smell this: Guerlain Shalimar

On April 8, 2016 by theseventhsphinx

Shalimar is an established classic, designed in 1921 by Jacques Guerlain and still on the shelves. This fragrance has been reformulated at least once but the essential notes remain the same; bergamot, jasmine, rose, iris, opoponax, vanilla. This is a complicated fragrance with a lot of powerful ingredients, and not only a lot on paper – a lot in the nose as well. Smelling iconic perfumes is such a good exercise.  I think anyone who gets sufficiently curious about perfume will want to experience the old classics sooner or later, certain of them anyway, whether a true vintage sample or the nearest one can get.

Shalimar EDC

I have yet to have an opportunity to smell the original formulation and can’t speak to whatever butchery the reformulation represents, but to me the current interpretation has a lot to appreciate. Anecdotally (Wikipedia on perfume histories is an interesting rabbit hole) it’s the result of an entire bottle of the latest synthetic vanillin being experimentally poured into a bottle of Guerlain’s Jicky, and was launched as Guerlain’s showpiece for the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris in 1925, an art exhibit designed to show the pre-eminence of French taste and style that was the highlight of the early Art Deco period. There is a great history of Shalimar on The Perfume Shrine.

We are discussing the EdC here, as that happens to be what I was gifted recently. It’s strange, I have hardly ever been given perfume. My mom gave me a much loved bottle of Jovan White Musk when I was 13 or so, and my aunt gave me a not especially loved bottle of…what was it? Lady Stetson? (miles away from the awful tropico-chemical aerosol body sprays in vogue in rural Maine in the 90s, which I largely shunned for Vanilla Fields), and I’ve had a few lovely fragrances passed on to me, but I haven’t had that feeling of having a new bottle of perfume in a couple of years. I am so used to being the one who gifts fragrance, I forget it can be given to me, too. How nice it is!*

*Potentially…

I was delighted to receive Shalimar, not because I like it [I’d only smelled it academically in passing years ago, and had only thought about it as a forerunner, a foremother] but because it is iconic, a sound addition to any fragrance library. It’s clearly echoed in later orientals, later leathers, in powdery and floral scents, in ambers and vanillas and incense fragrances…so many of these it seems could not exist without Shalimar.  That said, I do like it, though perhaps this does not translate to wanting to wear it often.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Shalimar EDC

Shalimar EdC opens with a zingy lemon and bergamot (think earl grey tea) accord, really bright, with an insistent sour note like cedar and civet (think animal musk/sweat and cat pee). The animality is strong for me, though for some it takes a back seat to the bergamot and soapy powder (highly recommend browsing the basenotes reviews of Shalimar). This moves promptly -within a few minutes – into the soapy floral heart of iris (for me dominant) and rose, which rose is never fully extricated from that original citrus. There is jasmine as well but for me it is more ‘complex heady floral that you know cannot be only rose or only jasmine’. It’s so over the top to have jasmine and rose, basically the two most expensive floral extracts and Guerlain famous for using the best. Either alone is enough to carry the day, and iris too can hold its own*, so it’s already a busy concoction, and THEN.

*Guerlain’s Apree L’Ondee, Frederic Malle Iris Poudre, The Different Company Bois d’Iris – I find iris soliflore fragrances are the best way to teach your nose the iris note, irises themselves are not so helpful, the root being the relevant thing.

On the coattails of the iris is an equally prominent note of leather, with vanilla and tonka bean creeping steadily in. For me the leather is unmistakable, though some seem to read it only as a smoky vanilla, or more like incense. Some people don’t seem to read leather at all, which to me is baffling, but the leather is the illusion, a mirage made of musk, amber, incense, and powder. The resinous note is evidently the opoponax – a note I don’t really have clear in my brain yet but which is a gum resin like frankincense or myrrh (opoponax is also called sweet myrrh) that smells luxuriously of balsamic and honey. Supposedly. I get what I would call sweet (amber, vanilla) and sour (civet, cedar) leather with a backdrop of powdery iris and incense. As time goes by, and this is a defiant fragrance that hangs around for many hours, this cocktail softens more and more, with leather, amber and vanilla waxing as the sourness and florals wane.

Shalimar will smell naggingly familiar to most, as it is still selling and still being worn, for many it is the scent worn by their mother or grandmother. Then, too, it is the ur-oriental, and all orientals are reminiscent of it. It’s had a cult following for nearly a century, the house’s flagship fragrance; innovatively sweet and exotic for the daring 20s. In addition to selling steadily in the main formulation, has spawned several offshoots or flankers, which surely sell in no small part due to the gorgeous bottle they keep re-releasing with slight variations on the original Baccarat design.

