Guerlain Shalimar Parfum Initial L'Eau (2012): Going Back to a Purer Language for Perfumery {Perfume Review & Musings}

shalimar_initial_eau.jpgAs its aquatic name suggests, Shalimar Parfum Initial L'Eau is indeed a much fresher and more sparkling interpretation of the 21st new-century version of the Roaring-Twenties Shalimar that is Shalimar Parfum Initial launched last year. You are presented here with a composition which takes you a bit unaware as to how fresh and effevescent it is as it goes beyond the promise contained in the name of the fragrance. That central impression rests on a lasting accord of bergamot, one which is less fruity than in the original Shalimar, brasher and more modern, even offering a cold metallic nuance...

The other surprise for the senses is the artfully elaborate contrast that Thierry Wasser creates to bring differentiated textures to the fresh and warm notes of the perfume. The hesperidic notes remain very distinct from the velvety softness of iris as well as the warm, fur-like ambergris - more animalic -, and amber - more vegetal. Instead of blending seamlessly, the seam between the two universes remains very perceptible. Yet, they are nevertheless harmoniously linked by the idea of dissonant contrast. It feels like watching a technical prowess.

Shalimar Parfum Initial L'Eau is also a powdery perfume. It seems in fact to have reconnected more intimately with the powdery facet - one wants also to say "bergamot-y" facet - of the Shalimar of the origins, a classic, familar contrast for those who have worn it. Maybe closer in time, one will recognize the fresh powdery feel of Shalimar L'Eau but with much more insistence put on a more accentuated hesperidic leitmotiv. 

The perfume becomes rounder as it develops, becoming more ambery and sweeter. While it opened on fountain-like head notes, the base is resolutely different. It is soft and oriental, offering an intimist atmosphere like that of an imaginary boudoir painted a tender pink where swan down puffs linger all day long with nonchalance on a messy vanity. The hesperidic note being very tenacious, it never really leaves the room.

Wintertime being what it is, one will have to wait for fairer weather to see if this special hesperidic accord will come across as a life-saver in the heat. My personal reaction to it at this point is to think that it is a bit too pushy and shrill in its tonality. I then remember that I once read that perfumer Antoine Maisondieu loves bergamot which allowed me to better understand then why he seemed to double or triple the doses for this note in some of his perfumes. Those who cherish bergamot will appreciate that. Like with every partisan choice, it will disturb some people and grab the attention of others. This is not a wholly harmonious and pretty composition. There is a troublion quality to it and a sense of excess that have to be taken into account. There is a rush of raw materiality that the perfumer did not want to resist. On the contrary, he encouraged it.

The house of Guerlain offer illuminating details regarding this characteristic. This bergamot that one recognizes so clearly is from a communelle personally selected by Thierry Wasser. One knew that the in-house nose had developed privileged relations with a bergamot producer and here is the palpable result of this relationship. The hesperidic accord, we are told, is reinforced by a high-grade neroli essence and a touch of grapefruit rinds. And finally, the most revelatory explanation is the following one: "The powerful freshness in the top notes cuts through the fragrance and gives it its original character and its particular identity".

In a way, one could detect here the influence of a style of writing which is typical of so-called "niche perfumery", which is often born out of a clear, central and not infrequently simplified idea, a main idea being easier to retain. We are thus witnessing here an interesting research for an olfactory signature in the designer-perfume realm usually more open to the daily nuances of lifestyle constraints. The fragrance composition reveals a desire to distinguish itself olfactorily rather than visually since for the most part the advert and the flacon remain the same. It is therefore a genuine attempt to go back to a purer expression for perfumery.

Launch date: March 1, 2012.

Prices: 51€, 63€ and 90€ for 40ml, 60 ml and 90 ml of eau de toilette.

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