Guerlain Cuir Beluga



A cashmere cloud of cream and pink, with the soothing comfort of Mary Poppins telling you take a spoonful of sugar at bedtime. There is no medicine to go with that sweetness in this case, only marzipan treats, powdered meringues, and vanilla milk. It’s an absolutely addictive spoonful of deliciousness that, alas, fades away to a lingering whisper all too quickly.



Cuir Beluga from Guerlain reminds me of Mary Poppins, the comfort of the nursery at bedtime with softened lights adding a warm glow, and endless plates of almondy confections with marzipan, all accompanied by vanilla cream. I have never been so enchanted by the opening of one of Guerlain’s modern, niche perfumes, or more crushed when it evaporated to a silken wisp less than 20 minutes in. It remained there for many more hours, but the true glory was gone astonishingly quickly, and that is a serious problem for me.


Cuir Beluga is part of Guerlain’s exclusive L’Art et La Matière Collection which was launched in 2005. The name of the line means “Art and (raw) Materials,” and represents Guerlain’s goal of creating olfactory Art through the use of the finest raw materials in perfumery. As Fragrantica further explains, “L’Art et la Matière” is also “a pun after the French expression L’Art et la Manière – the art and manners.” As for the “Beluga” part of the perfume’s name, I’ve read that it refers to one of two things: either the word for “white” in Russian, or to the whiteness of a Beluga whale (which is also sometimes called a “white whale”). In either case, the point is whiteness, with a pun on the luxurious of caviar, but the scent has absolutely nothing to do with fishiness whatsoever.

Cuir Beluga is an eau de parfum that was released in 2005, and was created by Olivier Polge, the son of Chanel‘s famous in-house perfumer, Jacques Polge. On its website, Guerlain describes the scent as a “velvety oriental” and writes:

Light and shade meet on the skin.

With Cuir Beluga, the Guerlain perfumer chose to interpret the softness of white suede in an absolutely luxurious and addictive version. Like an intense, warm light on the skin, the fragrance opens with an aldehyde mandarin accord drawn out into an everlasting flower note and then wrapped in a voluptuous cloud of amber, heliotrope and vanilla. An intense and totally unexpected sensorial experience.

In a different part of the same Cuir Beluga entry, Guerlain adds that the leather is “a white suede for women and men, as enveloping as cashmere,” and also says the fragrance is:

Luminous, rare, enveloping.
Top notes: aldehydes, mandarin.
Heart notes: patchouli, everlasting flower [Immortelle].
Base notes: vanilla, amber, heliotrope, white suede note.

Photo: Crystal Venters via

Photo: Crystal Venters via

It is impossible to analyse Cuir Beluga without discussing heliotrope, so a brief description of the note may be useful for those unfamiliar with the name. Fragrantica has a great explanation of both its aroma, and how it appears in the other, well-known, heliotrope-centered fragrances:

The odour profile is powdery, like vanilla meringue with a helping of almond. The characteristic comforting scent of heliotrope has been proven to induce feelings of relaxation and comfort, a pampering atmosphere that finds itself very suited to languorous oriental fragrances and delicious “gourmands”.

In Kenzo Amour the heliotropin take is on the vanillic side, boosted by milky notes. In Love, Chloe we encounter the retro-smelling pairing of heliotropin and violet notes producing a powdery effect, reminiscent of makeup products. […] In Lolita Lempicka eau de parfum heliotropin takes a anisic mantle and becomes a full-blown gourmand, while in the older Cacharel Loulou it’s the comforting billowy background alongside tonka bean (with which it shares an almond and hay facet) and orris, producing a true floriental. In L’Eau d’Hiver (F.Malle) heliotropin is almost reduced to its pure state: fluffy, like a late afternoon cloud. [Emphasis to names added by me.]



In the past, Guerlain has loved using heliotrope in conjunction with other elements, but one of the goals of the L’Art et La Matiere collection is to highlight a single raw material. Cuir Beluga may have leather in its name, but, in my opinion, the material being highlighted here is actually the Heliotropin of so many old Guerlain masterpieces. As that Fragrantica page explains:

classic scents have also greatly benefited from heliotropin, notably the nostalgic L’Heure Bleue by Guerlain which pairs the vanillic facet of heliotropin with anise on top, soft flowers in the heart (violet and carnation) and benzoin, iris and Tonka bean in the base to compliment the floral-oriental character of this iconic composition. Or the more ethereal Guerlain Apres L’Ondee which is mainly the pairing of warm heliotropin with cool and shy violets. [Emphasis to names added by me.]

Meringues via

Meringues via

Cuir Beluga opens on my skin with a brief touch of light boozy sweetness, followed by heliotrope and a hint of honeyed floral Immortelle, all wrapped in a soft, rich, deep, amber embrace. The heliotrope smells simultaneously like delicate flowers, almond paste, meringues, powder, and sweetened Play-Doh. It’s an incredibly soothing, comforting mix, and instantly made me think of Mary Poppins wrapping someone up in a warm, pink flannel, while telling them to have a spoonful of sugar. The boozy touch quickly vanishes, as does the immortelle. The latter never smells of any of its usual manifestations on my skin. It’s not dry, dusty, green, curry-like, or heavy maple syrup. Instead, it was merely a brief touch of warm flowers, that accentuated the delicate floralacy of the heliotrope.

Marzipan almond paste. Source:

Marzipan almond paste. Source:

Within minutes, Cuir Beluga turns into a deliciously pillowy, fluffy blend of Play-Doh (one of heliotrope’s main characteristics) with almond-y marzipan and a whiff of flowers in a vanilla cocoon that is just barely flecked with amber. I have a massive soft spot for heliotrope when it’s done well, and it most certainly is in this instance. Marzipan is also one of my favorite confectionary sweets, which pretty much makes me a goner for Cuir Beluga’s opening minutes. I’ve tried the perfume a few times over the last few months, and the beautifully balanced sweetness of the marzipan, almond vanilla grows more addictive with each wearing. It’s never cloying, heavily sugared, cheap, or artificial in nature.

Carnation condensced, sweetened milk. Sourc:

Carnation condensed, sweetened milk. Source:

Instead, the perfume takes a mere 15 minutes to turn into the epitome of creaminess. Every note in Cuir Beluga is streaked through with something that, alternatively, makes me think of Carnation condensed milk, sweetened milk, ice-cream, or pure cream infused with vanilla and almonds. It’s perfectly balanced, luxuriously rich, but incredibly airy all at once. As the almond meringue and Play-Doh aspects of the heliotrope grow stronger, along with the subtle whiff of sweetened powder, I think back to Fragrantica’s description of heliotrope as an aroma that induces relaxation. I would love to wear Cuir Beluga to sleep and sprayed on my sheets, because it’s so incredibly comforting.

If only that gloriousness lasted…. Cuir Beluga starts as a very soft scent that hovers 2 inches above the skin, at best, in its most concentrated, opening minutes. With the equivalent of 2 sprays, it takes a mere 30 minutes for the perfume to drop to something that lies right above the skin. It slowly begins to soften even more, losing minute by minute what ever richness and weight that it had. My skin has problems with longevity but almost never with sillage, so I was taken aback by the speed with which Cuir Beluga started to vanish from the aether.

A mere 75 minutes in, Cuir Beluga is a complete skin scent on me, and I’ve tested it a few times. I suppose you can push that time frame more if you apply a lot, but I doubt even a massive amount could give you more than 2.5 hours at most before the perfume slips away into a gauzy whisper. Plus, given the cost of the perfume, do you really want to be dousing yourself with 5 or 6 (or more) sprays each time? Of course, there is a chance that it might merely be my skin, but given other reports elsewhere (that we will discuss in a minute), I doubt the problem is unique to me.



Despite the unobtrusiveness of the scent, Cuir Beluga is still very pretty. At the end of the second hour, the notes all blur into each other, leaving a general impression of creamy Play-Doh, sweetened almonds, milk, and Tonka vanilla powder. You may notice that I have not mentioned the word “leather” even once in my descriptions thus far. Well, for me, and on my skin, Cuir Beluga is a “leather” scent the way Queen Latifah is the Queen of England. The mere use of a word has absolutely nothing to do with reality. Near the end of the second hour, for a fleeting moment, I had the impression of sweetened, white, leathered suede, but honestly, I’m pretty sure it was merely a figment of my imagination. In any event, that tiny whiff of “suede” vanished within minutes.



Cuir Beluga is a very simple, uncomplicated, linear scent on my skin. It never changes in any substantial way, except to become even more discreet and harder to detect. About 3.5 hours into its development, it is the merest gauziest trace of heliotrope Play-Doh and vanilla on my skin. It’s far too thin and translucent to be creamy in the same way that it once was. In the same way, it’s too sheer to even come across as heavily powdered in the usual Guerlain way. Both elements are there in the most muted, muffled way imaginable, but Cuir Beluga is largely a vanilla and heliotrope scent on my skin, then just vanilla with some powder. In its final moments, the perfume was merely a blur of sweetened powder. All in all, Cuir Beluga lasted just over 9.25 hours with two sprays, and just under 8 hours with one.

The most important of all perfume critics, Luca Turin, doesn’t seem to think much of Cuir Beluga. In Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, he categorizes Cuir Beluga as a “powdery amber,” and spends a good portion of his three-star review talking about how Guerlain used the L’Art et La Matiere collection to finally acknowledge the impact of niche perfumery — primarily and specifically of Serge Lutens. (He more or less implies that Guerlain flat-out copied Lutens “in the structure of the fragrances, their cod-poetic names, and the tall rectangular bottle.”) When he does talk about the actual fragrance, Luca Turin doesn’t seem very enthused, and he certainly didn’t consider Cuir Beluga to be a leather scent:

Cuir Beluga’s name, with its suggestion of large sofas and small portions of caviar, is no doubt intended to flatter a French fondness for naff luxury. The fragrance is basically a light, heliotropin vanillic amber with a touch of floral green notes in the heart and a smidgeon of suede. It has a pleasant color and texture, and no discernible shape at all.

