One Thousand Scents

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Survivor: Guerlain Shalimar

When people--ordinary, normal people, not scent-crazed addicts such as myself--think of a classic fragrance, they usually think of either Chanel No. 5 or Shalimar, the two great standbys of twentieth-century perfumery.

Some people love the perfume form of Shalimar, but to me it's just chokingly strong. (Many people think that "perfume" automatically equals "stronger than EDT", and that isn't necessarily true: a perfume usually has more base notes and so lasts longer, but it doesn't have to be more potent than other versions. In this case, though, I find that it is. My mother used to put a droplet of Shalimar on a tissue and tuck it into her clothing: she couldn't stand the overpowering quality of the perfume, but when it was reined in, she loved it. For all I know, she still does this.)

The old, pre-reformulation eau de toilette was a better scent, I think. The newest version of the EDT isn't as good, because to my nose it presents the same problem that Youth Dew does: that hesperidic top note--lemon, bergamot, and mandarin orange--just doesn't seem to fit into the rest of the structure, and I find it unpleasant in its context. (Susan Irvine says it "opens quite violently", and I couldn't have put it better. It is violent.) It takes a while to leave, too: Shalimar takes some time to get down to business, and the lemon note lingers for (in my opinion) much too long as the middle notes are rising to the surface.

The centre of the scent is that classic pair of flowers, jasmine and rose. As I find with a great many oriental scents with a floral heart, the flowers are more or less placeholders: they never take centre stage, but fill out the composition. They're there, particularly the jasmine, but they aren't strong enough to propel the scent into the floral, or even the floral-oriental, category. The flowers are damp and sticky with balsams and resins: Shalimar is an oriental, beyond a doubt, and in this case, it's all about vanilla.

It isn't just vanilla. There is a torrent of other classic oriental notes as well: patchouli, of course, and orris-root, a little of Tabu's civet, and lots of sweet notes to bolster the vanilla; opoponax, tonka bean, Peru balsam, and benzoin. But the vanilla takes centre stage, and it's nothing like the bakeshop vanilla that so many modern scents have: it's bracing, almost severe. It never has a chance to become really sweet; in addition to the patchouli and orris, there's a little eddy of incense twined around it to keep it under some sort of control. (The vanilla in Shalimar, in fact, is very reminiscent of the vanilla in a much later Guerlain scent aimed at men, Habit Rouge, which was launched in 1965, forty years after Shalimar made its debut. You could certainly guess that they were made by the same perfume house if you didn't know.)

Oddly enough, my favourite version of Shalimar is the body lotion, or, as they like to call it, Sensual Milky Veil (it's hard not to love that over-the-top French perfume writing and naming): the creaminess of the lotion damps down the top notes, which don't seem so strained, so piercing, and they don't last nearly as long as in the EDT before surrendering to the lushness of what is, really, the über-oriental, the first vanilla scent, the one that started it all.



  • Thanks for the review of the Shalimar EdT. Almost everyone seems to pass it up in favor of the EdP or parfum extrait.

    It's nice to know that the lotion is good. For Christmas, I bought my girlfriend a Shalimar mini-gift set that includes a 1.7 oz. bottle of EdT and 3.4 oz. body lotion, so hopefully one or the other will strike the right accord!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:35 AM  

  • А legend, I'll buy it someday surely :)))))

    By Anonymous Juja, at 8:46 AM  

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