Thursday, October 29, 2015

Variations on perfume classics, part 5 (Chanel No. 19)

This is Part 5 of a series of five posts in which I've recommended variations on a classic. Today it's Chanel No. 19. The idea is to explore perfumes which feel like modern-day versions of Chanel No 19, or perfumes with similarities.

(In Part 1 I explored Shalimar,  in Part 2, Joy, Part 3 was Femme, Part 4, Chanel No. 5 and today it's Chanel No. 19.

Since I've already explored Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel's background and inspiration in Part 4, today I'll just skip straight to the perfume!

As well as being innovative classics, the five perfumes in this series represent five very different styles - Oriental Vanilla, Musky Floral, Fruity Chypre, Floral Aldehyde and Floral Green.

Chanel 19  - a Floral Green, could also be considered as a perfume on the cusp of chypre though, with its oakmoss notes, but it's definitely green in tone in comparison with the others in this series.

Just to briefly describe No 19's style..

Green florals are often associated with spring and summer, since their notes are more astringent and refreshing, but there's a lot of variety in terms of the type of green-ness. Evergreen perfumes for example, which could be lovely in winter, but to my nose Chanel 19 in Parfum is well suited to any time of year, its green notes are mostly thanks to Galbanum and Vetiver, both quite deep-toned in their greeness - vetiver particularly is quite foresty in feel.

The summery fresh green of lime is described as citrus/hesperedic, and leafy green herbs as aromatic. So with No 19's deeper green tones, paired with iris, leather, lily of the valley, narcissus and oakmoss, there's a fuller perfume scent, i.e. it's not designed simply as a refreshing summer tonic.

The biggest difference between No 19 and the other perfumes in this series is the lack of vanilla, animalic musk and amber. Launched in 1971, No 19 was Coco Chanel's own signature scent, named after the day of her birthday on 19th August. The scent is alluring in its elegance, yet for many people it's seen as a cold, or 'stand-offish' perfume.

In fact, in many perfume forums, if someone asks for suggestions for a work/office scent, No 19 is most often mentioned. So there's a certain formality about No 19. Yet its associations are to do with the outdoors and nature.

Where the other perfumes in this 5-part series refer to musks, soapiness and gourmand fruity or vanilla notes, No 19 recalls a river valley or forest with its cool green tone. Which is why, for some, it's a cool scent and for others a comfort scent, in the sense that it's relaxing to be outdoors.

As someone who's very inspired by nature, I like the associations of No 19. At the same time though, No 19 does smell very perfumy and pretty old school, and though I have a small bottle of the pure parfum, I rarely find an occasion to wear it ( mostly just for myself every so often!). Its iris/leather combination exudes a sort of mysterious regal elegance, which is one of the reasons why No 19 has inspired many imitators. Nowadays it smells quite old fashioned to the modern nose (like the others in this series) but the aura is timelessly classy, always recognisable as 'a good perfume'.

It's a perfume that suits my skin, and I've noticed that those who suit warmer toned ambery or headier floral perfumes tend not to enjoy it so much, but as always you can never tell until you sample it.

Contemporary Perfumes similar in style to No. 19

As with all the classic perfumes in this series, No 19 comes in several varieties, as mentioned above you can read about the EDT, EDP and Parfum in the links at the top of this post. Also though, Chanel's No 19 Poudre was released in 2011 and geared towards a younger market with less leather and galbanum but with added slightly sweeter notes. I think it's lovely, but I find almost any perfume with iris and vetiver lovely!

Similar perfumes from this 60s and 70s era would include Lancome's Climat (more animalic) Jacomo's Silences and Vent Vert by Pierre Balmain. Vent Vert was actually one of the first green florals, before No 19, but it doesn't share No 19's perfumy polish and is a zingier more summery and astringent green scent. Chanel's La Pausa with notes of iris and vetiver is like a simpler paired down and more unisex No 19, and Chanel's Cristalle edt is a gentler, simpler floral green perfume with subtle oakmoss and refreshing citric notes. Chanel's haughty Cuir de Russie is, strictly speaking, a leather scent, but it does have No 19's leather/iris combination.

