Thursday, September 11, 2008

Shalimar Eau Legere, Shalimar Light and Eau de Shalimar: Review,Comparison & History

Why would a legend need modernising? Why would anyone take a mythical perfume such as Shalimar and create lighter versions of it?
The answer is simple and rather alarming on certain levels: the modern young consumer doesn't especially like the original Shalimar by Guerlain. I said "alarming" because the passing of years and change of tastes means a diminished turnover for the product and because it entails tampering with a landmark in the history of perfumery. However surely the presence of flankers (follow-up fragrances that share some common traits with the mother-fragrance in terms of name and design) means that the original fragrance is successful and well-known by reputation. Otherwise it wouldn't make sense commercially!

The Problem of Shalimar: Today's Fickle Times & Young Audiences

Indeed Shalimar presents a difficult problem: its status makes it iconic, but the modern consumer too often perceives it as musty, terribly old-fashioned, with too much "skank" (the term Americans use for heavy, pungent animalic scents, but also for exhibitions of vulgarity by non-ladylike women). Although, as previously discussed, it has been tampered with through the years ~for both reasons of allergens being included in the original formula and unavailability of certain key ingredients~ Shalimar still retains its aura of decadent lack of inhibitions and musky radiation of predatory élan. Therefore Guerlain embarked on an adventure of modernisation.

Historical Efforts to Modernise Shalimar

The first attempt in Shalimar's modernisation was introduced in 2003, created by Mathilde Laurent (who also created the formidable Guet Apens/Attrape Coeur for Guerlain) and was baptised Shalimar Eau Légère. Arguably the name sounds like anathema to hard-core perfumistas everywhere: who has ever thought of a Diet Shalimar? The cornering of an alternative market however proved to be a wise decision and a good move in terms of business stategy: Shalimar Eau Légère appealled to younger women who had only vague recollections of the original or even actually found the original difficult to wear yet were keen to own their own Guerlain piece of history. And it also appealed to a certain Rock n'Roll side of some of us, with its print ads featuring Patti Hansen with her two daughters by husband Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, Alexandra and Theodora. The setting of boho-chic clothes and luxurious baroque interiors touched a sensitive chord: tradition and modernity could co-exist!

How is Shalimar Light/Eau Legere different than classic Shalimar?
The effervescent composition of Shalimar Eau Légère sidetracks the musky, animalic base in lieu of a lemon-cupcake accord that is deliciously cool, folded into a fluffy vanilla cloud with abstract woody and lightly smoky tonalities. The opening, sustained for several minutes, is refreshing and yummy like so many modern compositions that focus on that accord, with I Love Love by Moschino and Light Blue by Dolce & Gabanna being prominent commercially successful examples. Whether that was at the back of the minds at Guerlain headquarters or not, is debatable.
It certainly smells like a modern fragrance, but at the same time it retains some of the haunting recklessness of the original mysterious beast with its recognizable sweet-ish oriental and sandalwood notes. That could be attested by testimonies of its underlying naughty nature still being perceived by people who have smelled it on my person. The DNA, the pneuma is there but the offspring is its own person and it lends itself to some wonderful wearability on the part of many perfume lovers such as myself.

Comparing Shalimar Eau Legere with Shalimar Light: How to Spot Versions

In what was a business decision when Mathilde Laurent fell out with Jean Paul Guerlain, a rejingled version was issued about one year later and credited to Jean Paul Guerlain. Although the two are very close, the later interpretation is even more restrained and less complex in the base with a lime-like top note that echoes sparkly beverages instead of lemon and bergamot.

This small difference in smell presents a problem of differentiation between batches, since the resulting version is widely known as Shalimar Light, yet it appears that both that name and Shalimar Eau Légère Parfumée appear on the bottle with a line break.

The best way to ascertain which batch you are smelling or buying is looking at the colour: the earlier version is straw-coloured in a bottle with a blue-ish edge along the sides and bottom, while the later version is somewhat bluer.
The fragrance came in a light blue box with a light-golden-beige interlay where the traditional black was, different from the usual Guerlain boxes and featured the name Light on one side and Eau Légère Parfumée on the other.

Neither Shalimar Eau Légère nor Shalimar Light are in production, both being limited editions of Eau de Toilette, but erratic batches of the discontinued fragrances do turn up on Ebay, peripheral stores and discounters from time to time.

The Introduction of Eau de Shalimar, a 3rd Version

Eau de Shalimar is the latest version in the Shalimar flankers stable, introduced in April 2008. Curiously it is attributed to Mathilde Laurent, who however left Guerlain for Cartier 4 years ago. Whether its juice is the same as any of the previous attempts has been the focus of a search for minutiae among perfumephiles who pay attention to every move of their favourite house, myself included.  

