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.