All tomorrow’s parties… Shalimar by Guerlain The Perfumed Dandy’s Scented Letter

“Really, I don’t understand why some people have such a problem with parties.”

“I do believe I was born to the sound of a champagne cork and I tell you I am determined to spend what little time I have on this Earth having the best possible time this planet can provide.”

A certain slyness in her eyes says there’s more to it.

Darkness flashes beneath the surface like a sea serpent in shallow water.

There’s danger here.

Best appreciated on her own, away from her set, she’s an incredible jewel of a thing.

Intricate and simple, worldy and naïve, sexy but oh so straight laced.

Happy, happy, happy all the time, but oh so inconsolably sad.

You see her at parties across the room, sipping fizz or gem stone cocktails, making small talk with big men, opening her eyes a little too wide when she smiles, throwing her head back a little too far, too fast when she laughs too wildly at another “too funny” unfunny joke.

And in the daylight?

Mostly her make up is too heavy, too sweet.

Her leather boots too high and her dresses too low on top, too short down below.

She looks always like an actress between scenes.

She smokes frankincense cigarettes through a filter three feet long, pours vanilla syrup in her coffee and always takes cream when everyone else settles for milk.


She insists on irises all year round to fill the rooms she shares with no one.

She’s too, too much for the real world.

For the real world was too, too much for her once.

She rolled in honey harvest time hay with a swell in uniform smelling of polished army boots and wood smoke cologne.

He promised her they were only “going across The Pond to finish things off”.

And they were, except he got finished off first.

The Roman Catholic funeral mass helped, but not much.

Not as much as a brace of Manhattan’s made with Canadian whiskey.

So now she settles for this life of extremes, for a pot bellied pig on a lead for a pet, for singing in Speakeasies for fun and smoking hashish for the giggles.

For flirting with everyone and sleeping with some. For forgetting half the time and never loving, no one except “the one”.

For staying out of the sunlight and hogging the limelight.

For being a star not a woman, though that’s all she ever wanted to be.

Except, occasionally, on a Winter’s day, when the light is thin and she can wrap up in furs without being the first thing they see.

Then she’ll go out without the makeup, the filter, the fans and even the pig.

And then she really is a woman, living in a real world, just one who really can’t help but be a star.

A lone star.

To talk of Shalimar merely as a party perfume is a little like dismissing Proust as a man who wrote about miniature cakes.

The original of the modern Oriental, it is both the most magnificent of going out scents and so much more besides.

Like those other great Guerlain’s of the period Mitsouko and l’Heure Bleue it is impossible to divorce from history.

If they are the perfumes of remembrance and contemplation respectively then this is fragrance of forced forgetfulness.

To understand the 1920s, the wild parties and wilful self-destruction it is perhaps necessary to consider the mass destruction and wide, seemingly endless pain of The Great War.

To comprehend Shalimar one must be aware of all the memories this ray of glamour sought to bleach out of millions of minds.

Yet at the same time it is new found wealth and extravagance, it is fresh pressed myths and the magic of the movies.

It is the olfactory equivalent of a Busby Berkeley Broadway show or the silent movie spectacle of Ben Hur.

It seeks to entice, amuse, enthral and amaze.

It seeks to be the ultimate diversion.

In all of this it is very nearly succeeds, for it is a joyous explosion of the senses, a smell synonymous with dressing up and going off down town.

But at once, in the thick saving face maquilage of powdery iris, the soothing crème-brulee-of-the-soul vanilla, in the taught leather gloves of motor sport drivers’ victory waves and army officers’ good bye salutes, in the high mass smoke and balsam of incense and bezoin, in all of this it is a record of all that has gone before.

Shalimar is darkness and light, pleasure and pain, hope and despair.

Shalimar is legend.

Forgive me for not talking too specifically of notes so far as Shalimar is concerned… it seems superfluous, there are so many and blended much as they might be in a symphony.

And like a symphony, or perhaps more aptly an opera, Shalimar is a work of art not a collection of crotchets and minims, A and B flats.

Needless to say The Dandy wears Shalimar as much as any other single perfume in his collection.

Yours ever

The Perfumed Dandy.

The Perfumed Dandy


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39 responses to “All tomorrow’s parties… Shalimar by Guerlain The Perfumed Dandy’s Scented Letter

  1. Dear Dandy,

    You are the Oscar Wilde of the perfumed writing world. Love reading each post!