Eau de Shalimar seems like a face-lift that has resulted in too attenuated features: there is nary a little frown and that deducts something of the lived-in quality that Shalimar possesses. The rumour of an inferior bergamot essence replacing the vintage ingredient and the shortages on Mysore sandalwood, as well as the lightening of the powdery aspects of coumarin and iris, might account for the effect.

Between the different batches I appreciate the original Shalimar in vintage extrait de parfum and parfum de toilette, but I find myself wearing Shalimar Eau Légère by Mathilde Laurent more comfortably, especially in the summer months.

So is Eau de Shalimar that different? The official response by PR official Isabelle Rousseau is categorical: "Je vous informe que la fragrance Eau de Shalimar est la même que Shalimar Eau Légère Parfumée, réalisée par Jean-Paul Guerlain." (ie. I inform you that the Eau de Shalimar fragrance is the same as Shalimar Eau Légère Parfumée, created by Jean Paul Guerlain.) Taking into account that this is the woman who had specified to me when exactly the reformulated batches of Mitsouko Eau de Parfum started circulating (June 2007, for those who missed it), I have no reason to doubt her credibility or sincerity. Still, a miniscule variation might be due to different batches of ingredients.

The bottle of Eau de Shalimar is easy to distinguish among its predecessors: made of transparent glass but in a different colour. The label with the fragrance name is in midnight blue color, while it is enclosed in a white outer box. It is available at major department stores as 50ml (1.7 fl.oz.) of Eau de Toilette.

Official Notes for Shalimar Light/Eau de Shalimar: lime, bergamot, orange, rose, iris, jasmine, vanilla

Pics via parfumdepub, ebay and fragrantica


  1. Anonymous16:07

    I have been following this Shalimar adventure unfold with great interest and yearning, I have to say, and was wondering which would be your advice for someone who isn't a fan of too powdery fragrances.

  2. I found this article fascinating as I just ordered the original Shalimar for the first time... will be interested to compare it to the lighter versions at a later date. I thought your comparison of eau de Shalimar to a tightly-wound face lift was great... I see a lot of those in Los Angeles and know exactly what you mean...

  3. Anonymous17:42

    I've been looking forward to your review and as ever I'm not disappointed, thank you! I admire the original Shalimar but do not think I can wear it, rather it wears me but this I love. I was recently very lucky indeed in an MUA swap and obtained an almost full bottle of the Eau Legere (and matching products! the joy! the generosity of the MUAer). It has copyright 2000 on the bottom. Anyway, that frosted lemon buttercream opening is divine along with just a hint of the old Shalimar smokiness. And such a pretty bottle. Donanicola

  4. Aline,

    thank you for stopping by. I think that out of all these versions of Shalimar, Shalimar Light might be more in tune with what you're seeking. I prefer the Laurent version, but it's more powdery somehow, a little smokier.
    Give it a try and let me know!

  5. DC,

    thank you!
    I am so thrilled that you're exploring Shalimar. Please bear in mind that it has been extensively tampered with through the years, so today's composition might not accurately reflect what the legend has promised :-)
    However, those earlier lighter editions (available from some discounters online and some discount shops) have their charm and I find them quite wearable myself.

  6. N,

    thanks so much honey for your kind words. It has been a great pleasure writing about something so mythical and I agree that there is nothing wrong with modernisation when it is a seperate creation: it attracts more customers to the brand, in any case which is good (they might get to the beast eventually!)
    You have been supremely lucky, yes, that's the Mathilde Laurent composition and ooooohh, matching body products, how cool! Enjoy my friend!

  7. Anonymous21:22

    What a wonderfully comprehensive comparison! Thank you so much, I had never understood the differences between all those reformulations.

    Excellent as usual!!

  8. I am not a Shalimar woman ( I am a Mitsouko one) but my daughter is. Now this is a "young" person - she is 34 but has been wearing it since she was 17. My daughter has always worn the EDT for price reasons but she has just bought the Parfum and I am going to be very interested in what she thinks for its at the Parfum level that a scent is at its best. We just have to wait until her shocking flu is finished for Ana will not open the bottle until her nose is at its best! LOL
    So - I think the young will like shalimar and any of the Guerlains - Unchanged if only the company would (sadly - people are so stupid really) put some money into a really smart advertising programme that gets rid of the "old lady" feel - lets face it - bloody "Angel" by Mugler is a real stinker and if it was placed in a Guerlain bottle and plonked on their shelves, the young ones would hate it. Its all about "image" and people who are not confindent "buy" confidence , young and old . I buy what I like and bull**** to what others think. I wish more people were like this !
    As for Shalimar Light etc - why bother! Life is too short. LOL

  9. Anonymous08:49

    Again, very solidly elaborated historical reviews, thank you!
    Earlier this summer when musing over perfumes in a perfumery I tried the light version, and found it delicious in a tempting way, but, well, too bleak. Probably the colorlessness of the juice reinforced this impression of non-solidness, airiness. I like materiality/texture in perfumes! (if airy it must towards hot and dry, not a bit wet..)

