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'Mitsouko' was launched by Guerlain way back in 1919 but was tweaked and re-launched a couple of years back; somehow that passed me by but a fantastic sales assistant in a local perfume store introduced me to the eau de toilette that quickly established itself as my current favourite.
I had some money burning a hole in my purse and asked the assistant to recommend something spicy but a little bit different. Among the handful of ideas she came up with was 'Mitsouko': it's generally classified as a 'fruity chypre', a description that misses the mark in my opinion as, to my nose, this is a warm, slightly powdery and vaguely old-fashioned scent that, though it does have the woody greenness that characterises a the chypre fragrances, is more floral than fruity despite a distinctive hit of peach.
It is thought that the name Mitsouko was inspired by a story by French author Claude Farrere. The story is set in Japan and the action takes place during the Russo-Japanese wars; the story describes an illicit romance between a British army officer and Mitsouko, the wife of Japanese Emperor Togo. As both men go to battle, Mitsouko waits quietly at home, not knowing which will be the one to return safely to become her companion. The fragrance seems to me to reflect the story quite nicely; though this is a beautiful scent it is at the same time understated and modest. It has an air of formality I associate with the Japanese but a mysterious side that comes from the overall blend of notes which creates something quite unlike any other perfume I can think of.
The top notes are cool and give no clue to the direction the fragrance will move in; the jasmine is the one that really grabs me but there's also a little citrus and bergamot. After a minute or so the sharper elements fade gently and the floral aspects start to develop, most notably an old-fashioned rose note.
The middle notes see Mitsouko find its place as a classic floral scent with lilac joining the rose and jasmine. However there's a fresh but not too tangy peach note in there too which I think stops this fragrance being too 'old ladyish'. The middle notes don't last long enough in my opinion but I love the finish so much that I don't really mind.
The base notes are what I love most about this perfume; in fact, I initially decided against this fragrance but after an hour's shopping, I returned to the store to buy it, having allowed the later stages of the scent's development to persuade me. Though many reviewers rave about the oakmoss it's the amber note that appeals most to me. It's warm and sensual and exotic. There's a vague hint of cinnamon and a hit of vetiver too.
Personally I find this a long lasting scent on my own skin though I'm aware others have complained about its staying power. As this is such an unusual scent I would suggest trying it at the beginning of the day and giving it a chance to really develop before making a decision. The scent stays close to my skin; it's not one friends have commented on until quite close to me.
The bottle is quite simple and understated yet conveys a 1920s elegance with classical scrolls at the shoulders and on the lid.
I bought the 30ml eau de toilette and it is a fragrance I do not regret buying as an EDT rather and than the eau de parfum. I have been unable to find it online at many retailers but it is currently available from perfumesclub.co.uk priced at £33.08. I bought mine from the Perfume Shop and it may be worth trying their high street stores.
Guerlain of Paris perfumes are world famous - not only for their unique scents but also for their perfumes named after famous places and stories. Certainly, a brilliant marketing technique has been making these perfumes attractive to the ear, long before the customer becomes attracted to the scent.
As a tiny bit of background, I will tell you who Mitsouko was. According to the Guerlain web page, the name Mitsouko comes from a character in a French novel. "Mitsouko was a beautiful Japanese woman, married to Admiral Togo. A British officer also secretly loved her. In 1905, when war breaks out between Russia and Japan, Mitsouko awaits with dignity the outcome of the battle, nobly overcoming her feelings." Something close to, but not exactly similar to the story of Madame Butterfly, I suppose.
OK, so we know that this fragrance is supposed to evoke a story that happened in the orient. However, I would not say that this fragrance is oriental, which to me means very spicy and sweet. The primary overtones of this fragrance are the woody scents with some spices as well. There is a hint of flowers, certainly rose and maybe a touch of jasmine as well. Finally, this is not at all sweet or musky, but rather an arid scent with almost a dry, paper-like tone to it. From the webpage, you can see that the head notes are bergamot and peach, the heart notes are jasmine and may rose, and the base notes are spices, oak moss, veviter and woods. I have no idea what veviter is and I am not sure what bergamot smells like, but everything else seems to fit what I have experienced with this perfume. Guerlain also describes this fragrance as "Mysterious, balanced and sumptuous" which I can also agree with. That may not tell you much but perhaps the following will.
When you first open the bottle, the arid almost dusty scent hits you. Soon afterwards, you get the wood and spice scents. As the fragrance dissipates a bit, you will smell the hint of flowers. After you put it on - and I suggest you do so sparingly, it eventually (after a very long time) will fade and the spice scent will continue with you, along with a hint of the flower scent - but you also get a slightly fruity scent introduced. It is not a sweet fruity scent, but more like an apple that's been cooked with cinnamon and clove.
You only need to use a tiny bit of this perfume, since it is a perfume and not cologne. I take the stopper and put a drop behind each ear, at my wrists, inside of my elbows, base of my neck, between my... um... in my cleavage, and behind my knees. That is all you need, really. I received this as a gift for my Bat Mitzvah when I was almost 13 years old, and I still have almost half a bottle of it left. If you keep the stopper well closed, this will not evaporate. Although this is an expensive perfume, you will definitely get value for your money because of how long it will last (mine has lasted over 35 years!).
What's more, I just love the look of the bottle with all the other colognes I have. The bottle is almost identical to their L'Heure Bleue perfume (which is apparently on purpose, because this perfume is about the beginning of the war and L'Heure Bleue is about the end of the war). The stopper looks like an upside-down heart that is a hollow. The clear bottle, which holds the pale, caramel coloured product, has a scroll design that looks a bit like those fringed pads that soldiers used to wear on their shoulders. It may seem a bit old fashioned, but certainly is a pleasant contrast to the stark modern bottles you will see on the shelves these days.
I'd say that this is a real evening perfume, meant for wearing on a special night out like to the opera or theatre - not just because its expensive, but because the scent is sophisticated, and not the least bit sporty. It also would seem more appropriate to wear this scent in cooler weather since the spice and wood tones remind me of autumn and falling leaves, and a chill in the air.
I do not wear this often, but when I do, it makes me feel sexy, sophisticated, and romantic. I hope I never run out since I may never be able to afford to buy another bottle of the perfume (well, perhaps I'll find the funds to get the eau de perfume spray, some day)! Four stars, but only because of the price.
Thanks for reading!
Davida Chazan © September 2002, updated February 2006
The official web page for all Guerlain perfumes is located at http://www.guerlain.com and they list all the possible types of fragrances, make up and skin care products they produce. Try clicking on the "Tips" link, go into "Discover your fragrance", and take their survey. This will help you discover what scents would be best for you. I just did this again yesterday and strangely enough, the first scent on the list that they chose for me was Mitsouko! How about that? Apparently who ever it was that gave me this perfume 35 years ago, knew me quite well.
Guerlain perfumes are available in the finest department stores across the UK (and apparently in the better high street Boots) and through most good on-line cosmetics sites (but not on Boots.com).
For an example of prices found on-line, the 30ml Eau De Toilette Spray of this fragrance at http://www.fragrancebay.com/ for £14.99 when the regular retail price is £18.00, and the 50ml spray costs £19.99. On http://www.cheapsmells.com I found that the 75ml eau de perfume spray costs as much as £33.95, and both their 30ml and 50ml eau de toilette sprays are more expensive than at fragrancebay.com. Shop around, and even try e-bay since I'm sure you can get better prices for this if you want.