Shangri-La, the lost city hidden beyond the Himalayas, has long been the symbol of a mystical paradise and perfect world. The city lies at the heart of Lost Horizons, a famous 1933 novel by James Hilton, and has inspired everyone from President Roosevelt to Hollywood and countless explorers in Tibet. The Nazis wanted to find it, while rock stars wrote songs about it. Countless towns in China claimed to be the location for the tale, and Zhongdian in the Dali Province was recently crowned as the real thing. Now, Shangri-La has inspired a perfumer as well.
This Shangri La is an all-natural, handcrafted eau de parfum that was just released by Hiram Green Perfumes. The perfume house is based in the Netherlands, but was founded by a British gentleman, Hiram Green, who has quite a background with perfumery in general. His maiden effort, Moon Bloom, completely blew me away, and has since become one of my favorite tuberose fragrance. (Given how passionately I love the flower, and how picky I am about tuberose fragrances, that says something.) So, when I heard that Mr. Green was not only coming out with a new fragrance but turning his focus towards the chypre genre, I practically leapt out of my seat. The perfume’s note list only added to my fervour, since they include peach which is an element I love. Plus, in all honesty, the name killed me, because one of my all-time favorite Hollywood classics is Frank Capra’s Lost Horizons.
Shangri-La, the city, was all about scholarly study, finding inner peace, and exploring the beauty in life but Shangri La, the perfume, is quite a lusty affair, in my opinion. There is nothing remote or icy about this chypre, and its leathered, musky sensuality would probably have horrified the 300-year old High Lama of James Hilton’s tale. During my tests, I sometimes had visions of naked bodies, juicy peaches dripping on heated flesh as lovers cavort in oakmoss and jasmine glens, or black leather corsets in a boudoir made of smoked roses. It’s a far cry from a scholarly library in a lamasery in the snowy mountains of Tibet — and, as much as I love Lost Horizons, I think that’s a good thing.
Hiram Green describes Shangri La and its notes as follows:
Almost one hundred years after Francois Coty defined the chypre genre with a perfume of the same name, Hiram Green presents his adaptation of this classic accord. Named after the fictional land described in James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon, Shangri La evokes a mystical fragrant paradise.
Shangri La opens with a sharp burst of citrus, followed by a rich bouquet of peach, jasmine, rose, iris and spices, all anchored by an earthy base of vetiver and oakmoss.
The succinct note list is therefore:
citrus, peach, jasmine, rose, iris, spices, vetiver and oakmoss.
I’ve really struggled with knowing where to start in terms of describing Shangri La and how it appears on my skin. One big reason for that is that all my tests included a prominent, key element that is actually not in the perfume at all: castoreum. Yet, I was certain Shangri La included castoreum (as well as patchouli), because a leathery, almost oily, often tarry or phenolic muskiness was radiating off of my skin. Sometimes, in huge waves. So, I wrote to Mr. Green. He said there was no castoreum at all, though there is the patchouli that I detected in a variety of its different nuances. Still, it makes it hard for me to convey to you just how Shangri La smells on my skin without saying “castoreum” as a short-hand reference to the aromas that it encapsulates. So, I’ll put the word in quotes to make sure it’s perfectly clear that I’m not talking about actual castoreum, only something that smells very much like it.
The second problem I had is that Shangri-La was quite different on one arm in one of my tests for the first 5 hours than how it appeared in my other tests. Dramatically so, in fact, and I think the reason is quantity. I applied only a bit of the fragrance because the little atomizer I was sent had a wonky spray which generally dribbled out the juice or, on rare occasion, blew out a fine mist that seemed to go everywhere and far beyond my arm. As a result, when I tried Shangri-La on my right arm (which is not my main testing arm), it was only a small amount. I sometimes experience differences in nuances from one arm to the other, so I generally try to test on them both, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the huge discrepancy in this case.
