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.