Almond marzipan treats via

Almond marzipan treats via

I agree with him on almost all of it, but I like the scent significantly more than he does. At least, I do until I remember the price. $250 for an uncomplicated, linear, simplistic Play-Doh, vanilla scent that becomes incredibly hard to detect in a short amount of time seems a bit like Rolls Royce prices for the most souped-up, luxurious, opulent Honda around.

I’m not the only person who had some problems with Cuir Beluga’s sillage. On Fragrantica, one person writes:

I love this pretty scent, but it is the quietest of skin scents on me. I’d have to douse myself in it to be able to smell it, which is a disappointment.

Quite a few others talk about something similar. Of course, there are people who adore discreet, wholly unobtrusive fragrances, but I think the majority of them would like to be able to smell their perfume even moderately if they are paying as much as $250 for it.

Putting aside the wispiness of Cuir Beluga, it seems much beloved by those who have tried it, though the majority of its fans seem to be women. There are some critics, however, and a number of men seem to struggle with the fragrance’s sweetness, lack of leather, or its simplicity. Here are a range of opinions:

  • Cuir Beluga is not a leather perfume; nor is it particularly sexy or exciting. It smells to me of tapioca custard, i.e. a fairly simple, cozy scent. There are plenty of other, far less pricey, cozy fragrances out there.
  • Extremely sweet. A vanilla invasion for the nose. Powdery, and floral as well. Don’t see my self wearing this alone, maybe mixed. This to me will fit a woman better. Great quality.
  • I love leather perfumes, that slightly animal and sensual vibe a good leather perfume has, but this is much more soft and in the line of Daim Blond and Cuir de Lancome. Not leather but suede. It’s so elegant, and for a vanilla perfume not really gourmand or extremely sweet. Very wearable for many occasions. [¶] Sadly, sillage was very weak on me and therefor I’d think I’d prefer the more daring SDV or the powderpuffy Tonka Imperial over this. But she’s really interesting and really something to try if you like understated chique yet comforting scents.
  • I feel a velvety aurea, comfortable, looks leather with caramel, amber acts that way, blended with vanilla, I feel in a Rolls Royce in the streets of Monaco, eating a caramel trifle. [¶] Rich, important and compelling for all these aspects, Guerlain as always sensational.
  • This is my Shalimar! It is classic, refined and rich in every sense of the word. A decadent feast of powdery vanilla with the subtle essence of leather in the background. I find myself craving this scent. It is almost intimidating how elegant it is to begin with, but then it softens and becomes a beautiful comforting smell that I liken to someone of distinguished esteem. It smells wealthy without the pretentiousness.
  •  I agree that this has a wonderful vintage feel and where Shalimar for me is unwearable (Oh the horror!!!), this works. As soon as I sprayed it I immediately thought even if my bottle didn’t have a label this is so absolutely recognizable as Guerlain you would know what house created this scent. For me, as with some other Guerlain scents, this one needed 15 minutes to relax a bit. As is typical with Guerlain, this scent is all about powdery vanilla leather. If you love Guerlain and its beloved Shalimar this is sure to move you. I know I always rave about Guerlain (what can I say…I’m a fan) but this scent is blended so beautifully resulting in this rich powdery soft vanilla.

I found Cuir Beluga to be too gourmand, simplistic, and sweet to really be akin to Shalimar, at least vintage Shalimar with all its complexity and its strong backbone of leather and smoke. However, The Non-Blonde found a similarity in the classical feel or style of the two scents. In a 2010 review, she writes:

Guerlain and perfumer Olivier Polge didn’t take much of a risk in creating Cuir Beluga, but I’m not complaining. Compared to so many of the other Guerlain releases of the last five or ten years, Cuir Beluga is as close to the classics as one can get nowadays. More Shalimar than Mitsouko, this is not a difficult perfume in any way, and the large doses of very sweet vanilla make it go down easily for just about anyone (other than vanilla haters, but if you’re one, chances are that Guerlain is not really your thing to begin with).

What little drama we get in this perfume comes from the smooth leather. Some smell suede and compare Cuir Beluga to Daim Blond, but I don’t agree. To my nose it’s the finest most luxurious leather you can find. I have a pair of tall Jimmy Choo boots that feels this soft and timeless. It’s something that could have existed 50 years ago and has both an air of mystery and a determined backbone, despite the softness and the obvious sex appeal. I love touching and smelling my boots (us scentheads tend to shove our schnozes into the weirdest things and places) as it gives me a similar thrill to experiencing Cuir Beluga. I just wish the leather note in the perfume would have lasted longer before it becomes all vanilla, all the time.

Even if the leather note didn’t last long on her skin, she obviously experienced a lot more of it than I did. On me, the leather was nonexistent, and I suspect the suede was a figment of my imagination. I didn’t mind, though, because I loved my marzipan-almond meringue and vanilla cream, and found it delectable while it lasted. I would absolutely wear Cuir Beluga to bed, if I didn’t have to spend $250 for about 30 minutes of true, undiluted gloriousness.

Obviously, skin chemistry is going to make a difference in terms of how Cuir Beluga’s sillage, sweetness, “leather,” and powder manifest themselves on your skin. Given the perfume’s cost, I would recommend more than ever for you to test it first or order a sample. However, I must emphasize that, if you go into Cuir Beluga expecting a true leather scent, you will probably be disappointed. This is a primarily a gourmand fragrance with sweetness, powder, and vanilla. It also skews quite feminine in my opinion.

I think Cuir Beluga is very over-priced for what it is, but cost is a subjective determination and, in the case of this particular Guerlain at least, there is the quality and luxuriousness to back it up. In short, to paraphrase Mary Poppins, you may want to take a spoonful of sugar to make the price easier to swallow, as you wrap yourself in the pillowy, cashmere softness of Play-Doh, almond marzipan, and powdered vanilla.

Cost & Availability: Cuir Beluga is an eau de parfum that costs $250 or €185 for 2.5 fl. oz/75 ml. It is available at Guerlain boutiques, and is listed on its U.S. and International website, but Guerlain doesn’t sell the fragrance online except on its French Guerlain website where it is priced at €185. I don’t know if they ship to the rest of Europe. In the U.S.: Cuir Beluga is available on the NordstromNeiman MarcusSaks Fifth Avenue, and Bergdorf Goodman websites. (With the exception of Bergdorf Goodman which definitely carries the more exclusive line of Guerlain fragrances in-store, I don’t know if it is actually available in the other shops themselves as a general rule.) Outside the U.S.: In the U.K, you can find Cuir Beluga at Harrods and, apparently, London’s Selfridges, but neither store offers the fragrance online. As for the U.K. price, I read that, back in 2011, this Guerlain collection retailed for £175. I don’t know how much it is now, but it must be much more. In France, Cuir Beluga is obviously available at Guerlain stores. For all other countries, you can use Guerlain’s Store Locator on its website. Samples: If you’d like to give Cuir Beluga a test sniff, you can get a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $4.99 for half of a 1/2 ml vial.

Guerlain Chypre Fatal (Les Elixirs Charnels)

A pretty, very sweet, fruity, unoriginal, and very over-priced little trifle in a lovely shade of purple. That’s Chypre Fatal from Guerlain, an eau de parfum that is part of the Les Elixirs Charnels (The Carnal Elixirs) prestige collection. The line was created by perfumer Christine Nagel in cooperation with Sylvaine Delacourte, and was released in 2008.

Guerlain Chypre FatalOn its website, Guerlain describes the perfume as an “aphrodisiac for a femme fatal,” and adds:

Both chic and sexy, Chypre Fatal brings to mind a rebellious woman with extreme elegance, an icon with devastating seduction. It’s a fruity chypre with an intense aura. An imperial rose with hints of woody patchouli is heightened by vanilla and white peach, which sensually soften the accord.
The fragrance dresses up in a bottle with pure lines, adorned with a metallic silver label inspired by the intimate ambience of the boudoir.

The notes are simple:

White peach, spicy rose, patchouli, and vanilla.



Chypre Fatal opens on my skin with delicately sweet, dainty, white peach nectar, followed by a spicy red rose, purple patchouli, and a light, sweet musk. It feels as though the watery delicacy of the pale peach quickly turns to the same shade as Chypre Fatal’s liquid once the patchouli hits it.

This is the modern type of patchouli (or fruit-chouli), with its syrupy, sweet characteristics of jammy, grape-y, fruited molasses, not the black kind of patchouli from the hippie days of the ’70s. It’s potent, and quickly overwhelms the lovely peach note. Within minutes, Chypre Fatal turns into the sweetest of summer roses infused with fruit. As regular readers of the blog know, I’m not a fan of purple patchouli, and I really regret how it squashes my favorite part of the perfume like a bulldozer. 



For all Chypre Fatal’s concentrated grape-y blast, the fragrance feels oddly translucent, almost like an Impressionist watercolour painting. It’s initially very strong in smell, but gauzy, wispy, and incredibly sheer in weight. I had applied about 3 big smears of Chypre Fatal, but it feels almost as though the fragrance were evaporating off my skin. So, I applied 3 more — and even with that astronomical quantity, Chypre Fatal still seems to lose body and depth. The peach, in particular, seems to disappear, no matter much I applied, though it occasionally pops up like a ghost later in the opening phase. What’s left in the first hour is primarily a very sweet ruby rose, gleaming with the purple hues of a grape fruit-chouli and just lightly flecked by a subtle, sweet musk. Thirty minutes later, the smallest rumblings of vanilla stir in the base, adding a soft warmth.



At the end of the first hour, Chypre Fatal is a soft, gauzy blur of rose with just whispers of a spicy edge, the vaguest hint of peach swirled in, and a lot of very syrupy sweetness. The soft musk and a thin layer of vanilla finish it off in the base. It remains that way for a few hours, though it turns into a complete skin scent around the 2.5 hour mark. In case you hadn’t noticed, I really am not keen on the purple patchouli, so it’s quite a relief when its extremely sweet fruitiness starts to slowly recede around the middle of the third hour. Finally, and at last, Chypre Fatal seems a bit better balanced and modulated.