Since then, I’ve tried Shangri La a few more times, and the results have been more uniform across the board. However, I also applied more of the fragrance: dribbles and smears amounting to the equivalent of either 2 or 2.5 small spritzes from an actual bottle. I’ve repeatedly said in my reviews that quantity can make a difference in the notes which are highlighted, and that was definitely the case here because a regular application (as opposed to a few tiny dabs) suddenly brought out the “castoreum” in full force and basically changed the first 5 hours of the perfume. But I absolutely loved (loved!) the very first version which I experienced on one arm.
This version was utterly addictive, as well as sensual, warm, and sexy as hell. It felt more like Adam and Eve cavorting lustily in the mossy Garden of Eden, or one of Rossetti’s romantic beauties beckoning to you from a lush garden paradise, than Shangri-La in Tibet. I truly couldn’t stop sniffing my arm. Later, about 6 hours into the scent, the perfume changed to become much closer to the main version of Shangri La that I experienced. It was almost as if the perfume pyramid had been turned upside down in terms of the notes, or as if I skipped Shangri La’s top notes and opening phase to go straight into the middle or end part. I can’t explain it but, given that some of you will undoubtedly get samples that you may dab on in small amounts, too, I think it’s worth describing my anomalous experience. It might be something to keep in mind if you end up encountering a version of Shangri La that is too “castoreum”-heavy, leathery, and musky for your tastes.
THE ANOMALY & VERSION #1:
My anomalous version of Shangri La was a gloriously sensual, prismatic scent that rather sent my mind into the gutter. The best way I can describe it is with a story, and I’ll give you the PG-rated version. Two lovers steal away to a secluded glen to lie down naked on a soft, springy bed of fresh moss and earthy vetiver. One takes a bite of a ripe peach and drizzles the juices on his lover’s heated skin. As a musky, fruited sweetness rises up in the air, they cover their bodies with a thin sheet made from sweetened bergamot, pink roses, and fruity jasmine. Spicy warmth from rich, brown patchouli weaves its way throughout the blur of tender kisses, tangled limbs, earthy greens, supple mosses, delicate florals, and musky ripeness.
For the first 5 hours, Shangri La is essentially that story. It is what I call a “prismatic” scent because the perfume shoots out its notes like rays of light reflecting off a crystal chandelier. One element may sometimes be stronger than the rest but, then, twenty minutes later, the story changes and something else seems to dominate. Round and round it goes, often changing in its details and nuances, but the main story always stays the same. It’s a sign of a very well-blended fragrance whose notes are not only in perfect balance but fused together seamlessly.
For all my visions of peach juices dribbled on naked stomachs, there is absolutely nothing raunchy, vulgar, loud or overtly sexual about Shangri La. The muskiness is rarely skanky or truly animalic, though little peaks of leathery “castoreum” occasionally pop up in the far distance. It feels like a scent whose focus is more on temptation, temptation that has just begun to be explored. Something about this version of Shangri La seems to draw me in, making it impossible to stop sniffing. Some chypres are aloof, brandishing their coldness with green-black notes like galbanum or having a very fusty, mineralized oakmoss that keeps you at a distance.
Shangri La, in contrast, is warm, soft, and plush, inviting you in, beckoning you with its peachy sweetness, before seducing you with its muskier, earthier qualities. It holds out a promise with a smile, bearing its flesh languidly and flirtatiously, instead of keeping you at a distance with haughty sophistication. Amouage‘s Fate Woman is an example of a beautiful chypre that has quite an aloof, formal start, while vintage Bandit was notorious for the crackle of its black leather whip, and can be quite tough even in its modern form. Shangri La, in this anomalous version, is an entirely different sort of chypre, one which balances not just its individual notes but, also, their overall effect. The elegant qualities or characteristics of a chypre are bracketed by plush warmth, spiciness, and fruited sweetness in a way that is miles apart from some old-school classics in the genre.
