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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Shalimar

By Beth

I think that everyone has a perfume that is so completely evocative, so emotionally relevant that a simple waft of it can spin you back decades. Such is it with me and Shalimar. So many have such a strong love/hate relationship with this scent, but I have always loved it and it me. It was the fragrance that my mother wore for her entire married life and my father used to buy it for her constantly and in every form because he adored it! I always assumed that she did too, but she confided in me several years before her death that she’d always hated it. I was surprised because it smelled absolutely devastating on her. She was an excellent wife in that respect and a bit of a contradiction , a feminist to the core and way before her time , however making my father happy was as she saw it” her most important job”. Fortunately she passed the knowledge on. The day that I married my husband, she pulled me into the back bedroom and said “Remember darling, you can buy your own things....so whatever he gives you, wear it to bed, even if it’s a toaster!” That alone has been the best piece of advice that I ever received from her with the exception of one other that I can’t share here...if you want to know, write me privately:)

So wear Shalimar she did and some of my earliest memories of her are of that scent. Until about 2 years before her death, my parents went to hear the Cleveland Orchestra every Thursday night. I loved watching her dress for the symphony, she was unbelievably elegant. She would slip on one of several black dresses, comb back her raven colored hair and spray it into submission. Then she would put a bit of blush and paint on her lipstick, always the same “Fire and Ice red and then pick up her bottle of Shalimar. She had a ritual for it, a little behind her ears, a bit in her hair , her cleavage and around her ankles. To an impressionable 8 year old it was the most glamorous act ever. Then she would put on her opera length gray pearls, knot them twice and walk into the kitchen to find my father who would always be enchanted simply by the sight of her. She was completely gorgeous,when she was younger she looked just like Hedy Lamarr. My father would whisk her off into the night and I would be left to wonder about that magic, hoping someday that it would be my birthright too. She shared all of that part of herself with us, it was important to her. She was very generous in that way, a powerful priestess of love.

She had a beautiful closet for us growing up, a dress up closet filled with all kinds of wonderful things that she’d outgrown. Velvet capes and beautiful high heels, shawls and scarves. We would play in it for hours and when I had put together the perfect outfit she would take me into the bathroom and fix my makeup, always finishing with just a touch of her perfume. I loved it, especially the black and burgundy velvet cape that I would always wear. But most of all, I loved her Shalimar. I have always found it to be a warm and enveloping fragrance, very very sexy. Shalimar lingers like a kiss from just the right man, one who knows you well and yet adores the mysteriousness about you that he can’t quite understand. Wearing Shalimar reconnects me with the old stories of the Sacred Prostitutes of Isis, who spent hours preparing themselves in their temples to receive the passions of strangers coming to worship them embodied as the sacred feminine on earth. I can imagine spending hours brushing my hair, anointing myself with sacred oils, preparing myself for that passion. I love it’s vanilla qualities, the musky balsam and benzoin with the hints of leather and the strange seductiveness of orris. I love that when I wear it I feel absolutely gorgeous and ready for love.

Shortly after my mother’s death I inherited her gray pearls. Receiving them was only one of the many rites of passage associated with my mothers dying but putting on those pearls felt more than a little strange for they sang of her soul and I wanted her to be there with me instead laughing and putting on her lipstick. With a deep sigh I looped them around my neck, knotted them and took a deep breath and there it was, the scent of her Shalimar leaving me spinning happily back in time suddenly and completely unafraid and no longer alone.

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29 Comments:

OpenID quinncreative said...

A beautifully-written tribute to your mother, yourself, and Shalimar. That perfume does seem to have some magic in it.

12:54 AM EST  
Anonymous dinazad said...

What a lovely piece, Beth! And what a lovely memory!

My own memory is of the babysitter sitting in the living room, my father in his black suit hovering in the background and my mother tucking me in and kissing me goodnight, dressed in an unbelievable green and black devoré velvet dress, looking like a princess and smelling of Blue Grass, just like a mother and princess should when she's about to go to a concert..... I wish Blue Grass were as beautiful on me.

But Shalimar - indeed a perfume worthy of a queen. Or one's mother.

5:02 AM EST  
Anonymous Mimi said...

Beth -

last night, by coincidence I re-read the lovely article about your mother you posted in September. I really enjoyed this piece. Fantastic piece of advice on your wedding day (now I am dying to know what the other piece was). She sounds like one fabulous dame - someone at ease with and knowledgeable about her femininity - it must have made being a woman so much more fun for you, growing up!

As for Shalimar, like our esteemed web hostess, I only recently 'got' it, after many years of being repelled by the EdT and EdP concentrations. I tried it in parfum and I *so* get it now. As Spinoza wrote 'all excellent things are difficult.' So it is with Shalimar. Totally worth the effort, though.

7:42 AM EST  
Anonymous HildaRosa said...

