Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Guerlain Mitsouko

Heard in our house:
The Blond: What are you writing about?
Me: Mitsouko
The Blond: Oooh, ambitious! What are you going to say about it?
Me: That it's really really good.
The Blond: What are you going to say that hasn't been written 10000 times before?
Me: Absolutely nothing.
So there you have it. I was thinking about Mitsouko a lot lately because I was reading a book about the Duke and the Duchess of Windsor and I remembered an old unconfirmed story that the former Mrs. Simpson used to layer Mitsouko with L'Heure Bleue, both in extrait. I always thought it's a crazy idea. Can these two Guerlain classics coexist on the same body at the same time? I could never see it and didn't even dare try until this week. After all, I've been wearing two or three Lutens perfumes at the same time for years now, so why would I be scared of experiment with Guerlain?

I own both Mitsouko and L'Heure Bleu in several concentrations and vintages, so I decided to go with two that are approximately from the same era, the parfum de toilette version. The result wasn't hideous but it wasn't good, either. Mitsouko's peach and peach kernel plays well with the almondy heliotrope of LHB and they make each other smell more gourmand. But augmenting this particular facet also makes both perfumes lose a lot of their unique charm and depth. It somehow flattens both of them, which didn't make me feel more Duchess-like.

So let's allow Mitsouko to remain the star tonight. It definitely deserves it.

It's not hard to believe this perfume comes to us all the way back from 1919. It has an incredible depth and richness that grabs your attention and tells you stories from the Jazz Era. This fragrance, five years older than my grandmother, has seen it all. It's a femme fatale like most true chypres- bold and experienced, round and volutipous thanks to a rich rose and peach heart. The peach is a big part  of the story here. One doesn't need to be a fan of fruit in perfume to enjoy it because nothing about Mitsouko smells like a Bath & Body Works refugee. The peach note is very complex- you can smell everything from the flower that flirts with the rose to  the woody and astringent kernel. It blossoms and ripens throughout the scent's development on the skin, adding to the sexiness aspect.

Then there's the oakmoss.


If you've been around the perfume scene during the last five years you know the story. In the process of protecting us from ourselves and by assuming people who wear perfume are more stupid than those who consume food and can't read labels, IFRA has forced perfumers to remove most of the oakmoss from the formulas. When you smell vintage Mitsouko you get loads of this thick and dark mossy base, all velvet and brocade. Even the sharp and slightly disharmonious EDT from the 1980s and 1990s is loaded with it, making Mitsouko a love-or-hate kind of scent. I have a fairly recent bottle (from two or three years ago) of the modern extrait, and while it feels a little dry cleaned it's still recognizable and very full bodied, even if there's a certain booziness that I'm not sure belongs there. I've smelled the current(ish. Sometimes it's hard to know for sure with testers in department stores that don't have a high classic Guerlain turnover) EDP and it's reasonably nice. Something is missing, but I doubt a casual Guerlain fan who isn't a vintage fiend would care too much. The new EDT isn't worth the energy it takes to spray it, though. The base feels off, the heart is gone and so is the staying power.

The Bottom line, I guess, is that despite everything, Mitsouko is still quite marvelous if you like this heavy and ornate chypre style. It's breathtakingly beautiful, like a set of royalty-worthy antique jewelry, all diamonds and huge emeralds.  I admit I enjoy wearing it casually, with a printed wrap dress and boots just as much as for a night out in a swanky NYC restaurant. Mitsouko can sometimes surprise you with its warm embrace despite the spiky heels, making it a wonderful candidate for a signature scent if I were interested in having one.

Mitsouko can be found at Guerlain boutiques around the world and select department store counters. Bergdorf Goodman has it in every concentration, of course, but even my local Bloomingdale's carries the extrait ($316, 1 oz). Rumor has it that there's been another more recent reformulation, but I haven't sniffed a bottle that was sealed in the last 6 months, so I cannot comment on this.

All photos: myvintagevogue.com


  1. For years -- through college and my young adult life -- Mitsouko was MY fragrance. I had bottles of perfume that my parents would buy for me on trips abroad or on duty-free cruise destinations, I had pocket sprays, cologne, and body cream. Basically, if they made it in Mitsouko, I had it. Then, along came the blonde. He didn't care for the scent (in general he is not a scent guy) and I, also a non-blonde, had to go in search of things that were not as deep, or intense. I have worked my way through many perfumes over the years, and recently had a chance to smell Mitsouko again at the Guerlain shop in Paris. What a complete and total disappointment. What happened to my perfume? I didn't recognize it! Now I need to find the old Mitsouko so I can reune with my old self.

  2. I just discovered the "M". It never grabbed me in the store testers..but I have an older sample. My heart stopped. THIS is everything I've been wanting in a perfume. Dramatic, mysterious, stunning. Now that sample is gone. I have resigned myself to an unseemly obsession while I try to "source" this new unquenchable desire.

  3. G - I missed this post ! It's wonderful .My favorite Guerlain and always will be. I'm quite loyal to Mitsy , no mater what.
    However....I would love to know about the rumour of yet another recent formulation. What now , I wonder - add less oakmoss ..again ..or add more?? I did a side by side comparison of the modern 2009 extrait and the 80s version. Both are beautiful in their own ways .However, I would welcome a reformulation repairing Mitsouko extrait with more body and longevity in extrait. I wish the IFRA would amend their silly overkill oakmoss restriction. The modern extrait lacks both body and longevity unfortunately though the peach note shimmers on my skin.

  4. The particular Duchess of Windsor of whom you speak is probably not a person you would have wanted to emulate anyway. Don't be disappointed.


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