Guerlain Shalimar Parfum Initial ~ perfume review

Guerlain Shalimar Parfum Initial, AdvertGuerlain Shalimar Parfum Initial, Advert

Guerlain has done flankers of Shalimar before (Shalimar Ode à la Vanille, Fleur de Shalimar, Eau de Shalimar, Shalimar Light and Shalimar Eau Légère, to name just the ones I've posted about). They tend to make some perfumistas cranky, because, well, it's Shalimar, right? It's like messing with the Mona Lisa or something.

But sometimes they're quite nice. Many people, including me, liked the recent Ode à la Vanille, although personally I agreed with Kevin that regular old Shalimar was still the better fragrance. I very much liked Shalimar Eau Légère despite the fact that it was clearly Shalimar aimed at people who most probably wouldn't wear real Shalimar: younger people, perhaps, or just people who liked lighter, cleaner fragrances.

Shalimar Parfum Initial, the latest, ups the ante: it was reportedly developed by Guerlain house perfumer Thierry Wasser at the request of his niece, who wanted a Shalimar she could wear. I took her request to mean that Eau de Shalimar, the latest of the "Shalimar, lightened up" flankers, was perhaps a bit too mature — or just not trendy enough? — for her 17 years.1 As you can see, for Shalimar Parfum Initial they've modernized the outer trappings as well: the bottle is the one recently designed by Jade Jagger, and the juice is now the requisite pink.

Shalimar Parfum Initial, as it turns out, is not a pinkified Shalimar. In fact, it's only vaguely related to Shalimar, and it's not as youth-oriented or trendy as you might expect. Nor is it another in the "Shalimar, lightened up" series. Wasser had said he took out the notes that he thought might be intimidating to modern consumers, but I would say he rethought Shalimar far more than that implies. All that remains of Shalimar are those basic elements required to tie it back to the original.

It's a very soft, powdery iris-y floral with a mostly clean woody-musky base. There is citrus in the top, but it has nothing like the rush of bergamot and lemon that opens Shalimar. Like many — really, most — modern citrus openings, it feels flat instead of sparkling, and it stays that way for the duration. The heart is a quiet floral, every so slightly sweet, ever so slightly almond-y, with a hefty dose of iris, and the dry down is an ambery vanilla with Shalimar's dirty bits replaced by a clean white musk. It's not as dark, smoky, rich or vanillic as regular Shalimar.

I find it an odd bird, and not at all what I expected. It does not strike me as particularly young — the dewy Idylle, to name just one, feels miles younger. It doesn't follow any trends that I can see, except the general trend against the sort of notes that made the original Shalimar feel mysterious and sexy and sophisticated. Yet it does not, like Shalimar Light et al., smell like Shalimar rendered easier to wear. It's something else entirely, and whatever that something else is, I don't find it all that compelling. I finally gave up wearing it next to the various incarnations of Shalimar — it could not hope to impress me in such a grouping — and wore it next to a few recent (mainstream) quiet powdery florals. Next to Balenciaga Paris, Love, Chloé and Hermès Eau Claire des Merveilles, Shalimar Parfum Initial seemed even more pointless — I found it easily the least appealing of the bunch, and it's no more wearable or modern than the others. The exercise simply served to remind me that I really do like Eau Claire des Merveilles, and for that matter, I wouldn't at all mind owning small bottles of Balenciaga, Paris and Love, Chloé. And I used to dislike powder, mind you.

Guerlain Shalimar Parfum Initial

Given how many almost-Shalimar flankers we've already seen recently, a total rethinking of the subject does not strike me as a bad idea, but Shalimar Parfum Initial simply isn't pretty enough, or interesting enough, or Shalimar enough, to fit the bill.

Guerlain Shalimar Parfum Initial features notes of bergamot, orange, green notes, fruity notes, rose, jasmine, iris, patchouli, vetiver, vanilla, tonka bean and white musk. It is available in 40, 60 and 100 ml Eau de Parfum. It is out now overseas, and is due to launch in the US in late summer or early fall.

1. In the world of perfume marketing, of course, where the vast majority of product is geared at women under the age of 25, 17 is already middle-aged, and the commercial, starring a naked-as-a-jaybird Natalia Vodianova, is hardly (I hope) aimed at the usual pre-teen cohort.

