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Bombay Duck London

The 12 Scents of Christmas No. 1: Shalimar Ode à la Vanille

This is the peak perfuming time of year.  A splash behind the ears, a spritz down the décolletage, a touch behind the knees.  (An old tip, but it works:  the fragrance wafts beautifully up at you.  Er, and whoever happens to be on their knees around you.)  So the snow-bound Scent Critic will be working her way through a delicious twelve scents that are just right for this season:  sexy, sensual, snuggly-and-warm, or just plain ‘peppy’, to get you in the mood to hit the dancefloor when actually, you’d rather slip on your jammies and bedsocks and retreat under the Slumberdown with a hottie.  (I make no apologies for the fact that no less than three of my 12 Scents of Christmas are by Guerlain, BTW.  It’s a Guerlain moment, in the calendar.)

The first – Shalimar Ode à la Vanille – ticks the sexy, sensual and snuggly-and-warm boxes.  Just beautifully, if you ask me.  As it happens, Shalimar – that love-it-or-hate-it, swoon-for-it-or-run-a-mile-because-it-reminds-you-of-your-mum’s-blowsy-best-friend fragrance – just happens to be one of my all-time favourites.  Occasionally, Guerlain have a bit of a play with it – and it isn’t always that successful.  ‘Lightening up’ Shalimar is a bit like – well, trying to paint a Rothko in watercolour.   Or make a chocolate cake, without the chocolate.  Doesn’t work.  But deepen Shalimar, sex it up even more, and hey, presto!  Fabulosity.

The idea here is that vanilla – the so-key ingredient in Shalimar – has been turbo-charged, with both Mayotte and Madagascar vanilla that have been ‘infused for four years’, we’re told.  The result is sweet, without being sickly.  (You know the way that salt can cut through sweetness, in a caramel?  Well, this is the same.  There’s something in there – maybe the twist of lemon and bergamot, at the start – which stops it heading to cupcake-ville.  Or maybe it’s just that the tonka has been toned down, compared to the original.)  Actually, after a wee while, what I get is a sort of woodsmokiness, a tarriness that’s not there in the Shalimar original, which is probably down to the incense element.  (As regular readers can imagine, this appeals to my inner Lapsang-lover.)  There’s almost a burned-tyre tinge, but – stick with me here – not in a bad way, just a makes-it-more-interesting way.  And don’t get me wrong:  Shalimar Ode à la Vanille is definitely a ‘gourmand’ fragrance:  edible, smooth, naughty.  If this was a chocolate in a selection box, it would be a silken champagne truffle.  And you’d want more than one.

The man who’s dared to ‘play’ with Shalimar, this time around, is Thierry Wasser, who I consider to be among a handful of the most gifted perfumers on the planet.  He’s got the top job at Guerlain (the first non-family member to wear that crown) – and this is another job well done.  Even the most devoted Shalimar-lover must experience the occasional frisson of ennui, and would therefore be thrilled to find this in her stocking, on Christmas morning.  It’s close enough to make Shalimar Woman feel like she’s being faithful.  But different enough to feel like she’s having a little flirtation on the side.  Just flirting.  As I say, not a full-blown, what-the-hell-let’s-book-a-room affair, with the ensuing guilt…

Its one downside?  I find it has less staying power than the original eau de toilette.  (Thierry will probably personally take me to task on this, as he did over the Idylle eau de parfum, but on my skin it’s certainly the truth.)  In Christmas party terms, this is a Cinderella of a fragrance.  By midnight it will have done a runner.  The solution, of course, is to slip the bottle in your evening purse and have a re-spritz.  The bottle’s just small enough – and certainly eye-candy-ish enough (thanks to Jade Jagger’s re-working of the original) – to do just that.

Just don’t forget the backs of your knees.  (After all, it is the Christmas party season, and you never know who’s going to be down there.)



1 comment to The 12 Scents of Christmas No. 1: Shalimar Ode à la Vanille

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