Favorite Vintage Perfumes Reign Supreme: A Brief History of Shalimar, Miss Dior, and the Taj Mahal

Shalimar vintage ad 1960sThough created in the nineteenth century, a duo of historic perfumes from two important perfume Houses, Guerlain and Dior, still reign supreme today. 

From 1925, created just after World War I (in the era of The Great Gatsby), Guerlain’s Shalimar was heralded as the first “Oriental” perfume, a blend of flowers with essential oils that originated in Asia.  In 1947, Miss Dior debuted as World War II ended.

Though two decades apart, both perfume compositions reflect joy and jubilation in the return to peace.

Shalimar by Guerlain (1925) – Shalimar is an intoxicating, yet subtly sensuous blend that has endured for decades. With a long-lasting base of spices and aromatic woods, it became the archetype for Oriental blends. A highly distinctive and dramatic fragrance, it was designed for the woman who is sensual, sophisticated and uninhibited…another grand entrance-making perfume from Guerlain.

Shalimar 1A 1925 composition, Shalimar is reflective of its period, of a cosmopolitan Paris in the midst of celebration after World War I, of the Roaring Twenties, of exhilaration and new life. This attitude is mirrored in the zesty citrus top notes. Heady florals flow into a spicy base that is particularly rich in vanilla, incense, and sandalwood.

In creating Shalimar, Jacques Guerlain was inspired by a love story told to him by a Maharajah visiting Paris. The Guerlain company shared the story with us:

More than 300 years ago, Shah Jahan succeeded to the throne of his father, Jahangir, and became the third Mogul Emperor of India.

Jahan loved only one woman. Her name was Mumtaz Mahal.

Some say he loved her unto madness, that she was not his wife but his fever. Victories, empires and riches were dust as compared to her…in his eyes, she alone was the balm that made life bearable.

When she died, Jahan’s hair turned white. He would burst into tears at the mention of her name. In her memory, he built one of the world’s greatest wonders–the Taj Mahal at Agra.

But the Taj Mahal is only an empty monument. While Mumtaz was alive, Jahan created a series of gardens for her at Lahore, gardens the like of which had never been seen before. He called them the gardens of Shalimar, the Sanskrit word meaning “abode of love.”

From every corner of the Earth, the most fragrant and delicate blossoms were brought. Deep pools were built with crystal fountains and terraces paved in marble. The rarest birds were summoned to sing here and lanterns were hung to rival the stars. In the gardens of Shalimar the lovers were truly happy, and Mumtaz bore fourteen children to her beloved Jahan.

Jacques Guerlain decided that the perfume should be called Shalimar, not Taj Mahal, because, you see, Taj Mahal marks the end of the story, and this love story can never end….

The flacon was designed by Raymond Guerlain and is also a reminder of the fountains in the gardens of Shalimar. The ornamental stopper in sapphire blue evokes the flow of the fountains’ water. Voluptuous and enveloping, Shalimar is a fragrance of eternal romance.

Miss Dior vintage ad 1950sMiss Dior by Christian Dior (1947) – A classic, impeccable floral fragrance, Miss Dior was created by French couturier Christian Dior. Christian Dior once said, “Perfume is the indispensable complement to the feminine personality, and the finishing touch of a dress.”

Miss Dior was launched in 1947, the year Dior introduced his New Look. The New Look was actually a throwback to the pre-World War II years, full skirts, tiny waistlines, gloves, and bare shoulders, a far cry from the despondent styles of the war years.

When consumers flocked to update their wardrobes with the New Look, they also snapped up his new fragrance, Miss Dior. The fragrance represented the re-emergence of the feminine, elegant style of the Belle Époque.

Today, the perennial French debutante Miss Dior is enjoying a resurgence, or second debut. So who has worn Miss Dior? From today’s Natalie Portman, who serves as the current spokesmodel, to Princess Grace and Marlene Dietrich. And for a special treat, watch the video on the history of Miss Dior on the Dior site.


In my novel Scent of Triumph, the protagonist, Danielle Bretancourt, comes from a long line of perfumers. Perfumery is her profession and her passion, so vintage perfumes are prominent in the story. The story takes places during the 1940s, with World War II as a backdrop.

For more reading on vintage perfumes, visit these blog posts:

Leave a comment about your favorite perfumes or fragrant memories!

2 thoughts on “Favorite Vintage Perfumes Reign Supreme: A Brief History of Shalimar, Miss Dior, and the Taj Mahal

  1. I love the orientals even though they don’t seem so popular today. Although not as old as Shalimar, my favorite is Cinnabar by Estee Lauder introduced in 1978. I’ve been wearing it since about that time.

    • That’s a classic, too, in the same family as the original Opium and Must de Cartier, one of my favorites. These scents are beautiful in cool weather, and actually inspired my own fragrance, Fabulous, which was the genesis for my novel about a French perfumer. Cheers!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s