Contemporary green florals, or perfumes similar in style to No 19 would include Prada's Infusion d'Iris - a beautiful woody vetiver/iris with warmer orange blossom notes and a hint of incense, minus No 19's leather. Again, this is a perfume others describe as cool and distant, it really must depend how it works on skin because I've had so many compliments wearing Infusion d'Iris and never once been told it's 'cool' or 'aloof'. 'Easy on the nose' and 'lovely' tend to be the kind of remarks. If though, you'd prefer a warmer version Prada's Infusion d'Iris Absolue might be perfect with its warmer tones of benzoin and exotic floral touch.

If it's No 19's elegant iris you love, I recommend the poetic Iris de Nuit by James Heeley - a cool iris but complemented with a powdery violet, cedar and warm-toned carrot seed. Hermes Hiris is a very cool take on iris - I find it somehow too restrained, as though it's trying too hard to be elegant, but that's just me! A more earthy, dark iris would be Serge Luten's Iris Silver Mist, but to me that has nothing in common with No 19 and is far more rooty. Prada's No 7 Violette has something of No 19's beautiful elegance, but violet does tend to add a more romantic, powdery or soapy feel.

No 19 has a lovely spring flower green dewiness, and if it's this you enjoy then I highly recommend Cartier's Baiser Vole EDP. This deceptively simple peppery green lily is really a piece of understated genius by the current Cartier 'nose' Mathilde Laurent. It's sparkling yet soft, tart, green and peppery yet with a hint of sweetness, it's as balanced as a perfume can be. I find it uplifting, yet with a polished cool elegance. For gentle green florality try Frederic Malle's En Passant a romantically green perfume featuring lilac and cucumber.

For a fresh green floral perfume that feels more literally green and leafy, try Diptyque's Eau de Lierre (which really does smell like fresh ivy) or the more floral Ombre Dans L'Eau by Diptyque, which features lovely leafy notes alongside rose and blackcurrant.

On the left - my own little bottle of 19 in parfum

Monday, October 26, 2015

Variations on perfume classics, part 4 (Chanel No. 5)

This is Part 4 of a series of five posts in which I'll recommend variations on a classic. Today it's Chanel No. 5. The idea is to explore perfumes which feel like modern-day versions of Chanel No 5, or perfumes with similarities.

(In Part 1 I explored Shalimar,  in Part 2, Joy, Part 3 was Femme, and in the next post I'll explore Chanel No. 19.

Chanel No. 5, of all perfumes, needs little introduction. The name was chosen simply because it was number 5 in a series of test batches.

Gabrielle Chanel was superstitious about the number 5 because of the influence this number had on her as a girl while attending a convent orphanage. She decided to launch No 5 on the 5th day of the 5th month in 1921.

By 1921 Coco, as she became known, was already a successful clothes designer and an extremely astute, even ruthless business woman. There's evidence that she may have supported the Nazi regime, and it's known she was a lifelongfriend of General Walter Schellenberg (chief of SS intelligence).

Coco Chanel's political allegiances are particularly contemptible from our modern persepctive, as were the allegiances of many high profile, powerful figures at the time. (Allegedly Winston Churchill exonerated her during the later trials, at which time she was questioned, because her evidence would have implicated so many British officials and VIPs.)

Coco Chanel was the daughter of an unmarried laundry woman, she had no inheritance, no privilege, no connections and to look at her early life, some might have said no chance.

Her mother died at age 32 and Coco was sent to a religious orphanage where she experienced harsh discipline and little affection. So viewed from this perspective her sheer determination to succeed, as well as her hard-nosed attitude is perhaps understandable.

She was a strong believer in women's liberation, it was Chanel who wanted to 'free' women from their corsets! Her designs were truly mold-breaking. Similarly to Patou (who I wrote about in Part 2 on Joy by Patou) she popularised sportswear and casual clothing.

She favoured a paired down minimal luxury that was highly influential, and she's probably one of the most quoted women in fashion and famously said:  

a woman who does not wear perfume has no future.
(a bit unfair to people with allergies!)

Her perfumes reflected this paired down, elegant yet casual aesthetic. At the time, most European women favoured clean floral simple scents, musky scents were seen as vulgar perfumes for  prostitutes or courtesans, so with No 5 Coco wanted  in-house perfumer for Chanel, Ernest Beaux, to create a perfume that would 'smell like a woman', yet have the Chanel minimalist signature.