This version of Shangri La reminds me enormously of Parfums MDCI‘s gorgeous Chypre Palatin. One of the main reasons is because both fragrances have hefty doses of patchouli to accompany their mossy, green base. The note is, technically, one of the foundational legs of the chypre genre as a whole, but I’ve found that modern fragrances merely use it as another layer of mossy greenness or as some hideous, purple, fruitchouli goo. The warmer, spicy, brown variety doesn’t seem to be as predominant these days, but it is in Chypre Palatin.
Shangri La is like a cousin with a very similar feel, thanks to the way the patchouli plays off the citruses, fruits, and green notes. There are differences, though. Shangri La has peach but lacks any custardy vanilla; the jasmine plays a significantly greater role than it does in Chypre Palatin; and the scent is much muskier as a whole. While Chypre Palatin actually does contain castoreum, something in the Hiram Green fragrance along with the innate muskiness of peach absolute seems to ramp things up to a significant degree.
Shangri La feels very plush, deep, and rich, particularly for an all-natural fragrance. Actually, very little about the scent feels “all-natural.” It doesn’t have the sort of funky earthiness or artisanal feel that some fragrances in the genre demonstrate. It also has positively hefty, bold sillage as compared to all-natural creations that I’ve tried from some brands like, for example, DSH Perfumes or a few things from Mandy Aftel‘s Aftelier. Relative comparisons aside, I think Shangri La’s sillage is initially moderate before turning soft as a whole, but it’s closer to an extrait from a luxury house that uses synthetics, rather than the skin-hugging, intimacy of a typical all-natural scent.
Even when using only a few tiny dabs, Shangri La opened with about 2.5 inches of projection, before softening to about 1.5 inches at the end of the first hour. It frequently sent little tendrils into the air around me when I moved, but the sillage did continue to slowly drop. At the start of 3rd hour (and until the middle of the 5th one), Shangri La hovered half an inch above the skin, but it was always very potent up close.
Shangri La’s bouquet remains much like the story I told at the beginning up for the first five hours. Up to that point, little had changed, though the jasmine seemed to grow stronger, and the “castoreum” had peeked out its head to provide an animalic undertone to the ripe lushness and muskiness. At the start of the 6th hour, however, the peach finally weakens, while both the rose and the castoreum bloom. Shangri La is now a leathery floral chypre with a dark and smoky side, instead of a fruity-floral chypre with sweetness. The sensuous bouquet is no longer as soft and inviting, but shows off a harder edge.
It feels as though the bright, sweet lass who had been wearing jasmine while lustily canoodling in a peach orchard covered by oakmoss had suddenly decided to show off a Goth or kinky side as she stripped down to reveal a black leather corset in a red velvet boudoir strewn with smoking roses. Something in the scent is wafting quite a serious amount of leathery smokiness, and it infuses the dark, deep, velvety roses which are now a major part of the fragrance. The mossy greenness turns into an amorphous haze in the background, more like a suggestion than anything concrete or clearly delineated.
Shangri La shifts again when its final drydown begins at the end of the 8th hour and the start of the 9th. Now, the suede becomes the star of the show as the iris merges with the leather of the “castoreum” to give the perfume a definite suede-like quality and texture. The whole thing is shot through with spicy, sweet, brown patchouli, along with a quieter, non-animalic form of muskiness, and the faintest hint of a rose-chypre greenness. For the most part, though, the overall impression is of a lovely spicy, warm suede that coats your skin like the finest fabric.
Shangri La remains that way essentially until its end when it finally dies as a blur of something vaguely spicy, warm, and musky. All in all, using just a few, tiny dribbles, it lasted just under 11 hours, which is rather astonishing under the circumstances. This may be an eau de parfum, but Shangri La feels and acts more like an extrait, perhaps because natural botanical oils can be very concentrated. As a result, I commonly experienced great longevity from Shangri La, even though it sometimes took some effort to detect from the 8th or 9th hour onwards. On a few occasions, in other tests, I was sure the fragrance was about to die around that point, but Shangri La continuously surprised me. Yes, I often had to put my nose on my arm by then, but the scent consistently lasted between 11-12.5 hours, depending on the amount that I applied.
