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.
Hmmm, I guess the price is right but it sounds quite dull indeed. But I’m not a big vanilla person (at least not in perfume). I’ve heard a great deal about these flankers (almost universally good, it’s worth noting!). Truth be told, I’m not wild about Shalimar to begin with so its flankers don’t do very much to entice me. I keep trying to enjoy Shalimar but I think ultimately it’s simply not my taste, though I can certainly appreciate its influence in the world of perfumery and its enduring popularity. Don’t hate it by any means, but I don’t think I really “get” it.
Well, the “Odes” often seem to be marketed or designed for people who don’t “get” the original Shalimar and/or who want a tamer, safer, easier version. So, in that sense, it’s more for you, theoretically speaking. However, since you generally don’t like gourmands or vanilla IN ADDITION to being unenthused about Shalimar, then it’s totally pointless for you. LOL. 😉
BTW, the general, regular retail price is well over $100, like $120, I think, so the pricing given in the review is only for the massively discounted rates!
To be honest, I’m not sure about the scent. But I could smother myself in those cakes 🙂
I reckon this won’t be my perfect vanilla either. I am not fond of extreme citrusy openings or extreme cistrusy perfumes in any way shape or form. The powdered sugar sounds like it could be a disaster on my skin.
I like my vanilla woody, smokey, and definitely dark and comforting. I can’t manage things like Vanille Galante, Orchidee Vanille, or any flowery vanilla. I love Le Labo Vanille 44, PG’s Felanilla, and MdO’s Vanille but have struggled with pretty much any other vanilla I have tried, including the super loved L’Artisan Vanille Absolument. I kind of like 7 billions heart which I thought it would be instant love for all the reviews I read, yet it left me with an inane face. It is just alright on me. PdN Tonka Vanilla made me run for the shower and so on. Aaaaah the search continues. Keep me posted if at any point you happen to find a true vanilla love.
Heh, the long list of someone in search of the perfect vanilla… And your list may be even longer than mine! LOL. I wish the MdO Vanille worked on me, since that is one that non-vanilla lovers usually fall for, but it didn’t work well on me at all. I’ve heard really good things about Le Labo’s Vanille 44 but the ultra-ultra exclusivity (and price) make me reluctant to try it. It just wouldn’t help most readers who would never be able to get a hold of it. But, one day, I’ll order a sample just for myself and just to see. 🙂
Luckyscent will start carrying it on September 1st. Now they have a 12 ml sample size available so happiness! so it won’t be that terrible of a wait anymore 🙂
Wait, Le Labo will be offering the City Exclusives in a 12 ml size via Luckyscent?? Are you sure? Because all I see now is a 1.5 ml vial for $12, with the full bottles being the extra-insane City Exclusive price once they arrive in September.
Oh lord. I meant to say samples vial for 12 dollars and of course I wrote whatever my left hand decided to type. sorry about the confusion. Yes, the city exclusives are expensive but at least available in the States now so not that city exclusive anymore 😉
Well, for one, single, solitary month they won’t be exclusive, but after that…. 🙂
Ode à la Vanille sur la Route de Mexique can be found at such inexpensive prices that it is very tempting to acquire a bottle. That being said, I really thought it was pretty ho-hum. Madagascar was beautiful though. Did you smell that one? It sold out lickety split.
No, I never smelled Madagascar but those I know who have tried both have found few significant, substantial differences. Less citric, basically, and much richer, deeper vanilla. Did you experience any chocolate or caramel with the Mexique version?
I don’t remember any chocolate or caramel. But then again, it’s been a while. I have a small decant of the Madagascar one and am much more familiar with that and the most current formulation of Shalimar.
I, too was unimpressed and the lemon hurt my nose when sniffed up close. Someday I will get my hands on vintage Shalimar. I think I will love it.
Man, the lemon is really sharp, sharp, SHARP, isn’t it? Ugh.
I traded a brand new bottle of this away because the opening was so off putting. I got A Taste of Fragrance edition of Womanity and lots of great samples. I was happy it worked out better for someone else. I love the Parfum Initial version of Shalimar…..
“Off-putting” is certainly one way to describe that piercing lemon note! 🙂 It sounds like it worked out in the end for you with the trade. I’m glad you found a lighter version of Shalimar that you enjoy with the Parfum Initial.
I was one of those who found it musty, boring and not distinctive. It was a great disappointment for me. Original Shalimar has much better vanilla than this version.
When I saw your “musty” comments, I wondered to myself if it was better to have piercing, sharp citrus or to have mustiness? Obviously, neither, but I think I got the better end of the stick, comparatively speaking. lol 🙂 Personally, I don’t think the vanilla and tonka in the EDT version of Shalimar is particularly great, but it definitely is in the vintage EDP and Extrait. I mourn what has happened to Shalimar these days with all the reformulations, and nothing in the Ode made me feel better on that score.