The end of the fruit-chouli’s bullying dominance also lets some of the other elements come out to play. First are the green touches in the perfume’s base. Regardless of its actual name, “Chypre” Fatal isn’t actually a chypre fragrance by technical standards as it contains no oakmoss in it. Nonetheless, there are lurking glimmers of something softly plush and green in the base which begin to occasionally pop up at this stage.



The peach also has the chance to come out of the shadows. While it waxes and wanes in prominence, it really is much more noticeable now as compared to the opening phase, and adds a pretty touch to the scent. By the end of the fourth hour, Chypre Fatal is a sweet, peachy-rose scent with a lovely sliver of warm vanilla in the base. An hour later, the perfume is mostly just peach with the tonka Guerlainade note that is the house’s signature. Here, it’s not powdery the way it can often be, but simply a warm, slightly fluffy, very sheer vanilla.

In its final moments, Chypre Fatal is a nebulous, abstract blur of fruited sweetness with just a sliver of vanilla. All in all, the fragrance lasted 10 hours on me with a walloping 6 big smears, but a mere 6.75 hours with a more normal, regular dosage of 2 large smears. In other words, the longevity was not particular great unless you applied a lot, and the sillage was consistently weak after the first forty minutes.

Chypre Fatal is a pretty little thing, but it also seems like a very well-done version of mainstream, department store fragrances. It’s neither complicated nor nuanced, and certainly not very original. It’s like a higher end version of any number of fruity, jammy rose scents with patchouli. Parts of it even remind me of Chanel‘s more recent (and much cheaper) variation of this twist: Coco Noir. The only difference is the translucence of the Guerlain scent, that subtle whisper of peach that isn’t hugely common to a lot of perfumes today, and the fact that Coco Noir is a much more complex scent. If the peach part of Chypre Fatal dominates on your skin, then you may even find it to be extremely similar to Gucci‘s Gucci Rush, a fragrance with a very dominant peach-patchouli-floral accord.

Midnight Bakula via Fragrantica.

Midnight Bakula via Fragrantica.

In Chypre Fatal’s Fragrantica entry, seven people think the perfume is a lot like The Body Shop‘s Midnight Bakula. I know nothing about the fragrance, and I doubt it could have the same high-quality ingredients or a lack of synthetics. Still, it’s certainly something worth noting! Midnight Bakula’s Fragrantica listing shows that it, too, is a “chypre floral” whose notes are patchouli, rose and nectarine (in that order). I don’t know if the fragrance is discontinued as one Fragrantica commentator states, but I found it on Amazon for $23 (plus $5.49 shipping) for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle. It is currently available for an even cheaper price on eBay for $15.99! Now, I repeat, I don’t know the scent, and I doubt it would smell quite as high-end as the Guerlain. That is not my point, however.

My point is the Guerlain’s Chypre Fatal seems extremely over-priced, to put it mildly, for what it is. This very simple, uncomplicated, overly sweet, 4-note perfume dominated by very inexpensive purple patchouli costs $260. Even apart from the issue of a supposed Body Shop dupe, Chypre Fatal is simply not interesting or different enough for $260! Presumably, one spends money on Guerlain’s higher-end, prestige lines to get something different from the masses of department store fragrances out there with their generic, somewhat predictable profile. The fact that many of those actually have more notes, and more complexity, than Chypre Fatal isn’t exactly a plus.

It’s not just my opinion, either. Commentators on various perfume sites feel largely the same way. A number offer other perfume comparisons, ranging from commercial fragrances to mid-range niche ones. Since I try to avoid that revoltingly sweet, cloying, purple, grape-y fruit-chouli wherever and whenever possible, I’m not familiar with all of them, but those that I have tried are substantially more nuanced or richer than Chypre Fatal.

Let’s start with Basenotes, where the Chypre Fatal entry has four reviews with two being neutral, one positive, and one negative. We’ll split the difference and go with the “neutral” assessments which read as follows:

  • I think that maybe was a mistake when they created this fragrance. I imagine that someone heard Chypre Banal instead of Chypre Fatal, and then they produced it. Chypre Fatal is your standard modern chypre fragrance, and it does achieve every single point that other more affordable chypres does, like shiseido zen and guccy by gucci. It starts fruity, then it`s dominated by a sweet, almost camphorated, patchouli, supported by a luminous musky base similar to the one found in narciso rodriguez. […] If it`s a more exclusive fruity chypre that you want, i suggest you trying Mon Parfum by M. Micallef, that for now you can find for a better price at ebay and it`s more lovely and less facelless than Chypre Fatal.
  • I”m a fan of Guerlain’s exclusives, but I do have high standards for them and am more harsh in my reviews. This is a good perfume, in the $100-$140 range, but at the price point sold I have to wonder what they were thinking. [¶] This is a basic patchouli/rose chypre, which I’m comparing to Sublime Balkiss, Lady Vengeance and Kurkdjian‘s Lumiere pour femme. This is most expensive of the four, and in my opinion, hte least interesting. What I”m wanting is some ‘OOH!!!’, like Kurkdjian’s spicy rose, Balkiss’ blueberry note or Lady Vengeance’ edge. [¶] But peach and vanilla are just too safe. I”m wondering who the intended audience is for this line, because I don’t think it’s those who want something unique and trend-setting. [Emphasis to names with bold font added by me for ease of reading.]

On Makeupalley, the 5 entries are somewhat more positive, but also include two comments like Chypre Fatal is a lot like department store fragrances. For example: “As the fragrance settles down to its basenotes, it acquires a non-descript “perfumey” smell that is just kind of average, department-storeish, etc… Ho hum.”

Gucci Rush. Photo via

Gucci Rush. Photo via

Fragrantica commentators are largely torn, with even the fans finding the price hard to swallow or preferring other department store perfumes. Some examples, with the comparative names highlighted by me:

  • Opens with a delectable, floralized, sweet peach but quickly dries down on my skin to a semi-sour fruity rose patchouli. I’d take Gucci Rush over this any day if I want peach and patchouli. There’s nothing new or interesting or different to help this stand out in a crowd of fruitchoulis. Not worth the price in my opinion.
  •  I got a sample and was looking for some proper chypre. All i got was something between Shalimar parfum Initial and Euphoria, jimmy Choo and so on. Sweet, chemical, cloying. It`s not chypre and definitely not fatal 😀 Can`t believe it`s Guerlain!
  • This goes on like cough syrup, that’s what i detect, the red cough syrup LOL. However , once it dries, it reminds me of a more sophisticated Gucci Rush which I do love .
  • Nice Guerlain scent but still does not reach that grade of a really special perfume. This one is sickly sweet and headache inducing, though pleasant at first. Not worth the price.
  • Chypre Fail. It reminds me of Tom Ford‘s White Patchouli, so I suppose that’s how they arrive at calling it a chypre. However it isn’t a real patchouli, perhaps there is some attenuated aromachemical that mimics a facet of patchouli. [¶] The drydown – seriously Guerlain? Yves Rocher has many better perfumes than this. […][¶] It is an insult to the consumer to put such a cheap juice in an overpriced “exclusive” bottle. It fails as a sales tactic since the only plausible consumer of a pricey exclusive is a perfumista, who will most likely detect the fraud.

I think some of those commentators may be harsher than I am. I do think that Chypre Fatal improves once that tidal wave of ghastly, cloying, purple patchouli lets some of the other notes come out, but it’s all highly relative. And it certainly doesn’t change the perfume’s largely unoriginal, simplistic profile. As one of the Basenotes’ commentators said, “Chypre Banal,” not Chypre Fatal. And that’s a problem at this price. For $60, I’d recommend it, but for $260? There are far better perfumes out there. 

Cost & Availability: Chypre Fatal is an eau de parfum that costs $260 or €180 for 2.5 fl. oz/75 ml. It is available at Guerlain boutiques, and is listed on its US website, but Guerlain doesn’t seem to sell the fragrance via an e-shop of sorts. (There is no shopping cart, for example, in which to put the fragrance for purchase.)In the U.S.: Chypre Fatal is available on the NordstromSaks Fifth AvenueNeiman Marcus, and Bergdorf Goodman websites. (With the exception of Bergdorf Goodman which definitely carries the more exclusive line of Guerlain fragrances in-store, I don’t know if it is available within the other shops themselves.) Outside the U.S.: In Europe, you can order Chypre Fatal from Guerlain’s European website where the fragrance retails for €180. In the U.K, you can find Chypre Fatal at Harrods and, apparently, London’s Selfridges, but neither store offers the fragrance online. In France, the fragrance is obviously available at Guerlain stores, as well as at select Paris Sephora shops. For all other countries, you can use Guerlain’s Store Locator on its website. Samples: If you’d like to give Chypre Fatal a test sniff, you can get a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $4.99 for half of a 1/2 ml vial.

Guerlain Tonka Imperiale

There is a house in the suburbs, virtually indistinguishable from its neighbors, and merely one more in a line of perfectly square, pretty boxes with perfectly trimmed lawns on a perfectly pleasant, quiet street. It’s not large enough to be a true McMansion, but it certainly bears all the characteristics of that generic sameness. If you look closely, you can see that it’s made of the very finest building blocks, the very best that money can buy. Inside and out, however, it’s a sea of bland beigeness with interiors that are awash with taupe, egg-shell, and cream as far as the eye can see. There is nary a whiff of anything strong in contrast; no pops of colour, no thick veins of black. The lack of edge or individual character carries through even to the house’s carpeting: thick, plush shag rugs in which you can sink your bare feet. It’s easy comfort without particular style, and always in unremarkable, unrelieved, suburban taupe.



