Serge Lutens Mandarine Mandarin : Perfume Review

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Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.

When Serge Lutens decides to explore the hesperidic theme, one can be certain that the result will be a tale with a variety of fascinating characters and intricate subplots. Mandarine Mandarin, the newest fragrance created by perfumer Christopher Sheldrake, fulfills this expectation, resulting in an opulent oriental composition dominated by spice and amber. In contrast to the Arabian Nights adventures of Lutens and Sheldrake’s previous collaborations, Mandarine Mandarin offers a glimpse into A Dream of the Red Chamber, the 18th century Chinese Qing Dynasty novel. …

Citrus provides the leitmotif for the composition, appearing as a fresh, sparkling burst of mandarin in the top notes, and then in the floral richness of orange blossom in the middle, and the bitter sweetness of orange jam in the drydown. Similar to the glow of citrus modulated by a spicy-ambery base in Annick Goutal Les Nuits d’Hadrien, Mandarine-Mandarin takes on a dusky character from the beginning and allows its fresh top notes to fade into the winey warmth of amber.

The heart alludes to the voluptuous floralcy of Fleurs d’Oranger, a rich jasmine, tuberose and orange blossom blend. However, Mandarine-Mandarin possesses more dryness, which makes it less conventionally feminine than Fleurs d’Oranger. This dryness creates a sense of intrigue in the way it recalls the complex richness of Persian dried limes used as a spice. The juxtaposition amongst the candied notes, the vanillic creaminess and the tannic bitterness allows the composition to oscillate between a sweetmeat and a savory condiment.

Like the previous exclusive collection releases, Chêne and Borneo 1834, Mandarine-Mandarin has a neoclassical character, which separates these compositions from the more nonconformist structure of the earlier Lutens’s fragrances. Mandarine-Mandarin cannot be accused of being solely a base, since it is built as a much more defined three-tiered arrangement. As we’ve come to anticipate in the Sheldrake/Lutens’s tradition, the moment one expects a story to end, another page unfolds.

The limited edition bottle for Mandarine-Mandarin is quite stunning—a blue Chinese dragon coils around a bell jar containing dark orange liquid. The fragrance includes notes of Chinese orange, nutmeg, candied mandarin, orange peel, smoky tea, labdanum, tonka bean and ambergris. It is now available from Les Salons du Palais Royal Shiseido. Wax samples are available upon request; however, I should note that Mandarine-Mandarin appears much sweeter and less nuanced in that form than it is in the alcohol base.

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37 Comments

  • Marina: Sounds just wonderful. I cannot *wait* for my decant. And I love your new look! 🙂 September 10, 2006 at 10:43pm Reply

  • Tigs: Great review, first I’ve seen on this one. Do you know (or does anyone know, for that matter) to what degree Sheldrake contributes to the fragrances or is this deliberately kept vague? I was thinking of the interview from the Barney’s catalogue that you posted, and how Serge mentioned the earlier, orientalist scents as favourites. Wondering – among other things – whether Sheldrake has guided this neo-classical turn, or whether Serge completely handles concept, ingredients, structure and whatnot? September 11, 2006 at 12:34am Reply

  • moon_fish: Oh well!
    Where`s my wax sample, Mr. Lutens?
    I did leave your consultants my address for sending me any new samples – and it did work with Borneo 1834 – why it does not work now?
    Does that works only once? September 11, 2006 at 6:49am Reply

  • Sisonne: Dear V,
    The new design of your blog is really lovely 🙂
    I tested my wax sample of Mandarine Mandarin already & I must say that – though I´m normally not into fruity fragrances – I really like this one. It´s pretty spicy on me – which is a good thing. On the other hand it reminds me of a drink, a kind of syrup we have over here, it tastes a lot like MM smells. It may be a purchase…;) September 11, 2006 at 7:47am Reply

  • Elle: If it were not so hard to get this from Paris, I’d probably be typing in an unsniffed order right now. Wonderful review! And that LE bottle sounds incredible. I shall have to find some way to distract the practical, budgetary minded part of my brain, while the impractical, beauty loving side goes to check out the price for it and possibly starts plotting a purchase. 🙂
    I love the new look of your blog! September 11, 2006 at 8:28am Reply

  • Judith: I really like the new look! And the review is (of course) beautiful! I wonder how the citrus will fare on my skin. I often have trouble with that (even Nuits d’Hadrien smells like Lemon Pledge on me, and once made an AG SA wrinkle her nose in distate). I have a decant coming (soon I hope), so we shall see. . . September 11, 2006 at 8:28am Reply

  • marchlion: Patty has a bottle on the way… given that FdeO is one of my top Lutens fragrances, I cannot wait to try this, thanks! A drier orange sounds perfect.

