Mitsouko the Great: Guerlain – Mitsouko Eau de Parfum Review

On picture: Guerlain – Mitsouko – Eau de Parfum – 75ml – circa 2012

Few fragrances achieve legendary status, and far fewer are those that survive more than thirty years on the market, not to mention a century, as is the case with Mitsouko. In the same way, few are the compositions that are surrounded by so much myth and that have been the object of as much study as it is the case of this Guerlain. Where should I start? It is tricky, since there is little that can be said about this perfume that has not been said before.

Mitsouko is a fruity chypre, which means that it is composed around an accord of bergamot, oakmoss and labdanum, with prominent fruits added, in this case peaches. The scent itself is a rework of 1917’s Chypre de Coty, which in turn was inspired by another Guerlain released in 1909 called Chypre de Paris. Now, the concept of a fragrance based on elements found on the island of Cyprus was not new. In fact, it is said that the accord can be traced back to Roman times.

Francois Coty and Jacques Guerlain famously went after each other on numerous times. Lore has it that is was because Guerlain’s wife Lili Bouffete had an affinity for Coty’s work, his direct competition at the time, so Monsieur Guerlain took the challenge of improving some of Francois’ ideas, achieving widespread success. That is the definition of competiveness, isn’t it? So was the success of Mitsouko that it inspired countless scents, notably Rochas’ Femme, Yves Saint Laurent’s Y and Yvresse (originally called Champagne), Roja Dove’s Diaghilev and in my opinion Serge Luten’s Féminité du Bois, on a technical level at least, among many others, not to mention that it has survived an impressive 101 years.

Speaking of technicalities, Mitsouko is, as mentioned by Matvey Yudov, a composition with a concise formula, yet it is so removed from simplicity that young noses will most likely find it too cerebral and complicated to understand right away. Actually, most noses will react the same way independently of how much experience they have. This perfume requires time to understand -the virtues of patience and perseverance.

The grandeur of Mitsouko relies on two things: beauty and contrast. On first application, it opens with a generous note of bergamot assisted by neroli, mandarin orange and lemon. The fizzy opening quickly leads itself into a mélange of lactonic peaches (C14 aldehyde for chemistry aficionados, which is not an aldehyde but a lactone I must add) spiced with cloves and cinnamon. These peaches are nowhere near fresh. They are overripe, almost to the point of decay, but not quite.

Slowly but surely you will reach its floral heart comprised of jasmine, rose, ylang ylang and iris, with none of them being bolder than the others. Each facet is in perfect equilibrium. One thing that can be noticed from the beginning until the drydown, in crescendo, and that is the oakmoss base (brilliantly reworked by Thierry Wasser around 2013, after IFRA’s much discussed banning of real oakmoss) accompanied by labdanum, patchouli, vetiver and cedar. Victoria Frolova has described the effect of the bitter oakmoss as inky, and I highly agree. There is no better way to describe it.

Keep in mind that this beauty’s temperament is ever evolving, and each phase will reveal itself over an extended period of time, so if you think that 20-30 minutes of observation is enough to judge this scent, you are terribly mistaken. Although, even amid so much baroqueness, the transitions are so cleverly designed, with so much attention to detail, that none of its stages is tempestuous. Its contrasts are delimited by perfect gradients.

Think about it this way: a fancy belle époque house and every room has a particular character, as to call each “the yellow room”, “the green drawing room” and so on. You are taken on a tour through the property, and you realize that as you visit each room every decorative element is in place and more importantly, makes sense. Also, you notice that every transition is balanced. Somehow, you walk through a door into another space but it takes you some minutes to discern that the tapestries are now red, not yellow nor green. Contrasts are big, yet refined.

The other element of its greatness is its beauty. The kind of emotional beauty that pushes the wearer to imagine a story, with details so palpable that it becomes impossible to belittle, almost making you want to live in another era and place. I visualize a wooden house, somewhere temperate but humid, with constant drizzles. There is a forest nearby, the wooden walls smell somewhat damped, there is tension in the air and the sky is slightly grey, as it is about to rain or the mizzle has already passed.

A lady comes out of the adyacent room with two cups and a tea pot, one for each, and a plate full of peeled peaches, juicily ripe, dusted with cinnamon and cloves. She is wearing silks; her voice is firm but serene. She makes a comment on the peaches that she served and how, in a couple of hours, she would have considered them past their prime, so she is grateful for the opportunity of sharing the fruits with you. There is something about the way she walks, how she serves the tea, how she sits, that makes it impossible not to pay attention to her every word.

To know the content of the conversation and the outcome of that visit would require multiple doses of the fragrance, but the sole sensations that it produces make me want to further study it, as when you start reading a book and the interest it causes is so profound that you just can´t put it away until you digest every single word written on it.

Talking of books, it is a popular believe that the main inspiration for this perfume was the heroin of the french novel La Bataille by Claude Farrère, a Japanese lady named Mitsouko. Truth is, the fragrance was not composed after Mitsouko the character, but quite the contrary, as it was customary to develop a formula and then come with an interesting name for marketing purposes. In this case, Jacques Guerlain decided to baptize his new creation after the romantic but tragic Japanese character. If I remember correctly, the opposite happened with a Guerlain some seven decades later with Samsara in 1989, composing the fragrance after a predefined concept.

For anyone interested in trying Mitsouko, currently the best way to start is with the eau de parfum, which makes is possible to appreciate a full spectrum of details that would allow you to grasp what the scent is all about. Mitsouko was originally marketed for women, but men should try it with confidence as well. It has been historically worn by men, for instance Charlie Chaplin. Besides, it is an olfactory marvel that should be enjoyed by anyone interested, and confidently, I must add.

Name: Mitsouko
House: Guerlain
Concentration: Eau de parfum
Nose: Jacques Guerlain
Release Year: 1919
Category: Fruity chypre

Reviewed Batch: circa 2012, circa 2013
From personal colletion.

3 thoughts on “Mitsouko the Great: Guerlain – Mitsouko Eau de Parfum Review

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s