  2. Lilybelle

    “The fragrance of forced forgetfulness”. I can definitely see that. It’s been so long since I’ve worn Shalimar that I’ve almost (not quite) forgotten what it’s like. Time to get reacquainted, though I can’t keep up with whatever new variation is released every few months (they’re trying to force me to forget the old stuff that I loved!), so I just gave up. The vintage parfum and eau de cologne are what I used to love. They weren’t vintage when I wore them but they are now. The first Eau Légère was very nice, however, imo. That one was retired immediately for some reason. That was a lovely review, Mr. Dandy. You’ve made me want to wear Shalimar again. 🙂

    • Dearest Lily
      Ignore the nineteen (yes, I counted them) flankers and limited editions and the current EdP (well, eighteen months ago) is actually rather good.
      The leather has been ramped up a little as has the generally sultriness, which to my way of thinking is no bad thing. Though having said that it’s only back where the Cologne was – roughly – all those years ago.
      I’ve heard some people say they find Shalimar hard to wear… something I’ve never really understood. It was amongst the first ‘ladies scents’ I ever wore and has remained a favourite ever since.
      If my review re-unites the two of you I shall be a very happy gent indeed.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

      • Lilybelle

        I just had a couple of spritzes of Shalimar eau de cologne as my scent of the evening. I think this bottle is early 00s, I’m not sure. Gold foil box. It’s hitting all the right buttons. There is a pepperiness in the top, and the vanilla and resiny base is addictively intoxicating. I don’t know why they can’t make this one anymore. What is the MATTER with them? Grr… 😡 I’ll be sure to try the current edp next time I’m out and about sniffing. I’ll be sad when this bottle is empty. Maybe if I sing ‘Santa Baby’ some more will find its way into my stocking.

      • Dearest Lily
        Yes there is a pepper quality in a number of incarnations, a note that often goes hand in hand with leather and certainly would prevent any hint (though I can’t detect one) of a cloying quality in the long vanilla of the dry down.
        That resinous base is the olfactory equivalent of dramatically lit art deco basso reliefs in bronze. I’m thinking the Rockerfeller Center or some of New York’s jazz age hotels and their bars.
        It is a scent to mis-spend an evening in just as they were places to do just the same.
        Terrifically decadent and elegant al at once.
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy

  3. batkitty

    I have been enjoying some L’Heure Bleue today, but I’ll have to switch to my vintage Shalimar tonight. I always think of Shalimar as full-tilt, warm-blooded sensuality, and I had never considered it to be a perfume to make one look back and sigh, but I will certainly revisit your beautiful review as I sniff Shalimar this evening to see if my perspective changes….

    • Dearest Batkitty
      Oh no… it’s not one to make one look back and sigh… you’re quite right, it’s full-bloodied sensuality. It’s partying so hard one doesn’t ever have time to look back or consider what’s been.
      So the poignancy here is as much in considering what fuels the ‘fun’ as that smack of leather in older and more concentrated versions and the subtle back wash of church incense, the confessional, the funeral mass.
      It’s such an amazing and amazingly complicated thing.
      A masterpiece, really.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

      • batkitty

        I take your point. I guess I find Shalimar to be so lush and self-possessed that I haven’t thought of it before as a character being compelled or willing itself in any direction, hedonistic or otherwise. To me it simply IS its magnificent heavy-lidded self. I actually find it very calming to wear.

      • Dearest Batkitty
        It’s strange, in the later stages, when all the initial excitement of leather and lipstick and spice has gone, and the scent begins its long path to dry down I find it calming too.
        It’s almost as though it’s worn itself out with all that partying, or maybe just worked off the excess energy and is able to unwind.
        Then when it becomes something more sublime than creme brulee, it’s a easy to joy to be with.
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy

  4. rosestrang

    Another resoundingly atmospheric description, it made me spray some on and view it from a different perspective. I so enjoy your character descriptions! I feel I know this woman – the description of her eyes particularly reminded me of someone I know, a kind of ‘it’ girl, who has happily found love again, and I think kept her soul alive through her talent as a poet.

    I’ve often attempted to experience Shalimar through an imaginative lens – through Jacques Guerlain’s eyes. Thinking about the story of Mumtaz Mahal and the romantic legend of the Taj Mahal, I imagined Guerlain wanted to express the idea of a sort of odalisque/perfect wife, but your description absolutely makes sense because he was selling an exotic dream of the orient – a kind of Theda Bara appeal. So I imagine women wanted to drench themselves in an aura of mystique and almost jaded worldliness, you can see it in the makeup of the times – the smoky kohl rimmed eyes to suggest an opium addict.