Tonka Imperiale from Guerlain is a beige house in the suburbs for me. It’s well-appointed and well-made, but a sea of bland, characterless, generic taupe as far as the eye can see. And I despise taupe with a violent passion. I’m sure it’s a colour that can be elegant in some interior decorating, and there are probably people on whom the colour looks good in clothing, but, personally, I would like to stab taupe in the eye with a large chef’s knife. And, for me, when I wear Tonka Imperiale, all I see is that bland colour. I know a lot of my friends will undoubtedly be upset with this review as they love the fragrance. To them, I can only apologise. I know Tonka Imperiale is a luxuriously made creation that probably encapsulates elegant comfort. I’m sure it’s wonderful on all of you. Unfortunately, it’s not something that I think is particularly special for its high price.   

Guerlain Tonka ImperialeTonka Imperiale is part of Guerlain’s exclusive L’Art et La Matière collection which was launched in 2005 to celebrate the opening of Guerlain’s renovated headquarters in Paris. The collection’s name means Art and (raw) Materials, and represents Guerlain’s goal of creating olfactory Art through the use of the finest raw materials in perfumery. As Fragrantica further explains, “L’Art et la Matière” is also “a pun after the French expression L’Art et la Manière – the art and manners.”

Tonka Imperiale is the seventh fragrance in the collection, and was released in 2010. Like all its siblings, it was created by Guerlain’s in-house perfumery, Thierry Wasser. On its website, Guerlain describes the scent as a “woody oriental” and write:


With Tonka Impériale, Thierry Wasser has created a woody oriental composed around one of Guerlain’s star ingredients,the tonka bean. It has to be said that this precious seed, one of the cult components of the Guerlinade, is particularly dear to the House.

Tonka Impériale is well-named: a subtle blend of balmy scents, rich in contrasting facets, with accents of honey, gingerbread, almond, hay and tobacco. The fragrance comes in a spray bottle with sleek, contemporary lines. One side is ornamented with a gold plate like a talisman.

Tonka Beans

Tonka Beans

The notes for the perfume, as compiled from Guerlain and Fragrantica, are:

Top notes: bergamot, butter almond, white honey, and rosemary.

Heart notes: jasmine, tonka beans and light tobacco. Bottom notes: incense, cedar wood, pine.

Depending on treatment, tonka beans can smell of vanilla, hay (coumarin), or even bittersweet almonds. And it is the latter which dominates the opening of Tonka Imperiale on my skin, thanks to the supplemental effects of the almond butter. The perfume begins with a burst of the white nuts, first bitter and raw, then quickly infused with sweetness. There is a honeyed quality underlying the note, but it’s light, not thick, yellow, or molten. It suits the description of “white honey” given by Fragrantica, because this feels quite translucent. Quickly, a subtle herbal element breezes through, followed by an amorphous woody note that isn’t immediately distinguishable. Tobacco lurks underneath, feeling pale, blonde and sweet, like leaves sitting in the sun. Traces of sweetened hay and the faintest speck of bergamot are the final touches that dot the landscape.

Source: donnamarie113 on

Source: donnamarie113 on

The primary bouquet, however, is of almonds and vanilla. The almond note is so concentrated, it’s more akin to the distilled essence that one uses in baking. The vanilla is rich and sweet, but it’s airy instead of custardy, more pale and white in visual hue. It’s also subtly backed by sweetened vanillic powder. It’s the famous Guerlainade, Guerlain’s signature note, which is placed front and center, right at the top, rather than appearing, as it traditionally does, at the very end in the perfume’s drydown. Tonka Imperiale is a very simple fragrance at its core: bitter, honeyed, sweet almonds with vanilla. It feels a lot like crème anglaise, only this one includes almond concentrate.    

Eventually, other notes appear to dance at the edges. In the first hour, there are minute, minuscule traces of woodiness. It’s generic, beige and abstract in large part, though if you really, really focus, you can perhaps persuade yourself that you can detect the hazy, faint edges of cedar. The real dryness in the scent comes from the tobacco which has quietly filled the base, seeping up to subtly impact the vanilla-almond combination at the top. Slowly, the bergamot becomes a little more noticeable, but like a number of things in this scent, it is restrained, and muted. By the end of the second hour, jasmine and incense suddenly pop up on the periphery. Both are flickers that are barely imperceptible initially. In fact, on my skin, it takes almost six hours for the incense to be noticeable in any substantial way.

Until that point, Tonka Imperiale is primarily an almond-vanilla scent atop an abstract, amorphous woody base that is lightly infused with tobacco and smoke. The Guerlainade powder, the jasmine and the other notes register in pale, light, subtle hues. It’s all effortless, easy, extremely well-blended, and swirls around you like a very expensive, soft, airy cloud. It’s not earth-shattering, but it’s perfectly pleasant. To me, it seems simplistic and dull, but I can see how it might be a comfortable, easy, cozy scent for some, especially those who love a gourmand sweetnes in their fragrances.



Still, I can’t help but visual a house in the suburbs, though not one excessive or large enough to be a true McMansion. Tonka Imperiale is not chic, cool, or hip enough to be an apartment in the city; it’s certainly not a loft in Soho or a penthouse decorated in sleek black, silver, and modern edges. It’s also not large, opulent, or over-the-top enough like an Amouage Ubar to be a massive estate with a palatial mansion out in the country. It’s merely a comfortable, unremarkable, pretty, well-built house in the suburbs awash in taupe and beige.

The unrelieved blandness never changes. At the 4.5 hour mark, the sillage drops, and Tonka Imperiale is now a skin scent. The almond has now fallen behind the honey, jasmine and vanilla, though it still precedes the woody notes that are in the base. It’s the same story with the tobacco. As a whole, and if I’m being charitable, Tonka Imperiale is an interesting mix of sweetness with dryness, I suppose. By the start of the seventh hour, the fragrance is Guerlainade vanillic powder with a faint whisper of almonds and honey, and sits atop with some smoky incense, though the latter is so sheer, gauzy, and thin, it’s hardly a robust foundation. In its final hours, Tonka Imperiale is merely Guerlainade with some dryness. All in all, the fragrance lasted just short of 11 hours, with moderate to soft sillage throughout.

Taupe shag carpeting. Source:

Taupe shag carpeting. Source:

Tonka Imperiale is intentionally meant to pay homage to a particular note, so I can’t fault it for focusing so heavily on the tonka, right down to its occasional almond-like facets. The fragrance does what it sets out to do, and does so in the typical Guerlain way. I’m not blaming it for that. I do blame it, however, for being such unrelieved blandness for $250. For that amount, it would be nice to have some character, some contrasting edge to counter the dull monotony of a sea of taupe and beige. Supposedly, the incense is meant to be that edge. If they say so. Perhaps I’m merely unlucky with my skin.

Or, perhaps, Tonka Imperiale is exactly the way it’s supposed to be: a plush, simple, comforting, gourmand scent dominated by vanillic tonka, almonds and Guerlainade, with an incredibly restrained dose of tobacco and incense. So restrained, in fact, that neither of those minor supporting players can possibly counter the two main, gourmand players on center stage. Fine. But Guerlain’s headlong descent into simplistic and/or gourmand scents at an extremely high price tag continues to alienate me. Tonka Imperiale would be a great comfort scent at about $100, though I personally still wouldn’t go near it due to all that taupe beigeness. But $250? For a plush, beige shag rug? No, thank you. Not for me.

Others, however, don’t share my issues. As noted earlier, I have a number of friends who love Tonka Imperiale so much, they’ve bought full bottles of it. On Fragrantica, there are raves about how wonderful the fragrance is, and how it is a luxurious “masterpiece.” To wit, one comment calling it “[F]rench romantic ART,” and saying: “Oh my god …..what is this scent…luxury…elegant…charismatic…sweet…sensual…very sexy for me.” Others, however, think Tonka Imperiale is vastly over-priced, with a number finding the fragrance’s opening to be extremely similar to Mugler‘s Pure Havane. One person had an issue with Tonka Imperiale’s drydown, comparing it to Calvin Klein‘s Obsession, her “worst nightmare.” On my skin, Tonka Imperiale’s drydown wasn’t similar to Obsession at all, and I can’t compare it to Pure Havane’s opening, as I’ve never tried it. All I can say is that those of you who have problems with Guerlainade, and who continuously have it turn into sour baby powder on your skin may want to stay away from a fragrance that showcases the brand’s tonka signature.

The bottom line is this: if you love modern Guerlain fragrances — with all that that entails, for good or for bad — and if you adore cozy gourmands, then you may want to give Tonka Imperiale a sniff. You will have plenty of company in Tonka Imperiale’s vast fan club. If, however, you’re looking for a fragrance with some edge, character, or distinctive flair for your $250, you may want to look elsewhere. It’s an unrelieved sea of beige and taupe in the suburbs. 

Cost & Availability: Tonka Imperiale is an eau de parfum that costs $250 for 2.5 fl. oz/75 ml. It is available at Guerlain boutiques, and is listed on its website, but Guerlain doesn’t seem to sell the fragrance via an e-shop of sorts. (There is no shopping cart, for example, in which to put the fragrance for purchase.)In the U.S.: Tonka Imperiale is available on the NordstromSaks Fifth AvenueNeiman Marcus, and Bergdorf Goodman websites. (With the exception of Bergdorf Goodman which definitely carries the more exclusive line of Guerlain fragrances in-store, I don’t know if it is available within the other shops themselves.) Outside the U.S.: In the U.K, you can find Tonka Imperiale at Harrods and, apparently, London’s Selfridges, but neither store offers the fragrance online. As for price, I read that, back in 2011, Tonka Imperiale retailed for £175. I don’t know how much it is now. In France, the fragrance is obviously available at Guerlain stores. For all other countries, you can use Guerlain’s Store Locator on its website. Samples: If you’d like to give Tonka Imperiale a test sniff, you can get a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $4.99 for half of a 1/2 ml vial.

Perfume Review – Guerlain Angelique Noire: A House of Mirrors

Angelique Noire from Guerlain is unusual. It takes the classic Guerlain signature, up-ends it, and then sticks it in a house of mirrors. You see constant reflections of past Guerlain perfumes beckoning to you through a long hallway, but the reflections are changed, faintly distorted, sweetened, and modernized.