As I said at the start, this version of Shangri La differed from all my other experiences with the scent but only for the first 5 hours. After that point, the two versions are extremely close, if not identical, but the first 5 hours of peach-drenched, musky lovers having sexy, jasmine frolics in the mossy Garden of Eden did not occur. I’m rather sad about that, truth be told, because I far preferred this opening to the first 75 minutes of the other version. Nevertheless, it’s merely a relative and brief thing, because I think Shangri La is a great scent as a whole, regardless of versions.
THE MAIN VERSION:
Shangri La opens on my skin with a roaring river of muskiness and leather. It is very dark in feel with an animalic, almost raw, and rather oily feel to it that is identical to castoreum, at least when a hefty amount of it has been used. The leather also has a smoky tarriness to it, though it differs from that found in birch tar leather. Trailing behind the musky “castoreum” leather is camphor that feels a lot more like eucalyptus salve than the sort of camphor usually found in patchouli. Finally, a tiny wisp of something vaguely herbaceous seems to float nebulously in the background, almost like rosemary.
It’s quite a hard, butch opening relative to the peach-dominated, softer muskiness of the other test, and I truly don’t know where it comes from. I’ve spoken with Hiram Green about it, and he can’t figure it out either, particularly as nothing in Shangri La’s notes should trigger a “castoreum” comparison or a leathery note. Peach can be quite a musky element — which is allegedly the reason why Jacques Guerlain used it in Mitsouko to replicate the smell of his lover’s naked skin after sex — but that doesn’t explain the degree of tarry, blackened, smoky leather that I encountered in 3 of my tests.
For the first 30 minutes, Shangri La seems more like a leather fragrance than a chypre, and something better suited to a modern dominatrix than to one of the golden, romantic beauties from Klimt or Dante Gabriel Rossetti. It’s a challenging scent, but there is also a sexiness to its hard edges and a definite boldness. This is no shrinking violet, by any means, even when the notes eventually soften. The first steps to that end take place a mere 5 minutes into Shangri La’s development when the oily, leathered muskiness takes a faint step back. But its place is taken by the camphor which seems to grow even stronger and is now fully intertwined with the mysterious, smoky tarriness. The patchouli and jasmine slowly emerge 10 minutes later. Around the same time, the first flickers of rose, peach, and bergamot appear, though they’re hidden behind the thick wall of muskiness.
Slowly, Shangri La begins to transform. At the 30-minute mark, it is primarily leathered muskiness with patchouli, lightly flecked with sweet jasmine, camphor, and tarriness, then sprinkled with the tiniest droplets of rose, peach, and bergamot. The camphor is much weaker now than it was, but Shangri La is such a prismatic scent that every time I think it has finally vanished, a strong whiff of it re-emerges from behind the jasmine.
Roughly 75 minutes in, the peach begins to creep to the forefront, while the rose blooms red, dark, and smoky next to the sweet jasmine and crisp bergamot. A soft, suede-like iris stands quietly behind them all. And the whole thing is cocooned in a haze of muskiness and greenness. The latter is a bit of a blur, melded together seamlessly from oakmoss, vetiver, and a very soft, plush, mossy patchouli. The muskiness is now only a tad sharp and barely leathery, mostly because the “castoreum” has turned smoother and less intense. Even better, there is no longer any oily, tarry, or eucalyptus Vicks camphor rub elements, either.
More and more, with every passing moment, Shangri La feels like a very leathery floral chypre, instead of an actual leather-musk fragrance. By the middle of the second hour, it is dominated by rose, bergamot, and castoreum in equal parts, but followed very closely by the jasmine, oakmoss, and patchouli. Bringing up the rear and lagging a mile behind are the iris and vetiver.