    How different from our times when so many young women want to smell like infants, not sure which is the more unsettling aspiration really – but I know which I prefer! I love the lime and creosote opening of Shalimar, but the creme brulee-like dry-down is unsurpassed as far as vanilla orientals go isn’t it?!

    • Dearest Rose
      How very true “The Vamp” indeed!
      And what a coincidence, I’m not sure if you read the wonderful blog Beguiling Hollywood, but there’s Theda today and as if to prove our point, she’s playing Cleopatra!
      This making of ‘women’s scents’ simultaneously erotic and exotic seems to have its birth somewhere in the Victorian imagination, and originally may well have been a British affectation, one thinks of the great Grossmith perfumes like Hasu-no-Hana, Phul-Nana and Shem-el-Nessim. Though of course culturally the phenomenon is older and wider with the various waves of ‘orientalism’ from the sixteenth century to the Impressionists and particularly post-Impressionists.
      I wonder too whether to the dark looks created by the high contrast monochrome of the movies and the huge notoriety of Mata Hara and fame of Josephine Baker contributed to the decidedly non-Western image that became so fashionable in the later 20s.
      For these dark looks, ‘darker scents’ were needed too.
      Perhaps, as well, these were olfactory reactions to the pretty, tightly-bunched florals that dominated the Edwardian scene… the bouquets and floral waters, many of which are now forgotten. Just as the flapper dress refuted the corsets and bustles and ludicrous petticoats so beloved by The Edwardians.
      When all the pieces of the jigsaw were scattered by The Great War, they were never to be reassembled to portray the neat, realist image they had before. They would be jammed together Gauguin or indeed, Guerlain, like.
      I don;t think that it is a leap to far to connect these movements, along with the free-form of jazz, itself once seen as exotic or ethnic with the turbulence of the era.
      And we have that turbulence, I think, to thank for the mass of creativity that went on in scent as much as it did in the other arts. As I was remarking only this morning Chanel’s No. 22 came out the year James Joyce’ Ulysses was published privately in Paris.
      To erroneously quote Forster…’only connect’.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

      • rosestrang

        It seems such a bohemian time in comparison to now doesn’t it? As you say – the ‘mass of creativity’. Makes me wish I lived through those times. After reading this I was inspired to read through the history of Mati Hara which I only vaguely knew. So much of her allure was manufactured, both by herself and Hollywood – but for the time she was truly outrageous. Then you have Ullyses which surely wouldn’t have been published in another era. Post WW2 there’s the strange erotic yet wholesome baby-faced looks of stars like Marilyn Monroe – and the perfumes of that time such as Joy and Chanel no 5 which were all about hyper feminine fleshy florals – in other words a return to tradition where everyone knows their place and behaves according to expectation! Bring back the 20s, I say! No wonder it’s an era that fascinates us all so much. Incidentally have you watched the epic Shalimar advert that was brought out fairly recently – have a watch, very sumptuous, but also hilariously wrong in many ways!

      • Dearest Rose
        So very much more bohemian.
        The Dandy has a fear that our culture in slowly being treated in the equivalent of moral and intellectual anti-sceptic.
        A sort of social detergent in which everything is being washed in order to turn it middle-England (Scotland, America) beige, inoffensive and anodyne and utterly dull.
        The fashion may have come around again to smoky eye makeup, but are the young faces that wear it today as alive and open to the possibilities of the world as they were 90 years ago… I really don’t know.
        As for that ‘film’…. I never knew that Shalimar was made by the Lord of The Rings!!
        Unspeakably wrong in so many ways… not least that inexplicable, dewy eyed, prom queen dressed in polythene food wrap around which the whole thing improbably revolves.
        As a demonstration that LVMH has very deep pockets it’s a fine piece of work…
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy

  5. Nena

    Shalimar is my second favourite Guerlain perfume, and I am dying to get my hands on a bottle of the parfum.

    • Dearest Nena
      Now that immediately leads on to the question… what’s your favourite Guerlain perfume? I wonder if it’s one I’ve reviewed or one to come!
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

      • Nena

        L’Heure Bleue is my favourite, with Mitsouko being my third. I’m also incredibly fond of Nahema, Shalimar Parfum Initial, and La Petite Robe Noire, and I’d love to try Vol de Nuit, Chamade, and some of their exclusives as well.

