New York is a city that constantly changes and I’m sure some areas of Manhattan will look completely different when I return this spring. It’s been a few years since my last visit. There is always something new to explore and fragrance shoppers are well catered for by some of the world’s best department stores and independent perfumeries. Every time I go to New York I end up lugging home a suitcase filled with new fragrances but there is always one fragrance I regret not buying. I regretted not bringing home a bottle of L’Artisan Parfumeur’s limited edition Fleur d’Oranger the first time I visited New York in 2008. When on my last trip I visited Aedes de Venustas in the West Village, a small, nondescript bottle of perfume caught my eye. It was next to an elaborate crystal bottle that was unmistakably Lalique. It was the most decadent white floral fragrance, which I learned was Shalini Parfum, created by master perfumer Maurice Roucel and New York based fashion designer Shalini. By that point in my trip I had already amassed a collection of new bottles so I had to be content with a memory, a mental snapshot of a perfume drenched in natural neroli and tuberose. I never have regrets until I’ve landed home. The moment I unpack, the thought always occurs, why didn’t I buy a bottle of that fragrance? Unlike most other brands, the Shalini fragrances are notoriously difficult to buy online so I was very happy to receive a message on Instagram last year from Shalini. It was an invitation to sample Jardin Nocturne, a new fragrance. Naturally I asked if I could also have a sample of Shalini Parfum.
Four years later, Shalini Parfum is still mesmerising. I like white floral fragrances, especially tuberose so this fragrance is my jam, even if it is clearly targeted towards the fairer sex. Compared with Jardin Nocturne, both fragrances have elements in common and there are also some nice contrasts. For this second fragrance, Shalini worked with Maurice Roucel once again. He’s a fascinating perfumer credited with the creation of over one hundred fragrances. Although he has created plenty of designer fragrances for names such as Gucci and Rochas as well as mass-market celebrity fragrances for Celine Dion and David Beckham, every now and then he takes on a smaller, niche project and the results are always memorable. Examples of his work include Frederic Malle’s Musc Ravageur and Helmut Lang’s Eau de Cologne and Eau de Parfum. Maurice Roucel’s work with Shalini reminds me of the cult classic Iris Silver Mist he created for Serge Lutens. The three fragrances communicate a sense of freedom and generosity in the way the natural ingredients have been used. I suspect he wasn’t given a budget of any sort when he worked with Shalini. In the book 22 Perfumers, A Creative Process, Roucel talks about his approach to creating perfumes “If I know that it’s a project for Dior, that’s almost enough for me. Because as far as I am concerned, I’ve never seen a brief that suggested creating a fragrance for an ugly woman with no future! Dreaming up a fragrance for a woman or for a district in New York, as was the case with Bond No 9, is exactly the same, because the process is purely intellectual.”
Roucel’s Parfum for Shalini opens with hints of fresh green foliage and spicy coriander. It’s as though the nose is moving from the green stem of the flower, up to the calyx and then into the flower’s lush white petals. The petals are scented with neroli and buttery tuberose. Natural essences of these flowers are present in unusually high quantities and being a parfum concentration, the fragrance is compact but intense. Tiaré flower’s salicylates impart a sunscreen note, which makes me think of summer and being by the beach. Sandalwood grounds the fragrance on skin with an airy musk accord and a touch of vanilla taking the fragrance to its end.
While Shalini Parfum is luminous and diurnal, Jardin Nocturne is a darker floral scent that oozes seduction. Still luminous, it’s as though the fragrance’s white petals are glowing under moonlight. Roucel created Jardin Nocturne as an ode to a fragrant evening in a garden. Like Shalini Parfum, Jardin Nocturne is a potent white floral with the most decadent opening of jasmine and saffron. Shalini says her new fragrance was “inspired by the night air in Dubai.” Although fragrances don’t have a temperature, Jardin Nocturne miraculously mimics Dubai’s warm humid air through a cosy veil of musk and a milky Mysore sandalwood accord. The jewel in Jardin Nocturne’s crown is the inclusion of natural Assam oud oil, which is nothing like many oud accords used in fragrances supposedly “inspired” by the Middle East. This natural oud note is subtle, calming and adds a balsamic-woodiness to the fragrance, which comes in and out of focus between the waves of jasmine that go on for hours. It’s a well-crafted fragrance.
Shalini is a rarity in 2018. While most small brands are ambitious to make it big, Shalini seems content to quietly go about business creating beautiful perfumes. The brand’s website doesn’t give too much away and you will be hard pressed to find online stockists or stockists outside of the US. Bergdorf Goodman or Aedes de Venustas are your best bets. Pricing also makes the collection less accessible. A 50ml bottle currently retails for US$500 at Aedes and in Lalique’s “Le Tourbillons” crystal bottle the cost is US$2400. Shalini Parfum’s “Le Coquillage” bottle costs US$3000. If, like me, you don’t shop exclusively on Madison Avenue, there are smaller, more affordable travel-sized bottles of the two fragrances that retail for around US$150. Are they worth it? In a word – yes, but beauty is always in the eye of the beholder.