Friday, 15 July 2011

Reviews: Shalimar Parfum Initial from Guerlain and Miss Dior Chérie Blooming Bouquet from Christian Dior (2011)

Okay, here we go. Time to bite the bullet and articulate my thoughts on what is unquestionably one of the most important perfume releases of the year, regardless of the merits of the juice itself.

There have, of course, been previous Shalimar flankers, some of them quite highly regarded. But Parfum Initial is asking to be seen in a different light. The packaging calls it an "initiation into Guerlain's most legendary fragrance," inviting us to perceive the release as an attempt to reinterpret past achievements for the tastes and demands of a new generation. It also marks a crucial stage in Thierry Wasser's development as the firm's in-house nose. This is by no means the first scent he's created for the brand, but - following Jean-Paul Guerlain's hasty removal from the LVMH payroll last year - the fates decided that this would be the perfume which would mark Wasser's emergence from the shadow of his paternalistic mentor.

In other words, it's a flanker that has much more to prove than almost all others. Does it rise to the challenge? No, of course it doesn't, but then I'm not sure anything could. Even No. 5 Eau Premiere, beautiful though it may be, begs the question, 'Why mess with No. 5?' and when you take it upon yourself to reinvent what's generally considered to be one of the greatest perfumes ever made - possibly the greatest oriental - the chances of pulling off a victory are infinitesimally small.

Then again, Wasser's effort deserves to be considered on its own merits, even if up to a point. With this in mind, I should start by stating that its juice is not pink, contrary to the horrified claims made on several blogs when news of its release was revealed. Secondly, it is housed in one of the most attractive mainstream bottles I've seen for a long time, an elegant, elongated version of the Jade Jagger design unveiled last year for Shalimar proper. So far, so good.

But what of the scent? Well, one thing's for sure: it features a much higher dose of iris notes than you'll find in Jacques Guerlain's original. So high, in fact, that you can't help making the association which most often accompanies an iris overload: carrots. Suddenly you picture Shah Jahan turning his famed gardens into a giant allotment, complete with bunnies nibbling on root vegetables. Not what you'd call an auspicious start.

Beneath the iris are recognisable elements of the original fragrance. The amber note comes through, perhaps a touch sweeter. The civet is pretty much intact. The bergamot - the quantity of which makes Jacques Guerlain's creation so distinctive - is toned down. Yes, all these factors are present, and they do complement each other to an extent, but they never lock into place with the same rightness that makes you gasp with pleasure each time you smell Shalimar.

Like its predecessor, Parfum Initial operates on several planes: its sillage radiates the smoky, ambery notes of resins; when you get closer, the animalic tones emerge; closer still and you get the powdery vanilla aspects. But again, the effect of this is to make you think Wasser has indulged in an intellectual exercise in perfume experimentation, which is rather different from creating a fragrance that speaks for itself with a bold, original voice.

It's never unpleasant, it's better than most high-street releases and it may well turn out to be fairly successful, but ultimately, Parfum Initial does not justify the need for its own existence. My only hope is that its release signals the moment when Wasser gets the burden of the past off his shoulders and faces the future with a more courageous vision of his professional aspirations.


A final word on pink fragrances. Dior have just released Miss Dior Chérie Blooming Bouquet, which looks like it's been coloured by the same dye used in the production of candy floss. This is without doubt the most upsetting 'prestige label' creation I've smelt so far this year. I'm not a fan of Miss Dior Chérie's juvenile strawberry-patchouli combo anyway, but this latest iteration marks a new low. It's shrill, nasty and smells cheaper than fabric softener. There is a moment - a painfully brief moment - when it displays a floral note that's just about bearable, but other than that, it's a barrage of sneering white musks. Somewhere out there is a focus group which gave the seal of approval to this concoction. Throw its members into a giant vat of the stuff, I say, and see how much they like swimming in their bloomin' bouquet.

[Review of Shalimar Parfum Initial based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by Guerlain in 2011; review of Miss Dior Chérie Blooming Bouquet based on a sample of eau de toilette provided by Christian Dior in 2011; fragrances tested on skin.]



  1. Oh, the allotment comparison is inspired. It makes me want to try this (which I did anyway, but just for kicks and giggles)so much more than if it was purely a Shalimar wannabe. Great review.

  2. Core workout. It’s been a long week and a half. I have been running a lot and had a number of additional training sessions outside my norm. So I could feel it wearing on me a bit. This is where staying focused and pushing through it becomes important.

