Guerlain Vanillas

Decadent Vanilla

Decadent Vanilla

You can’t wear Guerlain without wearing vanilla.  It’s not even worth making the experiment because Guerlain equals vanilla, and there is no version of vanilla that Guerlain hasn’t whipped up, baked up, brewed up or macerated in just about endless variations during its nearly two hundred year history.*

First a disclaimer, I’m not a vanilliac.  But I like the note .  When I was younger I was sure I didn’t, and avoided Guerlains, but time passes you get older and wiser, and one day-you like vanilla.

Shalimar/Jicky Vanilla is the first one you get to know. This is the paradigmatic Guerlain vanilla, the one nearly everyone learns to love.  Vanilla pulls a neat trick off here, you don’t really realize that this fragrance is all about vanilla until fairly late in the evaporation.  At first you think Shalimar is bergamot lemon cream pie, and the vanilla in that creamy center allows Shalimar to pull off its flip flop like a flapjack into a buttery amber perfume.   You don’t quite smell the vanilla flip coming but once it’s under way, you often find that the vanilla’s  the best part of the fragrance.

Shalimar Ode a la Vanille

Shalimar Ode a la Vanille

One way to understand Shalimar is to wear Emeraude its Coty predecessor.  Emeraude is just a tad less vanillic than Shalimar, slightly greener, lemon plays a smaller part in the recipe, but the similarity is pronounced and probably due to the fact that when Francois Coty  entered the perfume business he was bowled over by Jicky.  Emeraude is his homage to the classic, and Shalimar is Jacques Guerlain’s  subsequent reclamation of the formula.

Jacques had to do something. His wife was wearing Emeraude (according to in house Coty records!) That would never do. Shalimar was his answering salvo and effort to reclaim lost Guerlain market share.  Still regarded as the premiere vanilla perfume, Shalimar presents you with a dessert cart of vanillas: astringent tonka bean vanilla,   benzoin which smells like the herbal bitters of vanilla, plus that unforgettable creamy vanilla, and a slightly animalic vanillan mated to civet which many wearers notice in the heart, and which may have prompted Ernest Beaux’s famous remark that when he made a vanilla perfume he got creme brulee, and when Jacques Guerlain did, he got Shalimar.  You smell a  variety of vanilla confections here, but no other firm has ever done such delicate pastry chef work inspired by one little black pod.

But Guerlain also does vanilla as cocktail, and this is where you get the inebriated vanilla of Spirituese Double Vanille where the sugar-vanilla combination is a deep fermented one you’ve encountered at bars, namely rum.

Rum Cocktail

Rum Cocktail

When I first sniffed SDV, I had read Luca Turin’s pan of it in his guide and was hesitant, but I think he misunderstood the point of the scent.  This one was not about the pastry shop but about the bottle. There is no  citrus opening in SDV, just a straight dive into the rum barrel,  a little cedar wood, some barely discernible rose and ylang-ylang, and then vanilla, vanilla, more vanilla and benzoin.  It’s so intense that sometimes I wonder if the smell alone can get you a bit tipsy, but anyway, to call SDV a gourmand perfume is beside the point, Spiritueuse is vanilla for dipsomaniacs.

From these descriptions you might conclude that Guerlain never learned to handle vanilla with finesse.  For the record you’re wrong there. Guerlain is also the home of Terracotta Voile d’Ete, sometimes also called No25 or Quand Vient l’Ete, a beautiful floral vanilla with a tingling carnation curdling its cream.  The now discontinued Plus Que Jamais, has Guerlain assembling artificial flowers spun from tobacco scented caramel until you hold a shiny, fragile, gold bouquet under your nose, and finally there’s the downright ascetic Bois d’Armenie.

Vanilla in extract from Williams Sonoma

Vanilla in extract from Williams Sonoma

This is-if you’ll forgive my analogy- the Vix Vapo rub of vanillas.  That is to say that the perfume is not in the least gourmand and does not list vanilla among the ingredients.  But it’s a Guerlain and what are the odds right?  The effect of the beginning (and for my money the end of the fragrance too) is this incense and vanilla essence duet. Bois has the same sinus clearing effect on me as smelling vanilla straight out of  freshly cracked bottle of extract. I can’t call the scent sensuous, and this is a vanilla that is definitely not  about indulgence, much more Bois d’Armenie’s concerned with the confessional.

Maybe this is the way to live with your Guerlain vanillas: Voile d’Ete on Monday, Shalimar  Light on Tuesday, Plus Que Jamais on Wednesday, Tonka Imperiale on Thusday, Shalimar on Friday, Spiritueuse Double Vanille on Saturday, and Sunday…Bois d’Armenie of course.  You may be penitent but that doesn’t mean you won’t do it all again next week!

* Of course I’ve missed oodles of vanillas from Guerlain here. Please share your favorites!

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11 thoughts on “Guerlain Vanillas

  1. You’ve reminded me that I have a bottle of vintage Emeraude which I blind bought a few years ago but immediately rejected because it reminded me of the perfume used by my ex mother in law, which was a pleasant but nondescript cosmetic powder scent. I never caught the distinctive green, almost astringent opening that I smell in my bottle of Emeraude, so I don’t know if it is what she wore. I do like my Emeraude now, probably more than Shalimar, which I appreciate but don’t love.

