Friday, January 22, 2010

Guerlain Shalimar

I've taken Shalimar for granted. It's been around since 1925, and I've known it and could recognize it for as long as I can remember and wasn't really a fan. Shalimar wearers wanted to be noticed and to make an entrance. The powdery veil that encompassed them and announced their comings and goings certainly helped. Now I know it was probably the EDC and EDT concentrations. I doubt I've ever smelled the extrait de parfum anywhere until I started seeking it on my own.

Sounds strange, but it was only a few years ago that I abandoned the very misguided anti-vanilla prejudice. I learned to appreciate the facets of this note- woody, smoky, animalic and found all of that in Shalimar, once the opening fireworks of citrusy bergamot fade away. Yes, it's still sweet and big with a loud voice and a serious cleavage, especially in the vintage form, but there's a lot more to Shalimar than its sex appeal.

When I stared exploring Shalimar from the extrait back to the lighter versions, I began to smell the nuances. The drydown of the (vintage) parfum is stunning. The claws of the dangerous animal are right there behind the vanilla, waiting to pounce. The vanilla itself is rich and smooth, beautifully blended with the woody opoponax. The latter is a note I never fully understood until I stated wearing Shalimar on a regular basis and experienced the way it morphs from powder to sweet resin and weaved into a wood-to-incensy leather accord. There's so much mystery in the way Shalimar develops and breaths with the skin, and this is what makes this perfume so grand and fit for a queen.

At this point I love and wear every version, concentration and vintage of Shalimar. Unlike many older bottles, I've rarely come across one that has turned. Something in Shalimar keeps it fresh for decades, and the differences between the various bottles are not so much in quality, just in shades of beauty. Shalimar has most likely undergone several reformulations over the years. Because of the many editions and special bottles it's extremely hard to tell which is which, though there are several Guerlain experts in the scentoholic community that can date a bottle more or less accurately. But if you're here more for the juice than for the bottle, then it doesn't really matter. Once you get hooked on Shalimar you stop caring that much- not about the date, not about the fact your second grade teacher used to wear the EDC, not about some teenagers at the mall who wrinkle their nose at your magnificent sillage (happened to me once at Barnes & Noble). You just want to feel the magic and let it carry you away.

It's that good.

New bottles of Shalimar can be found in every department store under the sun, though the lower-end and Sephora usually only carry the EDT. Because of the price and shady sellers, the safest and most reliable way to get your paws on vintage bottles is to raid the closets of your great-aunt Tilly. Most chances she has at least one bottle stashed away, waiting for the right time to wear it.

Vintage Shalimar ads from
Photo of various bottles from my own collection.


  1. Ooooh, look at your bottles... I keep insisting that I never buy anything for the bottle, but I think the classic Shalimar bottle is just gorgeous.

    I used to think I hated it - but of course, that was the edt. I lucked into one of those small bottles of parfum de toilette ($10! a steal!) on ebay, and immediately realized that the stronger concentrations are the Real Deal. I still don't wear it as frequently as I do Shalimar Light, but I seem to want a drop of the original when there's woodsmoke in the air. It's still genius.

  2. I wear Shalimar EDP everyday since I was 22. I just love it.

  3. I love Shalimar and don't have a large perfume budget. Recently I ran across something in a catalog called Beauty Boutique: their "version" of Shalimar. It was 3.5 oz for $6 plus shipping. Having just spent $60 on a bottle of the real thing, I was curious to smell just how close the knock-off came. It arrived a couple of days ago. It's packaged in the ugliest bottle imaginable, but smells so much like Shalimar that I really couldn't tell the difference. It smells wonderful and is cheap enough that I could bathe in it. I'd love your opinion of my experience. Maybe I just have the world's least sophisticated nose!

  4. I wish I could wear perfume, but my allergies/asthma won't allow it :(. My nose is WAY too sensitive, however it's fun to read about the perfumes that inspired my favorite Rouge Automatiques hehe :)

  5. I've just purchased my first bottle of vintage perfume - it's Shalimar eau de cologne and looks very much like the one in your picture. What's killing me is it arrived by mail at the same time that I came down with a horrible cold. I'm being tortured by 1. my running nose, 2. my inability to truly appreciate my new treasure and 3. the knowledge that if I start sniffing it wholeheartedly, I shall always think I'm coming down with a cold every time I smell it.

    On the upside, I do have something wonderful to look forward to.


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