Guerlain Shalimar Extrait
Introduced in 1925 - Feminine
Notes: Top notes of lemon, mandarin, rosemary and bergamot; middle notes of jasmine, May rose, patchouli, vetiver; and base notes of iris, incense, opoponax, tonka bean, sandalwood, musk, civet, ambergris, leather, coumarin, Peru balsam and vanilla
An excerpt from Kafkaesque
Shalimar was created by Jacques Guerlain. According to Wikipedia, it was originally released in 1921, then “re-released in 1925, by Jacques Guerlain in a bottle designed by Raymond Guerlain and made by Cristalleries de Baccarat (bottle design # 597) and launched at the Decorative Arts Exhibition as an antidote to The Great Depression.” The inspiration for the scent was the love story between the great Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan, and his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, for whom he built both the Taj Mahal and the Garden of Shalimar in Lahore, Pakistan.
Guerlain provided the blogger and Guerlain expert, Monsieur Guerlain, with the note list for the original Shalimar. According to his wonderfully detailed post on the creation and composition of the scent, it has:
bergamot, lemon, jasmine, rose, orris, opopanax [sweet myrrh], tonka bean, birch tar, patchouli, incense, vetiver, civet, castoreum, vanilla, musks.
As a side note, The Perfume Shrine adds benzoin, Peru Balsam, and sandalwood to the note list. I would agree when it comes to Shalimar from the 1980s onwards, but not necessarily before. For example, I can’t say that I’ve ever detected sandalwood in the earlier versions, but it’s definitely there in fragrances that I’ve tried from the 1980s. I also completely agree on the two resins, again for the later decades, with the benzoin being a particularly big and obvious presence in fragrances that I’ve tried from the 1980s and 1990s. Separate from those three notes, I personally have always believed that styrax resin is part of the leather accord, at least for the earlier decades of the parfum, and I think that it’s quite evident in one of the 1960s vintage parfum bottles that I own.
Out of all of Shalimar’s ingredients, two are the most significant across all decades and concentrations: bergamot and vanilla. Let’s start with the second. Wikipedia quotes Elisabeth Barille as saying, "while examining a sample of vanillin, Jacques Guerlain suddenly poured the entire contents into a nearby bottle of Jicky, just to see what would happen. The result: Shalimar."
Monsieur Guerlain has a different account of Shalimar’s development and composition. He writes that Thierry Wasser, Guerlain’s current nose, is “not an advocate” of the Jicky-vanillin theory because he thinks the development was much more complicated. According to Monsieur Guerlain (and presumably Monsieur Wasser), the key ingredient was actually ethylvanillin which is relevant because it is “many times stronger and creamier than vanillin.” Because of its strength, Monsieur Guerlain writes that Jacques Guerlain “sequestered himself in the laboratory and worked methodically to try to offset the intense vanilla odour with resinous, powdery and, not least, citrus notes.” As a result, over “thirty percent of his composition consisted solely of bergamot oil.”
An excerpt from Now Smell This
Shalimar Extrait (pre-1985) - No doubt about it, the Extrait is the queen of Shalimar formulations. Only in the Extrait did I really smell Shalimar’s iris, rose and green notes. In other versions, its florals were stampeded by lemon, vanilla and civet. Not that you don’t notice skank here. Plenty of dirty, fusty notes, like old velvet or the yellowed pages of a book, give Shalimar its iconic, grand lady personality. In Extrait, Shalimar is smokier, too.
An excerpt from The Scented Hound
What I Smell – Parfum Extrait: The perfume opens with a big and bright citrus and bergamot. The citrus is directly from the peel, big, bold and full. There’s nothing sharp, but the opening is bright, uplifting and dynamic. The infused florals are slightly heady and beautifully warm. It’s big and full and proper, but slightly naughty. It’s like the most luxurious silken pillow that you’ve ever rested your head on. After around 45 minutes an incense in combination with the bite of the civet make their way in. What was bright and bursting with energy now turns more vampish…constrained vampishness, but you know it’s there. As it continues to develop there’s a darkened sensuality that pulses from the heart of the perfume, the incense is so subdued and there’s a hint of leather that smells like a well oiled and rubbed baseball mitt. It stays in this phase for some time until hours later when the fragrance begins to dry and it becomes a warm vanilla dream. Oh Shalimar, you’re glamorous, earthy, rounded and just plain gorgeous!