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  1. Tama says:

    Well, I have finally found *my* Shalimar, and it’s not a Shalimar at all, it is By Kilian Cruel Intentions. It is what I have always wanted Shalimar to be in my head. They don’t smell anything the same, really, and people might think I am nuts, but I have always wanted to love Shalimar and can’t, and the CI does what I want Shalimar to do, in a visceral sense. I did finally smell the Ode on paper, and it didn’t make me queasy, so hopefully I will get to test it on skin sometime.

    I’ll try Initial when it comes, though, just for fun. But I’ll probably just want some Paris instead, too.

    • Robin says:

      I admire Shalimar, esp. in the Parfum which is simply gorgeous, but I never ever wear anything except the Eau Legere. Which is great stuff for summer.

      I am puzzled by this one — I don’t understand what Thierry Wasser was after.

      • mals86 says:

        (And I can’t manage the Eau Legere in summer at all, though it is beautiful and I love it for cooler weather. Not that I wear Shalimar, either, except on rainy fall nights, a drop at a time.)

        • Robin says:

          I do wish they’d bring back the Eau Legere…it was so nicely done.

          • Kitty says:

            Well, there’s the real and present danger that if Guerlain bring’s it back, it won’t smell like it did before…

          • Robin says:

            True enough!

          • peony63 says:

            hi Robin, Guerlin has re-released Eau de Shalimar and it’s in the same gorgeous bottle as the one above. Apparently they are going to continue to carry it in one of our local department stores as part of the regular Guerlin lineup, a clear juice with a bit of a blue tinge. This is the same Eau de Guerlin I purchased as a “limited edition” a couple of years ago. same scent. I’m confused does Eau de Shalimar differ from Shalimar Light? are they just different names?
            I’ve read the full article posted a while back on here…but I’m still confused, cause I can’t get my hands on a sample of “light”. I do love Eau de Shalimar though…it reminds me of the way Shalimar used to smell about 35 years ago…especially the opening notes. my mom has also been wearing Shalimar for 55 really has changed a lot!
            on drydown they are very different but eau is much more wearable for me.

          • Robin says:

            Eau de Shalimar is cleaner than Shalimar Light, which some people thought was cleaner than Shalimar Eau Legere. It is confusing, and no longer worth worrying about since you can’t get the latter 2 now anyway!

  2. maggiecat says:

    I’m not sure either. Nothing that makes Shalimar, Shalimar would survive the transition to being easy-to-wear youth fruity-floral friendly. IMHO. I’ll sniff it if I find it, but won’t seek it out. I have Eau Legere – and that’s enough for me!

    • Robin says:

      This is not a fruity floral at all though. I am not sure how Michael Edwards has classified it, but Osmoz is calling it a floral oriental. I would have called it a woody amber.

  3. helenviolette says:

    Hmmmpff. sounds dreadful. I do like that new bottle tho. I love Shalimar and would shout it from the roof-tops! I like many flankers- but most of them seem to serve the purpose of highlighting how much better the Original always is :) Thanks for the review- Robin- I will perversely look forward to sniffing this when it makes it my way ;)

    • Robin says:

      I don’t find it dreadful at all…just not as pretty as it ought to be.

  4. mals86 says:

    The pinkified juice bothers me, but I like the shape of the bottle.

    The fragrance seems rather pointless, doesn’t it?

    • Robin says:

      Or else I’m missing the point? I wish more people had tried it, I’d love to hear other opinions. I saw reviews on 1000 Fragrances & Perfume Smellin’ Things, both were far more negative than mine — they hated it, I didn’t hate it at all, just don’t find it as good as it should be. But it wouldn’t bother me to smell it on someone. It doesn’t smell *bad*.

    • Luminous Phenomena says:

      I’m with you, mals86. I have to say though, I love it that they placed (photoshopped?) guinea fowl feathers behind the bottle. The feathers frame the whole thing nicely.

  5. annemarie says:

    So I wonder why there are so many flankers for Shalimar but not Mitsouko or L’Heure Bleue? I know there was a Mitsouko variant – blue juice, was it? But I can’t think of anything for L’HB, unless I’m missing something (entirely possible).

