On the one hand, Mandarine Basilic Forte is quite a nice perfume. In fact, if you had a time machine and catapulted this scent back to me in my youth, I would have been besotted. Zesty, warm, balanced, lovely, this mandarin and orange blossom-infused vanilla with a touch of basil would probably have ticked all the right boxes. I can feel my retro-fitted elation. Back then, we had Obsession, we had Roma, but we didn’t have this later genre of cute, hermetically smooth neo-vanillic gourmandarie that has monopolized the global nasosphere since the 2000’s. Now, this kind of base accord is utterly commonplace. Before that, had I come across a sparkling citrus like this with floral, balsamic tones, I would probably have been wide-eyed and gleeful in the shock of the new.

From this perspective, Acqua Allegoria Mandarine Basilic Forte would definitely make an excellent first perfume (if you can afford it to give as a stocking filler for a teenager, that is; with extra concentration of ingredients comes a higher price – the 100ml bottle retails for around $165 – much more expensive in Japan).

It is cute, enveloping, coquettish – ‘adorable’.

Looked at from a more negative angle, Guerlain co-perfumer Delphine Jelk’s composition, with its woozy Bourbon vanilla and sandalwood, and a spritely touch of blackcurrant up top, is just so intensely familiar as an archetypal current female fragrance that I yawned just seconds after the initial spritz ; walk through any duty free or department store in the world and you will know what I mean. Rectified vanilla is the thing – it is a sillage that is devastatingly commonplace, even if in Mandarine’s case it does, I must say, throb with a certain specificity.

The original Mandarine Basilic is, also, for me, problematic. I have a bottle – I liked its gleaming new, citric hair sheen quality – but there was also always something overly astringent and acidic that pierced and pinched the cranial trigeminal nerve, inducing migraine-like headaches (continuing our brain conversation from the other day, I have something like a ‘phantom’ condition where if I even just remember perfumes of this type; definite headache triggerers that usually involve very sharp, ‘clean’ notes in their ingredients in perfumes such as Clinique Happy, Floret by Antonia’s Flowers and anything else with a strongly synthetic, dry cleaning edge, I can get an actual headache as a result, as though the memory itself stimulates something in the head. Has anyone else had this experience, or do you at least have some scents that make you feel chemically ill?). My sister also used to wear the original Mandarine Basilic – I sent her a couple of bottles as Christmas presents over the years, and it was a real compliment getter (as, bizarrely, was Clinique’s Happy For Women for me, probably the most commented on perfume I have ever worn, ironically, even though I had a quietly searing pain in my skull each time as a result and it was eventually no longer worth it; this scent, also, is probably the only scent that has ever led to me, in a round about way, being literally slapped across the face – feel free to relive my unbelievable experience here; for the sheer horror that is ‘Happy For Men’, you might also have a laugh if you read this;) Deborah did like it, going off on an (unusual for her) citrus tangent and referring to it as her beloved ‘sexy orange’, until it started to make her feel physically sick; all of this meaning that when I tried the Forte version yesterday, I did so with a certain trepidation.

My final query here of course would be as to why there would be a forte version of a cologne in the first place. Obviously, I see that there is a business incentive in creating new flankers of the most popular AA’s – amazing to still see Pamplelune and Herba Fresca doing well, next to Rosa Rossa and Neroli Vetiver etc after all these years – giving more gourmand twists to well known staples for a newer generation. At the same time, an eau de parfum of a cologne does seem like something of a self-cancellation. The entire point of the original set of Acqua Allegorias was to distance these fresher, lighter, more capricious creations from the classic, powdery odalisques from the Guerlain vaults. In collapsing the olfactory interspace that separated these compositions, there is novelty – but also a paradoxical confusion.


Filed under Flowers


  1. Isn’t that similar to the idea of Atelier Cologne? I would say Baccarat Rouge 540 is one that makes me want to hold my breath when I’m around it, but it doesn’t induce headaches or anything physically very bad, just unpleasant.

    • Re Atelier Cologne, you are right of course, although I personally think of that line as being about colognes more in the American sense of ‘What cologne are you wearing?’ – ie. a general word for perfume, rather than the European sense of a much lighter, citric based scent – to me they never really smelled like colognes as such.