  10. I loved Shalimar Light when I tried it some years ago and always regretted not buying a full bottle. When I tried Eau De Shalimar I thought they were similar but I didn't get as much of the lemony goodness I remember from the Shalimar Light. Maybe it's to do with formulations. I will have to try Eau De Shalimar again!

  11. Thank you Sue. Well, it is a confusing issue; they didn't make it easy on us, but searching a bit and comparing bottles I think (?) I figured it out.

  12. M,

    how wonderful for your daughter! Extrait de parfum in this one is much better. I hope she gets well soon so she can fully enjoy it.
    And having it in her arsenal from her teens onwards affirms that we like what we like no matter what rules dictate ;-)
    I am more of a Mitsouko (or Jicky in parfum) woman myself, but sometimes I get the craving for Shalimar too.

    How true about the perceived image of a brand!! A smart advertising campaign should be made; not neccesarily like the Hilary Swank one, but something really cool, really catchy.
    I see this "image perception thing" also with Lauder on American fora; it's somehow equated with older audiences. It always strikes me as odd, because it is not true here btw (so it's definitely a cultural thing) and lots of young women opt for Beautiful, Pleasures (and flankers), Youth Dew Amber Nude and Pure White Linen. I have even witnessed with my own eyes a woman my age go after Youth Dew!

  13. S,

    the lighter version (especially the first one) is not bad: it retained some of the genetical makeup but was much more light-hearted. An aspiring coquette, if you please.
    I definitely agree on the impressions created by the colour of the juice and the bottle though: it does lend to some impression before even smelling the fragrance! I had given this some thought in this article.

  14. R,

    there are some differences, it's true, you're not delusional, LOL!
    I think they over-attenuated it to the point of limpidness.
    I would definitely be interested in your take when you try EdS again though!

  15. Anonymous11:25

    Thank you for the link. Very interesting theme! :) And we actually share the dislike of blue! In my first comment I first though about adding that the name Light Blue (since you mentioned that perfume in your review) alone is preventing me from liking that scent, but then I though of the "light" in "light blue", and the type of airiness indicated (of light blue sky), but, of course, it is also the highlighting of blueness. (I even have problems with using blue in clothes)
    But now I will go out and enjoy my lunch under a light blue cloudless sky :)

  16. That is good news. Although it still makes me think what I really need to do is get a bottle of Shalimar Light. I will try Eau De Shalimar again and report back!

  17. S,

    thanks for saying so. It's quite true, people do judge with their eyes and you have just given me another testimony to that.
    I don't dislike blue in its other incarnations (well, I find it a bit of a cliche sometimes, but apart from that) but in fragrances it invariably means ozonic, marine, sporty, know. I have grown tired of this. 9 out of 10 men's fragrances obtain a "blue" version at some moment down time. It seriously ruins it for me.

    Blue skies however are the BEST! Enjoy that lunch! :-))

  18. If you're bent on actually purchasing something I think the Eau Legere (the first formula) is the best, but trying out and sampling never hurt anyone, did it?
    Good luck and yes, waiting to hear :-)

  19. You know I have to hunt these variation down, because I would like to wear some form of Shalimar (considering I can't wear the original).

  20. Jen,

    I bet one of the lighter Shalimar versions (Legere or Light) would be good for you: they're sweet and cuddly with a fluffy powdery air about them. They're available online still.

  21. Anonymous16:37

    I first purchased Shalimar in cologne form in 1962. I loved it. Over the years I just couldn't wear the the EDT or perfume -- too cloying, too strong. I moved on to other fragrances, but always remembered that first bottle I bought with my hard-earned babysitting money. Maybe I'm just trying to recapture those days of my youth, but I did purchase a bottle of Shalimar cologne off ebay -- it may or may not smell good after so many years, but it's worth a try to me.

  22. Anon,
    thank you for stopping by and comment. I wish you success: some of those old colognes keep surprisingly well (orientals generally last well into the years I find, so your chances are good) :-)

  23. I remember the 2003 version, I loved it... I did find the later version of Light. It says 2006 on the site and is in the mail now. I hope it is close to the orginal Shalimar Light. This is very informative. I'm going to bookmark and come back after I look at my bottle.

  24. Thank you dear Rebecca for your kind words. I appreciate them a lot!
    I think you've got the second edition, by the looks of it. It's very good, so I do hope you enjoy it!