Like Shalimar, No. 5 was a truly innovative perfume. During its creation Ernest Beaux introduced a new perfume synthetic - aldehyde. Aldehydes are still used in perfumery, albeit more sparingly, because we associate the aldehydic effect with classic, or if you like, slightly old fashioned and ladylike perfumes. (Which is why Chanel now offer a range of flankers that are less aldehydic).

I'd describe its effect as slightly metallic and soapy, it also 'opens' out a perfume, making it project more. When paired with high quality jasmine, rose, ylang and natural musk (civet) this is what gives No. 5 its ladylike yet sensual quality, what I'd describe as a cool/warm juxtaposition. To this day it's perceived as a classy, if perhaps slightly safe, perfume choice.

For women of any age who enjoy ladylike yet womanly florals, it has great appeal. The musk, paired with a truly pretty floral bouquet, is subtle and completely different from the abundant floral muskiness of Patou's Joy, for example, making Chanel No 5 suitable for any occasion. Few would find it offensive or over-bearing.

Coco Chanel understood her target market very well indeed - No 5 could be worn at work, in the evening, or as Marilyn Monroe (the 'face' of No 5 advertisements in the 50's) would famously attest - in bed while wearing nothing at all!

Contemporary perfumes similar in style to No. 5...

As with the other classic in this series, there are a range of flankers that riff on the original No. 5: Eau Premiere for example -  a more fresh modern take, with less aldehydes while retaining the classic aura, or Chanel No 5 Elixir Sensuel, which again retains the feel of the original yet with more warmth thanks to the addition of amber and woods. No 5 comes in EDT, EDP and pure parfum, each with subtly varying character, though the parfum as would be expected has a richer more lasting (slightly more musky) dry down. It's worth also trying Chanel No 22, which has the floral aldehydes of No 5, but with notes of incense rather than musk. Similar aldehydic florals from other houses include Hermes Caleche and the lovely Arpege by Lanvin (more woody/warm than No 5), possibly Diorissimo by Dior would be appealing as a subtly animalic lily of the valley

No 5 is unique and the reason it has iconic status in perfumery (apart from clever marketing!) is because it is a truly beautifully balanced perfume (and I say that as someone who as a rule doesn't wear floral aldehydes), however, there are some contemporary perfumes which may appeal to the lover of No 5 who seeks a change now and then...

If it's that aldehydic soapy ladylike buzz of classic perfumery that you seek, try Frederic Malles Iris Poudre - an elegantly woody iris floral that's more powdery than No 5, or Byredo's Blanche again, elegant, but more airy than Iris Poudre and more soapy than No 5. Aria di Capri by Carthusia is like a summer's breeze, warmer in tone than No 5, but still with that cool/warm feel thanks to aldehydes alongside sunny citrus and soft mimosa.

If its No 5's floral prettiness without aldehydes that interests you, for a more contemporary feel, try these mainstream and slightly conventional but ladylike perfumes which share No 5's floral prettiness - J'Adore L'Absolue by Christian Dior, Bulgari Pour Femme, Love by Chloe or Idylle by Guerlain. Possibly Donna Karan's Cashmere Mist, a light musky floral with hints of suede

Or, for a more niche, less mainstream feel, pretty, elegant floral perfumes with hints of musk that might suit the lover of No 5, are Claire de Musc by Serge Lutens, which focuses on clean floral musk, or Olene by Diptyque - a slightly animalic jasmine/lilac

Veering away from florals, Eau des Merveilles by Hermes is not similar note-wise to Chanel No 5, but I do think it has a similar elegance that suits evening, formal or daytime wearing, or try Eau Claire des Merveiles

Another out-of-the-box choice might be Lumiere Noire by Maison Francis Kurkdjian, which is far warmer and earthier than No 5, yet has classic balance while retaining an uplifting quality thanks to narcissus and rose.

There are many, many elegant green florals that those who enjoy No 5 might like, but I see them as a category in themselves, so I'm saving them for my next post - Chanel No.19, or as I call her the queen of green!

