Guerlain : Shalimar

Created by : Jacques Guerlain

Date : 1925

Genre : Animalic amber

Concentration : Eau de toilette

After a couple of downer posts, I decided to write about something that I love… Guerlain’s Shalimar.  With my novice nose, there are few perfumes I can pick out of a lineup and Shalimar is one of them.  For instance, the last time I recognized Jacques Guerlain’s masterpiece was last week when Ricky asked me to go with him to the Brahms concert simulcast by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The opening piece was the Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra in A Minor, Op. 102, Gustavo Dudamel conducting with classy Renaud Capuçon on violin and his alterego/brother, animalic Gautier Capuçon, on the cello.  It was a concert to remember… so beautiful… and what made it even more perfect was the Shalimar that was wafting from the row in front of us.

Shalimar is one of the most storied fragrances in history… the stories being either fact or fiction or “faction”, as Diana Vreeland would say.  Supposedly, Jacques Guerlain created Shalimar in an instant by simply pouring newly discovered ethyl vanillin  into a bottle of Jicky (1889).  And supposedly, Shalimar was inspired by Coty’s Emeraude (1921) and the fragrance was adopted by American women first and by French women later.  We’ll never know how much all of this is true but what we do know is that Shalimar was officially launched in 1925 at the “Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes” and this was hugely important because it placed perfume firmly in the realm of decorative arts… which is where it belongs.  I, for one, look forward to the day that I visit a decorative arts museum and among the gowns, vases, lamps, furniture pieces and carpets we’ll be able to sniff the perfume of the day!

Shalimar is a beautifully balanced, sensuous vanilla-centric amber with a rich animalic subtext that reminds of a deep basso profundo.  The much talked about animalic notes are nowhere near the skanky notes of Serge Lutens Muscs Koublaï Khän but more like a resinous, smoky note.  Shalimar does smell powdery sometimes but just when you think you’ve defined it… the powder disappears.

I think that Shalimar is perfect for men now that women have vacated the perfume middle-ground and moved uptown to whatever is sweet and ultra-floral.  To test it, I wore Shalimar to the Montreal Grand Prix F1 street festival Friday night and among the hairy-knuckled Guccis, Armanis and Hugo Boss’s… it outdid the competition.  Let’s just hope that Guerlain never plays around with the formula… it’s perfect just as it is.


Top image : The original bottle of Shalimar designed by Raymond Guerlain

Bottom image : Photo of Gautier Capuçon by Erin Baiano for the New York Times

Leave a comment


  1. isabelle

     /  June 13, 2011

    Bonjour Normand,
    L’l’exposition de 1925 à Paris fut un sommet dans les arts décoratifs. On y a immortalisé le style Art Déco qui toucha toutes les sphères artistiques. Il est intéressant d’y lier cette touche olfactive qui nous parvient de cette époque si riche de création. Le design de la bouteille Shalimar n’est cependant pas associable aux lignes géométriques, modernes et élancées qui caractérisent l’Art Déco. 86 ans après son lancement, le flacon reste indémodable.


    • Merci pour les précisions! J’utilise jamais (ou presque) les flacons comme illustration dans mon blogue… mais ce flacon est vraiment spécial. Merci de le souligner.


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