House of Mirrors.Source: The Consumerist Blog.

House of Mirrors.
Source: The Consumerist Blog.

It’s not only that Angelique Noire takes a gourmand approach to past classics, but also the fact that the famous Guerlain signature at the base end of the fragrance — the Guerlainade — has been brought out at the very start of the fragrance. Furthermore, it has been twisted around. It’s been made more concentrated, more herbal, bitter and green. It’s as though Guerlain decided to play with its usual pyramid of notes with a bit of a wink and a tongue-in-cheek grin. That cheeky sense of humour also extends to the name since Angelique Noire is the furthest thing possible from a “noir” perfume! (If anything, it evokes creamy vanilla and beige, with dashes of green and brown.) At all times, however, it is an extremely rich, elevated take on the modern fad for gourmand scents.

Gold-beaded chandelier encircling the fragrance display in the 2005 renovation of the Guerlain's flagship Paris boutique. Source: Interior

Gold-beaded chandelier encircling the fragrance display in the 2005 renovation of Guerlain’s flagship Paris boutique.
Source: Interior

Angelique Noire is part of Guerlain’s exclusive L’Art et La Matière collection which was launched in 2005 to celebrate the opening of Guerlain’s renovated headquarters in Paris. The collection’s name means Art and (raw) Materials, and represents Guerlain’s goal of creating olfactory Art through the use of the finest raw materials in perfumery. As Fragrantica further explains, “L’Art et la Matière” is also:

a pun after the French expression L’Art et la Manière – the art and manners. Three famous noses were invited to work on the perfumes using the highest quality materials. The perfumes were launched in 2005.

Angelique NoireAngélique Noire is the third fragrance of the series, created by Daniela Andrièr. It was an attempt to reproduce the famous compositions of the house. Sweet and strong beginning with spices and piquant freshness of bergamot is mixing with milky bitterness of almond and vanilla notes. Unusual harmony of the fresh bergamot and sweet vanilla is a trademark of classical compositions of Guerlain. Spicy harshness of the beginning is contrasting creamy and sweet base which includes mildly spicy and sugary notes of angelica.

On its website, Guerlain describes the scent as follows:


Notwithstanding the humble appearance of its clusters of small flowers, angelica is thought to be an elixir promoting longevity. Guerlain elevates this understated raw material to noble rank. In Angélique Noire, the sincerity and freshness of the angelica find a luminous echo in the bergamot, before coming to fruition in the smooth, feminine sweetness of the vanilla. The fragrance comes in a spray bottle with sleek, contemporary lines. One side is ornamented with a gold plate like a talisman.

The notes for the perfume are as follows:

Top : Angelica seeds, pink berries, pear. 
Heart : jasmine sambac, caraway. 
Base : vanilla, angelica roots, cedar.
Source: MedicinalHerbInfo.Org

Source: MedicinalHerbInfo.Org

To understand the perfume, you have to understand angelica itself. It’s a green plant with big white or yellow flowers, and is cultivated for its sweetly scented edible stems and roots. I’ve read that angelica is also known as “Wild Celery” because it shares a similar aroma to the vegetable. But other accounts describe no such thing. Some call its aroma sweetly spiced and honeyed, while others describe it as bitter and green. Wikipedia says that angelica has “a pervading aromatic odour” that differs from the rest of its cousins in the same plant family (fennel, parsley, anise, caraway or chervil). “One old writer compares it to musk, others liken it to juniper.” In short, it’s pungent, green, brown, spicy, sweet, bitter and a whole host of contradictory things that make it extremely hard to describe to someone who hasn’t smelled it!

Angelica is the key to Angelique Noire because its different aspects run throughout every stage of the perfume. At times, it can be positively dizzying and overwhelming. In its opening seconds, I smell pear, bitter green, powdered vanilla, some sort of root-y woody note and then pink-peppered florals. The florals are hard to pinpoint at this stage and they are very subtle, as is the hint of cedar dancing around the edges. And then, the angelica arrives on the scene. The note is huge, monstrously big, bitter, green and yet, faintly earthy and woody brown at the same time. It well-nigh blows my head off and I keep my arm at a distance. Waves of angelica pulsate out at me, along with that famous Guerlain signature, the Guerlainade, that underlies all their fragrances at the very base and final hours. Only here, it’s Guerlainade on steroids and amped up a thousand degrees.

Source: US Forest Service

Source: US Forest Service

I recoil faintly from the combined intensity of the super-saturated powdered vanilla and the bitter, pungent, almost medicinal herb-y green of the angelica. It’s an incredibly odd twist to make the Guerlainade front and center, not to mention the added element of the angelica. I have an impression of an English meadow in Spring — all white (vanilla and angelica blossoms) and green (sweet, ripe Anjou pears and fruits). But, looming in the corner, its shadow getting larger and larger, is the dark green of bitter angelica stems and the brown of the more earthy root.



As the minutes progress, the scent becomes more powdery and sweet. And, to my disbelief, the angelica seems become even stronger! The combination as a whole feels like King Kong on the Empire State Building, swiping away planes in the sky as if they were gnats. As someone on Fragrantica noted, it “comes at you like a knife blade.” The whole thing is one enormous dichotomy and I will be frank, it was a bloody difficult thirty minutes the very first time I tried it! The second and third time, however, I was prepared for the brutal onslaught — and I think that made all the difference. I could appreciate the unusual, original twist on both the Guerlainade and on vanilla itself. I could smell the layers and the complexity, and I found them somewhat intriguing.

It’s an opening which seems to result in very split opinions: many adore it and its uniqueness, lamenting when it fades into something more manageable; others feel utterly blown away by it (and not in a good way). But one thing is certain: it’s unusual, different, creative and a bit provocative. You merely have to brace yourself for that very initial exposure, and give it more than one shot!

Vanilla Custard.Source: Sacchef's Blog.

Vanilla Custard.
Source: Sacchef’s Blog.

Once you’re over that initial hurdle, Angelique Noire mellows into a very different fragrance. The angelica recedes, and is no longer bitter or bullying but, instead, almost candied. The vanilla note starts to become much more prominent, as does that of sweet, ripe Anjou pears. But it is the vanilla which is interesting. At times in the first 90 minutes, it almost replicates a herbed vanilla cupcake! For the most part, however, it’s much creamier than any cupcake. It’s more like a smooth, rich vanilla custard, or like sweetened Carnation condensed milk.

Bergamot soap.Source: The Soap Seduction blog, July 2011.

Source: The Soap Seduction blog, July 2011.

Then, the truly lovely part begins. Angelique Noire takes on notes of bergamot (as in Early Grey tea) and almonds. I love almond scents, and find them endlessly comforting and soothing. Here, it is rich, not faint or milky — but it’s not strong or constant enough for my liking. It waltzes with the much stronger Earl Grey, sometimes apparent, sometimes flickering just out of sight. It’s a bit frustrating for one who adores both notes, and I wish they were stronger to alleviate the increasing sweetness of the perfume.

Soon, Jasmine Sambac joins the party. It is a muskier, richer, almost earthier version of the flower. The combination of the jasmine sambac, the musk undertones, and the very honeyed, custard-like vanilla now emanating from Angelique Noire strongly evokes the base of Guerlain’s L’Instant. I have a bottle of the eau de parfum from 2006, and the similarities are striking at times. But, like a long hall of mirrors, the evocation of other Guerlain perfumes does not stop there. Shalimar Eau Légère is another perfume that people think it resembles, though Angelique Noire is richer, in my opinion. And, then, there are those who wonder if Angelique Noire will become the new Shalimar, or a Shalimar for the modern era with its leanings towards greater sweetness and simplicity. I think that goes too far! (Nothing so gourmand can, or should, ever overtake a great, complex classic like Shalimar.)

In its final hours, Angelique Noire turns into spiced sugar, bergamot and vanilla. There really isn’t a lot to say beyond that. It’s not powdery like the usual Guerlainade accord, probably because all the powder was loaded upfront. There are traces of the angelica in a candied form in the sugar, but they are subtle. There are also minute traces of the musk that continue to linger on the skin.

All in all, Angelique Noire lasted just under 7 hours on my perfume-consuming skin. On Fragrantica, many report it lasting the entire day. The sillage was enormous in the first hour — at times, a too enormous for my liking, given that opening. Afterwards, it had heavy to good projection, becoming close to the skin only about four hours in.

I was lucky to obtain my sample from a lovely, very generous friend who went to the Guerlain boutique, sniffed everything, became mesmerized by Angelique Noire, and couldn’t help buying a bottle right there and then! Given that it costs $250, that is real love indeed. But, ultimately, Angelique Noire is not for me. For one thing, I’m starting to wonder if angelica may be one of my no-no ingredients. For another, I am not generally drawn to gourmand perfumes. When I fall for a very sweet scent, it comes with so much spice and dryness that it isn’t a true dessert fragrance. For me, Angelique Noire is far too sweet, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate its well-blended, high quality, unusual aspects.

Others appreciate it, too. The “seductive” scent is much-loved on Fragrantica and elsewhere. If you’re tempted, but also a bit alarmed by my descriptions of the angelica, then you may want to pay heed to the comments of “Alfiecronin” who wrote on Fragrantica:

Give this fragrance a second (or third) chance! It is worth it. The first whiff brings a blast of angelica flower–very strong. Admittedly, this is not the best part of the composition. Wait 20 minutes and you will discover a delicious vanilla, delicately mixed with floral notes that lasts and lasts. Many times I have watched others spray, whiff, jump back and declare, “I don’t like this!” And then come back an hour later and say that this is just wonderful, what is it called? In my opinion, one of only 2 in the L ‘Art et la Matière collection worth buying for a woman, the other being Cruel Gardenia.

