(Sean Panikkar as Shalimar in Shalimar the Clown, based on the Salman Rushdie novel.)
Perfumer Jacques Guerlain
We all have our classics that are nothing like we remember from back in the day. (‘I used to wear [insert classic] until they RUINED it!) I tend to get more wistful than angry over this but just as I’ve sat to write about Shalimar I’ve found another reaction, which is to notice and then not particularly to care.
I’m on a plane right now and passing through duty-free earlier spotted Chanel Antaeus, my first perfume. My thought on sniffing it was ‘this is quite literally nothing like what I used to wear.’ My next thought was, ‘Oh, look! They’ve got No 19 EDP!’ and I went and spritzed.
The upside of digital perfume communities is the sharing of experiences. The downside, though, is that a perfume hobby seems to engender an angry nostalgia. There’s that sense that contemporary perfumery has taken away something we are entitled to. Our response is often a fetish for distinction and provenance, and of course the ensuing butt-sniffing and snobbery. I’m as guilty as the next person.
But things do change. Call me common, call me simple, but I wear the most recent Shalimar EDT and love it. It just makes me tail-waggingly happy to smell it. How wonderful that that era had its Shalimar. But they didn’t have Onda, Insensé, Cuir d’Iris. This is no pollyanna desperate optimism, no deflection of resentment. We live in a spectacular era of perfume.
My 2010 Shalimar tells me to screw the iconography and embrace the perfume. It also makes me imagine apoplexy of the current generation of young perfumistas as the authorities cracks down on their drug. Imagine the heel-clacking and outrage among the Angel set if the IFRA ever set their crosshairs on ethylmaltol.