If you do a Google search of “best perfumes of all time” a number of lists will appear and virtually all will have Shalimar somewhere on it. To understand how it has survived over 90 years after its creation you need to understand the mystique and allure behind Guerlain Shalimar perfume.
Composed in 1925, Shalimar reflects this era of a cosmopolitan Paris celebrating the end of World War I and of the Roaring Twenties, a time filled with exhilaration and renewed zest for life. This attitude is present in the zesty citrus top notes which lead into heady floral notes, finishing with a spicy base of vanilla incense and sandalwood. There is also some musk, ambergris and leather mixed into the base.
Shalimar is an uninhibited, sensuous and magical mix of spices and aromatic woods, making it the archetype for Oriental blends. It is the polar opposite of the many fresh floral perfumes that are so popular today. This is an intoxicating, grand entrance-making perfume and exudes confidence and sophistication.
According to Guerlain, Shalimar was created as a tribute to the legendary love story between Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Before he became emperor, his name was Prince Khurram and at age 21 he met a girl named Arjumand at a bazaar where her family worked. The young prince was mesmerized by her beauty and fell instantly in love. After he became emperor he made her his wife as Mumtaz Mehal, meaning “Jewel of the Palace”. Once married they were inseparable in times of war and peace. Mumtaz bore 13 children to Shah Jahan and died during the birth of their 14th child at the age of 39. After her death, the emperor was devastated with grief. His hair turned white and it is said that he burst into tears at the mention of her name. In her memory he created one of the world’s greatest wonders, the Taj Mahal at Agra.
The story goes that the fragrance was named Shalimar after Mumtaz’s favorite garden which Shah Jahan had created for her. He called them the gardens of Shalimar, the Sanskrit word meaning “abode of love”. It is said to be named after the garden rather than the Taj Mahal because the monument marks the end of the story while their love story was never ending.
The bottle of the perfume was designed by Raymond Guerlain and is reminiscent of the fountains in the gardens of Shalimar. The sapphire blue stopper is a reminder of the flow of the fountain’s water.
If you haven’t sampled this iconic perfume, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. Most major department stores carry it and of course Sephora. While you’re at it, two of Guerlain’s newer perfumes, L’Instant (2003) and Insolence (2008) are also worth trying. L’Instant is an interesting blend of magnolia and citrus/honey notes and Insolence will be appreciated by those who prefer fruitier perfumes.