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.

SHALIMAR08010 BASEA

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

Dolce Lover

On June 29, 2015 by theseventhsphinx

I’ve been in the mood for pinks lately, of all shapes and sizes, as it were. Blue-pinks and coral pinks, vibrant and restrained, nude and bubblegum, sheer and full-on. In Dolce and Gabbana Beauty’s matte lipstick range I found this deep rose shade, Dolce Lover, and was immediately attracted.

Dolce and Gabbana beauty, NARS, Charlotte Tilbury powder, Clarins concealer, Benefit Gimme Brow

CoverGirl Clump Crusher mascara, NARS blush in Gilda, Benefit Gimme Brow (light), Clarins instant concealer (2), Charlotte Tilbury powder (2), Dolce & Gabbana beauty matte lipstick in 624 Dolce Lover

Depending on the light, this lipstick looks on the verge of red in the tube, and on the lips as well for that matter. It is, though, a deep, vivid rose. This is an incredibly pretty color, and a great matte formula. I put this up with Charlotte Tilbury’s matte lipsticks, maybe Tom Ford’s as well. Creamy and not at all drying, that kind of incomprehensible formula that does kiss off on things, on account of the creaminess, but that, somehow, bizarrely, is always still on your lips. A beautiful formula.

IMG_9642

I’m also wearing (in addition to the pile above) the it Cosmetics lip pencil in Cherry Plush and a little Guerlain Terracotta bronzer. Oh, and the Glossier sheer tint. A really clean face with a bold lip, which I always like.

I’ll have to try to go into the universe of red as it exists for me sometime, especially as embodied by lipsticks and other lipstuffs. I make so many distinctions between shades, often—even after discovering so many wonderful shades—on the hunt for something….something a little different. Something I can’t quite put my finger on. The color of this tomato or that flower. This pink, hovering on the boundary between pink and red, has a vibrancy that some reds, however, glam, sometimes lack for me. It’s matte but not in way that cancels out light like some black hole on your face. It responds to light. There’s also the charm of it being more truly opposite my eye color on the color wheel. Red is opposite green in a basic crayon sense of those colors, but pale sage green is opposite something more like fuchsia, dark pink. Messing around with a color wheel is a great exercise when testing out complimentary shades for oneself, always keeping in mind that it should be completely ignored in many, many circumstances. And maybe also keeping in mind that really any shade on the opposite hemisphere (not just directly or even narrowly opposite) will have a similar effect of throwing your target shade into relief. [Ex. A peachy cheek makes the green pop, too, or the green makes the cheek pop. Either way.]

Then we have the unlikely pairing with NARS Gilda blush, a rusty pink (or we could call it a blushing apricot, cactus flower) that isn’t much talked about for reasons unknown, so lovely is it. [Similar to NARS Luster but more pink.] It’s recommended, for good reason, to keep lipstick and blush in the same color family, it gives harmony and unity to the face (I sometimes just use the lipstick as a cream blush). A warm blush paired with a cool lip is jarring, distracting…but who is to say this is inferior to harmony? Somehow the distracting quality comes across more in photos than in person, in person it seemed less remarkable a clash. Actually this would be better if the clash were more dramatic, I think.

Ah well.

Next time.

Maybe when I get around to showing you the little mountain of pink lipsticks I’ve picked up recently.

x

2014 summer fragrance picks

On July 18, 2014 by theseventhsphinx

It’s often not mentioned, as it doesn’t show up in photos, but I’m nearly always wearing some perfume or another. Or, one way or another, I smell like something in addition to smelling like myself. Something good.

Here are the fragrances I’ve been reaching for so far this summer.

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 Atelier Cologne Orange Sanguine – Literally, ‘blood orange’. A gorgeous orange scent with the bitter and acidic elements elegantly balanced with a mix of bright florals. Nothing overly sweet, cloying, or synthetic about it. It smells…like sunshine. A wonderful, unusual summer citrus. Unisex.

Guerlain Vetiver – OK, so I’ve mentioned this numerous times, but this is a gold standard vetiver, and one that smells great on many people in many contexts, in every season…and especially in summer. Leans a bit masculine, but in a way that makes me appreciate it all the more on a woman.

Guerlain Homme – I got this…must be 6 years ago now? I haven’t stopped liking it one bit. Smells like a mojito that is wearing cologne. Awesome. Younger guys, I would especially like to smell this on you. [Older guys, you could be potentially devastating in the Guerlain Vetiver, give it a sniff.]

