A popular saying of the Jazz Age was, “Good girls don’t smoke, drink, or wear Shalimar.” Don’t be fooled: Shalimar is not quite as wicked as she is often made out to be. At heart she is a hopeless romantic, begging and pleading to be loved. Created in 1925 by Jacques Guerlain, Shalimar was inspired by a great Indian love story. It was named for the Shalimar gardens outside of the Taj Mahal, built by a Shah as a monument to his favorite wife.
With its Jazz Age-roots and its romantic backstory, Shalimar (along with Musc Ravageur and pretty much everything else) reminds me of The Great Gatsby. Shalimar opens with the heady, spicy note of opopanax and the citrusy touch of bergamot, sweetened by the famous Guerlain vanilla. At this point Shalimar bears a faint resemblance to Prada Eau de Parfum. This is Shalimar’s bad girl phase. If Musc Ravageur was Daisy Buchanan, Shalimar is her friend Jordan Baker. An attractive, tan brunette, reckless, world-weary, hard. Suddenly the spices are reduced to a whisper, with iris, rose and a very soft jasmine taking their place. Shalimar becomes powdery and wistful, like a sepia-tinged picture of a love from the distant past.
At this point, Shalimar brings to mind a line from Gatsby: “She blossomed for him like a flower.” Shalimar opens itself up to you, taking on a heartbreaking vulnerability. Shalimar is the gigantic house in West Egg that Gatsby built to be close to Daisy, the Taj Mahal of the Jazz Age. It’s Marilyn Monroe singing “I Wanna Be Loved By You” in Some Like It Hot, her face as open and imploring as a child’s.
Shalimar is one of the oldest scents still on the market (the oldest is Guerlain Jicky, which was launched in 1889). I believe its remarkable longevity has to do with the fact that Shalimar is ultimately less about sex and more about love. Our societal definition of “sexy” is constantly changing- recall supermodel Elizabeth Hurley’s snippy comment, “I’d kill myself if I was as fat as Marilyn Monroe”- but love, love is a little more definite. Our modern love stories may have different characters, but the stories themselves are always the same.
Disclaimer: An SA at Sephora gave me a sample of Shalimar EDT.