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.