Last month when my partner asked me what I wanted for my birthday my reply was vintage Guerlain. No easy feat, but thanks to Ebay and of course my partner, I became the proud owner of a 40-year-old bottle of perfume wizardry, Guerlain’s Mitsouko. The bottle was sealed and had not spent time outside of its box, a fact I knew was true since the black and white zig zag packaging was so fragile I had to cut the bottle out to avoid destroying the box I wanted to preserve. Created by Jacques Guerlain in 1919, Mitsouko is a tip of the hat to Coty’s Le Chypre that came two years before. The name is a character of author Claude Farrere. In his novel La Bataille, Mitsouko is married to a Japanese admiral and falls in love with a young British navel officer. Knowing she can never reveal her true feelings Mitsouko chooses to keep her love concealed. The story is perfectly reflected in the perfume’s original bottle, the same bottle used for 1912’s L’Heure Bleue. The inverted heart shaped stopper reflects Mitsouko’s impossible love as does the scent’s almost austere structure that is often referred to as the closing parenthesis of what World War I meant to Jacques Guerlain. The Belle Epoque mood of prewar, L’Heure Bleue is sharply contrasted by post war Mitsouko.
Any 20th century perfume formula that revolves around oakmoss will have experienced reformulation after the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) imposed restrictions on the potential allergen. Sadly classics such as Mitsouko have undergone a series of reformulations to comply with the IFRA code of practice that all major perfume manufacturers belong to. Perfumer and writer, Roja Dove comments in his book, The Essence of Perfume, “I wore Mitsouko for six months short of 30 years, but stopped wearing it when I could no longer recognize the original scent (a result of the formula changing)”. A dramatic statement as I am sure most experienced Mitsouko wearers can still find elements of the original in modern Mitsouko. It is true that many changes have taken place. Aside from an absence of oakmoss, today’s version is more two-dimensional, lacking the subtle foreplay of the original. Vintage eau de cologne has more emphasis on the top and heart notes. A stunning floral accord of roses and jasmine opens the fragrance almost blinding the wearer from recognizing Mitsouko’s infamous chypre structure. As the bergamot and fruity aspect of peach melts away and the floral accord settles, Mitsouko shows her true form. Spices and resins offer a gourmand experience, which is tempered by a base of powdery notes, oakmoss and patchouli. Although aldehyde C14 is often used as a topnote, Jacques Guerlain used the peachy chemical to modify his chypre accord. Its influence is still perceivable in the fragrance’s drydown, adding a light fruity dusting powder effect to the mossy base.
Luca Turin compares a perfume lover responding to Mitsouko as their favourite fragrance to an art lover saying the Mona Lisa is their favourite painting. Clichés aside, I am sure many Generation Y and D (digital) have no idea what the Mona Lisa is as I am sure many up and coming perfume addicts’ memories span no further than Kenzo’s Flower. I was listening to the radio recently and a young caller missed out on winning a prize because they had no idea who Lionel Ritchie was. I thought, wow, I am getting old! Mitsouko could well become a renaissance hit with young fragrance fans. It is the perfect choice for men during this dandy period men’s fashion is currently exploring.
Perfumer: Jacques Guerlain (original)
Release date: 1919
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Mossy Woods