    It is as if Guerlain made a decision a while back that of their classics, Shalimar would be the one they would flankify, and they would leave the others alone …

    • Robin says:

      I’m guessing Shalimar outsells Mitsouko by a mile, don’t you think? I think of Shalimar as probably just behind Chanel No. 5 in terms of consumer name recognition; Mitsouko is probably WAY down that list. And LHB is probably even farther down. Or am I crazy?

      • mals86 says:

        I’m sure you’re right. Even the Belk’s has Shalimar and no other Guerlain.

        (AM, I think it was Mitsouko Fleur de Lotus. Waving to you!)

        • mals86 says:

          “Flankify”?? Love it.

        • malijo789 says:

          Lotus? I love lotus! I haven’t smelled Mitsouku yet though. I heard someone say once that it’s Shalimar without the vanilla? Or maybe I just dreamed that up…

        • annemarie says:

          Hi Mals, waving back!

          Samsara is the Guerlain that I see when there is no other. Now I think if it, I never see Shalimar in pharmacies in Australia, only on department stores. Odd that.

      • PekeFan says:

        Shalimar is available in drug stores and discount stores like Walmart. Mitsouko isn’t. It seems to be the only Guerlain with such a wide distribution, so it probably outsells all of their other fragrances because of that alone.

      • annemarie says:

        Yes, I’m sure you are right. Still, I would not have picked Miss Dior as a likely fragrance to be flankified, but it was. (That’s if Miss Dior Cherie is considered a flanker, and I think it is.)

        • Robin says:

          Miss Dior Cherie is the rare flanker that is now probably better known than its parent -> I bet it boosts the sales of Miss Dior more than the other way around. If that made sense.

  6. kaos.geo says:

    I just love the bottle! I’ll try it, but I must say I found the Original Shalimar too much. It felt like fingers down my throat after a couple of hours… too invasive for my taste.
    Of course I recognize it as a masterpiece, it is just that all-that-going-on is too-much-going-on for me.

    • Robin says:

      This is way less invasive, but then, so is Shalimar Light & Eau de Shalimar.

  7. halimeade says:

    I was almost on board with this until I saw words like ‘flat’ and ‘powder’. The fragrance in total really doesn’t say Shalimar to me in any way; its like a completely unrelated fragrance with the Shalimar name to make it more appealing than it might otherwise be.

    I’m still aching to try Ode a la Vanille, but it didn’t seem like we are ever going to cross paths, which vexes me greatly. My only chance is probably The Perfume House in Portland, but with gas well over $4/gal here now, that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

    • Robin says:

      I am glad I got to try Ode, but now that I have, if I had money to burn I’d put it in either a) vintage Shalimar Legere or b) vintage Shalimar parfum. Whichever one I could find and could afford.

    • dee says:

      … call first before you drive! TPH didn’t have it on any of my recent visits, FYI :)

      • miss kitty v. says:

        I was just going to say the same thing. ;)

  8. RuthW says:

    I love the original Shalimar. LOVE IT! I have several backup bottles of the EDT and EDT. I also really like Shalimar Light, which I can’t find anymore and used to wear in the summer as well.

    This just saddens me but what surprises me most isn’t that its flat and boring but that it doesn’t sound like vanilla plays a large role. Of all the notes contained in Shalimar, vanilla is the one I thought would appeal the most to a younger demographic while still anchoring the revamped perfume back to the original.
    Oh well, not for me.

    • Robin says:

      Maybe they felt like they had already done the vanilla route with Ode? I don’t know. But to be clear: there is vanilla! Just less :-)

  9. nozknoz says:

    All these silly flankers – my eyes are going to get permanently fixed in a rolled position! Thank you for doing the needful and saving my skin for more interesting sample testing, Robin – and I hope you get to review something fabulous next time.

  10. Tom Smith says:

    Here’s a funny thought:

    Maybe it’s a good thing that some of the ‘younger’ Shalimar flankers veer wildly from the original, because if I were to meet a young woman and smell anything too close to Shalimar on her, I could never see her as a romantic object because Shalimar screams “mom mom mom!”

    In my brain it just IS the smell of my mother on a Friday evening before a dinner party. I can’t imagine it as an alluring fragrance, and I betcha there are a lot of men out there who feel that way.

