Mandarins smell unlike any other citrus fruit. Cradled inside their zesty, bright aroma is a sweet orange blossom, and this nuance gives mandarin essence complexity and richness. (For fragrance nerds: this orange blossom note is given by methyl anthranilate, an aromatic compound also present in Concord grapes and wild strawberries.) Because of its sweetness and juicy effect, minus the strident sharpness, mandarin is used in many fragrances as a top note. It’s inviting and refreshing, and it works in many different contexts.
By contrast, mandarin based colognes are less common, with bergamot, orange, and lemon forming the trifecta of favorite cologne citrus. Mandarin can be used generously, but I have often craved more than most colognes offer. And here comes Mandarino di Amalfi by Tom Ford.
Calice Becker, who developed it for the fashion designer, takes at first a herbal approach, enriching mandarin with plenty of basil and mint. Although it makes the mandarin less obvious, it offers an elegant solution for Mandarino di Amalfi; the bracing herbal intro places it squarely in the unisex category and even gives it a subtle Dior Eau Sauvage twist.
Becker’s creations are known for radiance and polish, and Mandarino di Amalfi is a perfect example of how seamlessly she can weave a composition. If I start teasing notes apart by doing the kind of bloodhound smelling that’s best reserved for moments in private (unless you’re around people who don’t find noisy sniffing of your own wrist or strips of paper odd), then I notice accents like lemon, basil, pepper and vetiver at different stages.
On the whole, however, Mandarino di Amalfi moves from an exhilarating melange of sweet mandarin and licorice tinged herbs to the satiny soft trail of orange blossom and musk. It smells less like a ripe mandarin, and more like an Italian summer fantasy. You smell the ripe fruit and sun-warmed stones embraced by wild rosemary plants, their silver needles littering the dusty road. You feel the sea breeze messing up your hair–and notice how it leaves a hint of salt on your skin. You’re in your own la dolce vita fantasy. It’s marvelous. And it lasts.
What’s bound to bring you back to earth is Tom Ford’s prices. Whenever I review his fragrances, I have the same dilemma. The compositions are elegant, the quality is among the best you can find on the fragrance counter, but the price is still a shock. Part of it pays for quality, but a large chunk is due to Ford’s name.
You can also consider some other choices if an Italian summertime fantasy in a perfume bottle is what you’re after: Atelier Cologne Orange Sanguine, Diptyque Oyedo, Annick Goutal Les Nuit d’Hadrien, Christian Dior Escale a Portofino, or Parfums de Nicolaï Eau d’Été. This is not to say that they smell like Mandarino di Amalfi, but they also evoke the same sun-dappled languor.
Tom Ford Mandarino di Amalfi includes notes of tarragon, mint, black currant, grapefruit, lemon, black pepper, coriander, orange blossom, clary sage, shiso, jasmine, vetiver, amber, labdanum, musk and civet. 50ml/$215, 250ml/$525.