Was I expecting much? Naturally!
(c) Liam Sardea 2014
Yes perfume junkies, it is time. It is time for the revered Shalimar review. A monumental fragrances spared for a monumental occasion – my 1,000th blog view of course!
Guerlain’s Shalimar is the reference oriental. It is the old and great, great, great grandmother of the oriental fragrance category.
Pull off the sapphire coloured stopper, open the bottle and you will hear little invisible spectres utter long and wispy words followed by hauntingly chilling silence. “Shalimaaar. Shallllimmaaar.” They twirl around, in and out of the bottle holding the memories of the past.
You can just imagine an ochre brown lacquered ballroom floor and a crystal chandelier in the middle of the ceiling; with french damsels in 1920’s dress tapping their feet and swaying their bodies to the richness of Shalimar and the majestical music.
Immediate citrusy fruit vibes nod to the perfumes preceding Shalimar; Eau de Cologne Imperiale and Jicky, also both by Guerlain. Upfront the candied citrus notes stands out amongst the musk and the powder. They have a distinct hard boiled candy appeal (especially lemon drops and butter balls!) and this only makes me think of ye ‘ol candy stores full of ladies in frilly headpieces and iridescent rounds of candy in a multitude of colours.
A very clear and tart mandarin ‘apricot’ note comes through. Innately citrusy and sour, this works in tandem with the smallest amount of bois d’cedre, giving a sense of austerity and mellow woods.
Following that, the overdose on sultry vanilla and the scent of baked goods haphazardly watched in the oven and neglected until turned black makes an appearance; the slightly burnt sugar and just ‘beyond an acceptable caramel’ accords create the olfactic illusion of burning rubber and powdery baby diapers; I associate the tonka bean (coumarin), orris and heady vanillic amber to this feature. This scent was shocking for me on the blotter twenty minutes in, and I can only imagine the shock to those experiencing Shalimar as a novel fragrance back in the 1920’s. No wonder only ‘bad girls and flappers’ wore this.
And then, a rough pronouncing note of civet, patchouli and musk turn, and only for a moment, the diaper accord into a soiled diaper accord. Animalic, wafting, unforgiving and an intense ‘I don’t give a damn’ attitude. Don’t take that parallel as something literal, as anything ‘fecal’ in fragrant terms is synthetic, highly diluted and usually denotes a more animalic, beastial – yet warm and radiant note in perfume. Ultimately this leaves rough edges and sporadic pulses of not only civet – but also incense, oppoponax and leather accord. The warm coumarin ‘baked goods’ hit in its nutty almond-esque goodness with the radiant undertones of incense, very yummy vanilla and smoke. My-oh-my I’m a happy chap.
It gets boozy. Who ever said ‘no’ to booze? The billowy, wave-like pulses of incense still roars on with the liveliness of (still more) vanilla and amber. This time the vanilla draws similarities to a high quality vanilla essence whilst milky sandalwoods join the rage to create an almost spiked vanilla ‘egg-nog’ (less custardy) feel. There’s some patchouli in there giving earthiness, a dark greenness and (importantly) addiction.
Ahh. This fragrance is a smorgasbord of notes. I’m not deliberately neglecting to elucidate and explore all of the notes – I just think the surreal personal experience of Shalimar is something too grand for the medium of text. You mature to love it. It has the ‘pass down’ quality. Your grandmother probably passed it onto your mother at the end of her adolescence and your mother will probably do the same for you or already has (well, French families and girls anyway)! You will do just the same to your daughters, because you know exactly what I good frag is.
It all makes sense now!
Orientals now seem to draw some influence from Shalimar, I’ve come to realise. Coromandel, my favourite oriental, has the dirty patchouli bumped up onto overdrive; Obsession by Calvin Klein is just a citrus-based oriental; and Chergui by Serge Lutens is sweet and spicy pipe tobacco on overdrive; I swear, even Imperial Lather (PZ Cussons) has a tiny Shalimar vibe to it.
So what I’m saying is try Shalimar first… and then everything else, if you are truly a discernible aficionado of scent, you start to pick up on things.
I will be the first to admit that even I feel inferior when reviewing this. But we all do. A textbook/reference oriental.
Subjective rating : 5/5
Objective rating: 5/5