    • annemarie says:
    • Robin says:

      Teenagers today probably don’t have that memory, because their Moms (the vast majority of of them, anyway) probably aren’t wearing Shalimar. So your association is already on the way out! Since this is reputedly geared at a 17 year old, you’d have to figure out what a 15-19 year old’s mom is likely wearing now.

  11. Thanks for answering the question that popped into my head as I was reading this, namely how it compares to Paris and Love Chloe, both of which I like a lot and which this sounded as though it might be a bit similar to. I do also like Eau Claire des Merveilles too, but had forgotten it, so thanks for mentioning that one too. I wouldn’t mind owning a small bottle of the above either, and probably don’t need this!

    • Robin says:

      If you do try this one, come back and tell me if you agree.

  12. Marjorie Rose says:

    I don’t think I could wear a perfume that seems to advertise itself as a lovely bit of pubic hair sculpture–eww! The blue tassel is just TOO MUCH!

  13. Kelly Red says:

    I adore Shalimar and wear it and several other Guerlains. This does not appeal to me at all (but then again age 17 is several decades in the rear view mirror). Why take a classic like Shalimar and so completely change it that it is no longer that perfume? Just create a new perfume for younger buyers and promote that. Name branding is one thing, but I hardly think most young women are drawn to Shalimar anymore than I was at that age.

    • Robin says:

      Well, it’s an interesting question: is the name Shalimar even a draw anymore, among young people? I don’t know.

  14. thenoseknows says:

    Shalimar took SOOOO Long to grow on me…. I Loved the Smell and IDEA of it out of the bottle, but on the skin (mine and my mothers and sister) it just seemed like a Catastrophe! this was also when i was wearing Angel (the womens Version) like it was the second coming of the messiah, so that might be it… but still it didn’t hit ANY of the right notes it seemed on my Mother, Kinda like Amarige (a fragrance that still to this day REEKS On her) but when she went through… AHEM… “THE CHANGE” ;-) her body chemistry seemed to radically shift and now… Lo and Behold. Shalimar Smells OPULENTLY Gorgeous on her! I FINALLY Get it now and i have to say that it is far more seductive and bright and sharp and sensuous than i could have ever imagined! this does not sound like anything i would want to smell, nor buy!

    BTW, Robin… You Don’t Like “Love, Chloe” ???? I Find it GENIUS! So Warm and Nuzzly and SEXY in a Charlie’s Angels Kinda way! :-) it was one of my Favorite releases of last year!

    • Robin says:

      Oh no, I do like Love Chloe. I think I just didn’t quite love it, and certainly felt no need to own it. It is not exactly at the top of my “buy” list now, just think I’m impressed enough that I wouldn’t mind having some, LOL…if that makes any sense to anyone but me. I own enough perfume that it’s a very fine line.

  15. eminere says:

    The name Guerlain decided to give this Shalimar incarnation I thought was in direct competition with Chanel’s No. 5 Eau Premiere – both named to invoke some sort of emotion of “reinvention” and newness. While Eau Premiere did smell related to its original sibling, from the sound of your review Parfum Initial is really different! I’m quite fond of iris so I’m looking forward to smelling this in real life. :)

    • Robin says:

      That may be exactly where the name came from. Chanel wasn’t geared so young, I don’t think, and they did a WAY better job.

      • eminere says:

        Chanel did the job alright – while I was never a fan of No. 5, Eau Premiere really appealed to me.

  16. peaches1 says:

    Love love love it! It’s beautiful! I thought I loved Idylle until I smelled this! it’s warm and sensual, romantic, rich in vanilla, yes powdery but not cloying, it’s really long lasting, a little reminiscent of l’heure bleue but softer and deeper – I’ve found my Guerlain signature – I can’t believe the negative reviews I’ve read – this is gorgeous

  17. eminere says:

    Almost four months after my post above I have finally gotten around to testing the fragrance. It definitely “buzzes” on my skin, quite loud, quite “pink”. Not sure if what I’m smelling (predominantly) is iris or not. Robin, do you think this is too pink for a man to wear, and in summer?

    • Robin says:

      I think a man could pull it off, but then, I didn’t find it as pink as you did.

