Angel Belsey is a Londoner. She owns too much perfume and too many books.


To be honest, I'm not really a citrus person. I've never been hugely fond of eating oranges or drinking orange juice. I like old-fashioned lemonade, I suppose, but I don't like slices of lemon in my water (and CERTAINLY not in my Pepsi, Britain! sort yourselves out!). And, yes, I cook with lime quite a lot. But that's generally as far as it goes with me and citrus. . . . Apart from mandarins! When I was a child, I especially loved tinned mandarin orange slices and would scoff them as happily as I would apples or bananas or grapes. They have their own distinctive sweet/bitter taste and smell, and it's one I really do like.

But do I want to smell like a mandarin? Do you?

There are a great deal of gourmand fragrances out there, in all the categories from niche to drugstore. I'm sure we all remember the vanilla-perfumed nightmare that was the early 90s, and there's always one study or another asserting that men get really turned on when women smell like gingerbread cookies or somesuch. And lots of people seem to enjoy light, fresh perfumes (or so every department store saleswoman wants me to think), so it follows that citrus scents can be marketed many ways, from "feminine" to "sexy" to "cheerful."

Ah, but it seems most commercial perfumers have forgotten that there are those among us who prefer dark, heavy, spicy scents. I don't want to smell like food and food only. Sure, give me a vanilla note. Give me a tiny hint of clove or ginger or cocoa. But wrap it all up in something more complicated, please. And I certainly have no interest in the newest zesty pink grapefruit girl explosion (oh, it's YOU again, Miss Dior Cherie).

All of these thoughts informed my initial hesitation in trying a wax sample of something called "Mandarine-mandarin," even if it is a Serge Lutens scent. I don't usually seek out citrus scents or anything hugely sweet, and the first official note is "candied tangerine peel." Oh dear.

On goes the wax sample, and I am enveloped in . . . something. The scent memory is of being in a spice market somewhere, or eating some fruit--oh, what IS that spice? What IS that fruit--mandarins, yes, but something else too? I smell orange peel and lime peel, but I am also shrouded in a beautiful veil of something else. That something else is very hard to pin down.

It may be nutmeg. (Indeed, later I grated a piece of nutmeg just to see if that really was it, and it seemed to be . . . mostly it? I still don't know what that spice is--or was it a spicy fruit? Was it oranges studded with cloves? Was it sharonfruit? Was it some combination of all of the above?)

After that initial overwhelming (but not unpleasant) confusion of exactly what is going on there, Mandarine-mandarin moves into a nutmeg-vanilla sweet/spiciness (where the nutmeg becomes straightforward), and the scent becomes that of something very specific: mandarins that have been cooked into an upside-down cake--it's a sweet, cooked, sticky mandarin scent, not the essence of fresh zesty mandarins. Toward the end of the heart of the fragrance, I'm also partially dismayed and partially amused to get a note of a particular spray gel I used to use in my hair. Fortunately the spray gel phase is brief. Ultimately, after a few hours, I am left with a honey and nutmeg drydown.

I was expecting and dreading a bright blast of juicy citrus, and I was pleasantly surprised not to get that. Mandarine-mandarin is a wholeheartedly gourmand scent, but one that is very spicy, very warm, and very rich.

I wonder if that may be why it's not one I read much about before trying it. Based on the name, citrus fans will give Mandarine-mandarin a go, then be confused as to why they're covered in dark spices, while chypre/oriental fans will avoid it altogether.

In the end I think I loved it a little bit, but I'm still confused by it.

Mandarine-mandarin, Serge Lutens, 2006 Notes: candied tangerine peel, Cashmere musk, clove, ambergris note, honey, beeswax (and is that nutmeg? IS it? What IS IT?!)

Muscs Koublaï Khän

Vétiver Oriental