What It Smells Like to Me: 1920’s glamour. Created in 1925 by Jacques Guerlain, the fragrance perfectly fits the era, the glamour and the intersection of the Victorian morals crossing with the newly modern and daring women of the day.
An excerpt from Perfume Shrine
Jacques Guerlain always felt that the aroma of vanilla was a powerful aphrodisiac, a notion that is almost a prerequisite of orientalia, and completely in sync with the demands of the times. So curious to see what would happen ~or so the story goes~ he dropped a large dollop of vanillin into a bottle Jicky, Guerlain's revolutionary and popular aromatic fougère. The secret to the medicinal, smoky yellow vanillin of Jicky, reprised in Shalimar, was the remnants of guiacol and phenols, lending an autumnal darkness to what would otherwise be a confectionary sweet cream. This is the reason that Guerlain insisted on ordering the impure grade of vanillin even when the chemical process was improved.
It was the fusion of vanillin, coumarin and opoponax along with labdanum, however, which provided the basic accord of Shalimar and accounted for its haunting aura. Thus Jacques Guerlain pushed the oriental theme of Jicky to new extremes, creating the emblematic oriental and the flagship fragrance for Guerlain. Luca Turin in his older French guide compared its place in perfumery to the Revolutionary Etude by Chopin: a classic loved and played to excess, but of which a new interpretation or a unexpected coming-across has the power to move even the most nonchalantly unconcerned.
Shalimar opens with the violent zest of bergamot, backed up by sweeter hesperidic accents, quickly melding into an embrace of flowers that soon set the stage for the sensual and warm undercurrent of the muskily sexy base. The bridge of patchouli and vetiver, with a touch of what seems like Mediterranean thyme, provides the movement that compliments the chilly astrigent feel of the citrus, uniting the prickly, balsamic elements of the drydown with a dash of leathery quinolines (materials with a harshly pungent, bitter green scent) into a sustained basso continuo that endures for hours; on skin as well as on clothes.
Shalimar's feminine beauty comes from the orchestration of its softly powdery and animalic elements that heave like an ample bosom: the golden dust of heliotrope, the hazy veil of opoponax, the balsamic goodness of warm, slightly spicy benzoin and Peru balsam mingling with the vanillic softness, the carnality of musk...You can wear this clad from head to toe and it still seems like you're completely naked.
In vintage formulations, the bergamot is brighter (and natural) and the muskiness more pronounced, rendering Shalimar a very sexy fragrance that is unashamedly and calculatingly seductive: according to Roja Dove" it was said that a lady didn't do three things: smoke, dance the tango and wear Shalimar". Never was a perfume so close to the edge of respectability while remaining within good taste. Later re-interpretations, especially in recent years, have detracted from the animalic element of the base, due to substitution of ingredients (the catty potency of civet in particular, as well as making the bergamot top synthetic due to photosensitizing concerns) and additionally conformity to modern tastes for lighter fragrances. The result nevertheless is harsher, thinner and with a less "flou", plush ambience about it.
The extrait de parfum used to be the undoubtedly supreme choice in Shalimar, the epitome of a dark oriental, while the Eau de toilette and Eau de parfum were lesser mortals; but in the interests of securing a rich-smelling vintage bottle I highly recommend the Parfum de Toilette concentration that circulated during the 1980s: it presents the best aspects of the vintage with a price-tag that can be met.
An excerpt from Now Smell This
Purists will insist that to appreciate the classic Guerlains, you must try them in Parfum. I wouldn't insist that you must prefer the Parfums (heathen that I am, I prefer Jicky in Eau de Toilette), but I would certainly say that it is worth the effort and expense to obtain even a few drops of the Parfum in Jicky, Shalimar, Mitsouko, L'Heure Bleue. With Shalimar in particular, you might prefer the lesser concentrations, but I don't think they'll tell you what the fuss is all about. Shalimar in extrait is, simply put, one of the glories of French perfumery. The base is rich, smoky and animalic; it smells mysterious and sophisticated, and frankly, dirty, almost indecently so. It hails from an era before fresh-from-the-shower became everyone's notion of sexy; Shalimar is sexy precisely because it smells unclean.
Shalimar is still being sold, but it has been reformulated.
We are decanting from an unopened bottle of Shalimar parfum from The Marly Horse presentation box. Based on the fact that the box is a brighter purple color and the gold horse logo is located in the middle of the lid, leads me to believe that this bottle is from the 1970s.