In China, they say that a person's pearls are a part of them. Scientifically, we know that because pearls were a living organism, they absorb DNA from the wear. You can hold a string of pearls in your hand and feel the body's heat in them. I suspect they absorb perfume along with the DNA.

Beautiful memories!

10:01 AM EST  
Anonymous JAntoinette said...

What a hauntingly beautiful post.

My grandmother has always worn Shalimar, a scent I took for granted until I began down the scented road of the perfume-obsessed. I recently spent a wonderful two months alone with my "Mimi" as I nursed her after an operation. I learned so much I hadn't known about her; she was a nuanced woman with a nuanced signature scent. As I was helping her bathe, I spotted a small violet box on her dressing table. I opened it to find a beautiful vintage bottle of Shalimar. She saw my delight and gave it to me as a farewell gift. Yet, greater than that beautiful bottle are the memories of her that flood over me when I apply that perfume.

10:04 AM EST  
Blogger ScentScelf said...

Beautiful, Beth...the piece, and the image of the loving people in it.

Going to see the symphony once a week...now *I* am dreaming of a life...and such an exceptional one, at that.

I wonder if any of us perfume, erm, mavens will be able to leave such a single indelible impression. Right now, my kids think of me more like some sort of mad scientist/explorer, I think. :)

You can add me to the list of those who want to hear tip #2...

11:02 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear B.,

Aunt R. took me to Nordtroms when it opened in Beachwood, where she encouraged me to open a charge account with my first purchase of Shalimar. "Trust me" she said. This scent portrays the heady quality of the women from that era!

Like licking an ice cream cone...

1:17 PM EST  
Blogger Beth Gehring said...

Dear QuinnCreative,

Thank you ! I am so glad that you enjoyed the review, both for me and my mother. I really enjoyed sharing it with everyone. I have always found Shalimar to be a bit otherworldly and I do love it so much!!!
Thanks again!

5:55 PM EST  
Blogger Beth Gehring said...

Dinazad,

i am so glad that you enjoyed the review and thank you for sharing your memories. I always loved Blue GRass although it doesn't quite love me anymore. I could wear it as a young girl, but the image of your mother wearing it is breathtaking.
Thank you for that!

5:57 PM EST  
Blogger Beth Gehring said...

Mimi,
If you want the other choice pieces of advice you'll have to find me on facebook and I'll share them with you ! Search under Beth Schreibman Gehring !

Thank you for sharing with me that you really enjoyed the other post. I loved writing that one, it was right after she died and Marina was kind enough to let me speak my heart here. My mother was definitely one of the last great Dames as they say, although I'm trying very hard to follow in her footsteps:) You're right, she made life as a young woman easy to understand! I was very lucky in that respect. She could be flamboyantly difficult, but she was always passionate!

6:02 PM EST  
Blogger Beth Gehring said...

Hilda Rose,

I loved this. I love thinking that the pearls that I now wear are imbued with the essence of my mother and my grandmother who they belonged to originally. Did I say that I love this :) Thank you for making me smile!

6:16 PM EST  
Blogger Beth Gehring said...

J'Antoinette,
I loved this...i remember those beautiful boxes that the perfume came in....sheer luxuriousness and gorgeousness. What a fabulous gift to be given and what wonderful memories you now have. I am enjoying sharing them with you. Thank you so much!

6:19 PM EST  
Blogger Beth Gehring said...

Scent self,

i am glad that you loved the sharing..she did have an extraordinary life filled with culture and an amazing amount of passion. My son once told me that of everything that I wear it is Diorissimo that makes him think of me whenever he smells it, so maybe they will have formed their own opinions without you being aware! If you really want to know the rest of it...find me on facebook (Beth Schreibman Gehring) and I will tell you:)

Thank you for letting me know how much you enjoyed the review!

6:23 PM EST  
Blogger Beth Gehring said...

Dear B.,

Your Aunt Ruth was to this day one of THE classiest ladies I've ever met and I'm not surprised she wore Shalimar! She would:)

6:24 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...

lovely review

and I think I can guess the rest of that advice...

7:29 PM EST  
Blogger chayaruchama said...

Lovingly, knowingly written- as always-
And moving.
I love the pearls story..and Hilda Rosa's perspective [ as well as HR- she's pretty amazing - another tale!]

For me, it was the reverse-
Shalimar was something I wore, with which I gifted my mother, who later in life wore little else.

[I hope that it made her feel closer to me; who can tell, now ?
She never will]

Bless you for sharing so generously and fully-
You always do.

10:21 PM EST  
Blogger Beth Gehring said...

Darling Tom.....
I am glad that you enjoyed my review and I am very sure that you know the answer......Next time I see you on FB I'll share:)

12:55 AM EST  
Blogger Beth Gehring said...

