Guerlain Shalimar Redux

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?

But onward.

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

  • Tom says:

    Okay, I’ll admit it. I have never tried Shalimar.

    I know.

    I wanted so much to like some of the other classic Guerlains that simply didn’t work on me (Mistsouko was “meh” as was Jicky) and I haven’t wanted to be disappointed in a third. But I may have to give it another go..

    • Tom says:

      You actually inspired me. I put Mitsy, Jicky and Shalimar in an STC order. I will post how it works out.

      • cinnamon says:

        Oh, that’s a plan 🙂 On a different house, have you done Chanel Pour Monsieur (is it still around)? Loved that when I tried years ago but then completely forgot about it.

  • Musette says:

    I never got (or loved) Shalimar and I suspect it’s because my mother wore it (that wasn’t the reason) in EdT formulation (THAT was the reason). For my 3cents worth, Shalimar is one of those scents that screams PERFUME! But that’s me. I came upon a vinty perfume that has nearly changed my mind…nearly.

    This experience, Cinnamon, seems to be EPIC!!! I’m so happy you are having this relationship, especially as it represents a significant birthday!!!


    • cinnamon says:

      I’m not sure ‘epic’ is the word I’d use. I’m not sure what at this point but not that. And I’m very with you on this smelling PERFUME. In fact it reminds me of first smelling Vol de Nuit, which I’d read was a favourite of some famous model back in the ’90s, which was a reason I tried it. PERFUME. That was a big surprise given how bohemian I recall said person was. Made me think.

  • March says:

    I’m so glad you’re so pleased! It’s always a bit of a risk … for as much as I love Guerlain, I never really “got” Shalimar, Jicky was as close as I got. Totally agree there’s something meaty lurking in there that pops up periodically. If my nose comes back I want to try it again, I love the idea of all those facets of vanilla.

    • cinnamon says:

      I can’t do Jicky or l’Heure Bleue — just not ‘my’ Guerlains. I need to do this side by side with my 20 year old Mitsouko.

  • Dina C. says:

    True confessions: I’ve never tried Shalimar in any formulation, Cinnamon! The descriptions always scared me away. I’m not a pure vanilla lover, nor a true lemon lover, so I haven’t felt like it’s a must sniff. BUT!!! I do love Guerlain scents, and I’m feeling so incomplete without having experienced it. I enjoyed your thorough description so much. Yet another compelling reason to give it a try. I’ll let you know if I do. 🙂 Guerlain parfums are amazing. I have Chamade in the beautiful upside down heart bottle, and I’ve sampled Mitsouko and Vol de Nuit in parfum. All exquisite.

  • Eldarwen22 says:

    Shalimar is lovely. Was lucky enough to score some sealed vintage bottles a few years ago. Both a pretty skanky but fabulous. Don’t have any current extrait but the current edp is really nice.

  • Pam says:

    I recently bought the parfum for myself. I’ve been wanting it awhile. Usually I spritz the Shalimar edt. I am just beginning my usage and smelling of it, but have delayed due to POLLEN! I received my first bottle when I was 17. I sure wish I’d kept the bottle. Fond memories.

    • cinnamon says:

      Yeah, pollen here is weird this year. I usually don’t mind things but am finding it very irritating this year. 17. Wow. I didn’t ‘get’ Guerlain till my mid-20s.

  • Portia says:

    Loved reading this Cinnamon. glad you are loving the High Queen of vanilla & stuff.
    Portia xx

    • cinnamon says:

      Ah, yes. Having the perfume now makes me want to find a very good vanilla candle. Sigh. Any suggestions?

      • Portia says:

        Aussie crew GASCOIGNE & KING do a couple of beautiful vanilla-centric candles. APRÉS for something interesting, LOVE VANILLA for a real deal sweet and slightly dark vanilla, TOBAGO for woods and resins with a vanilla baseline.
        They are super affordable and send to the world.
        Portia xx

  • Alityke says:

    Ooooh meaty? Colour me intrigued! Especially if you can smelly woodsmoke through it.
    Maybe it’s just the EDP that got ruined from me by the “Great Le Lion Debarcle”.
    I should take baby (poop?) steps & go back to the Shalimar starter line with the Cologne or EdT & retrain my schnoz.
    The Parfum does sound stupendous. I know I’ve tested it at some point but have no memory of it.
    Those freebies & the personal service are fabulous

    • cinnamon says:

      It really did take several days to tease that one out. It is sort of stunning how different the EdT and perfume are. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced the EdP. I was a bit taken aback by her delivering. I really had expected her simply to have access to a courier service and do that. I mean to suggest it at some point.

    • cinnamon says:

      How far are you from Harvey Nicks? Would think that would be a decent perfume haunt. We’ve got a John Lewis in uni town 10 miles away. It’s gotten much better perfume-wise over the years. Makeup is still a bit iffy but the big Boots decided to up its oomph. Plus there’s a Mac in the middle of ‘town’. Or there was the last time I wandered through. I am thinking of sending Zoe a thank you card and suggesting they get the name of a decent courier.