    PS I emailed your Bloglines comment to P, she was going to fix the feed. September 11, 2006 at 10:07am Reply

  • chaya ruchama: How utterly delightful, if unobtainable [for so many of us !]..SIGH….
    I suspect that you could make even gangrene sound alluring, Ms. V. !
    So sad…

    Judith, I can visualize that SA’s little nose- so funny. [I don’t mind Lemon Pledge, but I can appreciate that you might not want to olfactorially resemble an end table…]

    Curse that Patty…do you think she might decant, if we sit up prettily on our haunches and beg? September 11, 2006 at 10:44am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Marina, thank you! I have a feeling that you might really like it. The amber is quite pronounced. September 11, 2006 at 12:53pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Tigs, the relationship between the perfumer and the creative director determines to what extent one influences the other. Sheldrake is a great perfumer, with an extensive experience, and Lutens is an extraordinary creator. They have collaborated together for more than a decade, and I think their contributions are difficult to parse out neatly at this point. I understand that while Serge Lutens can be difficult to work with, he is receptive to ideas and as long as he is understood, he does not interfere in the creative process. September 11, 2006 at 1:01pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Sergej, unfortunately, I do not have an answer to this. I hope that your sample is going to arrive soon though! You are probably better off writing to Les Salons directly. September 11, 2006 at 1:02pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Dear C, thank you! I must say that the perfume is not as sweet and jammy as the wax sample. I am very much enjoying this fragrance, and I am looking forward to wearing it more often this fall. September 11, 2006 at 1:03pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Elle, the limited edition bottle is stunning, simply stunning. This is the only SL limited edition bottle I would consider obtaining. However, other things have more priority right now. Glad that you like the new look! September 11, 2006 at 1:05pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Judith, this is not a citrus per se, but more of an idea of it. I do not think that it shall pose a problem. I am normally indifferent to citrus, but Mandarine-Mandarin is very beautiful and it wears well. September 11, 2006 at 1:06pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: March, looking forward to hearing your thoughts! I also like Fleurs d’Oranger; however, there are times when it borders on cloying. I like to layer it with Cuir Mauresque to reduce the sweetness. September 11, 2006 at 1:07pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Chaya, I hope that you can get a chance to try it soon. It is quite striking. September 11, 2006 at 1:08pm Reply

  • Andrea: Hi,
    I really like the new look of your blog – congratulations! 🙂
    Who needs a balanced diet? Water and bread will do, ‘cos I simply have to have that one +sigh+ It’s only fair since Dzongka (oh what expectations did I have!) wasn,t my cup of tea.
    Wishing you all a nice start of the week,
    Andrea September 11, 2006 at 4:23pm Reply

  • koneko: Thank you for such a delightful review! I really hope I can smell this soon, it sounds like something I would really enjoy, and the bottle sounds divine!! =)

    I love your new look to the blog! The jasmine blossoms fallen on the ground, esp. the one that’s turned purple, they look so perfect! =) September 11, 2006 at 7:01pm Reply

  • Tara: Does anyone know how much the limited edition blue dragon bottle is of this? Could not find this info on the web page. I have ordered a decant of this and cannot wait to sniff. September 11, 2006 at 7:21pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Andrea, thank you! Mandarine-Mandarin was definitely my bright light in the sea of indifferent new releases. I loved Chypre Rouge, but Mandarine-Mandarin is another great addition to Lutens’s line. September 11, 2006 at 7:42pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: M, thank you very much. The photo was taken by a photographer Tony Yang in Vietnam (as far as I understood, this is the floor of the temple patio covered with jasmine blossoms). I thought that it was perfect for Bois de Jasmin. He is very talented. September 11, 2006 at 7:43pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Tara, I do not have an exact estimate, but it is between $600 and $1000 the last time I checked (depending on design). Write to the address on the website. September 11, 2006 at 7:44pm Reply

  • Dusan: The new look of the blog is so lovely! MM sounds like something I would love. I have decided to send for wax samples and hopefully they will include MM as well. Oh, and thank you once again for the Habit Rouge snippet, you’re the best! 🙂 September 11, 2006 at 9:34pm Reply

  • Tara: Eeeee! It’s even worse than I expected, I thought it would be around $500. Well, we’ll have to pass on that one! September 12, 2006 at 2:29pm Reply

