Soft Surroundings – L.

L. eau de parfum

Of all the classic Guerlains, Shalimar must be the best-known. If fifty random people on the street were asked to name a Guerlain scent, assuming they could come up with one I think it’d be Shalimar. Shalimar’s one of those classics like Chanel No. 5 that’s been around for so long and in such abundance that even folks who have zero interest in perfume might be able to recognize it – both its distinctive scent and its bottle, which must have graced a million overheated boudoir dressing tables at this point. Shalimar appears on the front cover of Michael Edwards’ divine Perfume Legends between a bottle of No. 5 and Joy.

Shalimar’s a spicy-vanillic oriental (Luca Turin gives it five stars – the maximum – and calls it the “reference oriental”.) Here’s a possibly apocryphal story – Jacques Guerlain was fooling around with some vanillin and either accidentally or deliberately dumped it in with some Jicky – et voilà, a bergamot-citrus-vanilla sillage monster was born.

I am a huge fan of Guerlain, probably more so than any other house, if I were forced to choose. So it’s a darned shame that I find so little pleasure in Shalimar. It always seems wrong to me, like limes and chocolate together.   I should be admiring the balance of sharp and sweet, but instead I think, ugh, no, I’ll pass, thanks. Since Shalimar’s still around and still relatively easy to find in stores, I’m going to assume I’m very much in the minority on this one. (You know what should be everywhere? Jicky.)

Anyhoodle, I got to reconsidering my position when I walked up and hugged a friend recently and ended up burying my nose in her neck and asking, what are you wearing?!  Scented friends are probably used to my hoovering by now, although the other ladies standing there looked a bit alarmed. Sidenote: I ask everyone – friends and strangers – all the time what scent they are wearing; this seems to happen a lot on my Metro commute. Generally they seem flattered, and/but it is fascinating to me that often they have no idea what the name of the scent is that they’ve sprayed on. The mind boggles, eh?

So. This friend smelled vaguely like Shalimar, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t Shalimar because 1) I loved it, and 2) she’s one of those hand-knit lagenlook types and I couldn’t imagine she’d own a bottle, much less wear it.

It isn’t Shalimar, but a deeply pleasant iteration of the theme – called L and sold by an online joint called Soft Surroundings, which made sense. If you’re not familiar they sell drapey clothing and uber-comfy knitwear and blankets and candles and etc. mostly to women looking for something cuddly that doesn’t remind them of their own grandmothers.

(Yes, as a matter of fact this is a review of a fragrance made by an online catalog. A true perfume snob – and I absolutely am one – is prepared to find beauty in the most unlikely places.)

Here’s part of their blurb. “… our newest fragrance L. is glamorous, sexy and mysterious. This intoxicating scent opens with warm, earthy Tobacco Leaf and complex Black Honey, contrasting with smoky notes of exotic Guaiac Wood and a hint of Citrus. Patchouli and a whisper of Ylang Ylang comprise its alluring heart. An enticing blend of Black Vanilla with golden Amber undertones completes the seduction! An unforgettable fragrance…” (EDP 1.86 fl. oz., $75; rollerball $19.)

Clearly the thing’s a ripoff of Shalimar; I’m not going to pretend they’ve come up with something original here. But taking it away from the direction of High Art and toward warm comfort has made it a lot more palatable, at least to me. The sharp citrus-bergamot top of Shalimar that never really goes away is replaced by a honeyed spicy warmth, and the tobacco note makes it even warmer. I’d never describe Shalimar as “cuddly” with its leather and myrrh, but L’s vanilla-amber drydown is all about furry comfort without being overly sweet or gourmand. Gosh, it’s pretty. While I’m not about to splash out on a bottle, I did buy the .16 fl oz. rollerball (which btw gets mixed reviews because it smells great but leaks in your handbag.) It’s a small price to pay for a fall comfort scent that doesn’t smell like cookies or pumpkin and makes me smile.


  • Julie L says:

    I meant to say ( darn autocorrect!) none of the powdery heavy dirty dry down of Chanel. Only the top waxy sweet notes.