There is no doubt that Angelique Noire is a very sophisticated interpretation of vanilla. It is infinitely wearable, rich, very unisex, and a very creative entry in the highly saturated gourmand field. If you like sweet vanilla scents, you may want to give Angelique Noire a try. Or two. Or three….

Cost & Availability: Angelique Noire costs $250 for 2.5 fl. oz/75 ml. It is available at Guerlain boutiques, and on its websiteIn the US, it is also available on the NordstromSaks Fifth AvenueNeiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman website. (With the exception of Bergdorf Goodman which definitely carries the more exclusive line of Guerlain fragrances in-store, I don’t know if it is available within the other shops themselves.) For all other countries, you can use Guerlain’s Store Locator on its website. If you’d like to give Angelique Noir a test sniff, you can get a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $4.99 for half of a 1 ml vial.

Review En Bref: Guerlain Spiritueuse Double Vanille

As always with my Reviews En Bref, I’ll give you a summary of my impressions of a perfume that — for whatever reason — didn’t seem to warrant a full, exhaustive review.

Guerlain SDVSpiritueuse Double Vanille (“SDV”) from Guerlain is a lovely, cozy fragrance. Created by Jean-Paul Guerlain and released in 2007, it was once part of Guerlain’s “Exclusive” range but is now available outside of Guerlain stores. It is an extremely unisex fragrance, despite being labeled as a perfume “for women.”  

On its website, Guerlain describes the scent through a quote from Jean-Paul Guerlain:

If a colour or fragrance were to be associated with each day, like the planets were in ancient times, sandalwood would be the Sun, saffron would be Jupiter, and without doubt vanilla would be Venus.

Guerlain SDV 2The notes in the perfume are:

  • Head: Pink Peppercorn, Bergamot, Incense

  • Heart: Cedar, Bulgarian Rose, Ylang-Ylang

  • Base: Vanilla Bean, Benzoin

Spiritueuse Double Vanille opens on me in a way that is really true to its notes. There is an immediate burst of rose, bergamot and incense, followed quickly by pink peppercorn. The bergamot isn’t like Earl Grey tea but, rather, more like petitgrain: the woody-citric distillation of twigs from a citrus tree. The rose is heady, sweet, rich and dark. A definite damask rose.

There is obvious vanilla throughout, strongly evoking long, freshly sliced Madagascar beans or concentrated vanilla extract. It leads to a very boozy smell, tinged with florals and some incense notes. The latter is particularly lovely, as the smoke is not bitter or smoky. Rather, it’s sweet and rounded. It’s a perfect counterbalance to the rose.

Ten minutes in, the rose fades just a little, leaving a definite impression of an apple pie soaked in vanilla ice-cream with rum sauce. Twenty minutes in, a subtle, quiet cedar note emerges. It’s not camphorous, but fresh and dry, like a new cedar chest of drawers. Despite the subtle wood note, the overwhelming impression is of apple pie and hookahs (or water pipes).

And that is why this is such a short review. I feel as though I’ve been down this road before: Spiritueuse Double Vanille reminds me almost exactly of Hermès‘ 2004 Ambre Narguilé. There are a few, very small, extremely minor differences but, all in all, I feel as though I could essentially just repeat large chunks of my review of Ambre Narguilé here, and be done with it. They are both incredibly boozy, rich scents with fruity tobacco and swirling incense, smoke notes that evoke a hookah. I’m hardly the only one who has noted the incredibly strong similarity. Birgit from Olfactoria’s Travels said the same thing, and there are numerous Basenotes threads comparing the two (along with Tom Ford’s Tobacco Vanille).

There are some differences, though they are subtle. The Guerlain is slightly denser and richer, and a tiny bit less airy than the Jean-Claude Ellena concoction for Hermès. The latter has faintly more fruity undertones, especially to the tobacco, while the Guerlain is more fruity-floral. Also, the tobacco in the Guerlain fragrance turns from that of sweet pipe tobacco into something a bit dryer, earthier, in its dry-down, more akin to actual tobacco leaves. The Hermès perfume screams out “rum, rum raisin, rum, more rum, and amber,” while the Guerlain’s chant might be “rum, vanilla, rum raisin, vanilla, rum and vanilla, and vanilla.” Honestly, though, those nuances are not strong enough to warrant buying bottles of both. If you have one, you don’t really need the other. (That said, when has actual “need” ever figured into perfume purchases?)

As noted up above, Spiritueuse Double Vanille is often compared to Tom Ford‘s Tobacco Vanille. I have not yet tried the latter (though it is becoming increasingly apparent that I need to move my sample up on my list of things to review), but, again, there are supposed to be differences. This time, however, the differences are said to be quite stark. From what I’ve read on Basenotes and elsewhere, Tom Ford’s perfume is supposed to be brash and assertive — Spiritueuse Double Vanille on steroids, if you will. Guerlain’s perfume is said to be perfect for those who find the Tom Ford to be too much. As a side note, I’ve also read of a third perfume to which the Guerlain can be compared: Bond No. 9‘s New Haarlem. I have no familiarity with that one, either, but, if you’re interested, you can read a discussion comparing all four scents on Basenotes.

Luca Turin gave Spiritueuse Double Vanille a less than stellar review in Perfumes: The A-Z Guide. Calling it “bad vanilla,” his snarling two-star review is as follows:

Anyone who has bought vanilla in pods knows that they do not smell very good up close, with dissonant fruity, rum-like notes that make you feel like skipping lunch. Guerlain obligingly magnifies all the negative traits of vanilla in this pointless, loud, and misconceived confection.

(As a point of comparison, Luca Turin gives Ambre Narguilé a three-star review that is slightly more flattering and positive.)

On Fragrantica, the criticisms of Spiritueuse Double Vanille seem to fall into two, related camps. First, that it is a linear scent of simple, boozy, vanilla extract. Second, that it is too expensive for what it is. Spiritueuse Double Vanille comes in only one size (2.5 oz/75 ml) and costs $250. I think price is, ultimately, a very subjective, personal thing, so I won’t comment on that. With regard to the other criticism, I don’t think SDV is a one-note scent and, on me, it’s certainly more than just plain vanilla extract. But, even if it were, I believe linearity is only a bad thing if you absolutely hate the note(s) in question.

The sillage and longevity of Spiritueuse Double Vanille is impressive. There was a scent bubble for about four hours, after which it became closer to the skin. All in all, it lasted about 8.5 hours on me. On others, it is said to last all day, though it is not the “beast” that is Tobacco Vanille.

If you like comforting, warm, sweet and boozy scents, I think you should give Spiritueuse Double Vanille a try. It’s not earth-shattering, but it is very cozy and I suspect some may find it wholly addictive.

Cost & Availability: Spiritueuse Double Vanille costs $250 for 2.5 fl. oz/75 ml. It is available at Guerlain boutiques, and on its websiteIt is also available on the Nordstrom website and, apparently, in the store. It is shown on the Neiman Marcus website (where it is priced at $225), but there is a note saying that it is not available; the same story applies to Bergdorf Goodman. (I don’t know if it is available within the stores themselves.) For all other countries, you can use Guerlain’s Store Locator on its website. If you’d like to give SDV a test sniff, you can get a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $4.99 for half of a 1 ml vial.

Perfume Review: Guerlain Shanghai Les Voyages Olfactifs 05 from the “Une Ville, Un Parfum” Collection.

guerlain-cities-232x300Guerlain has an exclusive, limited distribution collection of unisex fragrances entitled “Une Ville, Un Parfum” or “A City, A Fragrance.” Confusingly, the line is also often referred to as “Les Voyage Olfactifs” (An Olfactory Voyage). Until recently, the cities were Moscow, New York, Toyko and London.



In October 2012, Shanghai joined the line as Les Voyages Olfactifs 05 and the press release quoted by Fragrantica states that the scent is “noted for its freshness and delicacy which are the hallmarks of the collection.” The bottle was designed by the legendary designer Serge Mansau and depicts Shanghai’s famous Oriental Pearl Radio and TV Tower with a big squiggly “05” to represent its numerical place in the collection.

Shanghai was created by Guerlain’s in-house nose, Thierry Wasser, and is supposed to be a light oriental, though I’ve sometimes read it described as a “woody floral scent.” I was excited to obtain a large sample of Shanghai from Debbie, my olfactory secret weapon on eBay, because I was fascinated by the city upon my visit in 2008. (If my external hard drive hadn’t died, taking with it over 60,000 photos, this post would have been deluged by my photos of that jaw-droppingly futuristic city.) It seems, however, that Guerlain is harkening back to the Shanghai of old, the “Paris of the Orient” of the ’20s and ’30s.

I believe it was Luca Turin who once said that all modern perfumes stem from the benchmark scents of the past. They are all children of the perfumed tree, if you will. As such, it’s hard for modern perfumers to escape the influence — conscious or unconscious — of such greats as Shalimar, L’Heure Bleue, Fracas, Opium, Chanel No. 5, Joy, and the like. It must be even harder for a Guerlain perfumer to escape the influence of the greats within his own house, particularly when creating a floral oriental and particularly given the influence of the powdery greats like L’Heure Bleue.

Shanghai represents something that I am starting to see more and more. Perfume houses updating and modernizing their legendary classics for the modern era. They seem to achieve this through a variety of different ways: by lightening the scent, adding fruity or fruity patchouli accords to appeal to young consumers or to the modern taste, sweetening the scent to appeal to the Angel market base, or by adding fresh, clean accords to comply with that blasted trend towards soapy freshness.

Lightening the scent also achieves something convenient for houses like Guerlain: they save money by reducing the amount or concentration of ingredients; they can market the new result as an even more expensive, “exclusive” line to reap the financial profits; and their brand seems less old-fashioned, stodgy and fuddy-duddy to young consumers. (Guerlain’s Les Voyages/Une Ville perfumes cost $215 for 3.4 fl.oz/100 ml.) Everyone wins, except the consumer’s wallet, classicists like me, or those who cannot stand any of the modern trends that they are applying (which is also me).