Clarins Eau Dynamisante – Lemony and herbal, very light and unassuming. I’ve reviewed this before. Perfect to spritz on post-shower, like a luxe, actually appealing body spray.

The Body Shop’s Love Etc. – Smells like grass and popcorn, what more do you want for summer? Master perfumer Dominique Ropion did the mixing, so the blend is surprising and sweet, on the girlish side in a playful, innocent way.

Bulgari Pour HommeGrapefruit of the gods. Many summer fragrance lists plug citrus but this most often means lemon. Lemon is, for me, the most difficult of the citruses, the one most often disappointing in a fragrance. The one most likely to smell like pez. Or Pledge. Enough of lemon. Give me grapefruit, orange, and lime. I don’t know that I can call this my favorite fragrance—it is too difficult, and too unnecessary to choose such a thing—but I can say that when I am wearing it, I love to be wearing it.

Estee Lauder Bronze Goddess Body Oil Spray – Smells like the beach, in the best way. Or like the way you wish suntan lotion smelled. No longer available in this form, evidently, but the eau fraîche skinscent is close, and also lovely, as is the body cream.  [Not pictured because I forgot, bafflingly.]

I have a few samples from the extraordinary Italian brand Profumum that I am loving, too, and will have to tell you about them as well. I got a handful to try and they are nearly all stunning for summer.

 

weekend distraction: Sali’s perfume tour

On February 23, 2014 by theseventhsphinx

I’ve mentioned before how much I like and am willing to listen to Sali Hughes, the beauty editor for The Guardian. She’s sensible (with a kind of dry, intelligent humor I like), well-researched, well-spoken, and we share a soft spot for perfume and tarty makeup. Her recommendations are solid across the board and she has this great In the Bathroom series of interviews I enjoy, where she interviews friends of hers (about their beauty routines and favorite products) in their bathrooms. I don’t know her really, of course, but I like her. One gets the sense, reading and watching her, that she smokes and swears and makes excellent observations, and you’d want her at your party.

She’s made a video walking through her favorite perfumes and it is just the kind of mini-introduction to excellent perfumery I wish I’d had ages ago and still find useful and interesting now. She has great taste, with stress on high quality ingredients and complexity of scent. Her favorites include a mix of masculine and feminine, intellectual and fun, and she moves through quickly enough to keep interest, peppering the tour with great bits of data for the perfume-curious.

[I want to do a tour along these lines myself. Still working on video over here but it’s only a matter of time.]

I’m definitely going to seek out samples of a few of the unfamiliar scents she highlights here (esPECIALLY that Roja Dove vetiver, but I’ve been meaning to look into Atelier Cologne and more of the Frederic Malle line as well), and, though it’s no coincidence, am pleased to note that a number of her favorite brands are favorites of mine as well. Take note of the brands she highlights, as they are great ones to look at (I mean, look into getting samples of – get samples! Try fragrances on your skin before you buy!). Even if your favorite scents are not her favorites (and why should they be?), these are brands producing beautiful fragrances worthy of being called perfume. They are, in many cases, not inexpensive, and this is no coincidence, either.

smell this: Guerlain Vétiver

On August 22, 2013 by theseventhsphinx

IMG_6122I already mentioned Guerlain Vétiver in a winter fragrance picks post but it bears further mention. Summer mention.

Nutmeg, citrus, and cedar are the notes–aside from the pure, central vetiver–that stand out to me in this superb, bright vetiver. There is balance, though, and none of these dominate. Guerlain’s is known as a benchmark vetiver; what you smell to teach your nose about these indispensible grassroots. Once you learn to recognize that distinctive vetiver scent (it smells like nothing else) you will smell traces of it everywhere – it appears in the base of nearly all western fragrances.

Fresh and light, just the kind of scent I want to put on early in the morning.

Love the sillage on this; I smell it as I shift and turn all day. I had about 5 different fragrance strips sitting on my desk one day and GV was the only one I could smell at a distance. It blends well with everything. Everything I’ve tried! It smells great in every season, in every context. There is something so reliable about this scent, to me – like it would never let me down.

Ladies! Take note. This is a men’s classic (1959) but would smell fantastic on you. It has for me zero outdatedness, and age is no factor. Gentlemen, put down the stonking aquatics and try this. Everyone else: it would smell good on you, too.

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