It’s really quite incredible to think that Shalimar is 100 years old – having been first launched in 1921 – and that Guerlain‘s most romantic fragrance is still worn and adored to this day. If you’re already a fan of the fragrance you’ll know how special it is, but if you’ve never tried it… oh, you’re in for in a treat!
Jacques Guerlain – Guerlain Perfumer 1890-1955
‘A good perfume is one whose scent corresponds to an initial dream.’
The History: The most prolific of the Guerlain perfumers, Jacques’ rein lasted for an astonishing 65 years. He took over from his uncle Aimé in 1890 and was responsible for creating the ultimate signature of Guerlain, the ‘Guerlianade’: an accord which blends vanilla, bergamot, balsams, tonka bean, iris, rose and jasmine, and has been at the heart of (almost) every fragrance since the early 1920s. His most celebrated creations include L’Heure Bleu, Mitsouko and of course, the astonishing Shalimar, launched in 1921, which remains one of the bestselling fragrances in the world.
The flacon for Shalimar is almost as fascinating as the fragrance inside. Sometimes described as the ‘bat’ bottle (we hadn’t until now quite realised it resembled outstretched wings!), it is also said to resemble a basin that could be admired in the Mughal gardens in India, and was designed by another talented Guerlain, Raymond, with a dark blue stopper chosen to evoke Indian starry nights. The bottle won first prize at the Exhibition of Decorative Arts and Modern Industry in 1925.
Why perfumers love Shalimar: When we interview perfumers, we often ask which classic fragrance they wish they’d created or most admire. One of the most frequent answers? Shalimar, of course. Carlos Benaïm told us, ‘My grandmother used to wear Shalimar. It is magnificent, absolutely wonderful, with that mossiness – not just oakmoss, but the other mosses which we’re restricted from using so much these days…’ And Alberto Morillas – another nose often cited as one of the most talented perfumers working today – explained, ‘If you ask me what is the greatest fragrance ever created, I’d say Guerlain Shalimar. Some might imagine it’s old-fashioned but it’s also very modern. There are all sorts of contrasts inside it – but it works so well.’
Why we love wearing Shalimar: Imagine a silky pair of 1920s pyjamas worn as daywear (or with heels, to a cocktail party) as uplifting lemon and bergamot swirl with honeyed, night-blooming flowers of heliotrope and jasmine. Beautifully rounded by powdery iris and cocooned in a comforting, vanilla-plumped base of patchouli, benzoin, ambergris, tonka bean, incense, vetiver, sandalwood and musk. To wear Shalimar is still the ultimate gesture of olfactive romance.
Quite simply, it’s a masterpiece that’s effortlessly glam. And it’s one of those perfumes that people will still be wearing and talking about in another 100 years, we reckon.
Paris’s perfume map just got that bit more interesting with the opening of a dedicated Guerlain fragrance boutique on the Rue Saint-Honoré. Yes, just fragrance. Nothing else. (Leaving aside the scented nail polishes and lipsticks in the La Petite Robe Noire collection, that is.) And – as the first foreign publication to get a tour of the boutique – we’re delighted to share with you the scented ‘scoop’.
First off, it’s part-museum, part-shop – in that Guerlain has plundered their extensive archive for books and artefacts to style the boutique. At floor level, for instance, you’ll discover a pair of vintage flagons which were once used to house musk oil, covered in fine strips of kraft paper to keep the light from spoiling that precious ingredient, and which have now weathered to a leathery finish.
Elsewhere, there are notebooks whose formulas have been jealously protected by five successive generations of Guerlain family members, and today by our friend Thierry Wasser, whose own photo features inside a little frame, below.
This is a true celebration of the perfumer’s art, with each individual collection given its own corner: a section devoted to Habit Rouge (below), to the pretty bottles of Les Parisiennes (also below), or the Guerlain sprays for scented bedlinen and fabrics.