Chanel on the shoulders of Ballets Russes dancer Serge Lifar

Friday, October 23, 2015

Variations on perfume classics, part 3 (Femme)

This is Part 3 of a series of five posts in which I'll recommend variations on a classic. Today it's Femme by Rochas. The idea is to explore perfumes which feel like modern-day versions of Femme, or perfumes with similarities.

(In part 1 I explored Shalimar,  in part 2, Joy, and in the next two posts I'll explore No 5 and Chanel 19.

Femme was created in Paris during the war in 1943. The 'nose' behind the fragrance was Edmond Roudnitska, who's now regarded as something of a legend in the perfume industry, which is as much to do with his innovatory approach as his talent for creating beautifully balanced classics of perfumery.

Most people will be aware of at least one of the following: Femme, Diorama, Eau d'Hermes, Eau Fraiche, Diorissimo, Eau Sauvage, Diorella and, released posthumously by his son through perfume company Frederic Malle, Le Parfum de Therese. (If you're interested in reading a more in-depth post about Roudnitska, here's a post I created last year - Roudnitska.)

In later years, Roudnitska's perfumes became more minimal, more in keeping with the streamlined sixties and Dior's clean-cut monochrome designs, then the seventies when people began to favour a more casual, outdoorsy style.

It makes sense, though, that one of his first, and ever popular perfumes, embodied the idea of abundance - a lush harvest of fruits, woods, spices, musk and leather. For me, Femme is the quintessential perfume of Autumn and the idea of abundance is also subtly echoed in the curved bottle that suggests the female form.

Like Joy, and Shalimar before it, this perfume was targeted toward women who sought an air of sophisticated elegance. It's interesting perhaps to speculate on the fact that in this era, young women too aspired to this sophistication, poise and mystique.

The ingenue style embodied so elegantly by women such as Audrey Hepburn arrived in the 60s and we can imagine Hepburn exuding the white, radiant chic of Diorissimo, whereas Mae West and Sophia Loren, who were both the 'faces' of Femme in its advertisements, are far more suited to Femme's lush warmth.

Roudnitska created Femme in the midst of WW2, and to me this perfume, taken in this context, poignantly suggests a longing for security, or a carefree life of pleasure while everything around was in chaos -  a fact emphasised by the setting in which it was created:

“Let me tell you, I created Femme in 1943 in Paris during the worst days of the war in a building that had a rubbish dump on one side and a paint factory on the other,” Roudnitska

With Femme, Roudnitska wanted to create a thing of beauty, an escape from brutality and a celebration of everything good in life.

It's a perfume I've long been familiar with, because my mum wore it a lot in the 70s, then sought other perfumes when the original Femme was reformulated in the late 80s due to the restriction on oakmoss. The latest version, brought out in 2013, relies on cumin for the spicy, musky notes, and some find this aspect slightly heavy-handed. The general tone is still Femme-like - autumnal and warm, but the lovely suede-like leather isn't there.

A year or so ago, I tracked down two pre-80s versions of Femme for my mum. Both retained the original character, with the slightly later vintage most resembling the Femme my mum would have worn. She was delighted to rediscover Femme, and in fact this sparked a renewed enjoyment of perfume!

Before I recommend perfumes with a similar mood, these are the original Femme's notes: Apricot, plum, cinnamon, peach, bergamot, rosewood, lemon, rosemary, carnation, iris, jasmine, clove, ylang, rose, leather, amber, patchouli, musk, benzoin, vanilla, oakmoss.


Contemporary perfumes similar in style to Femme..

As with the two previous classics Joy and Shalimar, there's nothing quite like Femme these days; it's a classic complex blend in a grand French style, but there are quite a few perfumes that share aspects, or recall Femme's warm autumnal mood..

Classics of the same era or earlier might include Mitsouko by Guerlain , but though that's autumnal and complex, the mood is more haunting. I recently discovered a few contemporary takes on the classic style by indie perfume company DSH Perfumes, which use a high amount of naturals. In particular Mirabella, which reminds me of spicy autumn leaves alongside tart plum, and Mata Hari, which recalls an earlier vintage of Femme, with darker, woodier notes.

Serge Luten's Feminite du Bois, which centres around a lovely rich cedarwood, has echoes of Femme and shares many similar classic fruity notes - plum, cinammon, peach and musk, but the feel of the perfume is simpler, perhaps earthier and less mysterious.

