I love Shalimar. I love Shalimar so much that I own almost every iteration of it – meaning the different concentrations – as well as any modern perfume that riffs on the Shalimar template. It’s like having a favorite t-shirt that is so soft, comfy and absurdly flattering that you don’t think twice about owning it in fifteen different colors. However, I am a harsh judge of the Shalimar flankers and over the years, have bought and sold a lot of what I’d consider dead wood. So I consider myself a bit of an expert on them. And in my experience, Shalimar flankers tend to fall into two main food groups.
First, you have the fresh lemon bar or key lime pie category of Shalimar, i.e., Shalimar Light, Shalimar Eau Legere, Shalimar Cologne (2015) and Shalimar Initial L’Eau Si Sensuelle, and so on. These I like but you definitely don’t need more than one. Pick your poison and don’t waste time pining for the ones that got away. The only one that stands out as something possibly new-ish is the original Shalimar Initial, which happens to be 50% Shalimar, 40% Dior Homme Intense, and 10% Angel – interesting, but caramel-fruitchouli Shalimar is not really my thing.
The other category is what I call the “Guerlain milking the cash cow” category. This is where the company places an expensive natural like single-plantation cocoa or vanilla (the real stuff, not vanillin) into Shalimar’s formula, thereby fixing some of the problems with the current EDP formula and upselling it at twice or three times the price. Basically, the cult of raw materials, courtesy of Guerlain. This is where all those Ode à la Vanille Sur La Route de Madagascar, de Mexique, de Dublin, de Johannesburg and de Beers* slot in.
I have bought and eventually sold every single one of ‘em. Want to know why? Because they are – aside from a minute detail or two – pretty much indistinguishable from regular Shalimar EDP. Believe me, my wallet and my confirmation bias long to say different. But no matter how hard I strained (and I strained hard enough to pop a blood vessel or two) to smell the most minute of nuances, I am honor-bound to inform you that these fancy flankers are little more than deeper, richer versions of the EDP. And if we are talking about a €100 difference per 50ml, you’d better believe that I am going to fix any problems that modern Shalimar EDP has by simply spraying more or spraying again.
Anyway, when I saw this new flanker – Shalimar Millésime Vanilla Plantifolia – and heard the whole ‘single batch’ and ‘vanilla plantation’ and ‘2021 cru’ backstory – I did two things. First, I bought a bottle of it blind, because, well, of course I did. Second, I girded my loins and hardened my heart against it, bitter from past experience. I pre-despised it as yet another piece of ‘cult of raw materials’ wankery that we are constantly being upsold on in the name of love of perfume, or at least, of this perfume.
I am so happy to report that I was wrong. Dead wrong, in fact. What we have here is 80% Shalimar extrait and 20% one of those eye-wateringly expensive niche vanillas like Lira (Xerjoff) or Tihota (Indult), the kind that smell like exquisite, handcrafted Viennoiseries stuffed with thick vanilla cream and shiny with a real butter glaze. My argument for selling those other Ode a la X, Y and Z Shalimars was that if I wanted Shalimar, then I could just reach for, you know, Shalimar. But here, if I’m reaching for Shalimar Millésime Vanilla Plantifolia, it’s because I’m in the mood for a little bit of Shalimar and a lotta bit of rich bakery vanilla. In fact, the vanilla is so well done that it makes it into my vanilla Hall of Fame, which, for someone who doesn’t own or wear a lot of vanilla scents, says something. In fact, and I risk bringing the wrath of hard-bitten Guerlainophiles down upon me here, this is much better than the other famous Guerlain vanilla, i.e., Spiritueuse Double Vanille.
Despite the vanilla confectionary overload, Shalimar Millésime Vanilla Plantifolia still smells distinctly and recognizably of Shalimar. Make no mistake, though, if you want the smoke and the leather and the sexy bitch-ness and the sturm und drang of Shalimar, just wear Shalimar. This flanker smothers all of that in a big musky cloud of vanilla cream powder, turning it into the equivalent of a weighted blanket or a chenille onesie. It is not sexy but there is something sensual about it, perhaps because it is so embarrassingly thick and sillageaceous. In the drydown, it reminds me a little of those honey and cream-scented edible body powers.
All in all, a rare good buy for me from this most cynical of Shalimar flanker categories and one that is doing a hell of a lot more than any of the Ode series ever did. Naturally, it has been discontinued, because Guerlain has a sourcing narrative to flog / scarcity marketing tactic to uphold / only a few vanilla beans left in the cupboard of scarcity of the vanilla beans from this particular harvest. But don’t worry if you’ve missed the boat on this one. It is good. But it is hardly the Second Coming. If you have and love Shalimar EDP or extrait, you will be just fine. And remember, there will always be other once-in-a-lifetime harvests and cynical sourcing narratives and rare single-plantation raw materials with which to gussy Shalimar up. Catch this boat the next time around.
Source of sample: I bought my bottle of Shalimar Millésime Vanilla Plantifolia directly from Mes Origines, a French e-tailer.
*Some of these might or might not be actual Shalimar flankers.