A mango in Japan will cost you around 4000 yen. That’s fifty US dollars, or about 32 pounds Sterling at today’s exchange rate, and even then it will often be somewhat tarnished in its journey from Narita airport; small, sometimes stringy, a bit unfulfilling. While it’s true that these days, now the Japanese economy is supposedly in a state of permanent stagnation, and deflation the norm, mangoes do pop up more cheaply at certain fruit and vegetable shops, sometimes as ‘little’ as 700 yen, the fruit, over here, remains a rarified exotic animal: clothed in a dainty little polystyrene protective hair net to lessen bruising, looking out in cold solitary confinement from the shelves of the fancier supermarkets.
I had never even eaten a mango until I came here, as the fruit just did not feature in my childhood nutrition – though I have to say that I was always drawn to papaya and mango Safeway yoghurts, that creamy tartness that was often given a perfumey rasp by the addition of passionfruit and flavour enhancers.
The first time I had a true, unadulterated mangorgasm was in Taiwan, where mangoes come cheap and are delicious. I could hardly believe the difference, or what I was tasting when I got back to my friend’s Taipei apartment: these giant mangoes felt almost sinful in their overrunnings of sweet,tart juice; their shining, tropical flesh: I had two in a row and was in some kind of mango-trance, greedily devouring the fruit with a relish of infatuation. It was at this moment that I really got the mango (or it got me).
Two perfumes that base their main structures round the fruit are Bombay Bling, by Indian designer Neera Vermeire, and Montale’s Mango Manga, a Tokyo exclusive (until recently) that ties in with the ‘mango boom’ of recent years (Japan has these ludicrous media-drive fads: we are currently in the middle of a ‘lemon boom’). Both mango perfumes make me smile and dissolve coldness; both are completly OTT.
Bombay Bling is described by Ms Vermeire as a ‘joyful creation’ that embodies every aspect of the ‘very modern, colourful, eclectic, esoteric, ecstatic, liberal happy side of buzzing India’. For me it is a trifle, but a dazzling one, beginning with one of the most delectable opening salvos I’ve come across in a very long time, a thirst-quenching mango lassi like a cool glass of yoghurt draped in tropical leis and beads – a myriad of bright rainbow colours conjuring up the scintillating promise of Bollywood effervescence: a ffffffffrrrrrrruuuuitty, and I mean FRUITY opening of mango, blackcurrant and lychee, as bright as sparkling pop dust on the tongue; a mango seen through a jewel-encrusted kaleidoscope.
It is very difficult to dislike a smell as optimistic as this, even if you might not want to smell of it personally (I quite happily would), although I have to say that the miracle doesn’t quite go on forever – the base, flatter as the celestial fruit notes fade, is a bit standard poptastic-vanillic-floriental, but really, you can’t complain when the top notes give you such a thrill.
Notes: a fresh, modern, fruit cocktail of mango, lychee, blackcurrant and cardamom.
An opulent heart note garden of plumeria, ylang ylang, tuberose, cistus and cumin.
And a soft, oriental base of vanilla, patchouli, cedar, sandalwood and tobacco.
Montale’s perturbingly fecund rendition of the mango actually made Duncan and I laugh (which is surely a recommendation in itself – not many perfumes rise/descend to the level of comedy). In the presence of Mango Manga, Bombay Bling seems suddenly artificial – shatters into thousands of shards of GM coloured glass : adorable, wearable, but most definitely a laboratory creation. Mango Manga, which I was expecting to be cute and fresh – a childish little thing to fit in with the idea of comics and Japanese kawaii – is a slippery, slimy, real mango, full of overripened juice dribbling embarrassingly down the chin; a cascade of discarded mango skins on a Kuala Lumpur street, rotting and waning by the dustbins as the avid South Asian sun begins to set.
It even feels oleaginous, thick, on the skin……. Oh this is a mango in all its earthy glory alright: foul, almost; gorgeous. Rotten, or starting to: alive. And very, very funny.
When I tried this (on the other hand was Montale’s Chocolate Greedy, which smells EXACTLY like a jar of stale chocolate Mcvities – I was really going for bulimia overdrive that day), it was a sweltering afternoon in Tokyo and the mango on my hand seemed fruity and fitting. I was intrigued: where could it possibly go from here? Putrefactive heart notes of fruit fly enfleurage, laced generously with tones of headspace, gellied, maggot?
As we settled down in an over air-conditioned restaurant called Istanbul, and a delicious bottle of Turkish red, the mystery was answered wonderfully as the listless mangoes of the beginning began to dissipate, and, to our amazement, a warm, gorgeous, real perfume emerged – rich, sensuous, of obviously good construction and materials that reminded me a lot of vintage Miss Balmain perfume extract – that sultry, 50’s strawberry leather that I adore. So it wasn’t a joke after all! At this point, the scent was really rather suggestive, going perfectly with the belly-dancing vibe of the place we were eating in, as we tried to envision who it would work on best. But this didn’t take long – it could only be a full-figured, Mediterranean or Middle-Eastern woman of confident bearing who could pull off this scent with the right passion: invisible swirls of Arabian, saffron-dusted flowers drift about her person, exuding humour, fun, sex, and love of life. Mango skin: mango bosom.
Mango Manga notes: mango, sweet orange, jasmine sambac, ylang ylang, neroli, Moroccan oud, oakmoss, cedar, vetiver.