Mitsouko is spoken of in revered whispers by perfume lovers. Reviews are dripping with love and awe. It’s top of every list as a classic, as a best ever, as a masterpiece. It got to the point where I was starting to feel a bit “Emperor’s New Clothes” about it. Should I pretend to like it just to fit in? It smelled like gone off old paper and lemons last time I tried it.
So what happened to change my mind and tempt me into the web of love for Mitsouko? All I can think of is that must be the weather. I last tried Mitsouko in Winter and it smelled like petrol. It also reminded me of Guerlain Jicky, which I still can’t love. I was starting to think I wasn’t a proper perfume lover and all the other perfumistas would laugh at me. But no, they’re not like that for one thing, and for another thing, as I have said before, there is no right or wrong in perfume, only your personal response.
I tried some Mitsouko this morning, rather disconsolately, before writing it off as an unloved scent. It is a bright, sunny day: more demanding of a light citrus if anything. Suddenly, I couldn’t stop sniffing my wrist. There is a delightful roughness to Mitsouko today, almost like a prickle that I often find in aldehydes or chypres. It’s probably the oakmoss. The peaches are there, which I still have a bit of a problem with, but the spices, lilac, amber, and vetiver make this a delightful, slightly raspy beauty.
It is important to remember that this was made in 1919, the year WWI ended. The lives of women were far more austere then, with a post war lack of frivolity. Their tastes were different. They had not been exposed to years of talc, soap, bleach, air freshener and the thousands of perfumes available to us today. I therefore couldn’t help noticing that what makes Mitsouko stand out is an almost total lack of sweetness or sugariness so common in thousands of scents today. It’s as if Mitsouko could teach us a thing or two about going back to basics.
No vanilla, no blueberries, no gourmand notes (unless you count those peaches): just the spice, flowers, bergamot, oakmoss, and vetiver grass, made complex by their juxtaposition. I prefer this when it has settled and the peaches have retreated. When that’s happened, you are left with an addictive chypre, replete with spice and a pepperiness that balances all the flowers and stops this from being just another bouquet.
The only fragrances similar to Mitsouko are L’Heure Bleu and Jicky. However having said that, these three would have smelled very different to a woman in 1919, in the same way that in a few decades time, all our fruity flroals will smell identical to someone looking back at perfumes made from 2005 onwards.
It is said that L’Heure Bleu represented the start of the war, and Mitsouko the end. Mitsouko is a combination of melancholia and optimism.
Mitsouko is as essential to a scent wardrobe as a good coat is to your sartorial needs. If you like perfume at all, the Guerlain Heritage scents are a living museum of where modern scent began and it is important to try them, even if you don’t like them.