Thursday, November 12, 2009

Perfume Reviews: Guerlain Shalimar Light/Eau Legere, or The Story I Really Wanted to Tell You

By the time I came to The Kingdom of Perfumistas, Queen Shalimar had an acclaimed flanker, which was widely praised and subsequently discontinued. This modernized version was known variously as “Shalimar Light,” or “Shalimar Eau Legere Parfumee.” Even more confusing is the fact that the version concocted by Mathilde Laurent was later tweaked by Jean-Paul Gaultier, after Ms. Laurent had a falling-out with her boss and went to work for Cartier.

I have done some research on this phenomenon, which I'll share briefly with you.  Also, I highly recommend reading yet another one of Helg's terrific posts on the subject, here.  (One of these days I'll stop pointing you in the direction of Perfume Shrine, but she'll have to stop writing so beautifully and thoroughly first.  Like that's going to happen.)

Shalimar Eau Legere, composed by Mathilde Laurent, was a pale straw-colored liquid, presented in a pale blue bottle with dark blue lettering that brought that distinctive Shalimar bottle to mind, pictured at left. The sprayer mechanism was located in the fluted ventaille top, which does not come off.  This is the version that most perfume-lovers call the better iteration. It's nearly impossible to find these days.

The second version is generally known as Shalimar Light, although all bottles of SL/SEP bear the same two descriptions (Shalimar Eau Legere Parfumee/Light Fragrance). The second version, with notes similar to the first, is light blue liquid in a clear bottle with gold lettering. This bottle has a removable cap, with spray mechanism underneath.  This version is slightly easier to find, although it's getting scarce too.  I have a photo of the two bottles side by side, but am experiencing camera problems at the moment.  I'll post the photo when I can.

Recently, a bottle of SEL (first one) came into my possession, so now I have both it and SL , as well as some vintage Shalimar proper, in the rich parfum de toilette concentration. Of course, I had to test them simultaneously. The review of the newest version, Eau de Shalimar, in the quarterly updates to Perfumes: The Guide seems to indicate that only the top notes were slightly changed for the J-PG version, but I would disagree. These two are definitely versions of the same fragrance, but I smell differences throughout. (Be aware that my bottle of Eau Legere came from someone who had bought it in a duty-free shop several years ago, and I have no idea in what conditions it has been kept in the meantime. My bottle of Shalimar Light, blue juice, came from an online discounter.)

Up top, SEL (Laurent) has a ton of citrusy bergamot. It's very elegant citrus. But right away I smell the familiar Shalimar TarNilla base, much gentler than in the original, but there in its recognizable ice-cream-on-the-asphalt glory. This glowing bergamot slowly slides into a blended floral heart, a lovely creamy jasmine and ylang mixture that seems augmented by something herbal (rosemary? sage?), and to be honest, this is the very first time I've gotten the reference to the Shalimar Gardens. It does make me think of gardens, albeit not fresh dewy gardens. This is a woody garden, with stuff like rosemary and sandalwood underscoring the florals. Eventually this subsides into that smoky-tarry-vanilla base I mentioned. However, the base isn't strictly vanilla – it's at least as much about benzoin and tonka bean as it is vanilla. And although it's very much like original Shalimar, I get no patchouli sticking out to my nose; it's very smooth. There's just that hint of tar...

As for the Jean-Paul Guerlain version of Shalimar Light, pictured at right, it's subtly different. The first five minutes are strongly reminiscent not of bergamot, but of lemon oil furniture polish, intense and inedible. I love the smell of lemon oil, but I'm not enthused about smelling like the maid, so I turn my attention elsewhere for the first five minutes.* After that the strength of the bitter lemon note softens and becomes very enjoyable. This citrusy facet seems to stick around longer than it does in SEL, and is still faintly apparent in the drydown. The florals are less apparent in this version; I do smell jasmine and ylang, but this iteration of Shalimar Light seems more focused on the citrus and vanilla, without the floral focus the first version seems to have. The drydown is far less smoky, but the vanilla is smooth and unsweetened, and augmented by the rich creaminess that tonka bean and benzoin provide. This one is pretty much lemon-vanilla-tonka all the way, delicately garnished with a single jasmine flower. It's somewhat less complex than the Laurent version, and bears less of a resemblance to classic Shalimar.

I think the first Eau Legere, the Mathilde Laurent composition, is a better fragrance. It's as detailed as tapestry; it takes the wearer on a scent journey; it keeps surprising with things one might not expect (the 3D florals, the herbs, the smokiness).

BUT. (You knew this was coming, didn't you?) I actually prefer Shalimar Light, the version tweaked by Jean-Paul Gaultier, or as I like to call it, SL 2.0. I think there are a couple of reasons informing my preference. One, I smelled the blue juice first, and liked it. I didn't compare it to anything, I just enjoyed it, unburdened by any idea of trying to identify which I liked better. Two, SL 2.0 has become a comfort scent for me in all seasons except summer, when I find it too heavy. It's one of those wonderful perfumes that just plain smells nice; I don't have to think about it, or process it emotionally – I just put it on and feel like myself. Three (and Three is actually related to Two), it reminds me somewhat of My Darling Emeraude in feel. It's a “me” scent. Shalimar Light shares that velvety benzoin-tonka-vanilla base with Emeraude, and with Mariella Burani, another one I feel very comfortable in.

Notes for Shalimar Eau Legere/Shalimar Light:
Orange flower, lemon, bergamot, jasmine, rose de mai, iris, opoponax, tonka bean, vanilla, ambergris, incense
Notes are quite similar to Shalimar (well, duh), but the basenotes have been pared down considerably - no vetiver, no leather, no sandalwood, no civet, no patchouli. No musk is listed, but Shalimar Light can smell fairly "dirty" on me at times, and I think there's some musk in there.

If you went and checked out the Perfume Shrine post, you probably read that comment from Guerlain's PR rep stating that Eau de Shalimar is the same as the Jean-Paul Guerlain version of Shalimar Light.  I'd disagree.  I tested a sample vial, and assuming it's representative, Guerlain has thinned down the Blue Juice even further.  The opening smells like lemon baby wipes, not even as assertive as the lemon oil furniture polish in Shalimar Light v. 2.0.  The florals are thinner, and the base smells more straight-up vanilla than that creamy, deep benzoin-tonka-vanilla thing that I love.  This one's all watered-down lemon cream soda, too sweet and thin to be worth something.  There's a good reason it's clear liquid in clear glass, seems to me, and in my opinion, Eau de Shalimar is a mess to be avoided.

Images are all from ebay and  Like I said, I'll try to post that one I took myself sometime soon.
*And I AM the maid around here. 

1 comment:

Daisy said...

All this time I thought that the one you liked best was the "straw colored" one! Well, don't I feel stupid!
Even though the list of notes is saying all the right things to me, and I think the bottles are just lovely , I don't get any of the Shalimars. It's so surprising because Shalimar (and her offspring) are iconic vanillas! And I'm a vanilla girl, darn it! So something in the mix just isn't me....but I'm happy that you and SL2.0 are buddies....cuz me and Mitsy are buds, so we each have our Guerlain to sigh over. :-)