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Make no mistake, to my nose Shalimar is old-fashioned. It should smell old fashioned, formulated some 90 years ago and, from my point of view, worn by people much older than myself. Then, powder to me nearly always smells old-fashioned, as do basically all orientals, orientals being amber dominant scents with rich ingredients like musks and resins along with (often eastern) spices and florals. It’s strong! Not in the brassy 70s way or the cloying 80s way, and not in the modern Tom Ford way, but in a complex everything-but-the-kitchen-sink way that a number of iconic fragrances from the 1910s and 1920s demonstrate for us (ahem, Chanel No. 5 (1919)).

The beauty of Shalimar today is that it’s at a point where it’s so old it can be new again. It’s a potent, grown-up fragrance, even in the relatively sheer EdC formulation, and I can see it reading fresh and interesting on a younger woman, say under 40. Not that age matters, but youth provides a great contrast with these notes. Worn with complete at-homeness as a signature fragrance by someone older is a great look for Shalimar as well.

It appeals to me especially in the rain (that’s the iris), and it smells about a billion times better on skin than it does on fabric. No spritzing the scarf with this one for me. I need to power through the civet-heavy opening to get to the leather/iris bit, which is the part I can appreciate. I encourage anyone smelling Shalimar to spray it on and give it an hour. I can see myself more realistically layering this with a musk I actually like to add interest (say the Kiehl’s musk oil, or this one I like that I found on Amazon), or with a straight rose (say Tea Rose, or another straight floral maybe) to add interest, such that the layering fragrance provides a new driving force and Shalimar a soft ambiance. A dominant leather could be a nice pairing as well. Hm. Let’s talk about Tom Ford Tuscan Leather later, which is perfection all on its own.

x

bottle image via pinterest

rough & tumble

On November 25, 2015 by theseventhsphinx

Rough & Tumble is an independent company in Maine making artisan totes and handbags (they sell some other things, too). Their concept is ‘rugged & understated luxury’, and I think they do it well. The understated luxury part resonates deeply with me, and the branding is clear and focused. They work mainly with waxed canvas and leather, creating durable bags with clean architecture and classic style.

rough and tumble hobo pack

I can’t quite remember how I stumbled across them now. Instagram, I think. Simple, beautiful leather goods consistently catch my eye, and I determined that their perfectly slouchy hobo pack needed to come into my life one way or another.

I got the medium size of the hobo pack, which I’m wearing in the previous post, for scale. I’m so pleased with the quality and style of this bag. I often lament how hard it is to find a handbag that isn’t woefully encrusted with studs and logos and general frippery. Seeing a bag like this, so wonderfully clean, is like a breath of fresh air. This style comes in a number of other tempting colors, like the pale oat color I wanted very much. It was definitely the practical part of me that decided on black, encouraged by the fact that nearly every other bag I have is some shade of brown.

I love brown.

rough and tumble hobo buckle detail

This is a thin lambskin with saddle details. The buckles here serve a genuine purpose, which I applaud, and the leather is luxuriously supple and soft. I treated it with a stain protector and it’s had no problems in the rain or getting splashed with mud on the back of my bike. I need a bag that can survive my life. Seeing how well it handles weather, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose one of the lighter colors they offer.

The pricing seems fair and I’m all around impressed with this brand. Lately I’ve been browsing their small pieces section (I will always check the subcategory ‘small leather goods’, and I will pretty much always find something I like. Ex. this tassel thing from Cuyana). Surely I could find a use for one of these little cross body bags or pouches?

Surely.

x

the basket

On July 17, 2015 by theseventhsphinx

I cannot say enough good things about this Memories bike basket from Netherlandic brand Basil, a complete game changer, bike-wise.

basil memories bike basket

Tough and stylish, available in several fun colors as well, this hooks on a rear rack (just gravity holding it on, so easy to remove as well) and cleverly includes a handle. I often shop or pack directly into it like this. It makes all kinds of previously tiresome errands a breeze.

basil memories bottle bike basket

On a grocery run recently I realized what a lot of wonderful use I’ve gotten out of mine, which I’ve had for about two years, and how much I admire the look. Such handsome and functional design, and in perfect harmony with the retro design of my bike.

great find: Loyal Supply Co.

On March 24, 2015 by theseventhsphinx

I was returning from the Korean market in Union Square [too late to get donuts, sadly], preparing for a long Sunday wait for the bus back to Harvard, when I spied a door marked Loyal Supply Co., and next to it a window full of such miscellany as I cannot resist: small Farmhouse Pottery (which love, met their team recently at a design show and was so impressed) pieces, balsa wood airplanes, mysterious contraptions of leather and brass (keyrings? something cooler?), rustic soaps, beautiful scissors and rulers, fine pens and pencils and erasers and sharpeners, all spread out like jewels for the discerning craftsman.

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You know those shops you enter and think, what do I not want from this shop? Or, similarly, I must be a patron of this shop. Loyal Supply Co., for me, is one such place.

