Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Guerlain Shalimar Parfum Initial: fragrance review

Much as I was predisposed to at least enjoy the unashamedly girly Idylle Duet and dislike the sanctimonious (I thought) Shalimar Parfum Initial, both new releases by the historic house of Guerlain, the perfume gods tipped the scales off and landed me into a case of reverse hubris: I found myself being quite lukewarm on the former, while enjoying very much the latter! How's that for irony?

Indeed Shalimar Parfum Initial, credited to perfumer Thierry Wasser as well, is in almost an unrecognisable style to the other feminine release of this year: rich, satisfying, with a smoothly polished texture like silk moiré, it bears little relation to the anaemic and maudlin composition of Idylle Duet. A sufficient dose of healthy scepticism had struck me like a ton of bricks upon setting eyes on the press release images of the new flanker to the iconic Shalimar: a pink Shalimar, for Christ's sake? Isn't anything sacred? My eyebrows were reaching the roots of my hair in exasperation! But upon testing the actual jus on my skin and letting the blotters, lavishly soaked with it,  on my desk for some days I realised that, corny as it might sound, we're not to judge a book by its cover. Shalimar Parfum Initial is the brave, valiant and well-crafted effort of Wasser and Guerlain to present the house with their own Eau Première, much like Chanel did with their own numeric monstre. After all, much of Guerlain's prestige resides indeed with such venerable classics as Mitsouko and Shalimar.So, what's wrong with "Mon Premier Shalimar", the tagline for this flanker fragrance, assuming the juice is good? Absolutely nothing, that's what.

From a marketing angle, everything is set for success with Shalimar Parfum Initial, aiming at the target Guerlain is so keen on attracting, the fashionable 20-something to 30-something woman with money to spare: The warm pink-fleshy tint of the liquid is familiar to consumers of fruity and gourmand perfumes, attracting them by the token that the colour of the juice is indicative of something more than just a pretty shade. The boosting of citrusy notes up top (the synthetic bergamot is not wildly different than the one used in the reformulated classic, yet it smells more vivid and more vibrant here) give the necessary "freshness" that is a sine qua non for modern audiences. The lush vanilla and tonka ensure that the trademark sultriness of the seductive original is not lost nevertheless.
The beautiful bottle (much sleeker in real life than in images) is tactile, friendly, yet imposing too; its deep blue cap with a tiny ribbon attached an homage to the classic design but also a pretty object that presents itself as something novel. Naked Natalia Vodianova posing in the advertisements of the perfume, shot by Paolo Roversi, is testament to the fact that both men and women stop to stare (and occasionally ogle) at a beautiful supermodel who promises sex at the wink of an otherwise nubile eye.All boxes checked for the marketing team, thank you very much!

The composition of Shalimar Parfum Initial focuses on a precarious balance: the standard oriental accord of bergamot and vanilla is fused with zesty orangeyand light notes which "lift" the base up much like Shalimar Light did with its lemon cupcake opening modernising the old standby admired on grandmas and mamas, but shyed away from my the daughters. Still, what would Shalimar be without the come hither? Guerlain quotes rose petals and jasmine for the floral elements, but it's essential to note that should you be searching for florals, you should look elsewhere: this is a wonderful and wonderfully oriental specimen with little flowery prose; all heaving, all sighing, with the seductive warmth of tonka beans (rich in the cut grass and hay note of coumarin) and of rich, caramelic vanilla pods on woods and what seems like the resinous opoponax. The addition of fresh, warm and sweetish white musk is something that would be polarising for the standard perfumista in search of more complex, "dirtier" musk, but the growling part is transmitted through the low hum of the smoky base that is as animalistically seductive as a rutting beast, just hiding beneath the subtle eroticism promised by the top notes. If I were to find a fault with Shalimar Parfum Initial it is that in essence it is no less than the 4th re-twinkinling of the tried & true Shalimar Light Eau Legere recipe in search of a frontman presenting it to the public now that Jean Paul Guerlain is exiled from his own house...

Shalimar Parfum Initial is available as 40ml, 60ml and 100ml of Eau de Parfum concentration, available from major department stores.

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Guerlain fragrance reviews, Oriental fragrance reviews

Flankers/derivative versions of Shalimar by Guerlain (with linked reviews & comparison with original):
Limited editions of Shalimar (without change in the perfume formula itself):

The music in the commercial clip is Initials BB by Serge Gainsbourg.


  1. Hmmm.
    I was prepared to hate it. I mean, it's PINK.
    I now think about my Shalimar journey as one taking ages (because that's how long it took me to fall in love with it) and now that I love it, this one hit all the wrong buttons for me, but then again, I'm probably not part of the intended audience (even though I fit age-wise).

