Monday, February 4, 2013

Shalimar: Senses in a Bottle

Kidist P. Asrat Unpublished Sight, sound, touch, taste, and of course smell combine together to make Shalimar.

 Guerlain, one of the oldest fragrance companies in the world, introduced its famously exotic perfume ‘Shalimar’ in 1925. A combination of flavorful spices, aromatic woods and smooth, powdery florals gives this perfume a distinctive fragrance. A secret ingredient called Guerlinade, which goes into all the Guerlain perfumes, was added to seal the final product.

As perfumeries (and individuals) were gathering their favorite scents over the centuries, spices, florals, woods, roots and animal scents were combined in non-discriminate manners, with their scents being the decisive factors. Spices (for food) and perfumes were only recently separated as serving the two distinct senses. Vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and even cloves have always been part of perfumes, and continue so today. Some perfume manufacturers even bring in whole foods such as ‘pumpkin pie’ to add to the ever-enlarging perfume vocabulary. Shalimar, true to this ancient practice in perfume making, includes the versatile vanilla as one of its ingredients.

The ancient Greek botanist Theophrastus considered these compounded scents to be the most sophisticated and successful fragrances, and even suggested that perfumes be considered along musical terms. Modern-day structuring of the various scents considers the whole product in terms of a musical chord. Top notes are the most short-lived of the odorants, followed by the more enduring middle notes, or corps odors, and finally the clinging bottom notes, or the fonds. All this in an effort to balance out the real substance of the perfume which are the bottom notes. Left on their own, these bottom notes can be initially overpowering, and rely on the two other higher ‘chords’ to gradually introduce their heavier scents, and soften them over time.

According to its compositional notes Shalimar’s ‘notes’ are: Top notes: Bergamot, lemon, hesperidies. Middle notes: Rose, Jasmine, Iris, Patchouli, Vetiver. And base notes: Vanilla, incense, opoanax, sandalwood, musk, civet, ambergris, leather.

Guerlin realized that a visually styled flask would elevate their perfume to the status of art. By collaborating with Baccarat crystal to form the now famous Shalimar flask, Guerlin displayed its perfume to the public for the first time, in its perfect bottle, at the famous Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Paris in 1925. Shalimar and Art Deco were thus inaugurated. But as always, in the history of perfume, Shalimar was only following an ancient tradition where the flask is just as important as the fragrance.

Scents and fragrances have always been a mixture of pomades, oils, waters, and creams. Shalimar is no exception. In addition to the exclusive perfumes and sprays, lotions and creams promise to deliver smooth powdery textures which are imbued with the famous Shalimar scent.

Shalimar the perfume has come full circle. Not only as a fragrance but as a visual, aural, tactile and even flavourful concoction. As with most artistic attempts to appeal to the feminine, Shalimar has diverged into as many senses as possible to make the apparently simple experience of a perfume into a rich and complex one.

- Barille, Elizabeth. Guerlin. New York : Assouline, 2000
- Kennett, Frances. History of Perfume. London : Harrap, 1975.

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