I did a post on Shalimar EdT in autumn 2020 in which I chastised myself for taking so long to have sampled the fragrance (I think my bottle of EdT is around 10 years old if not a bit older) and discussed its attractions: the best, most beautiful lemon floor wax I’ve ever encountered and that it acts as my armour when I need to seriously up my oomph.
So when I was contemplating something to buy to mark my recent significant birthday after a bit I settled on Shalimar parfum … because if the fragrance was great in EdT who knew what it would be like in perfume strength. I realise this was a bit of a gamble given things can always not work as well in different permutations, but I thought I’d risk it. And, boy howdy, did that risk pay off.
Before I dive into my experiences with the perfume over the past week I just want to revisit the Ernest Beaux quote about Shalimar because … well … it’s so perfect: “When I do vanilla I get crème anglaise, when Guerlain does it he gets Shalimar”. Dumping a load of ethylvanillin into a Jicky accord and ta da: Shalimar. We should all come out so well from weird experiments.
And then there’s the scene in the film Working Girl where the nasty Sigourney Weaver character is talking to her put-upon secretary (Melanie Griffiths) about their mutual love interest (clearly, she doesn’t know they are both shtuping him). Weaver is going on about what he loves about her and gets to smell whereupon Griffiths whispers under Weaver’s scratchy voice saying the same thing: “Shalimar”.
I skim read Kafkaesque’s guide to vintage Shalimar part 1 which is incredibly long (and I do mean hugely) but useful.
Finally, before I dive into notes and the fragrance on me, I have to say two things: 1) If you’re in London and need some Guerlain you could do a whole lot worse than to visit or contact Zoe at the Covent Garden pop-up. She went above and beyond (seriously, she delivered the parcel herself to my hotel) providing a gorgeously wrapped box that included a nice grouping of samples (and a bee pin!). I’m probably going to be doing a few Guerlain reviews over the next few months. 2) Guerlain needs to look at the materials used on its Shalimar parfum bottles. I have an older bottle of Mitsouko perfume (like around 20 years) which is glass, of course, but also has a glass stopper. Very classy. The Shalimar is a glass bottle but it has a plastic stopper. While that may mean you get less evaporation etc it’s far less classic and classy. And I found it really irritating. Why mess up beautiful presentation that way?
Notes for Shalimar are all over the map. Seriously kitchen sink. Bergamot, lemon, jasmine, rose, orris, opoponax, tonka bean, birch tar, patchouli, incense, vetiver, civet, castoreum, vanilla, musks as well as at various times cedar, mandarin and sandalwood. Clearly, the civet and castoreum were in much earlier iterations and they gave Shalimar its undercurrent of pong (more on that later).
This thing has a huge half life on me. Seriously. If I put it on in the morning I can still get whiffs the following morning – and that is on skin. We’re finally getting into lighter scarf weather and I need to try this on silk (but edges of course – my now gone ex-husband bought me a beautiful Liberty scarf eons ago which just cries out for being paired with Shalimar).
So, what does it smell like? Welllll, it starts out spicy and medicinal (like allspice or clove and band-aid). That’s about the first 10 minutes. Then, we get scratchy, a bit powdery, which I finally decided was the orris/iris. Then it’s a very deep dive into so many iterations of how vanilla can smell (straight up vanilla, caramel, hot from baking, etc, etc) which just goes on and on and is both mouth-watering and austere (how that was achieved is just beyond me). In my notes on wearing it I’ve got “mass of contradictions”.
It is during this middle period that I’d noticed an unsettling undercurrent – it appears and hides and it took me a number of days to actually pinpoint the actual smell/aspect. In Alityke’s comment on my post from last Monday (in which I mention buying Shalimar) she posited “baby poop” and referenced early French perfumery and a ‘human quality’ to the juice.
As I caught more of the elusive oddness I thought, no, it’s not that. Rather, I finally realised I get something meaty, gamey. A critter that’s been hung just a little too long. The smell isn’t so apparent that it is unpleasant. Rather, whoever re-formulated the latest iteration of Shalimar was maybe trying to be true to some original ponginess but with up-date-ingredients and adhering to current regulations. But seriously they get big kudos from me for managing to capture that slightly whiffy undercurrent without which Shalimar would still be beautiful but not unsettling and it’s that unsettling thing lurking beneath the surface that transports this into the perfume stratosphere.
Another thing: I sniffed it one day early last week, early on in its development, and the smell lodged itself in my sinuses for about 45 minutes. Like it had decided to attach itself and just rest there. It eventually dissipated but I actually found the experience a bit shocking, especially when I discovered I could still smell wood smoke ‘through’ it and that just added to the experience.
So, the drydown? Spicy vanilla with hints of something menthol-ish and a whisper of that meatiness.
All in, I am profoundly glad I chose to buy it and the fragrance certainly is a very good one to have attached to a significant event.
PS Below is a pic of the ‘extras’ Zoe threw into the box (Spiriteuse Double Vanille, Embruns d’Ylang, Aqua Allogoria Nerolia Vetiver and Mandarine Basilic, Orchidee Imperiale The Cream and The Longevity Concentrate)
PPS The vanilla orchid pic at top is Wiki