Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Guerlain Shalimar Parfum Initial L'Eau: fragrance review

Guerlain gives us a vacant eye zombie. Like Natalia Vodianova's baby blues look empty and not quite there in sepia pictures, lacking the density , the pathos, the slicing through paper that darker eyes carry, yet those vacant blues carry their own strange allure, Shalimar Parfum Initial L'Eau is a very pretty thing posing in a company that it probably shouldn't be among. Taken individually, it is a soft, enveloping, delicate scent of fairies. Taken as a member in the Shalimar company, it's too baby-ish to be taken seriously.

The commercially successful experiment of Shalimar Parfum Initial (2011), an introductory Shalimar for those consumers who knew the brand through their cosmetics &  skincare or for the young clientele that always associated the classic Shalimar with older generations and longed for a version to claim their own (see also Shalimar Eau Legere/Shalimar Light and Eau de Shalimar for previous efforts into this arena), gave us hope. For 2012 Guerlain, as we had early on announced, was bent on launching a flanker to the modernised Shalimar Parfum Initial version (a flanker to a flanker, if you like) this spring, called Shalimar Initial L'Eau.  Now,  this is exactly why I usually tend to dislike the concept of flankers: it's so easy to lose track or confuse things, ending up discussing a completely different thing than your fellow partner in the discussion.

Shalimar Initial L'Eau is both a lighter and drier new formula on the previous experiment, not just a different concentration or a new bottle edition (Shalimar in general knows more limited editions than it can possibly count). The bottle is the exact same style as Shalimar Parfum Initial, only in a lighter hue with a baby pink ribbon on the neck (instead of a greyish blue one) bearing the familiar G medaillon. The similarity leads me to believe that they do intend to keep this version in the line as just a different concentration of the Parfum Initial, not only a one-time-thing limited edition. Especially if it proves a good seller.

Perfumer Thierry Wasser was put on record saying he chose a specific grade of bergamot from a Guerlain communelle (i.e. a special reserve that Guerlain keeps for each of their famous ingredients) which is a tad greener and zestier than usual. What is most distinguishable however, smelling the finished fragrance, is a premium grade neroli which gives a subtle, refreshing tonality, lightening the formula considerably and further making it fluffy and airy. If Shalimar Parfum Initial is a watercolour, this is a rinse. 
Despite the mentioned notes of "greenery" in the official press release, such as lily of the valley, freesia and hyacinth, the vividness of the bright citrus notes with a lightly sweet aspect is what stays with you.
The new spin doesn't really boost the green freshness (like that in Miss Dior Chérie L'Eau) but focuses on the neroli essence and a tart grapefruit top note to counterpoint the traditional carnality of the original base of Shalimar (built on opoponax resin, all powdery splendour, Peru balsam and benzoin with their rich, treackly aspect and quinolines with their leathery, sharp, disturbing bite).
Instead the leathery note in Shalimar Parfum Initial L'Eau has been further toned down than it was in the Initial (annihilated you could argue) substituted by an admittedly delicious crème brûlée note. Overall we're witnesses to the deliberate culling of the balsamic aspect that makes Shalimar so famous and recognisable.  This leaves us with a spectre; a fascinating apparition amidst the shadows, blink and you'll miss its ethereal form, but is it related to Shalimar of old? No, it's not.

What I find most surprising for a Shalimar version is the relative lack of tenacity and sufficient projection: three generous spritzes on my arm (catching my trench-coat sleeve too)  have lasted just 4 hours and no one but myself was aware of the fact that I was wearing perfume. For an eau de toilette concentration it's not totally unusual, but for Guerlain and for a flanker in that iconic oriental stable it is most peculiar. 

Notes for Guerlain Shalimar Parfum Initial L'Eau:
Top: bergamot, grapefruit, neroli
Heart: iris absolute, jasmine grandiflora, rose absolute
Base: tonka bean, vanilla. 

Shalimar Parfum Initial L'Eau is presented in Eau de Toilette concentration in 40ml (for 37GBP), 60ml (46GBP) and 100ml (64GBP) bottles. 

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


  1. Eliam Puente16:03

    My thoughts on this flanker and even the original "Parfum Initial" are all over the place. At first I could not accept the original Parfum Initial when it was launched because of the bottle. The new bottle on its own looks nice, but when compared to the elegance of the original Shalimar bottle, these new bottles (Parfum Initial and even the newer Eau de Parfum Shalimar bottle) just don't look as luxurious. Now that I wrote this down and read it out loud, I guess I realize that these new flankers aren't suppose to compete with the original Shalimar or take any of its glory, so it's a bit easier to accept. As for the scent itself, I also had a difficult time accepting Parfum Initial because I was again in the mindset of comparing the two, but once I stepped back and sampled it again without thinking about the original, it all made sense. Though Parfum Initial isn't anywhere near the top of my list of great fragrances, it definitely is better than most new releases. I, like you, do wonder why it was necessary to make an even lighter version of Parfum Initial. After all, isn't Parfum Initial suppose to be the lighter, younger version of the original Shalimar? I'll of course still need to get my hands on some to sample. Thank you for the post!

  2. Eliam,

    I was sort of ambivalent on pronouncing judgment on this one: on the one hand there is exactly what you say; how should a flanker to Shalimar be evaluated? As a stand alone fragrance or as a part of a line? Surely, if they had chosen to give a different name I would have no qualms on pronouncing the experiment a success. The fragrance is very pleasant, very pretty, though I'm a bit hesitant re: tenacity and projection. As a part of the stable, it's confusing, it's so anemic compared to the grand-mother and the aunts!
    The Parfum Initial is a valiant effort to modernise what is so iconic, so it deserved the accolades because it managed to do it, while remaining a cousin to Shalimar the classic. This new version is watered down. I don't know why there needed to be an even weaker, lighter version, since Parfum Initial was perfect for what it was. So my skepticism is 100% of your way of thinking, we agree.

    Do try it though. Close your eyes, forget the name and enjoy. It's a pretty scent. Wasser is not incompetent.

  3. Call me whatever you want but I madly love Shalimar Parfum Initial (while I hate the strings of words for names). More than the Shalimar Nothing-else. As for bottles, I dislike the new one a bit less - I keep my Shalimar extrait in a vintage Bourjois' Kobako bottle.
    If the SPI L'Eau is watered down and freshened or 'freshened', I guess it will go to my meh category but who knows. I sometimes like weird things.

  4. L,

    I also happen to like Parfum Initial quite a lot. It's a commendable effort on a very hard task!!
    The recent Shalimar Nothing-else had been "harshened" (I hear that has been considerably amended in the latest batch) which probably had several sniffers recoil, through personal use or through associative experiences. Besides Light I think Initial is the best modernisation. But this L'Eau (and the string of words is annoying to say the least!) is so pale that it barely justifies its existence. Very pretty, don't get me wrong, just no need after the Initial. Unless L'Eau is considered the summer version of Initial for those anal enough (or phobic enough) about those things.


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