Every now and then the folks at Guerlain have a go at tweaking Shalimar to make it more appealing to a younger audience. Or bring in a groovy bottle designer (groovesters don’t get much groovier than Jade Jagger), to sassy up the flacon and add a dash of style that will attract a younger wearer. Shalimar Parfum Initial is the latest of these efforts (following in the ballerina-pumped footsteps of Shalimar Light and Eau de Shalimar, to name but two…)
What’s fascinating to The Scent Critic, however, is that back in 1959 when her paramour was a teenager (on a US Airforce base in Chateauroux, in France’s flat-as-a-pancake intérieur), Shalimar – the original, un-tweaked, va-va-voom, wrap-yourself-in-icing-sugared-cashmere animalic Shalimar – turns out to have been the scent-of-choice of all the American teenage girls-about-town.
If you stood on the streets, he tells me, you’d encounter great gusts of Shalimar as these young women went past on the back of sundry French boys’ vélos (while their parents waited, biting their nails at home, no doubt…) He therefore has a certain Pavlovian attraction for it, and indeed: Shalimar is one of the handful of scents that he’s bought me in over two decades together. And something quite funny happens to him whenever he smells it. (Good funny.)
So: like many women, I used to write off Shalimar as an old lady’s scent, but over the years I’ve come to believe that it should be rehabilitated. Personally, I don’t think Guerlain need to change a darned thing – and as for appealing to younger women…? Surely its powdery, almost candied sweetness is just the thing to attract cupcake-baking, pink-wearing, giggling teens, if it was just pitched right…?
But still, try Guerlain does, repeatedly, to reposition their most iconic scent. Yet in reality, to The Scent Critic’s nose, this soft pink juice bears only glancing similarities to the original. Thierry Wasser has siphoned off many of the sugary/vanilla elements that have always been Shalimar’s unmistakable signature, removed the come-roll-in-the-hay base notes – and replaced them with a pretty, sheer white musk, layered on traces of amber, tonka bean and quite a bit of patchouli (though there can never be enough of that, in my book), giving a gourmand edge to the dry-down.
He’s delivered floral whispers in its mid-stages: pretty, fairyish traces of rose and jasmine (goes without saying, though I will), and iris – but with a positively dainty touch, compared to many of the iris-focused scents out there. It’s also quite leafy and green, at this point, in contrast to Shalimar original (which is like someone rolled you in a basket of fresh-picked petals, to deliberately tickle your soul).
And since for some reason I seem to be talking about the notes in reverse order, let’s talk about the overture: a whoosh of lemon and bergamot, which gets the whole thing off to a very clean-linen-sheets start. But actually, it’s not illogical to look at this upside-down, because those first notes hang about, throughout. What else comes through for me as it develops is an unusual almondy/birch tar/bonfire element – not unlikeable, and maybe it’s my skin chemistry that does that, but it’s there, like the smoke lingering in the air after a neighbour’s backyard blaze.
In the end, it’s pretty and well-rounded, and never tips into the marshmallow territory of many modern Orientals heat-seeking younger wearers (or indeed, the peerless Shalimar itself). My 16-year-old recipient, once I’d done with the bottle and passed it on, was delighted with it – and that’s probably Guerlain’s aim.
But it doesn’t make me worry for a moment that it’ll have bad boys gathering round like moths to a candle, dragging her to dives to sample absinthe while listening to heavy metal (or whatever teenagers like to listen to, these days). And I can’t help loving it just a little less, for that.
So maybe I’ll just give spring for a bottle of Shalimar parfum itself, and wait for the real fireworks to start. Because isn’t that, after all, what being a teenager is all about…?