  • Leopoldo: I’m sniffing M-M as I type. The mandarin in the very fleeting top note is pitch perfect and then it did seem to morph into Fd’O for a good half hour. But now, it’s at its best – the amber is giving it a dark toasty warm character – almost chewy in quality. Seems to be strkingly feminine to me, but in a more angular way than the voluptuousness of Fd’O. Thanks for the review – so much better than my mangled musterings. September 13, 2006 at 9:10am Reply

  • KiRi: I received the fragrance (the normal bottle!!) as a gift from a friend (beauty journalist in Paris). Unfortunately on my skin (and I can smell it on other people I asked to try it as well) the perfume develops a spicy caracter that smells -unfortunately- like chervil and /or lovage and/or cumin to me (maybe you mean this, when you say “savory condiment”?). Do you know which ingredient this might be? I so wanted to like this fragrance and all I read before I smelled it was similar to your impressions- close to FdO, which I love. September 13, 2006 at 12:13pm Reply

  • Donald: This perfume gives the opportunity to smell again ALPONA of caron with a Chypré style and NEW YORK of Patricia de Nicolaï. Two beautiful perfumes more complex than MM. Thank you for yours attentions. Merci d’exister.
    Donald September 13, 2006 at 4:21pm Reply

  • N: I liked this new creation but not sure I will rush to buy a bottle.
    Great review as always dear V. Hope you are well. 🙂 September 13, 2006 at 5:06pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Dusan, thank you very much! I hope that you will receive the sample of MM in your booklet. And I was glad to share whatever info I could on Habit Rouge. September 14, 2006 at 12:43am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Tara, I am not sure about the exact cost. It is still best to write to them. However, the prices were rather steep. September 14, 2006 at 12:44am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Leopoldo, “a dark toasty warm character” is a great way to describe it. I also think that it is much more angular than Fleurs d’Oranger. I am tempted to wear them side by side again. September 14, 2006 at 12:45am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Kiri, I noticed something along these lines in Chypre Rouge as well. I found it to be a mix of spices and herbs. At first, I thought that it might be coriander, but it seems sharper, less lemony than coriander. In general, it is a pleasant sensation for me, but in some fragrances, it can dominate too much. September 14, 2006 at 12:47am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Donald, Alpona is one of the most beautiful chypres, with a distinct hesperidic top note. New York is another favourite of mine. September 14, 2006 at 12:48am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Dear N, thank you! You are abreast of everything new and interesting. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. September 14, 2006 at 12:49am Reply

  • eelriverrose: Beautiful, evocative review befitting the lovely new look of the blog! I am glad that I had decided (after sampling) that I could live without Mandarine Mandarin; given the price, I might have to sell my children on eBay to afford it! I very much enjoyed the refinement and almost humor inherent in MM; all the different aspects of orange flitting in and out almost like a production piece in the Nutcracker. On me, though, there is a distinct note of cumin and chervil (thank you, KiRi — I kept thinking celery, but I believe you’re right on) that dominates in a way that the herbs of Les Nuits d’Hadrien do not. Of course, Les Nuits doesn’t also have the glorious orange blossom heart. I leave this one for the more amply endowed (financially) to enjoy in the bottle. Maybe some day I can obtain a decant, for it is truly a lovely thing. October 12, 2006 at 2:35pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Serge Lutens fragrances do require a proper trial before investing into a full bottle. I am glad that you had a chance to try it. I find that Mandarine Mandarin can be easily compared to Les Nuits d’Hadrien without two fragrances being identical in terms of the notes share. However, the same character is present in both–the brightness of bitter orange modulated by woody and spicy notes. It does not mean that if someone likes one, he/she will like another, but one can get an idea of what to expect. October 13, 2006 at 3:44pm Reply

  • Luna: Your review has me curious as to try this fragrance. I have always loved citrus fruits, but find it impossible to get a perfume to make the same exquisite freshness of a freshly picked orange, lemon, or even grapefruit exactly.

    I say this as, at our old home, we have a huge Valencia orange tree in our backyard that is at least, I believe, nearly three decades old. I cannot describe to you clearly how beautiful it smelled – from the wood to the silky smooth, deep green leaves, and the white, waxy flowers! I loved that smell when it came in my room – there is nothing quite like it, especially after a rare rain shower (we live in California), or on those exquisitely cold and clear days when the wind blows and the sky is deep, intense blue.

    Most of the time, I find citrus perfumes are either too sweet or they have an unusual synthetic sort of aroma to them, like when we wax our wood floors after buffing them with orange oil. I also am never impressed by how citrus tends to develop on human skin – it tends to loose its effervescent quality. January 22, 2016 at 3:53pm Reply

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