Thursday, November 29, 2012

Sniff vs. Sniff: Shalimar EDP and Shalimar Parfum Initial

Another classic. My impression is that Guerlain's Shalimar is treated with fractionally less contempt by its keepers than poor Miss Dior, though that may only be due to the large population of women who know, by God, what Shalimar is supposed to smell like. To my mind, it's second only to Chanel No. 5 in population nose recognition. Of course, that reflects the age and prejudices of my nose. The most recognized and best-loved fragrance is probably really Angel or Lovely or Coco Mademoiselle or something I've never heard of.

Anyway, I want to learn to like Shalimar. Correction: If I'm ever going to like Shalimar, I want to start soon, while the current parfum is somewhat well-regarded and eBay is still packed with vintage and semi-vintage bottles. So far, I've failed to bond with it. In fact I'm nursing a minor Shalimar trauma, the result of encountering a spray parfum tester at Saks. My brain, rather than sitting me down to explain, "Parfum. Parfum. Do you remember what that means?" instead said, "Oooh!" and I snatched the bottle and applied a full spray.

Urgh. I think I've mentioned that even an hour or three later, Himself threatened to boot me out of the car and make me take the bus home. If I do learn to love Shalimar, I will be dabbing the parfum, not spraying.

Today, I'm working with fresh samples from the Vancouver, BC downtown Holt Renfrew. (We travelled. We ate. I bought perfume. Did I mention this?) The current Eau de Parfum (Shalimar, in the discussion below) is on my left arm, and the Parfum Initial (Initial) on my right. The Shalimar sprayer is broken, so the left arm is the equivalent of a dabber, rather than a spray, test.

The notes for Shalimar, according to Basenotes, are bergamot, iris, jasmine, rose, vanilla, opoponax, and tonka bean. Initial's notes are bergamot, orange, jasmine, rose, patchouli, musk, tonka bean, and vanilla.

When I first tried the Shalimar sample a few days ago, I perceived the top notes that came after the initial citrus sparkle as aggressively synthetic. This time I'm not so sure--what I'm categorizing as "synthetic" is a pencil-eraser, new-Barbie-doll note, and I know from experience that when I envision pencil erasers I'm smelling iris. I'm not sure what morphs that into the Barbie doll (aka New Rubbery/Plastic Toy) note; the opoponax? I'm assuming that this is what others perceive as burnt rubber.

Anyway, Shalimar's (this Shalimar's) opening is interesting, with strong acquired-taste elements, and not overly eager to please. In fact, it manages to make vanilla, one of the eagerest-to-please notes I know, back off and snarl, "Ya wanna make something of it?" I like that in a fragrance. Yes, I'm a cat person.

The top notes of Initial, on the other hand, are desperate to please. They smell pink. Sweet-sour. Flowery. I see a girl who's been costumed in scratchy pink ruffles and ordered to "Smile!" She's smiling, even giggling, but through clenched teeth. Now, I could give this scent credit for not being syrup-soaked fruit punch, but... I can't. I just can't.

In the first half hour, both of them calm down. Shalimar's vanilla starts to relax, with an occasional rattling purr, though it's still far from sweet-tempered. Initial's shriller notes start to fade--a little--under a veil of vanilla. The girl in pink has released her smile, found a chair, and slipped her feet out of tight shoes. But she still doesn't want to be here. And there's a tangy and faintly bitter thread that I perceive as an appropriate seasoning for a sweet or animalic note, but there's nothing here for it to season. It's the wedge of lemon without the clams, the salt without the steak, the olive without the martini, the lime and salt without the tequila...OK, you get the idea.

In fact--to digress to a completely different perfume line--it gives me a clue as to the purpose of that chewy, slightly meaty base that puzzles but pleases me in some of the Jo Malone fragrances. The fruity, tangy, flowery notes that define the Jo Malones are seasoning notes; they need that chewy base to give them a reason for being, as if the clams exist for the benefit of the lemon rather than the other way around.

Initial improves as time goes on. Remember Firefly? Remember Kaylee at the ball, miserable and snubbed by the mean girls, then suddenly finding her confidence at the center of a cluster of men who want to listen to her talk engines? Two hours in, Initial's morale improves. Soft, tangy powdery flowers are still soft, tangy powdery flowers, but now they smell good. I think that the difference is balance; the bitter-sour is now balanced just right against the vanilla and powder. It's no longer a condiment in search of an entree.

At the same point, Shalimar is still an ill-tempered, shaggy cat--relaxed, comfortably snoring, occasionally allowing me to stroke her warm vanilla-scented coat. But she still doesn't like me. I like her, but so far, I'm not getting a bit of glamor or even femininity. This is not the Shalimar I've read about.

Several hours after that, Shalimar is warm vanilla and rubber; still not friendly, but I like it. Initial's grown thinner, again sour without anything for balance, feminine but sad and very young. She wants to go home and put on her bunny slippers.

Review Roundup for Shalimar Parfum InitialBasenotes and MakeupAlley and Perfume Shrine and Bois de Jasmin and Now Smell This and Olfactoria's Travels and Katie Puckrick Smells and Muse In Wooden Shoes and Perfume-Smellin' Things and The Non-Blonde and 1000 Fragrances and The Perfume Critic  and Post Modern Perfume and cafleurebon and Adventures of Barbarella and Perfume Posse and The Scent Critic  and Perfume Decadent and The Candy Perfume Boy and peredepierre and This Blog Really Stinks and Persolaise.

Review Roundup for ShalimarBasenotes and MakeupAlley and Perfume Shrine and Bois de Jasmin and Now Smell This and Olfactoria's Travels and Katie Puckrick Smells and Muse in Wooden Shoes and Perfume-Smellin' Things and The Non-Blonde and it's weird that it's harder to find reviews of Shalimar than of her flankers, though I suppose there's some logic in it; most everybody already has an opinion of the original, right?

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

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