Guerlain Mitsouko: Well Who Would Have Thought It?


 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.



8 thoughts on “Guerlain Mitsouko: Well Who Would Have Thought It?”

  1. I have heard many good things about Mitsouko, but when I went and smelled it I wasn’t too impressed (it wasn’t winter). Maybe I should give it another try!

    PS: This is Mel, from MLIR 🙂

  2. An old classic like Mitsouko is an acquired taste to some… escargot or avocados. I personally love escargot, avocados and Mitsouko. I am trilled you have found your way to it.

  3. I couldn’t bear Mitsouko for years, it was only once I’d come to love chypres (thank you Miss Balmain) that I could enjoy it. It’s still not my favourite Guerlain – those peaches don’t work for me either – but I can wear and appreciate it now. It still reminds me of my lovely Nana, even though apparently she never wore it.

    I am a fellow Shalimar-phobe, too. I am simply not woman enough to wear it. So my octogenarian Mother snagged the bottle I’d bought on ebay and douses herself in it when she’s not doused in Miller Harris’ Fleur Oriental (a much more wearable vanilla). She adores Shalimar.

    I love Jicky – the bright floor-polish lemon and lavender suits me somehow and then the filthy base suits me too. I have never been a floral gal, and I wish I had known about Jicky when I was growing up and thinking I wasn’t a ‘proper’ girl because I didn’t like all the flowery perfumes that were on the market. I might have made Jicky the ‘signature scent’ we were all advised to seek out and stick to.

    But how could I live without Vol de Nuit? I know you are a fellow Vol lover. And the story behind the perfume is so romantic and exotic, it sums it up in a way. When there was a quiz on the Guerlain website I would try SO hard to be diagnosed as a Vol de Nuit kind of gal, described as bold and audacious, daring and courageous. I hope they never stop making that glorious juice.

    And what about L’Heure Bleue – that mysterious, evocative oriental glory that still bewitches me. Or Apres l’Ondee? For all its slightly melancholy connotations, I would douse my adorable daughter in Apres L’Ondee if she would let me: a young lady smelling of violets and heliotrope is so delicious.

    1. And you have just explained perfectly why I like Mitsouko now and didn’t like it before. It’s because of my conversion to chypres! Of course! How could I not have realised it before? Thank you!

      Jicky is just too kind of dry and humourless for me (the opposite of you!), but as you know, I fell hard for Vol de Nuit. Its every perfume you’ll ever need in one bottle. Gorgeous and classy.

  4. I spent years trying Mitsouko in the duty free but not buying it because it was too expensive/grown up; but I kept going back and trying it though. Now its my posh night out perfume and I’m doing my best to expand my repertoire from just two – day and night. You’re a bad/good influence.

Leave a Reply