      As for Baccarat Rouge, it still astonishes me that such an expensive perfume could be such a huge hit and I almost wish I could smell it on people here. Feeling bad around a scent is different to what I am talking about with Happy, though – I find Coco Mademoiselle VERY unpleasant, for example – just smelling it makes me feel quite irritated, but it doesn’t give me a headache. There must be one particular ingredient that pierces the brain like a steel pin because I am very sensitive to it. I was wearing Givenchy Irresistible Eau Fraiche (I know: ridiculous…) for a week at work as I quite liked it – and so did D – almost Arab loukhoum like, but I noticed I was getting the familiar reaction around it. I wonder what it is?

  2. Something about basil in perfume forms makes me retch. Not sure why as I love garlicky pesto. Revlon’s Aquamarine, RL Polo Green, Sisley Eau de Campagne, one of the Charlie flankers, CD Eau Sauvage, Chanel’s Deauville- all start out ok till the basil reek gets me.
    I think these Guerlain AAs are meant to be the gateway drug for budding young perfumistas.
    My aversion to ethyl maltol & vanillin started in the late 90s. I wore all the trendy gourmands, loved them (being a budding perfumista myself then). I wore Lolita Lempicka, Coco Mademoiselle, CSP Abricot Vanille, Tresor, L’Occitane Vanilla etc. Eventually got tired of the sickly sweet synthetic vanilla vibe. My gateway fragrance to discovering I wore white florals as well as my mom was the original Michael Kors.

    • Ha ! You see I also kind of loved the original Michael Kors on a friend of mine but it is so CHEMICAL : a real rain through glass tribute to the tuberose but also a headache inducer ( and the bottle she gave me leaked).

      The first perfume event of any note that I did was a talk on vanilla at Perfume Lovers London but now I can barely stand the stuff, especially the current clear and lobotomized iteration.

      Totally agree with what you say about basil. I basically don’t really think it works in perfume

  3. Hanamini

    Oh how I enjoyed this read. Trying to think what makes me gag (L’Artisan Mure et Musc I find very challenging indeed), and reading your two Happy links (so, so good), I was reminded of the time I was having a casual conversation with a colleague about hobbies. I mentioned perfume, and when I asked her in return what perfumes she liked, and she said Lancome La Vie Est Belle, I blurted out something like “Oh really? I found that absolutely vile; a real airport duty free smell.” I’ll never forget the look on her face: as if I had slapped her. She was quite junior to me, and she never spoke to me much again, unsurprisingly. I was mortified at what I’d said, apologised, and vowed that day to be more measured in my uttered opinions, which must be I’m here, because I don’t always succeed, where perfume is concerned.

  4. darcy waters

    In the early 2000’s I worked at counter for Estee Lauder. One day I innocently decided to test the DAZZLING set: Silver & Gold. I am uncertain which specific scent was the culprit, and unwilling to repeat the experiment for accuracy, but one single inhalation and I was done. Such a TERRIBLE … SHARP … STABBING … PAIN!!!!!

    It was an instantaneous reaction. One such as I had never experienced before or since. And, as a perfume fanatic, I have sniffed literally HUNDREDS of other fragrances.

    I can only compare it to a youthful indiscretion when I encountered a vintage bottle of smelling salts in the glovebox of my father’s station wagon. I was about eight. No idea what I was doing digging in there, but it seemed a good idea to familiarize myself with this scent.

    One whiff and I understood how one might be roused from unconsciousness. I also INSTANTLY feared that I had done permanent damage to my sinuses!!! Came out of that car like a ROCKET. Fortunately, I recovered.

    I am one of those light eyed folks that will sneeze as a result of bright sunshine. Can also induce a lurking sneeze by peering directly at a light. Perhaps this is all connected?

    ttfn later, much Darcy


  5. Oh goodness. I recall having told you about my nightmarish experience with Bulgari”s Eau Parfumée Thé Vert. That one made me instantly lose control of my stomach contents and have a vicious migraine all at once. There are a couple of others that can do that as well. Light Blue from Dolce & Gabana is another migraine trigger as well.
    I lost all interest in Guerlain fragrances over the years, and doubt I will ever buy another release from them. I continue to purchase vintage as often as I find great deals, but I have not enjoyed a new release from them since 2000 with the AA Winter Delice. They are overpriced, and I don’t “get” them any longer. I don’t know who they are marketing towards, but it is for certainly not towards me.

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