Guerlain Mitsouko

Posted: Dec 08 2015

Many perfume aficionados, when asked what fragrance they would take with them to a desert island, answer “Mitsouko” without a moment’s hesitation. Created in 1919 by the great perfumer Jacques Guerlain, legend has it that François Coty sold him the formula for Chypre, and Guerlain added the peach base Persicol (now known by its chemical name undecalactone) until he achieved a sparkling, rich, elegant, spicy perfume that smells absolutely phenomenal on anyone. I've often heard it referred to as "the chypre, perfected," which I don't find to be an inaccurate statement. It took the slightly rough but revolutionary structure of Chypre and smoothed it out into a fragrance of unearthly beauty.

Upon the opening, I primarily get citrus, peaches, and spices. Many people report a rich, powdery oakmoss note, but I get considerably less oakmoss here than I would otherwise expect to. The peach remains the dominant note, but it’s a clean, elegant, understated peach rather than the sweet, unctuous peaches (and other fruits) that you might encounter in modern perfumery.

After about an hour, the central chypre construct of the perfume comes into full focus and the oakmoss, labdanum, and patchouli become much more obvious. It delicately balances between the rich powderiness of the oakmoss and the sweet, delicate elegance of the Persicol, which develops a slightly apricot-like character as the chypre facets of the perfume become more obvious. Much of the spice dissipates as the perfume progresses, replaced by vetiver, lilac, and rose. The effect is of delicately fruity wood, rich and lush, with overtones of the smooth velvet character of labdanum. The peach never fades and is really the defining characteristic of the perfume, which I find utterly incredible; here is a masterpiece of olfactory design, one of the greatest perfumes ever built, whose defining characteristic is a note that has become utterly reviled in modern perfumery for being disgustingly saccharine and overbearing. In the face of all this, that which did it first did it best, and Mitsouko manages to pull off the peach character with the elegance and aplomb of a French aristocrat. Yet it presents itself with such warmth, such guileless friendliness, that it’s nearly impossible to find it overbearing or mechanical in its structure.

The great perfumer Guy Robert once famously said that “Above all, a perfume must smell good.” Many perfumers in the modern era have forgotten this. Mitsouko should serve as the ultimate reminder; with the exception of Dzing!, I’ve not encountered anything that smells better in my entire life.

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