but for those who like to live on the wild side and order blindly, it might help you to know something about the packaging. There are differences between the boxes and scrollwork for Mexique and Madagascar. The latter is a bit rare at this point, but it still turns up on occasion, so here are some photos I found which may help you distinguish between the two:
If bright citruses, vanilla cakes, and a lighter take on Shalimar are your thing, then you may want to give Ode à La Vanille/Mexique a sniff.