Shanghai’s notes, according to Fragrantica and the Guerlain press release, are:

anise, orange blossom, almond, cardamom, ylang-ylang, jasmine, iris, mimosa, cedarwood, patchouli, vanilla and sandalwood.

On its website, Guerlain describes Shanghai as a “woody and floral fragrance” and adds:

Surprising and faceted, the fragrance Shanghai from “A City, A Fragrance” collection pays homage to the ever-changing megalopolis of Shanghai. The initial impression is of a sweet freshness, perfectly reflected by an almond accord, combined with a hint of aniseed. Sweet, sun-drenched flowers, ylang-ylang, orange blossom and jasmine combine to create an exquisitely full-bodied scent that conjures up an abstract bouquet with hints of iris and delicately sophisticated mimosa. This olfactory voyage of discovery is underscored by three woody notes—cedar, patchouli and, most sandalwood—offset by a gentle whisper of vanilla, which adds a softening touch to this composition. The fragrance finishes with a suave, elegant flourish.

Shanghai opens with an utterly lovely note of almond and a subtle whiff of anise. My nose finds the anise seed to be less like the usual licorice smell and more like the slightly green, bitter, woody anise scent that is absinthe. But, again, it’s extremely subtle. The anise seed combines with the milkiness of almond to create a very milky sweet impression of diluted Pastis (or Ouzo, if you’re Greek), an anise drink that is common in Europe.

French Pastis.

French Pastis.

The usually strong licorice aspect of concentrated anise is diluted to a pale shimmer, either through the milky almond or through a third note that is raising its head: sweet vanilla. It’s a powdery vanilla but not the true Guerlinade that is the signature of so many of the house’s famous scents. Here, it’s just a shadow, a faint touch. (I think “faint touch” describes almost every aspect of this scent.)

The combination of the almond and the powdered vanilla create an almost patisserie-like impression. If you’ve ever been to a French pastry shop and smelled some of their almond offerings, you’ll know what I mean. That said, Shanghai is not a gourmande perfume by any means. It’s not sweet or powerful enough, and there is none of that almost cloying, overwhelming surfeit of linear sugar that characterizes most gourmands. In short, it’s not diabetes in a bottle.

Almond Brioche. Source: Atelier Christine.

Almond Brioche. Source: Atelier Christine.

Twenty minutes in, I think I can smell some iris in the powdery, patisserie, vanilla under notes but it could simply be my imagination. I certainly don’t smell cardamon, ylang-ylang, jasmine or mimosa. I don’t basically smell much, except for anise, almond and vanilla — and the strength of those notes is sharply dropping by the minute. A full 30 minutes from the time I first put on the perfume, the sillage has drastically shrunk; and exactly 1:16 minutes from the start, I smell almost nothing. If I really push myself and plead with my nose, I suppose I can smell a faint tinge of sandalwood in the powdered vanilla dry-down that remains. But I wouldn’t bet money on it. Why isn’t there more to this scent? What the hell happened to the “full-bodied” of the website description? And isn’t this taking “light” to a new level?

I am so determined to try to smell something more than those three linear notes that I start all over again. This time, I spray about 6 squirts onto each arm. Aaah, that delicious opening of anise and almond, milk and vanilla…. it really is lovely — especially when you really spray a lot of the perfume. But the development remains the same: the hint, almost invisible shimmer of anise, strong almond, powdery vanilla and…. er…. Well, I suppose there may be a touch of sandalwood, but really, this is just a three-trick pony. If all those remaining notes (Ylang-ylang? Really?) are a part of the perfume, they’re in such microscopic quantities that they’re essentially undetectable by my nose.

There are almost no full, detailed reviews on Shanghai thus far, so it’s not easy to see if others have had better luck. One of the few reviews that does go into any depth is by The Non-Blonde. She too smells the anise, almond and patisserie notes, but she finds a bit more to the scent than I do:

Star anise, iris and almond are the first things I smell upon spraying Shanghai. Naturally, my first thought was about the inspiration that obviously comes from L’Heure Bleue more than from China. Shanghai is more floral and also lighter in every way: airier, less sweet, and the base is not that much of a patisserie creation, but the resemblance is there, especially in cooler weather. It took me a little while to really like Shanghai. I love my L’Heure Bleue dearly, so I wasn’t all that thrilled with the idea of a modern interpretation in a massive bottle. But the composition is very pleasing, and as I said– it’s easily recognizable as a Guerlain, which is a good thing for me.

There’s some weakness in the base of Shanghai- not as in the opposite of “strength” (the fragrance has an assertive sillage and a reasonable longevity), but in the lack of real creamy sandalwood. Guerlain Perfumer Thierry Wasser did his best with an approximation and fortified it with cedarwood (dry and almost peppery). It goes well with the powdery iris note that seems to be at the core of Shanghai, but some of the exotic element could have used a big dose of the real thing (one can dream).

I didn’t smell any cedar wood my first time round and, this second time, with about double the amount of perfume sprayed all over my arms, I think I can smell it faintly. Perhaps. Maybe I’m just trying to convince myself. Whatever is there is definitely dry, but it’s not the sort of cedar wood that I’m used to smelling, and most definitely not peppery. If I did smell pepper, I might agree more with her comparison to L’Heure Bleue but, as it is, I find the two scents completely dissimilar. I smell sandalwood much more than any cedar, but, given how little there is, that’s not really saying much. In fact, I’m very relieved to know that The Non-Blonde also has trouble with the nature or quantity of sandalwood that is supposedly in Shanghai.

While The Non-Blonde attributes the powdered heart of Shanghai to iris, I think it’s more of a plain vanilla powder. There is iris there, as I noted earlier, but it’s faint. (I’m getting tired of using the word “faint” when it comes to this scent, but really, it typifies everything about it!)

If you’ll note, neither she nor I ever mention patchouli, jasmine, ylang-ylang, mimosa or any of the other notes purportedly in this incredibly linear scent. Because you really can’t smell them. At all! If I keep at this, and keep sniffing my arm with those notes planted firmly before my eyes, I’m sure that my brain can convince itself that I’m smelling them but, the truth of the matter is, I don’t.

I also don’t share her experiences with sillage or longevity, but I may not be alone in thinking the perfume dies fast. On Basenotes, there are differing reports regarding both issues, with a number reporting experiences similar to mine. Some posters have noted a generally moderate amount of longevity, even if it’s just simmering quietly in the background.

The Basenotes comments are interesting because, there, Shanghai has generally received praise by those who have tried it thus far. Several people note a woody element to the scent that I didn’t really find. (But, yet again, no-one mentions anything about ylang-ylang, mimosa, jasmine or patchouli, so it’s definitely not just my nose that can’t detect them.) One brief review of Shanghai by a male poster, Mikeperez23, may be helpful to those seeking a different perspective on the scent:

I love the extremely limited Quand Vient la Pluie and in my opinion, there is a ‘part’ of QVLP inside of Shanghai – a sort of sweet, almond, heliotrope-ish note that smells simultaneously nutty, floral and woody. Slightly edible, but not in a full-blown gourmand way. Shanghai is more of a transparent, sheer, cologne-ish version of this accord and bolstered by an anisic top note and a less rich, complex drydown. In fact, this one fades fast, so I have to really douse myself with it to ‘stick’, which it finally does. […] Shanghai is perfect for hot weather because of its sheerness and non-heavy feeling that still allows me to enjoy the Guerlinade I so enjoy. […] Not cheap, in fact I think it’s sort of overpriced considering I have to douse myself with it. But, there is nothing that smells like this (well, except as I have noted above, other Guerlain scents) and it’s unique, versatile and comforting aura is addictive.

Another person went so far as to say that the perfume not only has great longevity, but also great “character.” Her description of the perfume is as follows:

I actually get great longevity out of it. I smell it all day at work, and into the evening. On clothing, it lasts even longer. Not as strong as it could be, but strong enough. And I can wear it more than one day in a row, easily, which I can’t do with all of my scents.

Very versatile. Not too casual, not too formal. Good in the Vegas heat, good in the current cold. Not too masculine, not too feminine. But it has character. Lots of it.

I couldn’t disagree more. But I should point out that the last reviewer states that she adores Coco Noir, and admits to loving a lot of mainstream scents that she says she doesn’t even dare mention, so she’s obviously coming at this from a very different vantage point than I am. Perhaps the only thing I do agree with is that this is not a formal scent and it’s not typically casual either. But that’s about it. In my opinion, this scent not only has very little character but it’s also incredibly linear. (And since this is supposed to be one of the better and stronger scents in Guerlain’s Les Voyage/Une Ville collection, I’m not sure what that says about the other fragrances in the line.)

What little character does exist is simply not worth the price tag. I would never pay $215 for this. In fact, I wouldn’t wear it unless it were about $15. At that price, perhaps it would be worth it for those days when I went to the dog park and fell into a mud pit. At  that price, I could drench myself with it beforehand and hope that it lasted 2 hours or more. (And, for the record, Shanghai did last longer on my second go-around when I sprayed a ton all over me. But it’s a matter of degree; maybe 2.5 hours in total, instead of about 1.5 hours.)

Bottom line, I cannot recommend the perfume. It’s simply not that interesting for the price. If it were $45 or $60, I would absolutely recommend it to someone seeking something subtle, versatile, and with a slight twist on the usual floral scents. But not at $215, even if it didn’t have dubious sillage and longevity. Life is too short. Go out and smell something with actual character and some pizzazz.


Target Audience: Unisex. Men definitely wear this. In fact, men have made some of the more positive comments that I have seen thus far.
Cost & Availability: Shanghai is available on Guerlain‘s website and costs $215 for 3.4 fl. oz/100 ml. It can also be found at Bergdorf Goodman and on their website. The rest of the Les Voyage line (Moscow, Tokyo, London and New York) can be found on the Saks Fifth Avenue website, though not Shanghai. Nordstrom’s doesn’t carry any of the line. Surrender to Chance has samples only of Tokyo, Moscow and New York. The Perfumed Court has Shanghai in different sample sizes with the smallest size (1 ml) costing $5.99 and the largest (15 ml) costing $83.99. Neither LuckyScent nor BeautyHabitat carry Guerlain.