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Here is their description of themselves:

LOYAL SUPPLY CO. IS A DESIGN FIRM, RETAILER, AND DISTRIBUTOR OF HOME, OFFICE, AND STUDIO SUPPLIES. WE BELIEVE USEFUL, THOUGHTFULLY DESIGNED PRODUCTS MAKE LIFE MORE ENJOYABLE AND PRODUCTIVE. OUR SPACE, A MODERN TAKE ON A TRADITIONAL PEGBOARD WORKSHOP, DISPLAYS FINISHED PRODUCTS AMONG THE TOOLS THAT MAKE THEM. OUR HOPE IS TO INSPIRE AND ENABLE EVERYONE WHO WALKS THROUGH THE DOOR.

Well said, no?

Especially this: useful, thoughtfully designed products make life more enjoyable and productive. Just so.

It was not easy, as my personal stock of supplies is superb and I had already spent my monthly supply budget (and then some), but I was determined to walk away with something. I settled on this lovely pencil set from The Pencil Company.

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They had me at “one carpenter, one bridge, one white wax,  one no.2, one jumbo hex, and one jumbo round pencil”

Pencil names!

A bridge pencil I did not know! [For designing bridges? Does anyone know? Pencil aficionados?] Jumbo hex!

To think I’ve been missing out on such delights for so many years. I want a life the requires such pencils as these, with their warm, old-fashioned charm and modern, artisan-revolution aesthetic. Do you not?

It comes down to these details, in questions of style. The hair, the clothes, the bag, they are pieces in a larger—and, I hope, more grand—design. To live down to your bones, down to your pencils (and your plants, and the way you walk, the way you plan and execute, the way you turn your head), in your style. Not because you had to think about it, to decide on it (though you may have had to realize it) but precisely because you did not have to think about it. Not because it has been premeditated (though that can be the case, must this be then less authentic?) but because style is instinctive. Inevitable.

Yet, I believe, inevitable in a malleable sense, though perhaps what seems like malleability is only that peculiar kind of change which is not actually change, not most accurately change, but the sloughing off of extraneous possibilities to reveal an increasingly clear identity. And style born out of instinct (unquashed, not covered up or overcorrected) cannot help but be, at least in some sense of that slippery word, good.

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Stamped in gold foil! My spirit pencils. And white. Yes. White always and forever.

x

the dreamer

On January 14, 2015 by theseventhsphinx

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Marc Jacobs Beauty palette The Dreamer, brushes: Hakuhodo B5520BkSL, H2289, J146, MAC 217

This stunner of a palette from the Marc Jacobs Beauty Style Eye-Con line is one of my new favorite beauty toys. This is The Dreamer, essentially the neutral palette in the collection. I’ve spoken before about the siren-like allure certain color combinations can have, the power of a palette. I might not be interested in the colors individually, not enough to buy them, but combined I am drawn closer and closer to the jewel box. This one I found completely compelling from the start, and especially so once I saw it in person. I wandered into Sephora intending to look at the Night Owl palette from this same collection but it was out of stock and I met this one instead (actually I’m not uninterested in the Night Owl palette, it’s been noted). The golden goddess that occasionally runs the show here gave her immediate approval. Gold, champagne, a pale grapefruit, deep walnut, and warm neutrals… really I didn’t stand a chance against these colors.

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These shadows are what others have promised, they are so creamy as to have veered as far away from the realm of powder as possible without quite leaving it entirely. Sleek packaging. I’m pleased with this line—so anticipated—all around. I don’t like every design from Marc Jacobs by any means but I have admired him for many years now (over 10 years, I realize, since I began following him! After a friend in college with impeccable style noted him a favorite), the clarity of his style, the bold strokes and adventurous lines.

This is a bit too expensive, though, I think. $59 for this palette, and the shadows are not large. So, it is beautiful, but I would not exactly recommend it, at least not over many other excellent neutral palettes at more reasonable prices. But, it is beautiful. The quality is there. Priced similarly to luxury brands like Dior, Chanel, Guerlain, etc. If you are up for it, I think the money is not badly spent. And I don’t already have the ubiquitous Naked Palette, so I justified this effortlessly. I picked up some Hakuhodo brushes a few months ago as well, and liking. Will get into those later.

The lure of this palette made me realize how predictable I am in such cases. Chuck certain colors together and I’m sure to take a second look. Why? Why is this? Why these colors? Golds, caramels, creams…but others, too, which is why, for different but equally compelling reasons, I am drawn to the Night Owl palette as well.

Though, I suppose, why anything? Why do I like Brussels sprouts and ginger so much? Why the smell of vetiver?

Who can say. It seems one might be able to know, if only the data were accessible…but probably this is an illusion.

What are your colors?

x

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