  • Julie L says:

    OMG I’m about to fall over reading you mentioning Soft Surroundings! I ordered ( ahem).. 6 bottles , over time, of their “Enchante” which is now discontinued ! It’s gorgeous gorgeous, has the exact top noted of I swear , Chanel #5, but one of the powdery, dirty drydown or anything on the bottom note end. It’s just beautiful! A little heavy on the sweet musk end but you can tell it was created with s certain nod to Chanel. Very oily or waxy, with Jasmine, bergamot , and the ever slightest wisp of incense. I so wish someone would nail this one downs little better since I don’t k ow how to properly! I still have two full bottles 🙂

  • Amy K says:

    This sounds silly, but I wish I could walk around offering my wrist to anyone who dislikes Shalimar. My sole fragrance superpower (I inherited this from my mom, who’s the same way) is that Shalimar smells perfect on me. The bergamot is subtle after 10 minutes or so, and it all dries down to the most beautiful, quiet, smooth vanilla and tonka. My mother-in-law, a self-proclaimed hater of Shalimar, gave me hug one day and asked for the name of my glorious perfume. It was Shalimar EDP. She couldn’t believe it. I’ve had so many people ask what I’m wearing and then look surprised at my response.

    Unfortunately, having a superpower means that I also have a nemesis, and my nemesis is Mitsouko. Actually, it’s chypres in general, but Mitsouko is the worst of the bunch. Nobody would like Mitsouko if they smelled it on me. It’s a bitter mess of awfulness on my skin. Even my six-year-old, a happy participant in most of my classic perfume sampling experiments, recoils in horror and points me toward the soap and water. I guess people do seem to lean toward either Team Oriental or Team Chypre in general. Definitely the former here.

    L sounds pretty fantastic. Glad you found a Shalimar type you can wear! And I agree wholeheartedly: Jicky should be everywhere.

  • Winterlude says:

    Cuir Beluga! It makes me feel like I’m being hugged all day. I LOVE it.

  • Sarah says:

    Mitsouko’s ever evolving iterations on my skin make my day more interesting.
    Shalimar remains headache juice.
    Perhaps one day I will understand her draw.

  • Kismet429 says:

    Wearing Jicky as I write this–one of my faves! Agree that it deserves to be better-known.

  • imapirate007 says:

    Thanks alot! I looked at the Soft Surroundings catalog and now I need to try Shellseeker and Aya Blu because they sound cuddly. Summer’s over, and I’m very sad, and these sound cozy!

  • Sapphire says:

    I get the Soft Surroundings catalog about once a quarter and have tested some of their scent strips (circles, really). At least one was really nice, but it might be the more chypre one. Will be looking out for the next catalog. L sounds right up my alley.

  • tiffanie says:

    Thank you for sharing L. I’m a Guerlain fan, but Shalimar doesn’t do it for me — yet. A few days ago I added two Shalimar flankers to my list of scents to try once the weather is cooler. Soft Surroundings L is now on my list, too. (And some of their clothes just jumped on my wishlist. So tired of the GAP.)

  • Ann says:

    Hiya, darling! It is so funny — I had something in the works for down the road from this line (different scent though) — so, great minds definitely DO think alike! Must try this one though. Wish they’d do a little sampler set of all their scents (and have suggested it to the customer service reps I’ve talked to).

    • Julie L says:

      They’re great to work with… I should know having ordered a lot of their discontinued Enchante- see post below!! Tell them to bring it back!!

  • tammyt says:

    Definitely NOT a Guerli-girl… I adore Mitsy and like Chamade, Nahema and Vol de Nuit quite a bit, but most of the other offerings leave me cold. Shalimar smells like Lemon Pledge to me. Very nice Lemon Pledge, to be sure, and I am perhaps eating some pound cake after I’ve dusted with it, which is most pleasant, just not my particular perfume fantasy. ( The bottle is hands up the best, though, and I’d love an empty one)

    This here juice you wrote about, though, sounds perfect for me! That lemony/bergamot note replaced with honeyed amber and some tobacco? Oh HELL yeah!

    Thanks for sharing this!

  • solanace says:

    If I could have only one perfume, than Shalimar would be it. I find her extremely cuddly, extremely sexy and extremely elegant, which seems as impossible as healthy, delicious and cheap delivery food, but as Portia put it, she is the queen. L sounds great, thank you for reviewing it. I love tobacco in perfume, and cheap thrills are always welcome.

  • maggiecat says:

    I’ve liked the samples of scents from Soft Surroundings as well. Nice outfit. You might also like Shalimar Souffle’ – I can’t wear Shalimar either but love this flanker.