Perfume Review: Guerlain’s notorious Mahora (and Mayotte)


Elsa Benitez and Ayers Rock in Australia

I have a perpetual tendency to root for the under-dog. And I’m also naturally inquisitive, especially about things that are notorious. Which brings to me to Mahora, the beleaguered, endlessly trashed, and notorious last fragrance of Jean-Paul Guerlain for the House that bears his name.


Mahora – the bottle for the Extrait version

Common reactions to Mahora range from “Worst. Perfume. EVER!” to comments about mosquito repellents or suntan lotions. Luca Turin — that endlessly acerbic perfume critic (with whom I often disagree, by the way) — apparently compared this to a $200 plug-in air freshner and called it Guerlain’s worst fragrance. It’s a fragrance sometimes nicknamed “My Whore,” due not only to its pronunciation in certain accents but also, undoubtedly, due to its over-ripe nature. And, yet, there are also numerous raves about its lushness and its heady, fearless, almost comfortingly exotic character. How could I possibly resist seeing what all the fuss was about?!


Mahora in the Eau de Parfum bottle

Mahora was released in 2000 in Eau de Parfum form as an homage to the island of Mahore (or Mayotte) where Guerlain has plantations of jasmine and ylang-ylang. It is a tropical, slightly fruity, super floral with an oriental dry-down. It is also the least Guerlain-like fragrance imaginable!

That difference probably explains, in part, why it was a complete and an utter bomb in the marketplace; Guerlain buyers used to things like Jicky, Shalimar or even, Jardins de Bagatelles, were undoubtedly bewildered by such a Hawaiian island fragrance.

Quietly discontinued just two years or so after its debut, Mahora was later re-released in 2006 with a name change. It was now called Mayotte and was included in Guerlain’s images (1)Les Parisiennes collection (supposedly with a significant price increase as a result). You can still find Mahora easily and relatively inexpensively on eBay (where I bought my bottle) for between $15 and $60, depending on size and seller. Mayotte, in contrast, is reportedly available only at the Guerlain store in Paris and at Bergdorf Goodman in New York where it retails for $270. We’ll get to the comparisons between the two fragrances shortly and whether either one is worth a shot.

According to Aromascope and other sites, Mahora’s notes are as follows: orange, almond tree blossoms, ylang-ylang, neroli, tuberose, jasmine, sandalwood, vetiver, and vanilla. What almost none of these official notes include — but which almost everyone can detect — is frangipani. Frangipani is also known as plumeria, a flower common to Frangipanitropical climates like Mexico or South America but also to such exotic islands as Fiji, Tahiti and Hawaii. It has a very heavy, heady, lushly ripe, extremely sweet scent similar to magnolia, gardenia and tuberose. It can also bring to mind coconuts. (All of which make the Australian desert landscape of the Mahora commercial rather odd, in my mind.)

Frangipani is best described as an “indolic” scent, meaning over-ripe, almost to the point of decay. Tuberose is another very indolic flower which is why extremely creamy, ripe tuberose scents can — on some people — bring to mind feces or a cat’s litter box. (You have no idea how many people shy away from anything involving tuberose. If there is any scent that seems to strike fear in the heart of many women, it seems to be tuberose. I should confess that I adore tuberose and it’s my favorite flower in general.)  Indolic scents are not easy one, and combining frangipani with tuberose and jasmine was a brave, brave move. (One which apparently fell flat on its nose, judging by some of the extremely harsh reviews.) I have absolutely no idea why frangipani is not included on the official perfume notes, but there is zero doubt in my mind (and that of many others) that it’s included. In fact, I would go so far as to say that extremely indolic frangipani is the foundation to Mahora.

When I first sprayed Mahora, I did so carefully and gingerly. This is a perfume known to be a powerhouse. It’s been compared to such notoriously heady 80s blockbusters as Poison and Giorgio, or other infamously strong scents like Amarige and Opium. So I gently lowered the rather awkward blue top and gave a few squirts. And what I got was not  the expected orange notes I’d read about but, rather, green notes. Ripe, not crisply fresh, but most definitely green notes. A burst of the vetiver, perhaps? If so, this was like no vetiver I’d ever smelled because the overall result was like dirty water in a vase of rotting flowers that hadn’t been changed in a week. (Perhaps vetiver shouldn’t be mixed with tuberose by anyone but the Piguet perfumers who make Fracas. I love Fracas. This is no Fracas.)

The smell of filthy, murky, green, vase water was soon joined by coconut, sandalwood and what seemed to be almond tree. Not almond tree blossoms, but rather, the woody notes of a slightly moist, aged, possibly decaying tree bark. This too was…. unexpected and off-kilter. And it lasted a good 10 minutes or so, until it turned to a coconut sunscreen effect (mixed with the slightly brackish, rotten vegetal water scent) over a smell of buttered white flowers. Yes, buttered. As in buttered popcorn mixed with very heady tuberose and white flowers. I feel as though I’m wearing a dose of AMC Cinema’s popcorn butter mixed with white flowers and coconut. And, yet, it’s not Hawaiian Tropic suntan lotion, it’s not even Bain de Soleil (which I used to love) because of those blasted almond tree, wood, vetiver and green notes!

It’s perplexing. This is nothing like what I expected — which was a giant white floral with tropical elements. The initial scent is off-putting, unconventional and disorienting in the way of niche houses, like Serge Lutens. Just as his Tubéreuse Criminelle turns things upside down and on their head with a camphorous green note to the tuberose, the Mahora is very far from a mainstream, white tuberose scent in its initial opening bouts. It’s even further from most Guerlain fragrances, though I’ve seen some understandable comparisons to Guerlain’s Samsara. I think Jean-Paul Guerlain sought, perhaps, to make a tropical, exotic version of Samsara here. I simply don’t think he succeeded. (That said, I should confess that Samsara is not one of my favorite Guerlains either.)

An hour in, and Mahora is all big white flowers. It’s too exotic and tropical to be compared to Fracas or to some Estée Lauder variation. It’s got too much frangipani to really compare. It’s also starting to fade on me. I speak often of how my body consumes perfume but really, I expected this one to last! All the endless comments about migraines, monster sillage and longevity and I get maybe two hours of full scent before it starts to become closer to the skin. I think that, as the frangipani/coconut recedes and the other, softer white flowers come more to the foreground, Mahora starts to become less brash and heady. It’s calmer now, though I still smell the coconut.

Three hours in, the coconut has finally left the building and the Guerlain signature has entered. Mahora has unfurled into a creamy, vanilla with sandalwood and only a hint of the white flowers. It’s also started to develop of touch of that famous Guerlinade. “Guerlinade” refers to that Guerlain note which is a signature on most of their perfumes at the foundational element and which wafts through the dry-down with a very powdery (sometimes slightly vanilla-tinged) accord. I smell a wisp, possibly just in my imagination, of the jasmine but it’s faint. One thing is clear, however: Mahora has turned into a Guerlain oriental. All in all, Mahora lasted about 5 hours on me, which was considerably less than the enormous amount of time reported for the fragrance by most commentators.

While most commentators say that Mahora and its successor, Mayotte, are identical, there are some who disagree. The experts at CaFleureBon certainly see a difference in an article entitled “Sexy Sadie Thompson of M. Somerset Maugham’s Rain.” Another site, Aromascope (linked up above) compares the two fragrances as follows:

While Mayotte is an ode to ylang-ylang, Mahora dignifies tuberose. […]  I find Mayotte much more Guerlain-like: it possesses the same peachy heft of Mitsouko. Mahora, on the other hand, strikes me as rather aggressive and mutinous. Its sugared, almost oily tuberose seems to defy all things Guerlain, and perhaps that’s the reason the fragrance didn’t do so well. In spite of being much more refined and polished, Mayotte can hardly be called a tame and acquiescent version of Mahora – it bears but faint sibling resemblance and respectfully begs to differ. While Mahora is heady and persistent, Mayotte is soft and enveloping and has won my heart as the best ylang-ylang scent ever created.

Others sharply disagree and say that there is absolutely no difference between the two scents. Still others say that Mayotte is simply a weaker eau de toilette concentration of Mahora, though the fact that both are officially listed as “eau de parfum” seems to counter that theory.

So, is it worth trying? I’ve seen one reviewer argue that, if Mahora had been released now and under the Serge Lutens label, “as a hoity-toity luxury perfume, it would be resounding [sic] a success among sophisticated perfumistas.” I can see the point and rationale. I think I may even agree, particularly when remembering Mahora’s unexpected opening and when thinking about Serge Lutens Datura Noir. I found the latter significantly underwhelming, though it’s been long enough since I last tried it that I can’t recall all the details of why. It certainly shares a similar coconut and tuberose trait, though!

In the end, it’s a fragrance that only a white-flower lover may like and, even then, it’s not breath-taking or particularly special, outside of its history and notoriety. (For purposes of balance, my memories of the famous Serge Lutens Datura Noir, and indeed a number of his fragrances, also rank in the “not particularly special” category.) Do I regret buying a full bottle? No, not really. I rarely regret buying perfume, especially not one that is hard to find, discontinued, and controversial to boot. It’s worth it for me just to have it for my collection and for being able to know it. I also like being able to make up my own mind about super polarising scents. And, lastly, I can always find a use for some perfume or another. (With the exception of Montale’s Lime Aoud which is truly THE worst thing I have ever smelled!)

However, I would not feel that way if Mahora were not so cheap on eBay. There is absolutely NO way on God’s green earth that I would pay $270 (not including tax) for the Mayotte version. None. I bought my 1.7 oz bottle of eau de parfum for $23 or so! For that cost, Mahora is a fun, exotic, tropical white flowers oriental perfume that I can wear in winter before going to bed and when I want to mentally escape to Fiji. For $23, I get to see what all the fuss is about.

And that fuss is definitely not worth $270.