Some time ago the Ode Mexy (I had to laugh about your Mexy-Maddy differentiation!) was amongst my favorite vanilla scents but the more I smell it, the more I recognize that it is not a vanilla to me. I get more of the tonka and of dark choclate with this raunchy (or musty in a good way – I didn’t know that this comes from myrrh, how interesting) shalimaresque touch than vanilla. I completely smell the connection to Tonka Imperiale but not at all to Spiritueuse DV. (Skin chemistry…)
Cuir Beluga, which you would probably categorize as a heliotrope fragrance, is much more of a vanilla to me than Ode Mexy. At the moment, CB is my favorite vanilla but as I always underline, my taste is still in a process of development.
The “Ode Mexy” and those comparisons to SDV or Tonka Imperiale were made by a Fragrantica reader whom I quoted, not by me. 🙂
Interesting that you get some chocolate from Mexique, and a lot of vanilla from Cuir Beluga. The latter for me is more tonka-heliotrope-marzipan, but I think we can both agree that it is NOT a leather fragrance by any means. lol
I enjoy my vintage Shalimar EDC. the super citric top is gone–perhaps a good thing?–but what remains is rich. Can’t wear it much though.
The Vanille 44 is very wearable, and I like it, but folks who Like ‘Em Big may not appreciate that typical LL style.
Why can’t you wear the vintage Shalimar EDC much, James?
And, yes, I am one of those people who “Like ‘Em Big,” which is one reason why Le Labo (and particularly its general thinness) often leaves me cold.
Hard to explain why, except to say that the signature Guerlain base, which really is a thing of beauty, gets tiresome for me. This one, like Vol de Nuit and Habit Rouge, to name just two others, are just Once in a While scents for me. Probably me.
I have both of the ode’s…Madagascar, and Mexique. And yes, they are different. On my skin, the Mex is wonderful, and I can pick out the choc and caramel notes. I don’t find it musty, but it does have a lemony opening, which I don’t like very much at all, but thankfully it fades quickly. That is the main reason I couldn’t wear the original Shalimar, as it was far to citrus on me, and stayed throughout the whole wearing. As far as the Madagascar, it is a deeper vanilla than the Mex. I enjoy both, and the vanilla is lovely in both. I don’t like SDV at all, because of the rum note. I am always on the lookout for the perfect vanilla as well, but after numerous testings and decant purchases, there hasn’t really been a perfect one yet. Annick Goutal vanille exquise is truly beautiful, but has absolutely no longevity, on my skin anyway. Both the Mex and Mad last only a few hours on my skin as well.
Hello, Jennie, and welcome to the blog. I’m glad both fragrances work for you so well, and that you can smell differences, though they do seem to be largely ones of degree in terms of the depth of the vanilla. But at least you get chocolate and caramel with Mexique. That does not seem to be common.
Long time lurker de-lurking!
I was so intrigued by your description of this flanker, enough to make me de-lurk. I love Shalimar (in extrait), and a Shalimar with more vanilla and added chocolate sounded like heaven to me. But here’s the thing: I hardly got any lemon. I even wore the extrait and Mexique at the same time, just to compare. The lack of lemon was a shock to me, as the mouth-watering citrus is one of the things I love about the extrait (it’s too shrill in the edp and edt, though).
To me, Mexique was dry vanilla, a musty note that I thought was indole (it was distinctly… toilet-y, to be polite about it), and most of all a huge woody amber/aromachemical of some sort that lasted for more than 24 hours, after the rest of the perfume had faded. In fact, when I took a second shower, 36 hours later, the woody amber appeared again, briefly, coaxed to life by the steam, before finally dying. I don’t think the woody amber thing was a skin chemistry thing, as it seemed to have stuck to the carpet in the room where I was standing as I sprayed my arm. I could still smell the woody amber lingering in that room three days later. After two sprays, most of which must have ended up on my skin! My partner couldn’t smell it, so it could be a case of hyperosmia.
Incidentally, my sensitivity to certain types of aromachemicals was how I found your blog. I simply couldn’t understand how things that smelled so chemical and piercing to me could smell like great perfume to other people, and reading about your issues with ISO-E super was like a revelation. And then I stayed for the detailed reviews, which are always such a treat to read.
First, welcome to the blog, Linnet! 🙂 It’s so nice for you to come out of lurkerdom, and it’s obviously a tribute to the power of Guerlain’s tempting notes.
Second, your experience with Mexique sounds pretty rough. Toilet-y, mustiness, *AND* aromachemicals? Oh dear. It almost sounds like the piercing lemon would have been better. I’m fascinated, though, by the aromachemical woody aspect that appeared on your skin. I wonder if the cocoa had something to do with it, a sort of extreme dry dustiness that almost feels like woodiness? It doesn’t sound like it, but I can’t think what there may be in the notes that could have contributed to that impression. Perhaps the myrrh and cocoa? I’m reaching for straws here, but I do believe you. Something went terribly wrong on your skin. 🙁
As for the aromachemical issue and our mutual struggles with the really intense, chemical-smelling ones, all I have to say is that it’s so nice to have company in my tiny, freakish corner of the perfume world! Sometimes I think people don’t believe me in terms of what I detect or how extreme it can be, because so few people either detect the notes or find them repellent. It does make one feel rather like a freak on occasion. So, bottom-line, stop lurking in the shadows, and come keep me company. 😀 😀