Some of the great classics are stumbling blocks. There is something about the journey of perfumery that can make you think that you would never be the sort of person who would wear say No 5, or Mitsouko, or L’Origan, or in my case Shalimar. Here’s the point though – you may be exactly that sort of person after all.
Maybe it’s a kind of snobbism that makes us not want to admit that some well known formula brings us as much joy as the next person, or that some perfume is just about unbeatable in its class though that’s often the case. My own experience in coming around to Shalimar had to do with realizing that I was already wearing Shalimar, just not the blue stoppered kind. I mean I wear leather, a lot of leather, and citrus, and vanilla and what does that add up to? Yeah, it adds up to Shalimar
Mind you I had worn just about every other configuration of Shalimar first. Briefly I wore Shalimar’s distinguished precursers: Mouchoir de Monsieur and Jicky. Jicky I liked a lot, and then there was Shalimar Lite which I wore until the bottles became scarce. Mathilde Laurent who is credited with SL, had been put onto the task of mixing up Shalimar during her stint at Guerlain, and so was intimately familiar with the internal organs of that perfume. You had to admire Lite as a pretty brilliant reworking of old Shalimar’s anatomy because it kept most of the limbs of the original, but the dark civet and leather legs of Shalimar turned into edible prosthetics.
Shalimar Lite was a buttery ambery cake under a tart lemony icing. Lite as a near gourmand indulged the greedy tastes of its time, but did so in a witty way. SL was not your grandmother’s Shalimar.
Of course this was not enough indulgence in the smorgasbord of Shalimar formulas to satisfy me. While stating that I didn’t wear Shalimar, I emptied multiple samples of Maitre Parfumier et Gantier’s Or des Indes which was a Shalimar variant all over again.
In its original formula before opoponax was restricted to lower levels in perfume*, Or des Indes was Shalimar hopped up on the stuff.**The smell was heavy with the chewy caramel of tonka beans, further weighed down by the metallic scent of sweet myrrh. Or des Indes was well named and had almost as much density as a gold bar. However once the formula
changed I discovered Parfums de Nicolai’s Vanille Tonka, another incense burning cousin of Shalimar’s, also very big on vanilla.
Truth be told I still wear Vanille Tonka and it is close to being my favorite comfort scent. VT differs from Shalimar in being a perfume that glorifies frankincense and vanilla but has relatively little citrus. Over the years (because yes I’ve worn it for ten now) the top note has gone from lime to a sort of basil citrus mix, and the vanilla has dwindled in the formula, but the frankincense is still there. I fear that more restrictions will impoverish Vanille Tonka further still…
If I were the sort of person who loved orange as much as lemons and bergamot I’d no doubt reach straight for Habit Rouge which in many ways is the orange and masculine incarnation of Shalimar, but although I considered going that way, I got side tracked among the tangled routes of Emeraude.
The old Coty is so very like Shalimar that rumors persist about Guerlain having purchased the formula ninety years ago. The truth is probably close to impossible to find now, but it was certainly the case that in the twenties Francois Coty was taking a huge
bite out of the other perfume houses’ market share, and one of his biggest hits was the Jicky inspired Emeraude. My guess is that if Guerlain knew all there was to know about Jicky, it was simple sleight of hand to turn Emeraude into the Jicky/ Vanillic masterpiece that is Shalimar.
As for me, like Mme Jacques Guerlain who also wore Emeraude but subsequently Shalimar, I see no point in holding out. Shalimar it is- at least sometimes- and I bought myself a bottle in my favorite tear drop form. Now all I shall have to learn is whether on my skin Shalimar is mostly lemons or mostly vanilla?
Do you wear any variation on Shalimar?
* The IFRA recommendation is that opoponax not exceed 0.6% in consumer products.
** A similar perfume was Les Nereides Imperial Opoponax now refo’d and called Opoponax. Les complex than Or des Indes, it was essentially the tail of Shalimar.