Cleverly, Guerlain has come up with several new ways for us to ‘explore’ their extensive collection, within the boutique. It offers everything scented that’s in production – but with 100+ fragrances, that can be nose-boggling. So a large ‘organ’ of scented ingredients, for instance, is flanked by identical bee bottles, each ranked according to a dominant ingredient: 14 categories in all.
Just love jasmine? Adore orange blossom? Drawn to tonka? You’ll find the fragrances which particularly showcase those particular ingredients (and more), all arrayed together: a really good short-cut to trying fragrances you’re likely to love.
Beyond that there’s a really interesting – and certainly in my case incredibly accurate – interactive ‘olfactory profiling’ opportunity. With quite a few Guerlain fragrances in my fragrance wardrobe, I was intrigued to know just how well it would work. Here’s what happens…
First, the fragrance consultant invites you to the ‘organ’ – in my case, I was helped by Julia (who I reckon probably has one of the plummest jobs in perfume retailing). Initially, you’re asked to blind-smell four aluminium bottles, each capped with a ceramic onto which an accord has been dropped, and asked to rank it: ‘I Love It’, ‘I Like It A Lot’, ‘I Like It A Little’, and ‘I Don’t Like It’. (As you’ll see below, there wasn’t a dud, for me.)
I was then invited to ‘customise my moodboard’ – which confirmed what I know about myself: I like Ambrées, but I like them fresh, and I certainly seek an element of glamour. (As for passionate? Well, that’s probably not for me to comment on!) Frankly, by now this was pretty spooky. I also, by filling in my e-mail details, was able to have the moodboard e-mailed to me (see the foot of this article).
Then the real ta-dah! moment: the fragrances themselves. Right there in the middle: Shalimar eau de parfum, a long-term Guerlain love, of which I have several bottles. On the right, Angélique Noire, whose acquaintance I renewed myself with – and on the left, Shalimar Cologne, a new and lighter spin on Jacques Guerlain’s iconic Ambrée. I loved them all – but it was Shalimar Cologne which won the day, and which I’ve added to my scent wishlist.
Perusing the bottles lined up elsewhere, though, it was something in the L’Art et la Matière collection which really captured my attention: Spiritueuse Double Vanille. As sexily vanilla-y as it gets (and I’ve been having a real vanilla phase, lately). As it happened, Spiritueuse Double Vanille is one of the 16 fragrances available in giant samovars, in the side-room off the boutique.
One wall of the room is taken up by what is definitely my kind of fridge, stacked top to bottom with Guerlain bee bottles of everything from the Cologne Impériale commissioned by Napoleon through to Shalimar itself.
But here, we’re also able to take advantage of a service that’s as bespoke as fragrance gets, without commissioning your own perfume. (Though they can arrange that, too.) A range of fragrances – including that Shalimar eau de parfum, as well as Cruel Gardenia, L’Heure Bleu eau de toilette and Rose Barbare, among others – is available for decanting into the bee bottle of your choice – see below. (You also get two travel sprays with each bottle, which is recorded in a log-book and given a serial number, written in gold pen.)
Millilitre by millilitre, the fragrance of your choice is then transferred from the urn into your chosen bottle, at a special ‘filling station’. You get to choose from eight colours of glass. (I went for classic black, for my Spiritueuse Double Vanille: it seemed appropriately mysterious and decadent.) More than that, though, you can choose to have the bottle inscribed – in script or text. And the colour of the thread, wrapped around the neck – even the seal. (Gold, gold and gold again, for me. Well, that digital device did tell me I liked my fragrance glamorous.)
You even get to choose the colour of the tissue paper your Guerlain purchase is wrapped in, and the ribbon for the ribbon that secures your carrier bag. Which I promise you’ll be swinging in your hand like an excited little girl, with a spring in your step, as you exit back into the real world on the Rue Saint-Honoré.
Smelling, I promise you, rather nicer than when you walked in…
Guerlain Saint-Honoré, 392 Rue Saint-Honoré, Paris 75001
+33 (0)1 42 60 68 61 www.guerlain.com