Jean-Paul Guerlain 2000, EdT 2001, reissue Mayotte 2006
Family: floral, oriental
Notes: green accord, neroli, orange blossom, almond tree blossom, frangipani, tuberose, ylang-ylang, jasmine, sandalwood, vetiver, vanilla
Exotic flower excess
Period: The searching years

The sceptical reception of Samsara, huge on white floral cream, didn't deter Jean-Paul Guerlain from pushing the limits of the genre even further. Exalted by his long and far journeys to India, Nepal and Africa in search for raw materials, he created Mahora, his last big launch before retiring. This perfume was named after the main island in the Mayotte archipelago — a French overseas department near Madagascar where Guerlain had founded a plantation of ylang-ylang, the sensually sweet-scented golden flower which is one of Jean-Paul Guerlain's favourites — and united all tropical corners of the world with ripe intoxicating aromas of frangipani, tuberose, ylang-ylang, almond tree blossom, jasmine, sandalwood and vanilla.

Jean-Paul Guerlain was matter-of-fact about the name: "The people who live in Mayotte are called, if they are men, Mahorais, and the women, Mahorese. I named the fragrance Mahora because I thought it sounded good, it was three syllables and you can pronounce it in every language." To him, "Mayotte is above all an olfactory shock. Immediately when you leave the aeroplane, you plunge into a myriad of scents that overwhelms you." Everywhere there are busy, multicoloured market stalls with spices, vanilla and rum, abundant flowers and fruits, and black women in striking outfit, their faces covered with m'zinzano, a facial mask made of ground sandalwood to protect against the burning sun.

Maybe Jean-Paul Guerlain wanted Mahora to emulate this sensory culture shock, for he came out with an obscenely rich floral confection, slightly suggestive of coconut rum and easily surpassing any preceding opulence or exoticism leaving the Guerlain lab, a perfume against which all other Guerlain florals smelled entirely woody and fresh. Labeled as a "sunny floral", one could only chuckle at the understatement. Jean-Paul Guerlain undeniably has an inherited weakness for French prodigality and an aversion to anything anorexic, but Mahora's unfiltered excess was at the same time its limitation, too favouring of heavy colourful materials, its white flowers too plump and unwieldy to digest for many. It was as if that darker and softer component that all great Guerlains contain wasn't there to contrast the exotic notes. There was a green accord, and also vetiver, but they only added to the equatorial lushness in this context.

Being chiefly the antithesis to the 1990s' aquatic perfume trend, Mahora was deleted from the catalogue painfully early and is today famous as Guerlain's biggest miss, and a reminder of Jean-Paul Guerlain's defiance of marketing analyses. The fragrance is among the guilty pleasures of a few Guerlain admirers and can't but make you smile, as did the ad, hinting at the torrid character of the scent with a tall suntanned Amazon standing in front of Ayers Rock, glowing red, and slender tree sprouts rising from a scorched landscape. Guerlain wanted you to imagine that Mahora came from a fictitious "sixth continent", an arid land populating itself with new sappy vegetation and narcotic flowers. In 2006, it was restored to favour in the Parisienne line under the archipelago's name, Mayotte (whose nickname is, by the way and very fitting in this context, Perfume Island). Mayotte was discontinued in 2016.

The Mahora bottle was Robert Granai's quirkiest of all his designs for Guerlain, a humorous presentation as vibrant and shining with native folklore as the Mahoran lifestyle itself. The EdP bottle had the phallic form of a pagan totem with an amber talisman on top. The front gold plate appeared like a tribal necklace, and if you looked through the glass bottle from the back, you found "Mahora" inscribed in the metal. The smaller disc-shaped Parfum bottle reprised some of the elements and had a glass wand for application. Reissued as Mayotte, the scent appeared in the Parisienne bee bottle.

Parfum, EdP, EdT
For a rare moment at Guerlain, the EdP was more enjoyable than the Parfum, with the heavy flowers diffused enough to let the rest shine through. For a brief time there was also an EdT version, but then the whole thing was cancelled.

Some argue Mayotte shows signs of reformulation compared to Mahora. Maybe, just maybe, Mayotte has a fraction more ylang and a bit less tuberose, but it's a theoretical discussion.

  We love: that Mahora EdP can still be found at a reasonable price

  Embrace the tropical warmth and let it be the only colour of your attire

  Just for fun

Some images courtesy of

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