Sunday, October 18, 2015

Variations on perfume classics, part 1 (Shalimar)

This is Part 1 of a series of seven posts in which I'll recommend variations on a classic, starting today with Shalimar by Guerlain. The idea is to explore perfumes which feel like modern-day versions of Shalimar, or perfumes with similarities.

(In the next 6 posts I'll explore  Joy, Femme, No 5, Chanel 19Miss Dior 1 and Miss Dior 2 )

Well established classics can have powerful associations in other's minds (not always positive) which is why many women prefer to update their perfume choices, if they can find something of similar appeal. Then again, attachment to perfume can become quite emotional, associated as it is with happy memories to the wearer, so that's what this series will be all about - if you love a certain classic perfume, but would like to try something different from time to time, which contemporary version might suit you?

There must be reasons for Shalimar's enduring appeal. It's partly marketing of course. Just take a look at this recent avertisement - epic doesn't begin to describe its grandiliquent dimensions! It refers to the Indian legend that inspired Shalimar, i.e. Shah Jahan's love for his wife, (or one of them) Mumtaz Mahal, which inspired him to build the Taj Mahal in her honour after she died.

Shalimar's enduring appeal is also partly because it was the first Western perfume to incorporate elements of classic Oriental perfumes - i.e. the warm woody sweet resin blends known as amber

Aimé Guerlain
In 1925, perfumer Aimé Guerlain took this warmth and sweetness further, with the addition of a newly invented synthetic vanilla in combination with natural vanilla extract.

This, combined with notes of leather, intense citric top notes and animalic musk, was what made Shalimar completely unique.

It was the Tom Ford's Black Orchid of its day and 'it girls' or flappers of the 20s could surround themselves in a haze of Shalimar and  feel they'd been transformed into an alluring kohl-eyed Theda Bara!

The aura or concept of Shalimar is one of mystery and dark seduction, yet in contrast to the other perfumes I'll be exploring in this series, it's also ultimately what's known as a 'comfort-scent'. What could be more comforting than the scent of home baking, or delicious creme brulee? When you think about it, it's a very French riff on an Oriental theme, kind of like a dinner date where your lover begins to confuse you with gourmet dessert!

Make no mistake though, Shalimar's message isn't as simple as, say, Britney Spear's Fantasy with that perfume's candy floss and fruit sundae sweetness. Shalimar's classic abstract floral bouquet and brisk leather notes remind us this is in fact a lady, not a cup cake.

Shalimar is one of those classic Guerlain perfumes that take you on a long journey. Those familiar with it know how delicious the far dry down is, and also how weirdly bitter the tarry leather/citrus opening notes appear to the contemporary nose!

Contemporary perfumes similar in style to Shalimar..

There are any number of flanker versions and variations of Shalimar by Guerlain. Obviously Guerlain realised that though this is much loved, some might find it dated, so there are versions that have more vanilla, more citrus, more iris, and so on. Some far more expensive, some less so. The basic eau de parfum can usually be found for as little as £20 on some websites, retail price around £48 (for 50ml). Many people seek the vintage, which reputedly is more complex and animalic, but is risky as top notes can disappear, so buy from a reputable source, such as

Or try these niche, contemporary perfumes which are comparable to Shalimar. Niche perfumery often favours richer, less synthetic perfumes than mainstream offerings...

Miller Harris Fleur Oriental
Like a lighter version of Shalimar - warm, ambery, sweet, doesn't have the intense bergamot, it does have Shalimar's spicy notes (clove) and its powdery quality (thanks to added heliotrope). If you want less powder, try this one..
Aroma M, Geisha Noire - less citrus, more woody, gets to a dry down that feels similar to Shalimar's delicious torched vanilla/brown sugar and musk combination. Complex, high quality naturals used alongside synthetics. The longevity of Geisha Noire easily rivals that of Shalimar. Vaguely similar, but with less of a natural feel, is Parfumerie Generale's much loved Felanilla.

If it's the sensuous musk aspect you enjoy, try Frederic Malle's Musk Ravageur, which has subtler citrus notes than Shalimar, and less complex vanilla, but a very similar salty civet-like vanilla/musk. One review described it as smelling like an animalic Palmer's Cocoa Butter, which is not far wrong! I wouldn't say it smells like Shalimar but it shares facets. It's a lighter skin scent though.

Some say there's a baby powder aspect to Shalimar, I'd agree, it's subtle but there and this effect is usually thanks to a combination of powdery iris and amber/vanilla among other things. If you like this particular aspect, you might enjoy older perfumes such as L. T Piver's Heliotrope Blanc, Lorenzo Villoressi's Teint de Neige, or the recently released Dahlia Noir by Givenchy. (I happen to like Dahlia Noir, though it's seen as a generic mainstream and there's nothing very noir about it to be honest!). One other perfume (one of my own favourites) that some find shares facets of Shalimar, is Bulgari's Black - a unisex salty/smoky vanilla with amber, leather and bergamot notes.

It has to be said that few of these perfumes (with the possible execption of Geisha Noire) have Shalimar's sheer complexity - citrus/leather/vanilla/florals/spice/patchouli/musk, but it's that very complexity which makes it unique, and at the same time, such a classic in style. The complexity is the feature that makes it slightly 'old school', but as with all classics, the dry down when it arrives is often the best part, and the aspect that knocks spots off many contemporary mainstream perfumes.

In Part Two, I'll be exploring variations on the classic animalic floral Joy, by Jean Patou.

(My own bottle of Shalimar edp, below. Not often worn, but much enjoyed when it is, especially on a chilly winter's evening)

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