  18. Owen says:

    I hate Shalimar, hate it. I tried the edt and I’m glad I didn’t try the stronger versions or it would of knocked me out. and I don’t know what made me try this but I hated it aswell. because I only smelled it for one minute.

    but then the Guerlain assistant gave me a sample of this when I bought the Meteorites brush from the Guerlain counter. I tried it, disliked the first one minute, and then LOVED the rest of it.

    I too like peaches1 a couple of comments above, loved Idylle until I tried this properly. but compared to this Idylle just seems bland. Idylle is more expensive too!

    it smells floral-y to me, with added vanilla and like you said, white musk. there still seems to a little bit of dirt in it, but it’s a nice dirt. and it’s the dirt that keeps this perfume grounded. I smell quite a bit of vanilla in this, a lot more than just a hint. I only wish this was stronger, it seems a bit light. it has good lasting power though.

    and that bottle is gorgeous!! I am definitley buying this for Autumn/Winter.

    is this a limited edtion? I ceratainly hope not.

    • Robin says:

      IIRC, It is not meant to be a limited edition, but of course if it does not do well it will disappear!

  19. Capucine says:

    I agree with you, Robin, each time Guerlain goes for a flanker something *nasty* is about to happen: folowers do not likemost of the flankers, and new customers do not like the *old* names at the new perfumes!
    I was expecting a total disaster form this one, but it works quite right on me, in despite that is no Shalimar at all.
    btw: I loved Ode as well, one of the best I think.

  20. TexasSnow says:

    I finally got around to trying this. I loved my mother’s 60’s era Shalimar, but the modern version is metallic on my skin rather than smoke and vanilla. I like Parfum Initial very much, but it’s feeling a little young to me. It is very similar to the discontinued Carolina by Carolina Herrera. If I was to wear something in this vein, it would probably be Fifi Chachnil – a little more “knowing” sex appeal.

    That said – I tried it at Macy’s, where the testers sit on lighted shelves – the bottle was actually warm when I picked it up – so the notes could be off.

  21. OVincze says:

    Well, I am sure that there are people among whom I will not be popular but I totally agree with the negative reviews on this; sorry but I do find it to be dreadful. It rarely happens to me that I sample a fragrance and then I have to rush and scrub and scrub until something comes off my wrist, I unfortunately simply found this horrifying on me. Interestingly, on the basenotes forum quite a few put this down as the release of the year but well, quite a few, including myself listed it as the boo of the year as well. I guess that all great fragrances are supposed to evoke strong emotions, perhaps that is just the case here but whereas I see the genius behind most great fragrances even if they are not my cup of tea, I complete miss that here. To me there was just something gone totally amiss about it in its making, it was like Shalimar gone bad; rotting, turning sour and bitter and that is what it smelled like on me, people even commented on it and after scrubbing my skin off it was still there. Now, I like unique, unusual, big and bold and love woodsy, earthy, musky bases as well as vanilla and really love a big and bold floral but something is totally wrong with this one. Could it be my body chemistry? I do love the violety Guerlain base and adore it in their makeup and never felt such a strong dislike towards a fragrance of theirs soooo perhaps it is time to go back and try this yet once again and see and until then please forgive me for my harsh words.

  22. Hemiole says:

    This is the first time (after some years only reading) that I dare to post a comment. I love to read the reviews and comments on the perfumes, a lot of them standing in my vitrine. In the meanwhile I feel more comfortable about my English (I’m located in Germany) so I start my first contribution to this brilliant forum.
    I have to admit, that my first spritz of Initial totally repelled me (first sniff in a duty free, probably too much “noise” in the air). But the next test in my home town hooked me. Now I own the small bottle and just love it. Interestingly if you try it next to a fresh floral as Daisy (Jacobs) then the Shalimar part of Shalimar Initial is unmistakably there and very clear. Sometimes I wear both, original (EdT) and Initial side by side and can’t decide which of them I like more… I should try to layer them !? This would amp up the vanilla of Initial and could darken it a bit, and on the other hand it probably would tone down the “vulcanization accelerator” note in the original Shalimar.

  23. cincobayou says:

    Well, if you are going to try Parfum Initial, you’d best do it now. I just read that it is being discontinued. I noticed that quite a few perfume site have it discounted already.
    The bottle is quite pretty and I like that little blue tassel…kind of classy to me.

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