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Ready To Wear: Shalimar was once the most revolutionary of all scents


The reinvention of classics.

It's the story de nos jours. In clothing and also in fragrance. And so today brings to beauty counters nationwide a new interpretation of that mother – or should that be great grandmother – of all modern fragrances, Guerlain's Shalimar.

A friend was recently bought a bottle of the original scent (or as original as it can be given subtle changes over the years) by her husband and opined in her column in a rival newspaper that online perfume commentators describe it variously as: "old lady – and not in a nice way", and as "the essence of old age". How rude. To women of a certain age and to Shalimar.

Here's how two true authorities, Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, authors of Perfume: the A-Z guide (Profile) describe it: "Deceptively simple", "extraordinary", "a vanillic amber with exceptional reach" and as evocative of "an evening in Paris" as "catching a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower lit up for New Year's".

Respect is due, then, to Shalimar, in its time the most revolutionary of all scents and the world's first oriental, named after the Mogul Emperor, Shah Jahan's gift to his lover, an exotic garden (now, that's what I call a present), and created by Jacques Guerlain in 1925.

There is a grain of truth to the fact that Shalimar comes across as a little démodé in an era where zest, zing and fizz dominate, which is why the powers that be have encouraged the company's current nose, Thierry Wasser, to develop a new take on it.

It should come as no great surprise that this latest version sees Calabrian bergamot, caramel, warm fruit and patchouli added to the mix to support the main event – which is still vanilla – in place of more old-school leathery accents. Leather – a heavy and masculine note – is not fashionable.

Louise Brooks, Rita Hayworth, Brigitte Bardot and Bianca Jagger all famously wore Shalimar in its earlier incarnations. The latter's daughter, Jade, redesigned the Shalimar bottle only last year. Poster girl for the new Shalimar Parfum Initial is a naked Natalia Vodianova who has the extraordinary ability to look like a beautiful child, despite having three of her own. Oh, and the new juice is pink as opposed to amber, which will doubtless appeal to a younger sensibility, too.