The end result is a fragrance that feels like a richer, darker, muskier, and more leathery descendent of Montana‘s vintage Montana, later renamed as Montana Parfum de Peau. It is a fragrance that I’ve mentioned a few times over the years as being an old favorite of mine, and it was actually my signature scent for a few years in highschool, so I’m rather thrilled at the similarities here. Yet, I also know that vintage Parfum de Peau is a polarizing fragrance in the today’s world. It isn’t well-suited to the current propensity for girly fruity-florals, for office-safe clean, fresh fragrances, or for sweet gourmands. Yet, those who love Montana love it passionately, as evidenced by a slew of positive reviews on Fragrantica, interspersed with some who despise the perfume with equal fervour. (One day, I swear I’ll review it properly on the blog.) My point here, though, is that I think the people who struggled with Montana/ Parfum de Peau may have the same or even greater difficulty with its richer, more leathery, “castoreum”-heavy, muskier descendent.
By the time the third hour rolls around, Shangri La is a far different fragrance than what appeared in its opening minutes. The trio of rose, oakmoss, and leather sings louder than ever; the peach joins in as a main player, while the bergamot retreats to the sidelines; and a muted, quiet smokiness is woven throughout it all. The peach is an interesting element because it is isn’t really a fruity note, and definitely doesn’t drip sweet juices. It’s mostly a quasi-peach-like muskiness more than anything else, though it does have a vague floralcy to it as well. As for the patchouli, it is constantly changing. One minute, it feels very noticeable, but the next it is more like an abstract spiciness and warmth underlying the other elements. It’s the same story for the oakmoss which adds a constant layer of greenness all around the floral notes, but it often feels very nebulous and intangible as an individual note. The vetiver feels even weaker and more subsumed into the general, green haze, but there is no doubt that it works indirectly with the vetiver and patchouli to create that “chypre” feel.
From the 5th hour onwards, Shangri La essentially follows the exact same course I outlined in the other version. There are a few minor differences in terms of the timing, order, and prominence of some of the individual notes, but the general contours are almost identical, right down to the drydown’s focus on suede that is infused with lingering vestiges of rose, fruitiness, muskiness, and a dash of mossy greenness, before dying away as something vaguely spicy, warm, and musky.
Shangri La was released just last week, so it’s too new for a ton of blog reviews and has no comments as of yet on its Fragrantica page. The good news is that, unlike Moon Bloom in its first year, Shangri La is already available in America at Indigo Perfumery and Luckyscent, in addition to several European retailers. Its American price is $165 but its international price varies depending on whether you have to pay European VAT taxes. (See, Details section below.) There is also a 5 ml travel spray that is available.
Although Moon Bloom remains my favorite Hiram Green scent, I really liked Shangri La. I did find it to be a challenging perfume for the first hour, but I respect that. It’s a bold scent with definite character and, like Moon Bloom, it conjures up images in my mind, takes me places, and makes me think. I cannot tell you how tired I am of fragrances that are so smoothed out of their edges, so safe and nondescript, that they lack all personality whatsoever. When a perfume’s defining characteristic is refined smoothness, it does nothing but arouse my apathy, indifference, or boredom. And there are far too many of those fragrances around these days.
Shangri La — in both its versions — is the furthest thing from a lackluster, bland scent. It has character galore, though it is hardly a ferocious chypre like Bogue‘s Maai which I describe as an animalic beauty that is not for the faint of heart. Shangri La is a much easier, more approachable fragrance, but it has a bold, rich, and intense personality nonetheless. It also has a lot of nuance, complex depth, and twists. Surprisingly so for an all-natural fragrance. And, like Moon Bloom, it feels luxurious, expensive, and elegant. I think Shangri La would particularly appeal to fans of Vero Profumo‘s musky creations, because it has a similar sort of vibe. The sillage may not be huge, but it’s rather in line with what you’d experience with a regular extrait, instead of the quiet, skin-clinging hush you find with many all-natural fragrances.
In short, if you love leather chypres with old-school glamour and musky sensuality, I urge you to give Shangri La a sniff.
Disclosure: My sample was courtesy of Hiram Green. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.