Mitsouko by Guerlain

It is difficult to discuss chypre perfumes and not mention contrast and tension, and yet the idea of contrast applies in many different ways for Mitsouko. On one hand, Mitsouko has an internal contrast of its notes and its whole structure – the trio of bergamot, labdanum, and oakmoss makes the olfactory pyramid smell like a wonderful sphere: inky and cool oakmoss is washed with the solar quality of bergamot, warmed with the fruity amber tang of labdanum. Top-middle-and-base are not progressively top-down in nature, but every aspect is present at differing levels and proportions at differing stages; volumes change, drama is created, but this always seems to happen in a controlled manner.

On the other hand, there’s a larger logic to Mitsouko. There doesn’t seem to be a definable element of tension, but rather the entire composition places tension as a largely legible feature, marking the chypre as a chypre.

The chypre trio marks a canvas which suspends the entire composition – effective in that it holds the entire fragrance in submission, able to imbue an incredible severity washed from top to bottom. In Mitsouko there’s a certain dryness that remains luminous yet sleek, warmest most at the core of the fragrance. Not at all enigmatic or strange, rather, complexly and intelligently crafted; never abstract, perhaps it could be, and meditative yet forward.

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Photo by Monsieur Guerlain


To me, the most venerable feature of Mitsouko is its wonderfully complex series of demarcations, where each movement is at once unique yet both vague and familiar. Each stage is definable as its own stage yet is linked to the one before it and plunges wonderfully to the next. Mitsouko is a moving target trapped in a set arena with defined boundaries. Whilst tension may expectedly produce haziness, the fragrance here has remarkable clarity, in my mind marked by the simplicity of its formula.

A great perfume of minimal maximalism, and despite its simplicity, Mitsouko is elegant and whole, certainly grand, but not at all voluptuous. Despite being legible, Mitsouko is a slow burning fragrance that with time expresses itself differently.

Contrasting and enhancing the chypre structure is the application of peach aldehyde, which adds a long and drawn out soft tenacity to Mitsouko without disruption. Rose and jasmine adds a concentrated shower of floralcy and pulls exoticism back into Provençal France in the evening. Cinnamon and pepper fuse to the labdanum-ambery aspect of the chypre, where cinnamon has the natural tendency to be searing hot yet bluntly spiced, and pepper sparkly yet grounding, all working favorably with the overall dryness of Mitsouko, again contrasting the cool and complex purr of oakmoss stirred with waxy and cool orris.

Despite Mitsouko’s short (and perhaps laconic) formula, it is indeed more than the sum of its parts, with a magnificence achievable through competent blending. Mitsouko is at once velvet and leather, forest floor and clear sky, cool and hot, and so forth, presenting itself as the prime example of a fragrance in this style with resolution and a sense of direction. For that reason Mitsouko sets the benchmark of the chypre style, in which there is a larger contrast between the grand themes of tension and resolution. Less cheery or optimistic, but vividly toned.

And furthermore, Mitsouko is a perfume that is both balanced and symmetrical, arguably so much so that it becomes the benchmark for balance within the whole school perfumery. The more I explore scent the more it becomes apparent that balance isn’t necessarily symmetry in perfumery, and internal logic dictates that comparisons between scents can become futile. But, Mitsouko challenges that coherent system, setting the standard in legible perfumes free of superfluousness without lacking nor losing grandeur. Hence, talk of reformulation and older vintages have no effect on me, for the simple reason that I believe Mitsouko is still able to capture both heightened contrast and poised tension possible through the chypre family, perhaps no longer as strikingly, but still effectively so.

To me, that is why Mitsouko never comes across as convincing when notes are jotted on a page, but the way it is assembled is something to be waxed ad nauseum about and fragrance writers continue to do so. Mitsouko is the serious person’s perfume, the ultimate marker of identity. Simply asking someone if they know of Mitsouko, and if that generates conversation, is an adequate and sufficient test if someone actually cares about the construction side of perfume and art itself.

Perhaps it’s clichéd to say you love Mitsouko, but it must be clichéd for a reason.

Legible Complexity. 

Subjective rating: 5/5

Objective rating: 5/5

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2 thoughts on “Mitsouko by Guerlain

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