  25. I need some help with a mystery. I got my bottle in the mail and the box does not look familiar or like any I have seen. The bottle is also different. So I took pictures and put them on my blog. Can you look them over and tell me what you think? If you have seen this version, or it's a fake. I'd really appreciate it. Thankyou!

  26. Cecelia19:12

    I am a 66 year old woman and I have worn Shalimar since I was 16 years old. I named my little dog "Shalimar" because I loved the fragrance so much. Now I am so unhappy and angry that the Shalimar formula has changed. I used to feel so sexy, vibrant and exotic when I wore the all of that has changed. My husband commented that the Shalimar I wore was one of his comfort zones!!! He even recognized that the scent has changed. I am very unhappy about this change, so much so that I am going to look for a new scent. I "DO NOT" like the new smells cheap and synthetic. Oh well, maybe one day someone will come to their senses and change it back to the "original Shalimar" I once knew and loved. Once my old supply is finished I just don't know what I will do... So sad...

    Just a cute little story...many years ago my sister and niece were out shopping and my niece said, "Mom, Auntie Cecelia is here." My sister said, "Where is she?" My niece said, "I don't know, I can't see her but I smell her Shalimar perfume." So, as you can see, Shalimar was my SIGNATURE!!

  27. Anonymous17:17

    I am shocked to hear this story! I will be 60 in a few months and was introduced to SHALIMAR when I was 15. I bought it for many years, still have two of the original special collectors containers... the blue & white and the gold, both with Shalimar inside. I haven't bought it for many years and went with essential oils instead. I used to buy the Shalimar Bath Oil and use that as an oil, behind my ears and at places around my body. For some reason last night I thought of Shalimar and saw a website with "Light" and "Dark" and was stunned. WTH?! I plan to find a store that carries these just so I can smell them. Is it true that the ORIGINAL fragrance is no longer available? Shocking and disappointing. I adore Shalimar. I am lucky that I still have some of the tiny sample bottles, a .5 oz. Natural Spray, and some small vials in the cardboard envelope. Oh, and the remains of the perfume in the fabulous bottle. They all still smell as wonderful as the day I bought them. Please don't tell me the era of Shalimar is over. Perhaps I have lived too long.

  28. Rebecca,

    I might be just late with this, but I can't find your blog. I get an error message saying it was deleted.

    If you still have questions to which I can help, please email me.

  29. A,

    I don't know anything about a "dark" version of Shalimar, I think the original which you seem to have enjoyed all your life is dark enough.
    There is a Light though and it's pretty good, though not as "dark" (ha!) as the one you have enjoyed.

    Shalimar still circulates in the market, it sells well not to, but it has been reformulated to a harsher effect and less musky. I think if you have always adored the old version you will find the difference disappointing. The reasons are varied: batch of ingredients, perfumery restrictions becoming stricter on some ingredients, cost effectiveness, even some small modernising twist. But c'est la vie...I sympthatize with your pain. Thankfully, Shalimar still is head & shoulders above much of the dregs passing as perfume these days, though I know this is little consolation.

  30. Cecilia,

    that's indeed a cute story (and so true when someone uses a signature scent!) and a sad loss.
    Indeed the modern version sold as "Shalimar" classic is sadly no comparison for the original version, but I doubt that much can be done to restore it to full glory any time soon; at least not for commercial purposes as fragrances have to pass strict controls and these days the perfumery restrictions for allergens and sensitisers have been hyperbolic to the point of ridiculous (everything is a culprit of something, we might as well put water on as scent).
    I do hope that technology in the future will facilitate some form of substitution for allergenic ingredients and thus allow restoration work on some of the classics.

  31. Anonymous01:29

    i went to macys yesterday to replenish my supply of shalimar body cream. the scent of the tester was so awful and so was the scent of the cologne. i guess i'll have to use what i have left because i certainly won't buy it now. why would guerlain change the scent of a classic?

  32. Anonymous18:03

    I am just devastated, brokenhearted and am in mourning over the loss of the true fragrance of Shalimar. The horrid chemical-smell-cloud that permeates the air and hangs there, once one has sprayed the reformulated product has nothing remotely similar to do with lovely, luxurious fragrance. Such sadness at the loss!

  33. Anon #1,

    the reasons have to do with allergens regulations changing: the company has to conform to what european laws dictate on this (see IFRA posts on these pages and you will see).
    It's sad, but it happens with lots of brands.

  34. Anon #2,

    thankfully Shalimar has been so popular and abundant over the years that one trip to an estate sale, antiques shop or online auction is sure to unearth some vintage juice. If that's what you're after.

    In the meantime, last time I tested this at the store it seemed marginally better than the perfume I had tested 3 years ago. If that helps any. :-/

    Thanks for commenting!


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