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

smell this: musk oil

On January 8, 2014 by theseventhsphinx

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 Musk is an ancient perfumery ingredient classically derived from muscone, the glandular secretion of the musk deer, though there are some less commercially viable alternatives from other animals (muskrats, snakes, turtles, beetles, ducks, crocodiles…). Nearly all current musks are created with synthetic muscone, the natural ingredient being now astronomically priced, though many are made with its close chemical relative civetone (which may be real or synthetic). Their common thread is the slightly sweet—think honey, not cane sugar—, slightly sour or even fecal odor of a living body, none too clean.

While there is a broad range, from the barbaric [imagine the unwashed warrior with diligently clubbed beast, who will now rest for a while on his bed of furs before the fire and dry the sweat from his copious chest hair. Imagine Serge Lutens Muscs Koublaï Khän] to the clean, sweet animalic [imagine a freshly bathed kitten], I find musks I like in every register*. Most I have come across are somewhere in the middle: sweet and warm, spicy, possibly powdery, slightly soapy and/or floral. They tend to be spicy and enveloping, great for cold weather. My favorite thus far has to be Frederic Malle’s Musc Ravageur, a particularly refined musk (reading almost as an amber at times) with beautiful elements of winter spices like cinnamon and clove.

*A warning that musks, and especially musk oils, will be too cloying in their sweetness for many. And they are not for those who want to mask their body with an un-body-like smell (which I do not typically want to do). I urge you to smell them, though. They are one of those scents that people tend to experience with bizarre discrepancies, some people being virtually or totally anosmic to certain elements in the musk; picking up all sweetness or no sweetness, all fecal or no fecal.

I am not uniformly interested in oil as a vehicle for perfume but find it especially pleasant and effective for something so sweet and complementary to the skin as musk [N.B. a rollerball applicator is nice for perfume oils]. The oil renders the fragrance more persistent on the skin and seems appropriately intimate, oil gradually being absorbed into the skin seeming to me more intimate than a gradually evaporating alcohol spray. The oil is particularly amenable to layering, too. I can sometimes find musk too sweet, at which times I like to layer the oil with a bright floral (or just anything) to subtly alter its character.

I have two on rotation at the moment. The first is a natural Egyptian civet blend I found for few dollars on Amazon (there are dozens of similar ones, it seems). This is a soapy (as if you are smelling a bar of musk scented soap) floral with a mild musk element; light, powdery, feminine. A really excellent use of $5.99 to my mind. The second is C.O. Bigelow’s Perfume Oil in Musk, still largely clean but with the musk taking a more prominent role, the florals, spice, and powder muted. By ‘clean’ here I mean that the musk has been dolled up in such a way as to seem tame, domesticated, inoffensive. This is quite similar to Kiehl’s Musk Essence Oil, though that is a little sweeter and muskier, I think [discovered “in a vat labeled “Love Oil” in the late 50s” (!)]. Either makes a wonderful winter masculine.

smell this: Chanel Coco Mademoiselle

On August 18, 2013 by theseventhsphinx

IMG_6115Well, it doesn’t smell as good on me as it did on the guy who made me want to buy it, though I was drunk at the time I decided I would buy, and he must have bathed in it. Lesson learned in testing on self [Always test on self!]. And inebriated scent assessment.

Pleasant vanilla, citruses and rose florals anchored with patchouli –  not too sweet, esp in the drydown, so it smells good (definitely good…not quite inspiring but solidly good, I can see why it sells so well) but rather boring to my nose. Would be a fitting scent for a particularly charming baby or nursery was my initial thought [though you aren’t meant to put perfume on babies, I know]. Can layer to sweeten or temper a masculine, is how I’ve been consoling myself about it. I find that it plays very well with others, after a couple of years of experimenting with it now and then. Especially like it over something musky, like the C.O. Bigelow musk oil. This also keeps it from being so recognizable, and helps with that ideal of having a unique scent for oneself.

Though it is not my favorite I often reach for it (alone or somehow layered) when I don’t want to think too hard about smelling nice–not only nice, but ‘pretty’, nice in a sense with feminine mass appeal–and I want to speak, inconspicuously, effortlessly, to a broad range of tastes. Perhaps if I know I will be meeting new people, for example, and I’m in a rush. I almost always get positive comments.

smell this: winter 2013 fragrance picks

On February 1, 2013 by theseventhsphinx

The cold weather makes certain heavy scents particularly appealing to me. The molecules aren’t as mobile and stay closer to the skin, evaporating more gradually, and a fragrance that would be deadly or cloying in the summer is rendered subtle and fine.

Here’s what I’ve been wearing:

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Montale – Red Vetyver. Just gorgeous. Pricey, but do you want to smell like a sexy, resinous tree or not? A little like Chanel’s Sycomore.

Lalique – Encre Noir (pour homme).  This actually does smell a lot like black ink, the kind you would buy for calligraphy or what have you. Like ink + a dark, earthy vetiver. Great on a man, better on a man with stubble, but maybe better still and more charming/unexpected on a woman.

C.O. Bigelow Musk perfume oil. A little goes a long way, but great to mix with a body oil to dilute and slather away. Rich, powerful musk that isn’t too…fecal. I also like to put this on as a base and temper with something sweet and light, like a simple floral like

Tea Rose by Perfumer’s Workshop. Olfactory equivalent of a photographic representation of a tea rose, or, to me at least, a wild rose. Simple, light, refreshing (not a dark, syrupy, honeyed rose), and so inexpensive. Men, try this on. Plays well with others. Mix it with Guerlain Vetiver and you become just about effervescent. This will be great for spring as well, but winter is when I miss florals. Same idea behind

CB I Hate Perfume – M2 Black March. [not pictured as I only have a sample vial] This smells precisely like a handful of freshly turned earth with crushed flower petals and roots mixed in. Incredible. Not cheap. Lovely old-school apothecary packaging. Get the perfume absolute if at all, which is a viscous oil that lasts on the skin for hours. Also great in the rain. Or give it to a gardener.

L’Occitane – Eau de Vetyver. A creamy, rich, slightly dirty vetiver. Cozy and enveloping.

Paloma Picasso EdP. A kind of sparkling chypre (which genre I usually don’t like) from the 80s that is often marked down at Marshall’s or TJ Maxx. Not for everyone, but a wonderful respite from the saccharine fruity-florals that dominate the market. Give it a while to develop on the skin before you veto, as it starts out a little green and screechy like Grey Flannel or Halston I-12 (both of which I also like in winter, but like more so in the rain). Points to guys who give this a go.

Bulgari Omnia. Now discontinued, it is superior to all of the flankers it spawned. Lactic and nutty with a distinct note of cinnamon, this will make you smell like a gorgeous, sophisticated chai latte.

Some fragrance resources:

Not familiar with vetiver yet? Get familiar.

http://www.basenotes.net/ (reviews, descriptions, note lists, and a good place to look up the year a fragrance launched or the perfumer behind it)

http://theperfumedcourt.com/ (try fragrances on your skin first if you can, blind buying full-sized bottles is risky business)