    As soon as I see it here, I'm off to try some.

  2. Anonymous09:38

    Wonderful review! You really sold it to me. Like Ines, I will certainly try it once I see it.

  3. Anonymous17:30

    I've read some very favorable reviews of this one, in addition to yours. Of course, one is prepared to think this is the "dumbing-down" of Shalimar, but how refreshing to find that Guerlain has enough respect for their original that they want to release a quality product. It seems that of all flankers, those created for Shalimar have been the most successful and have their own legions of fans, even among those who love the original. Will definitely search this out for a sniff!

  4. Eva S18:15

    Thank you for both this and yesterday's review, I've been curious about both but haven't had a chance to try them yet. Since I enjoy Idylle I'll guess I'll at least sniff the new one, Idylle is not exactly an exiting scent, true, but I find it pleasant and somehow comforting on the days I've havent got the energy for something more demanding...
    I usually don't wear heavy,oriental scents (more chypres and florals) but maybye
    SPI is a good one to start with?
    Eva S Sweden

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. (I'll get the quote right this time!)

    The more I read about this one, the more I think I would like it - a "rutting beast" base without an unholy dollop of civet makes me very intrigued. I could never get into original Shalimar for this reason.

  7. Although the ad is highly sexist, I also think I would like it more than Idylle, do you know when this is available in the US?

  8. I knew that if I just kept reading the blogs, someone would come out with a positive review of Parfum Initial. I will have to wait months until I get to have some (being in the States), but I'm fairly certain I'm going to love it.

  9. I opened the comment box, ready to write "I was prepared to hate it. It's pink." And there was Ines' comment! Something about the color seems to provoke a reaction from Shalimar fans. I have no problem at all with the flankers that have come before this-in fact I own a few of them.

    So, it comes down to pink Shalimar! I'll get past it. In fact, a friend is sending me a small decant soon. I have to admit that I am anxiously awaiting its arrival.

  10. Oh Helg , why change whats not broke?

  11. I remember the original Shalimar--and I found it lovely. I should get a bottle to refresh my memory and then sniff this incarnation and see which one pleases me more.

  12. Mimi Gardenia17:44

    Thanks Elena. When I tried this - I was not overly impressed. I'm prepared to have an open mind about it though. I'm getting my head around the pinkness. I do love that bottle though. When I can get my hands on some again, I will give it another go .

  13. Anonymous18:46

    Agree with Emma, this type of ad doesn't usually bother me but this image in particular seemed really sexist because the model looks especially stupid (and also a bit like a newborn baby bird, which I guess is the point?). Also, "Mon Premier Shalimar?" That makes it sound like it's for six year olds. HOWEVER, will try. Shalimar Ode de la Vanille, BTW, was way too linear for me. I hear the discretely reformulated Shalimar swings that way too. So maybe, Initial = Mon Nouveau Shalimar? We shall see ... (plays sinister music) ...

  14. Ines,

    trust me, I KNOW! It seems like pink is the new black or something. Everything is pink. I think there is some "code" on this. I had written an article about it actually a long while back.

    But the Shalimar flankers are almost always good, judging by everything I tried and this one is quite good indeed. Do try it out!

  15. B,

    thank you! :-) It's surprisingly smoky in the drydown. I mean, you wouldn't expect that from something...pink, surely, yes?

  16. P,

    indeed, it is as you say. I think the Shalimar flankers are the best among the Guerlain flankers (and can cite them as some of the all time better flankers anyway).
    Dumping down...hmmm, that happened to the original, alas. :-( (can only wear vintage)

  17. Eva,

    I get what you're saying: Technically the category of Idylle is one I find pleasant as well (I'm a big Narciso fan since the very beginning), but for Guerlain standards it's a bit of "doing what everyone is doing" (since everyone has a Narciso smell-alike in their line, these days). But yes, pleasant enough and a no brainer for tough days.
    I think the new Shalimar is a bit smokier and more vanillic than you might have been used to: there is no crispness which is the quality I most attribute to chypres and several florals. But you might still enjoy it, it's a good oriental and not too heavy. For instance I could wear it in the summer if doing only one spritz (due to our warm climate). I bet in Sweden that wouldn't pose any problem at all... :-)

  18. V,

    nice to see you commenting, how are you?

    Yeah, rutting beast is a bit of an alarm raised sometimes. But I swear this is super-seductive without scaring the horses. It's a little smoky, musky, warm and woody-vanillic with resinous overtones. I found it very good. Do try it out, I bet it's out there where you are.