      • Dearest Nena
        You’re so right, Mitsouko is supreme.
        I do hope you get to try Vol de Nuit and Chamade soon, as for the exclusives the-ever-so-difficult-to-find Vega is very good indeed and Sous Le Vent is nothing short of spectacular…. reviews of both will be coming up before the end of the year!
        Thanks for sharing your most excellent taste with us.
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy

  6. Shalimar is one of my all time favorite perfumes and during the cold, winter nights, I wear it to bed.

  7. Mary E.

    Shalimar is one of those gorgeous scents that either is meant for you or not. For some reason only the parfum works on me and the vintage even better. Thanks for letting me think of Proust, Busby Berkeley and Manhattans all at once!

    • Dearest Mary
      What a tragedy that only vintage parfum suits you! Tee hee.
      I wish I was similarly afflicted, but I find most incarnations of Shalimar quite easy to wear… and your right, that seems to be a theme. Those who are very particular, quite properly, like yourself when it comes to the perfume and others, like The Fallen Dandy, who are just like ladies of loose virtues around it.
      And there I was thinking I was a nice boy too.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  8. dearest dandy-of-fragrance-ness


    this was a beautiful lingering sadness of a tale – but oh-so-beautifully rendered.

    we used to know a few creatures of the near dawn who wore shalimar and opened their eyes a tiny bit too wide and threw their heads back at a terrible joke to get a ride home because cabs were expensive and a girl has to eat (but not too much).

    sadness with extreme elegance.

    your tale made us *looktocamerawistfully* and then out of the window at the pre-los-angeles-dawn.


  9. Of all the perfumes you’ve written about, this is the one I’m most familiar with, it smells like Mom, and Mom wasn’t Theda Bara, but a thoroughly modern woman born in 1924… Your stories, the history, I love it all.

    • Dearest V
      A question, and please don’t think The Dandy impertinent… but did you mater receive Shalimar as a gift around the time of her 21st birthday?
      It became the go to perfume for the swish of the States immediately after the war when GIs returning from France cleared the stores of it… just as they had done with Worth’s Je Reviens before departing…
      Just curious…
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  10. Wow! This is a beautifullly written piece about Shalimar. Perfume blogs, such as yours, are one of the reasons why my obsession with perfumes grows and grows (and become more sophisticated), because you make it apparently that it’s not just a perfume… there is a story behind it.

    I’ve always loved great smelling things and always looked a little deeper into the perfumes I consider wearing – reading about it and reading reviews. In my mind, perfume is definitely a form of art, it’s not always about just smelling good, it’s about telling a story. Thanks for reminding me about Shalimar. I like Parfum Initial, because I haven’t had the confidence to try the original yet. Mitsouko however, is a firm autumn favourite!

    • Dearest Melinda
      Thank you so much for the kind words and taking the time to read.
      Yes. I’m firmly with you: perfume is a form of art and, being abstract, not always the easiest to grasp.
      It’s a challenge, but that’s where a large part of the enjoyment lies… discerning the stories, uncovering the history, understanding the scent in all its complexities.
      I agree that Parfum Initial is a very good fragrance, some have described it as ‘an introduction to Shalimar’ a sentiment that has some merit.
      If you’re up to Mitsouko though then I am sure you have what it takes to wear Shalimar with all the chic and elan it demands.
      Go on… take the leap!
      Yours ever
      Th Perfumed Dandy

  11. Dear Mr Dandy

    I cannot get on with Shalimar, but I am a devoted friend to Vol de Nuit and Apres L’Ondee. I also applaud your beautiful use of the English Language and the fact that by using a photograph of Josephine Baker, you prompted me to dig out my Josephine Baker CD. Excellent background music for perfume blogging.

    Your friend

    • Dearest Iscent
      It would seem you are in the best of company.
      I had no idea until posting this review that so many people had problems with Shalimar… I’d always somehow assumed that it was a universal perfume.
      How foolish was I?!? I should have realised there is no such thing in the realm of the scents.
      It has set me rather thinking though, for in the fora of the ‘male’ perfume world Shalimar is, I would say, the most approved of ‘female fragrance’ for macho consumption.
      What is it about this aroma that seems today to cross the gender lines proscribed for it so long ago?
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  12. jennyredhen

    I cant wear mitsouko. It never develops on me. Always smells like diesel.I would rather have jaipur by Boucheron. Unfortunately discontinued

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