“Its almost here again!” as the sherry adverts used to say so reassuringly. And in the great stores the lovers of tradition are queuing up to keep Christmas with their annual purchase of Royal Secret, Nuit de Noel and Cinnabar. A great glowing gaudy perfume adds much to the sense of occasion and lays down every year in an scented album of memories: for myself I cherish thoughts of Decembers past spent with Fahrenheit, Lancome’s lost pearl Climat, Miss Dior, Creed’s Bois du Portugal, Coty’s Rose and Knize Ten. Arden’s Red Door was a real cracker: amazingly florid, exuberantly exaggerated – redder than Santa’s robe, bursting with a bumper harvest of scarlet roses, jasmine and vanilla. If ever a perfume was Queen of the Music Halls, this is it: spangled tights, plumes and earsplitting high notes.
Party perfumes, fragrances as brilliant and expressive as emerald and violet tinsel, golden ribbon and foil wrappings: a new flacon to open on Christmas Eve and polish off before Twelfth Night, keeping company with the sloe gin and the coruscating iced cake. But Shalimar is the flower of the flock, the non pareil. Worn on an endless rattling train into the dripping Fens for a New Years Lunch in ’94 it won me the ultimate accolade, the penetrating voice from further down the carriage: “There’s a wonderful smell in here…!”
In movie metaphor Shalimar is like Dorothy Lamour wrapped in a silver lame sarong or Maria Montez beneath a veiled turban. Shalimar is a glittering Edwardian pantomime at the Gaiety or the Alhambra with 100 gas footlights flickering blue and green and white to illuminate “Chu Chin Chow” or “Aladdin”, an exaggerated Western erotic fantasy of the Orient. A crazy intoxicating musical spectacle designed by Bakst in hues of orange, bronze, crimson and indigo – shimmering in the limelight with huge citric sequins of bergamot and lemon, turning to a rosy pink as luscious as the Principal Boy’s lips and as ample as her thighs and bust; as sexually ambiguous too as her courtship of Princesss Balroubador. Not for nothing do we see Diana Dors at her most incandescently platinum shot sharing a luminous close up with Shalimar in “Yield To the Night”. Those bizarre top notes like a burnt offering of perfumed woods, pop off like fireworks before simmering down into opoponax, tonka and a madly exaggerated creme brulee of vanillin. A spicy powderiness as from the No 1 dressing room dusts the wearer like the fragrant ashes of a fiery nimbus, or the immolation of a phoenix. And the bottle, the original fluted amphora with its stopper like an Egyptian fan or palm, must be the best ever – what might not happen if you rub it? Only one way to find out…
Image from chexydecimal.com