 If you love Femme's suede-like leather, then you might enjoy Lancome's Cuir de Lancome. I offered a sample of this to my mum, and though I say so myself it was an inspired choice as she went on to acquire a full bottle! It doesn't smell like Femme, but it has a similarly sophisticated, rich, warm aura, yet more contemporary.

Taken in a more indulgent direction, the rich ,complex, gourmand aspects of Femme are echoed in Cartier's Le Baiser du Dragon. I love this rich woody, dark chocolate/boozy perfume, even though it's not really my style! It's very comforting and has a lingering mysterious musk that recalls classic perfumery. Some people hate it and find it too complicated, but it's worth a try if you like the idea of a rich, indulgent, winter-style gourmand.

In a lighter more effervescent direction, Yves Saint Laurent's Yvresse (formerly called Champagne) is a fruity chypre that's remained very popular since its release in 1993. It shares Femme's fruity/spicy elements, but it's far sharper and lighter. It might appeal to fruity chypre perfume lovers in summer, but it is a divider of taste so test first! From the same decade, Shiraz by Natura features autumn fruits and spices and is not disimilar to Luten's Feminite du Bois, which also brings me to Dior's Dolce Vita, one of my own favourites, like a sunnier version of Feminite du Bois (though its recent reformulation lacks depth).

Out of interest, it's well worth acquiring a sample of Frederic Malle's Le Parfum de Therese, as mentioned earlier, this is a posthumous release (by Roudnitska's son, Michel) as it has all the elements of a classic Roudnitska from the spice and leather notes of Femme to the summery overripe melon of Diorella. 

And so we come full circle back to Roudnitska himself. Le Perfum de Therese was never released in his lifetime because it was made exclusively for his wife, Therese. Such a romantic gesture!


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Variations on perfume classics, part 2 (Joy)

This is Part 2 of a series of five posts in which I'll recommend variations on a classic. Today it's Joy by Jean Patou. The idea is to explore perfumes which feel like modern-day versions of Joy, or perfumes with similarities.

(In part 1 I explored Shalimar, you can view the post Here  and in the next 3 posts I'll explore No 5, Chanel 19 and Femme)

Compared with the others I've included in this classic series, Joy by Jean Patou (created by perfumer Henri Alméras) is the biggest divider of taste. This has a lot to do with the inclusion of civet, which when added to a high percentage of high quality jasmine, equals musky!

Reputed to contain 10,000 jasmine flowers (both Sambac and Grandiflorum) and the petals of 300 roses, Joy is the opposite of minimalist chic. Launched during the depression in 1929 its lush decadance and high price was a counter-intuitive move by Jean Patou (who already had a high profile as a fashion designer).

His designs were popular with American high society, but when the Wall Street Crash hit hard, his fortunes plummeted.
But it was perfume (as a taste of slightly more affordable luxury) that kept the house of Patou afloat, and given that Patou died in 1936, not long after Joy's launch, perhaps creating this excessively rich perfume (described by fashion columnist Elsa Maxwell at the time as as "the costliest perfume in the world") was his swan song.

1933 - the end of prohibition on alcohol in the US

Looked at from this perspective, Joy might not be so much a vulgar statement of status and wealth, as a gesture of carefree, even reckless joy in the face of his own loss, which was reflected in the lives of many, rich and poor, during the depression of the 1930s. Whatever the case, it worked, since Joy was extremely popular

I must admit that my first whiff of joy was not exactly, erm, joyful! I'd sprayed a little on my wrist as I perused the gleaming shelves of Jenner's perfume department in Edinburgh and I'd forgotten all about it, distracted as I was by various new and intriguing perfumes to sniff. 

Then something caught my attention..'is that the smell of a men's urinal'? I wondered to myself, before locating the origin of the offensive odour to my wrist. I muttered to myself  'so this is what they mean when they say 'animalic''

Patou coat design
My experience of perfume told me that these civet notes would calm to a warm hum, blending with the abstract floral bouquet (which includes subtle notes of fresh honeysuckle and tuberose, with sandalwood emerging into drydown)

It struck me as the perfume of a very wealthy lady, bedecked in ankle-length furs down to her crocodile skin shoes, impeccably, if scarily well-groomed. The one thing Joy is not, is casual.