  • Musette says:

    I love the Soft Surroundings catalogue (I’ve woven backstories on the 3 primary models for that line because Crazy) – anyhoodle, I have smelled L (on a strip) and I totally can see you having fallen in love with it. You and I are on the same trajectory when it comes to vanilla-y spicy perfumes, but you’re quite a few miles ahead of me – this one hit just at my ‘mmm…maybe a bit TOO’ , though I liked it a lot. Gorgeous as it is, I could no more actually WEAR Shalimar than I could fly to Jupiter.


  • ElizabethC says:

    I’ve always considered Shalimar one of my cuddly perfumes! On me it dries down to smell like the lemon icing on top of a cinnamon roll. Can’t get more comfort than that 🙂

  • foxbins says:

    Shalimar and I never clicked, either, until I found the Ode du Mexique flanker. That citrus/chocolate catastrophe you smell in the original is gone in Ode, which has much less citrus and more warm but dry vanilla. It’s available at the online discounters really inexpensively, too.

  • Heidi says:

    I’m a Guerlain girl, but I never “got” Shalimar either. Samsara was my first — I received a bottle as a gift in college, and it was my signature scent for years (back when I thought you had to have one!). More recently I’ve been adoring vintage Vol de Nuit and LHB, and have started to feel sophisticated enough to wear Mitsouko. But even though I keep coming back to sniff Shalimar, it still doesn’t click with me. Thanks for the interesting discovery and review!

  • rosarita313 says:

    I never tried Shalimar or really any Guerlain that I know of until I fell down the rabbit hole ten years ago, I have always been a big Chanel fan. Learning that my tastes run oriental, I tried Shalimar edt at Walgreens and fell in love instantly, collecting many iterations old and new ever since. Nahema is my other Guerlain love but Mitsouko eludes me and Jicky did too although I’d have to look back at my perfume journal to remember why. Time to revisit both, I think. Thanks for the link and for sharing about a new comfort scent – can’t have too many, imo.

    • March says:

      Isn’t it wonderful you found something to love at Walgreens?! Although I’m not sure Guerlain would be thrilled…. and you’re welcome!

  • caseymaureen says:

    If im only allowed to take one Gueurlain to a desert island then I’m a L’Heure Bleue girl. March I always enjoy your surprise finds cutting through the snobbery that surrounds so much perfume discussion. Uber cool niche branding, beautiful bottles and/or luxury goods pricing do not guarantee a good smell, over the years great smells have emerged from cheap as chips packaging and price points- Loulou, Caldy Island Lavender etc!!

    • March says:

      There are indeed some cheap and cheerful treasures out there! And some veeeeeeeery expensive niche scents that didn’t wow me.

  • cinnamon says:

    Ah, Guerlain. I wore (well, still wear) Mitsouko for years. Glorious. Can’t do either Jicky or LHB of the classic fragrances. For reasons I now can’t recall I would not try Shalimar. But, then I did and ohhhh, one of those ‘a ha’ moments — and kicking myself. On me, this is the most fantabulous, most expensive lemon floor wax poised over an animalic dry-down. Sounds weird, and it is, which is maybe what makes me love it so.

    • March says:

      ADORE Mitsouko. I can totally see how Shalimar would be the best animalic lemon wax in the world, and I wish that’s how I perceived it.

  • Portia says:

    Heya March,
    SHALIMAR is queen! Love it to the sky & back.
    Glad you found a wearable dupe.
    Portia xx

  • Aaahhhh Shalimar! How I love thee and how I used to hate you. Then one day I had a perfumed “Aha!” moment, and just “got” it, understood the attraction and it’s been nothing short of a love fest since then. And now I have and love every flanker, hell I have back–ups, and my back-ups have back-ups!

    Might I suggest trying one of the “Shalimar Lites” as I call them. Like Shalimar Souffle, or the brand new Shalimar Eau De Cologne that came out this summer and is spectacular. They are both really great “gateway Shali’s”.

    • March says:

      I had one of the Shalimar lites for awhile, but it didn’t get enough love so I passed it on. Hey, more for everyone else, right?!

    • solanace says:

      I had to court Shalli for over a decade before she could be mine, and a bottle of Eau de Shalimar I got at a discounter for a great price is what finally turned my mind.

  • Sun Mi says:

    I’ve only been around the scent world for a year or so, and Shalimar is one that I haven’t come to love yet. But L does sound lovely!