  19. Emma,

    thanks for the interesting question which I omitted to include in the article. (sorry about that).

    The ad is definitely not my favourite part. They have the poor girl wriggling like there's no tomorrow, plus she's so childish and nubile for such a perfume. But I think that's the whole point from a marketing point of view. :/

    Now...the juice is another matter. I believe Shalimar Parfum Initial will hit USA stores in September 2011.

  20. Carrie,

    I think you will indeed. Yeah, since this is a European release and Guerlain isn't forthcoming with the samples, US based writers will be praising it a little later. I believe it will garner praise despite appearances to the contrary (pink and all).

    Oh and the link (mentioned above) to my article on the colour of the fragrances impacting buying/trying choice can be found here.

  21. M,

    LOL, we were all prepared to hate it, weren't we? (see my article linked above for more "data", highly professionally weaned I might add)

    Yeah, the Shalimar flankers are good stuff. Now that the regular has been smashed to pieces...we'll make do with those.

    Maybe if we just put a black hood over Shalimar Parfum Initial's bottle?? :-D

  22. M,

    alas the newest formula for Shalimar classic is rather broken...only the vintage is stellar. So in view of diminishing quota of the old, I'll take what I can from the newest "spins". (they're good, this one is quite so, do try it)

  23. TFC,

    please do and report back! The classic I have is from vintage versions (of various dates) and therefore I would be interested in a comparison of newest vs. flanker.

  24. MG,

    we clearly need to camouflage that bottle. I have a mind of painting it in transparent black, so it would look like a mysterious purple instead. How does that sound?

    The juice isn't pink at all. And it's impressive lasting (it radiated on my desk an all over warmth that filled the room).

  25. Anon,

    salient point and I bet you're right. The latest reformulation of Shalimar is found lacking by almost everyone, especially so from the ardent fans. I think both the quinolines and the musks have been swayed just so and the artificial bergamot isn't helping too much either; it smells harsher and more pungent, instead of rich and dark. Ode a la Vanille was also quite good, although highlighting as it did the vanilla it was in a direction that I find a little tiny bit boring (so many vanillas on the market it's not funny). This is more nuanced while still youthful enough for today's market.

    I think picking Vodianova is a conscious choice on fronting Shalimar with a young woman that looks very innocent (she's famous for her Bambi look/gaze after all, they knew that before hiring her) and very recognisable for something that is usually thought of in association with...dare I say it...older ladies. They're modernizing the brand by picking her. And it stands to reason that they would need to emphasize the slutty attributes: what's not slutty these days. (ah...I recall an older Shalimar commercial with only gloved hands doing the horizontal tango)

  26. Fiordiligi20:18

    Late to the party....I was/am prepared to hate this, as Shalimar is one of my all-time loves (vintage, obviously), but it seems I might love it after all, since I do love Shalimar Eau Legere. I was very disappointed by Ode a la Vanille which is also completely linear on me. So disappointing. Harrods told me that the new one isn't out till September....

  27. D,

    oh, I think it's rather good and you might like it! I especially liked the smoky muskiness in the drydown, which lasts and lasts. It's not terribly moving through the stages, but it's technically good (projection, tenacity, complexity of accord). Ode a la Vanille is rather good too, but an emphasis on vanilla is not my cuppa usually.
    Sent you an email about it.

  28. Anonymous04:02

    I smelled this pink perfume tonight. And liked it. Surprisingly.

  29. Anonymous00:26

    At last.

    Well I tried and tried and tried over the years to wear Shalimar the original one, I would smell it on other people and think it was gorgeous. Every time I wore it I got a terrible headache.

    Today I had a spray of the Shalimar Initial, hurrah no headache at all from the moment of spraying till now about 10 hours later. So about 35 years after first wanting to wear this perfume I will definitely be buying some.

    The fragrance to me, is very sweet, powdery with woody undertones, I am dying to get it and get all my scarves, cuffs and gloves smelling of it, so I waft it when I walk - it is a lasting scent, when I got out of the car at home the wind was blowing and I was suddenly surrounded by the most gorgeous smell...then I realised it was the perfume I had sprayed in the shop; the Shalimar Initial and it smelt (to me anyway), how others used to smell wearing Shalimar. I am so pleased, I know this perfume is not aimed at my age group (nearly 50) but I don't care, I felt great wearing it and found the smell gorgeous.

  30. Anonymous01:04

    I forgot to say, although it is a long long time since I had the original bottle of Soir de Paris by Bourjois, this new Shalimar Initial reminds me very much of Bourjois original famous perfume.


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