Like many rich floral classics, I can appreciate its complexity and quality. Also there's nothing of Chanel's bourgeois minimal tight-lipped aura here either. Joy clearly doesn't give a shit how others perceive her!

Humour aside though, the version I'd tested was the eau de toilette, and it was only when I tried the eau de parfum that I got the full sense of Joy. There's always noticable civet (noticable that is, if your nose isn't anosmic to it, many people simply don't smell musky notes). The edp drydown is lovely - long, long lasting velvety rose/sandalwood/musk. And in fact the touches of honeysuckle, lily and rose, all quite soapy florals, counteract civet and rich jasmine in the heart of this generous and abundant perfume.

Contemporary perfumes similar in style to Joy..

There are, as with most classics, many varieties of Joy, not just edt, edp and parfum, but new riffs on the floral bouquet such as Eau de Joy and Joy Forever. They could be of interest for different seasons, since Joy edp is probably too heady for summer (or certainly for hot summer days). 

Similar classics include Van Cleef and Arpel's First - another aldehydic ladylike floral which could appeal to those who enjoy Joy!

Thinking about a contemporary equivalent is interesting, there's not really anything comparable exactly. However, I'm thinking of warm, floral ladylike perfumes with a musky element, and Annick Goutal's beautiful Songes springs to mind. It's more relaxed than Joy, perhaps one to wear on holiday, especially as its white floral bouquet includes exotic florals such as Frangipani and ylang as well as jasmine. The jasmine is quite animalic, not so much urinous, as slightly humid or sweaty in feel.

If it's the rich civetous floral abundance of Joy you seek, try Amouage perfumes such as Ubar, or Gold, both of which feature rich complex floral/musk bouquets. Gold is more ladylike, plus it echoes Joy's rich rose/jasmine/musk blend, Ubar is more animalic and woody, both are perfect dressy-up evening perfumes. Or try the animalic, heady Rubj by Vero Profumo (though it's spicy as well as floral)

If you crave high quality jasmine (and it must be said that to enjoy Joy you must love jasmine since it contains a high percentage of both grandiflora and sambac varieties!) then you might like to experiment with perfumes such as A La Nuit by Serge Lutens (a bright, yet slightly fecal blend of authentic jasmines) or Bruno Acampora's Jasmin T (the more urinous Grandiflora).  

Jasmine T is a one-note sort of perfume, it's probably worth trying a sample just to experience that aspect of
animalic jasmine in isolation. Of the two I prefer A La Nuit, but though there is a lot of jasmine at first spray, it does calm to a pleasant jasmine musk with a hint of clove.

For an uplifting, yet heady jasmine, try Montale's Jasmine Full - it's mostly about authentic jasmine, but contains the brighter, soapy notes of honeysuckle and orange blossom

Another perfume perhaps worth trying in this vein is Amaranthine by Penhaligon's - a musky, milky white floral with hints of green leaves.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Variations on perfume classics, part 1 (Shalimar)

This is Part 1 of a series of seven posts in which I'll recommend variations on a classic, starting today with Shalimar by Guerlain. The idea is to explore perfumes which feel like modern-day versions of Shalimar, or perfumes with similarities.

(In the next 6 posts I'll explore  Joy, Femme, No 5, Chanel 19Miss Dior 1 and Miss Dior 2 )

Well established classics can have powerful associations in other's minds (not always positive) which is why many women prefer to update their perfume choices, if they can find something of similar appeal. Then again, attachment to perfume can become quite emotional, associated as it is with happy memories to the wearer, so that's what this series will be all about - if you love a certain classic perfume, but would like to try something different from time to time, which contemporary version might suit you?

There must be reasons for Shalimar's enduring appeal. It's partly marketing of course. Just take a look at this recent avertisement - epic doesn't begin to describe its grandiliquent dimensions! It refers to the Indian legend that inspired Shalimar, i.e. Shah Jahan's love for his wife, (or one of them) Mumtaz Mahal, which inspired him to build the Taj Mahal in her honour after she died.

Shalimar's enduring appeal is also partly because it was the first Western perfume to incorporate elements of classic Oriental perfumes - i.e. the warm woody sweet resin blends known as amber

Aimé Guerlain
In 1925, perfumer Aimé Guerlain took this warmth and sweetness further, with the addition of a newly invented synthetic vanilla in combination with natural vanilla extract.