    What I love unreservedly is Calvin Klein ‘ s Obsession, a descendent of them both. An oriental with, again, that sharp green opening, but its vanilla is subdued and there is no suggestion of red velvet cushions, cosmetic powder, sweet desserts or long-dead Indian princesses. Obsession is not romantic; it’s a lived in, casually sensual perfume, unsentimental and as sexy as hell in my opinion.

    • Obsession is a great one, I agree with you. Came around to it in a circuitous route myself because I wore Anne Pliska which is its daughter, lighter, orange-y and has a root beer note that I can’t recall from Obsession. (Does Obsession have that root beer interval?)

      Anyway, Emeraude is so close to Shalimar that perhaps your ex in law wore that or even one of the hoard of Shalimar knock offs. This may (or may not) be a pleasant thought.

      Anyway Emeraude is such a good perfume and no one else seems to have tried a green oriental since- except Shelley Waddington with Zelda. Wouldn’t it be nice if some perfumers attempted a green oriental?

  2. Quite a number of these I’ve never smelled! Not being much of a Guerlain fan, I suppose, though I do love Chamade, and it does have some lovely muted vanilla in the base. I did really love the huge spicy carnation/vanilla blast of Terracotta Voile d’Ete, but I couldn’t stand the way it went from LOUD & PROUD to teeny quiet skin scent within an hour – I couldn’t manage the dosing. Sold my bottle.

    You know I love my Emeraude, far better than I do Shalimar.

    • You must be something of a Guerlain fan because you did love Apres L’Ondee-or wait this was the pre-Thierry Wasser Apres? You don’t like the existing Apres?

      So now here is my dilemma, I wonder should I buy Guerlinade? Have you smelled that? From 1998, a lilac with, variously an Apres L’Ondee dry down, or else a Vol de Nuit one, or, no, no, it’s actually Mitsouko, hold the peaches, hold the oakmoss, hold the amber. This all seems to depend on who you read at basenotes and fragrantica.
      The salient point is that this is a very floral Guerlain. Thoughts?
      By the way, I had a similar run in with Terracotta which I also sold. Guerlain releases variations on that formula, the cheapest was Ylang and Vanille I thought, though you may have had better luck with it. Went very chemical on me. BUT if we could find some NO25 or Quand Vient L’Ete it might be another story.

      • I have not actually tried the existing Apres l’Ondee, no. I just hear that it is less heliotrope, more iris, and That Is Just Wa-RONG. It was perfect. Why did they mess with it??? GAH.

  3. Shalimar has always seemed to me like Jicky without the fun; with no lavender to cut the vanilla overload, it’s a tubful of gooey lemon pudding (all June Cleaver, no Mata Hari). For some reason I never get any smoky woods or animalics in Shalimar (maybe the samples I tracked down are off?).

    I haven’t tried Emeraude for ages; like annemariec, I remember sniffing it and thinking it was a pleasant, vaguely cosmetic-powdery scent. Should drag out that mini and re-sniff. :-)

    SDV sounds intriguing (you had me at “rum barrel”); so does Bois d’Armenie. Will add these two to the lemming corral!

    • Emeraude is distinctly better if you can find some old samples- you know things from the seventies or earlier. Luckily they’re usually cheap and easy to come across. Flea markets and antique stores have worked for me when fleabay didn’t.

      Bois d’Armenie is a soft incense, but by contrast SDV is plenty loud, and maybe not refined, but then I never yet came across a rum cocktail that was. Despite what people say, I think SDV is for men and women. Hope you like it, or for your wallet’s sake hope not too much :-)

  4. I don’t love vanilla in my perfumes. I do wear some from time to time but I’m not a huge fan. And I’m still not a huge Guerlain fan – even after owning at least 3 FB and a number of decants. Most of perfumes you mentioned do nothing for me – though SDV is soooo vanilla that from time to time I feel a craving – and that’s when I get out my small decant, wear it and forget until the next craving attack 6 months later.

    • Actually I get cravings for SDV too and then I go by the Guerlain counter at Saks which is, thank goodness, nearby. The SA puts up nicely with me since I do buy the odd bottle.
      My theory is that Guerlain has got a vanilla for almost everyone-even if vanilla is not your favorite flavor.

  5. Another vanilla favourite of mine is Angelique Noire. But you have named the other three – PQJ, Shalimar (a new discovery!) and Bois d’Armenie. I think 180 ans de Creation has vanilla in it, and is rather like a Shalimar Light to my nose.

  6. So have you tried the Route Shalimars? The names are so long that I’ve re-christened them because their titles are too cumbersome, Shalimar sur la route de…wherever. Anglique Noire I tried a long time ago and probably didn’t get- which probably was short sighted. I know I’ll be sorry later.
    I notice that around here anyway the original Ode a la Vanille is easy to come by and wonder if it’s better than the average Shalimar? I only wore the Shalimar Lite myself, and don’t know.

    180 Ans sounds interesting, I have not wheedled that one out of the Guerlain distribution people, but you never know. You’d be surprised at what ends up in Short Hills!

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