Chaya,

You are welcome. Thank you for sharing your story. I am sure that your mother would tell you that it was a bond that she held with you. Sometimes, actions really do speak louder than words and even if she could never say it the fact that she wore it and nothing else speaks volumes about what she might have wanted to say but just couldn't.
XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

12:59 AM EST  
Anonymous Nathan Branch said...

Weirdly enough, I'm wearing a sample of vintage Shalimar extrait for the very first time, and I happened to stumble across this blog entry through sheer coincidence.

I was already impressed with the fragrance itself, but the emotional depth your memories lent it makes it seem that much more beautiful.

3:54 PM EST  
Blogger Flora said...

Okay Beth, you have outdone yourself again! Beautiful and touching, and it makes me wish Shalimar worked on me!

I do have a very similar memory about the evening clothes - only they were not always my mother's clothes. My father was an "auction hound" and he would buy things by the lot to get the item he wanted, so he brought home a lot of stuff. Much of this was vintage clothing, most of it in pretty poor shape, but still beautiful - silks and velvets and all sorts of filmy, gauzy things. The four of us (all girls) dressed up in finery and became characters in the wild adventure stories we made up. This created in me a lifelong love of vintage evening wear, velvet in particular. Many of these pieces still held traces of someone's perfumes in them too, so I used to wonder who had worn them in another life. If I had those things now they might be worth a lot, but they could never bring any more pleasure to me than the magic of transforming little girls into heroines of their own novels.

(I will be needing that "other" advice too, see you on FB!)

11:02 PM EST  
Blogger Beth Gehring said...

Nathan,
Thank you so much for letting me know that my memories touched you. I am intrigued by the thought of the vintage that you are wearing....how old? It must be gorgeous....Shalimar is one of those that does not get worse with age just absolutely more wonderful! I am very glad that you found your way here and many thanks for sharing your experience with me.

12:40 AM EST  
Blogger Beth Gehring said...

Flora,
Your exquisite praise has touched me deeply! I am so thankful that you enjoyed my review. I loved your stories about your dad and the vintage clothes. I love that stuff, I am a sucker for anything velvet and any hat with a veil. I just love them ...hair combs too! I totally get the magic and love the thought of you as a little girl playing amongst all of that blissfulness:)
Now.....go straight to your inbox on FB for a bit of a present. Warning though......not for the prude or the faint of heart:)

12:44 AM EST  
Blogger pikake said...

What a beautiful piece. Thank you for sharing it. I felt like I was there with you in those precious moments. What a gift.

4:30 PM EST  
Blogger greeneyes said...

That's lovely, Beth. How interesting she wore Shalimar all those years and didn't like it! That speaks to love, it truly does. Only very recently did I come to appreciate this scent, myself. Years ago I bought a bottle and actually returned it to the store. I'd never smelled it--I think I wanted what it represented, somehow. Last year a reader sent me a sample, and I fell in love with it. It's on my to-be-owned list.

1:17 PM EST  
Blogger Eleven European Mystics said...

between passion and restraint, in the gap between indulgence and decorum, there Shalimar stands with a clever smile, full carnality and full light. For years I simply felt an adoration for its rays of beaming hesperidic sweetness and regal, good hearted resinous depth. Then, as it so happens, I left it, to graze literally greener pastures...yet the world would be poorer without Shalimar

9:40 AM EST  
Blogger Robert White said...

Lovely...viva las colombianas! I am a chef in Boston and most of the kitchen people here are Colombian or Brazilian...I lived in NYC for 13 years and still consider myself a New Yorker. Your mom sounds like a strong, smart and sexy old school woman...wish I could go back in time and do the tango with her! I love Shalimar myself...I'm a straight guy who wears it a lot and even though a lot of people find it odd, I love it...by the way, may I recommend Comme des Garcons Series Incense Avignon? GREAT! I bought it today...truly unisex...a GREAT incense scent...also, your'e a New Yorker, go to Aedes de Venustes and check out their signature perfume by Bertrand Duchafour...amazing....bought it for the woman I love for Xmas...but she broke my heart....

1:50 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was researching something else and came across shalimar in a Johnny Cash song - Forty Shades of Green, a well known song about Ireland.
Something like...where the breeze as sweet as shalimar and forty shades of green. I hope its your shalimar he was singing about.

Gary

2:00 PM EDT  
Blogger rosaflamenca said...

This is a gorgeously evocative and heartfelt paean to a beautiful scent and an astonishing woman. Thank you so much! And here is my email address, if you still feel like sharing that other piece of advice your mother gave you: eelriver@saber.net. The one you printed is worthy of being bronzed!

1:17 PM EST  
Blogger Perfumelover said...

Hi,
I had tears in my eye after reading your article. The love you discribed between your parents, i only thought exists in novels until now. But now i know that it is possible. I am also dying to know the advice no=2:)
I never tried shalimar and thats why i was reading the reviews and found your post. now i think i will have to get it even without trying. take care

7:18 AM EDT  

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