Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Guerlain Mitsouko


Do you know how Chanel No.5 is an abstract Floral, because of all the aldehydes smoothing over the notes making them less distinctive, making one powdery, unified scent? To me, Guerlain Mitsouko (1919) is like an abstract olive, and maybe that's the imagery that was intended of its predecessors, Coty L'Origan, Chypre and all the chypre type perfume preceding those--maybe not, and maybe it's just my nose, and you smell in Mitsouko, the exemplary Fruity Chypre, all the promised peach with florals, oakmoss and vetiver. Chypre being an olfactive family with ancient Greco-Roman roots dating back to Cyprus, Mitsouko, even with a stylized Japanese name, smells Mediterranean--but again, in an abstract fashion. What Mitsouko doesn't smell like is anything bright or sunny; there is no Mediterranean beach or breeze, no lush greenery, fig leaves, passionate roses fit for Venus, crystalline sparkles of bergamot. Mitsouko smells to me like the fatty roundness of an olive or foie gras. It's spicy, too, like jagged black pepper and cinnamon straight from the start, and the peach mentioned in the notes doesn't smell peachy to me in the least but it only rounds out the green, oily, concentrated, dark green, mossy, unsweet, heavy smell. Perhaps you're getting the drift that this is one jaded scent with no hope from the start of anything remotely to do with happiness. Ah, but what is classical romance without female suffering?

The melancholic, dramatic scent was named for a character in a French novel called La Bataille by Claude Farrčre. It featured the doomed love between Mitsouko, the wife of a Japanese admiral, and a British officer during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05). My mother loved this scent and wore it for at least a decade of my early life. I was so happy when she made the switch to Jean Patou Joy--sorry, no offense, but I grew up thinking Mitsouko was a somewhat musty scent, hard for me to take. I like it much better today, and in the bottle, it smells so mysterious and refined, not quite like a spiced fruitcake but if it were sweeter, it could be. I don't know why I can wear L'Heure Bleue which is similar in many ways and also a bit musty, but not this one. Of course, I concur Mitsouko is a great classic in the perfume world, a masterpiece to be referenced and studied for generations to come. I'm still trying to understand it every time I return to my pre-reformulation parfum. An aspect of Mitsouko I love is that it somehow reminds me of the smell of an old Japanese country house, especially after the rain. It is a Chypre but perhaps true to its literary muse, it has a warm, woodsy Oriental soul.

OsMoz lists these notes:
Guerlain Mitsouko (1919 Fruity Chypre)
Top note: Bergamot, Lemon, Mandarin, Neroli
Middle note: Peach, Rose, Clove, Ylang-Ylang
Base note: Oakmoss, Benzoin, Vetiver, Cinnamon

Jan Moran's notes:
Guerlain Mitsouko (1919 Chypre - Fruity)
Top Notes: Peach, bergamot, hesperides
Heart Notes: Lilac, rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang
Base Notes: Vetiver, amber, oakmoss, cinnamon, spices

Incidentally, the name Mitsouko probably came from Mitsuko which could have several meanings depending on the character used in writing it. "Mitsu" could mean "light", and the word "himitsu" means "mystery". The "ko" is a once-popular gender-specific suffix for girls' names meaning "child".

(Guerlain Mitsouko 1965 ad)