This, combined with notes of leather, intense citric top notes and animalic musk, was what made Shalimar completely unique.

It was the Tom Ford's Black Orchid of its day and 'it girls' or flappers of the 20s could surround themselves in a haze of Shalimar and  feel they'd been transformed into an alluring kohl-eyed Theda Bara!

The aura or concept of Shalimar is one of mystery and dark seduction, yet in contrast to the other perfumes I'll be exploring in this series, it's also ultimately what's known as a 'comfort-scent'. What could be more comforting than the scent of home baking, or delicious creme brulee? When you think about it, it's a very French riff on an Oriental theme, kind of like a dinner date where your lover begins to confuse you with gourmet dessert!

Make no mistake though, Shalimar's message isn't as simple as, say, Britney Spear's Fantasy with that perfume's candy floss and fruit sundae sweetness. Shalimar's classic abstract floral bouquet and brisk leather notes remind us this is in fact a lady, not a cup cake.

Shalimar is one of those classic Guerlain perfumes that take you on a long journey. Those familiar with it know how delicious the far dry down is, and also how weirdly bitter the tarry leather/citrus opening notes appear to the contemporary nose!

Contemporary perfumes similar in style to Shalimar..

There are any number of flanker versions and variations of Shalimar by Guerlain. Obviously Guerlain realised that though this is much loved, some might find it dated, so there are versions that have more vanilla, more citrus, more iris, and so on. Some far more expensive, some less so. The basic eau de parfum can usually be found for as little as £20 on some websites, retail price around £48 (for 50ml). Many people seek the vintage, which reputedly is more complex and animalic, but is risky as top notes can disappear, so buy from a reputable source, such as

Or try these niche, contemporary perfumes which are comparable to Shalimar. Niche perfumery often favours richer, less synthetic perfumes than mainstream offerings...

Miller Harris Fleur Oriental
Like a lighter version of Shalimar - warm, ambery, sweet, doesn't have the intense bergamot, it does have Shalimar's spicy notes (clove) and its powdery quality (thanks to added heliotrope). If you want less powder, try this one..
Aroma M, Geisha Noire - less citrus, more woody, gets to a dry down that feels similar to Shalimar's delicious torched vanilla/brown sugar and musk combination. Complex, high quality naturals used alongside synthetics. The longevity of Geisha Noire easily rivals that of Shalimar. Vaguely similar, but with less of a natural feel, is Parfumerie Generale's much loved Felanilla.

If it's the sensuous musk aspect you enjoy, try Frederic Malle's Musk Ravageur, which has subtler citrus notes than Shalimar, and less complex vanilla, but a very similar salty civet-like vanilla/musk. One review described it as smelling like an animalic Palmer's Cocoa Butter, which is not far wrong! I wouldn't say it smells like Shalimar but it shares facets. It's a lighter skin scent though.

Some say there's a baby powder aspect to Shalimar, I'd agree, it's subtle but there and this effect is usually thanks to a combination of powdery iris and amber/vanilla among other things. If you like this particular aspect, you might enjoy older perfumes such as L. T Piver's Heliotrope Blanc, Lorenzo Villoressi's Teint de Neige, or the recently released Dahlia Noir by Givenchy. (I happen to like Dahlia Noir, though it's seen as a generic mainstream and there's nothing very noir about it to be honest!). One other perfume (one of my own favourites) that some find shares facets of Shalimar, is Bulgari's Black - a unisex salty/smoky vanilla with amber, leather and bergamot notes.

It has to be said that few of these perfumes (with the possible execption of Geisha Noire) have Shalimar's sheer complexity - citrus/leather/vanilla/florals/spice/patchouli/musk, but it's that very complexity which makes it unique, and at the same time, such a classic in style. The complexity is the feature that makes it slightly 'old school', but as with all classics, the dry down when it arrives is often the best part, and the aspect that knocks spots off many contemporary mainstream perfumes.

In Part Two, I'll be exploring variations on the classic animalic floral Joy, by Jean Patou.

(My own bottle of Shalimar edp, below. Not often worn, but much enjoyed when it is, especially on a chilly winter's evening)