  3. PI sounds so pleasing and considered. I like the idea that the sillage is smoky and ambery, but when you get close you get animalic notes, closer again and it's vanilla. I get the impression Wasser wanted this effect. It kind of resonates with the idea of getting closer to the original Shalimar and Initial is stepping through those hoops, literally, through its development... am I making sense!?

  4. Hello there - we met at the Guerlain evening at Harrods last year. I think you've summed up Parfum Initial perfectly in your review. As a Shalimar wearer and lover these past 35 years or so, I really do wonder why there is a need to tweak it into a flanker unless it is to appeal to a younger buyer - oh yes, that'll be it. It's pleasant enough and I think I probably prefer it to the linear Ode a la Vanille, but it can never compete with the genius of the original!

  5. Ronny, thanks very much indeed. You know what I always say: anything's worth trying, and there's no doubt a new Guerlain is more tempting than most releases.

  6. Montanna, bearing in mine how seriously you take your training routine, I'm impressed you find the time to read my blog.

  7. Liam, I think I get what you're saying, which ties in with my suggestion that this is an over-intellectualised (and therefore vastly inferior) Shalimar.

  8. Fiordiligi, thanks for stopping by, I remember you very well. In fact, I'm sure we were doing a good 'ships in the night' routine at several other events over the course of the last few months.

    I appreciate your compliment, particularly as you're a Shalimar fan. I must say I found Ode De La Vanille marginally more pleasing because it seemed to have a more definite sense of what it wanted to achieve. But as you say, the original is head, shoulders, torso, hips and toes above its flankers.

  9. I have to disagree on the color: I think it is pink. Maybe not the worst pink color (it's lighter than, for example, Womanity) but it is more pink than any other color. I think. I actually went and made some color comparison after you first mentioned that "not pink" on Twitter a couple of days ago.

    I do like the bottle, I think it's beautiful (and a tassel is very nice).

    As to the juice... I'm not a Guerlain fan, I do not like and cannot wear Shalimar (*ducks*). I could wear PI - I tried, it works fine on my skin, - but it is sooo not interesting that I would rather kept trying the original Shalimar hoping for a revelation.

  10. P., your response to Montanna just caused an eruption of laughter in my house, so thank you for that. A gal needs a good belly-busting laugh every now and then.

    : )

    Regarding PI, I think you've given it a fair review. I've been wearing it for the past two days, and was (and remain) immediately fond of it. Being sensitive to iris I was astounded at the huge blast in PI---this is meant for young girls, is it not?---and was surprised to find such legible traces of the Shalimar heritage in it. Abomination it may be, but I am quite happy with it!

    Whether I am Full-Bottle happy remains to be seen...

  11. Hi Persolaise,
    I really enjoyed reading your review since it seems very fair(I haven't sniffed Initial myself, but hopefully have a sample on its way). I like that you are giving it an equal opportunity to everything else out there, rather than the comparison to 'the real thing'. And if I may just add, that I really think Guerlain has to make fragrances like this which are easier accessible than for example Shalimar. I think one easily forgets exactly how complex Guerlains can be, you need a Guerlain perfume to open the door. Oh and I like the bottle a lot too, only the adverts:-( Terrible.
    ps loved your review on the perfume bbc docu, are you reviewing the last episode too? Personally no 1 was my favourite.

  12. Undina, do you really think it's pink? The juice in my bottle seems quite ambery orange to me.

    You don't need to duck :-) I know plenty of people who can't take Shalimar. But yes, I totally agree with your final statement: it's better to keep trying to make friends with the original rather than forcing yourself to love Wasser's flanker.

  13. deeHowe, I'm sure Montanna heard your laughter whilst she was doing her ab crunches.

    I wouldn't say Parfum Initial is an abomination. I just think it's totally redundant.

  14. Asali, thanks very much indeed for stopping by and leaving a kind comment.

    I know what you're saying about an 'entry point', but I don't think that Guerlain should be initiating people into their range by resting on past glory. Wasser should be making his own mark on the firm by releasing a bold composition of his own.

    As for the review of the final part of the perfume documetary, yes, it should appear here on Tuesday. Here's a sneak preview: my favourite was episode 3.

  15. Thank you :-)
    I agree completely on the M. Wasser-front. Big bold mainstream Thierry.

    Really, no 3. I'll tune in on Tuesday. I suppose I just loved the 'good cop bad cop'-feeling, even if not entirely correct, of part 1. When Hilfiger didn't even shake the hand of Yann Vasnier, as opposed to Thierry Wasser browsing through the old Guerlain family books. Well, 'Loud' is already in the sales bins here.

  16. Asali, if you don't mind my asking, where's here?

  17. Sure, here's Copenhagen. A


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