Monday 29 October 2018

SHALIMAR by Guerlain

One of the joys of writing about scent is that I occasionally get the chance to revisit a fragrance that can truly be described as a “classic” in the history of perfumery. The word is used too frequently to describe all sorts of fragrances, and it often feels as though it has lost a little of its importance. However, when it comes to Shalimar by Guerlain the word is absolutely spot on. For a fragrance that is ninety-three years old, this matriarch of a scent still has something to offer to younger generations, especially those who dare to be different. Let me reintroduce you to this Jacques Guerlain classic.

“A classic fragrance is one that has set trends and rewritten the rules; importantly, it has endured.” This is how The Fragrance Foundation describes the term “classic” and perhaps it would be a good idea if we all started to use the word a little more sparingly. The latest releases will often be called classics but how many of these do you realistically think will reach their tenth birthday, let alone their ninetieth? The foundation estimates that only 0.2% will actually achieve the status of “classic” and so I think that the time is right to celebrate a true Guerlain classic, Shalimar.

When this iconic fragrance was launched to the world in 1925 it was right in the middle of the roaring twenties. A decade of uninhibited freedom, of playful debauchery on the jazz club scene, and a fascination with the orient, Shalimar offered smoky sensuality in a direct contrast to Chanel’s famously aldehydic No.5. Interestingly, both were originally released in 1921 although Shalimar hit a few copyright problems with its name. So, after a brief period of being referred to as No.90, Jacques Guerlain’s masterpiece was officially relaunched in 1925 and the rest is history.

Shalimar is steeped in myth, not just for the argument over its official release date, with many explanations as to how this revolutionary scent came about. It owes a lot of its character to a synthetic ingredient called ethylvanillin, a kind of super-charged vanilla, in much the same way that Chanel No.5 emphasised the synthetic aldehydes in their fragrance. Rumour has it that Jacques Guerlain added an overdose of this deliciously sweet ingredient to a sample of Jicky, one of his father's perfumes, and the combination of the powerful sweetness with the classic fougère paved the way for what would become Shalimar.

The fragrance opens unbelievably brightly, which is not surprising as 30% of its formula is bergamot! This citrus ingredient is diamond-like and remains prominent as the rest of the fragrance reveals itself, which means that the heart of jasmine and rose is given crispness rather than the usual heavy floral quality. The true glory of Shalimar though appears in its sensual base notes. Alongside the overdose of ethylvanillin you get the almond smoothness of the tonka bean, the honeyed quality of opoponax, and the woody combination of vetiver and patchouli. The animalic notes are now synthetic, due to ethical regulations, but the wonderful powderiness from the orris is just as strong as ever.

If you’ve never worn Shalimar then go and try it today because there’s a reason why it’s a classic, and it’s also wonderfully unisex. Shalimar is available as a perfume, an EDP and an EDT from all fragrance stores.


  1. A perfect review Stephan. I have a treasured small bottle of the parfym that's about 25 years old, unopened. I'm scared of releasing the magical genie in the bottle, I will give in one day. Until that day, I content myself with a 15 year old bottle of the edt, which I find stunning.

    1. Hello Barry, the current versions are pretty close to the original but maybe it's time to open the vintage? Best, Stephan

    2. I keep thinking that it;s time to open it. Let's face it, it's not a perfume until it's released. At the moment, it's liquid in a pretty bottle, and it isn't doing what Jacques Guerlain created it to do.

    3. Absolutely. Remember that you can always transfer some into a 5ml brown bottle, keep that stored away, and enjoy whats left.