Mitsouko - the masterpiece, the story, the legend

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Image: AromaX

Mitsouko is a perfume created in 1919 by Jacque Guerlain. Just after the World War I – the time when people tired of cruelties and were longed for softness and joy to smelt the ice in their hardened hearts. The light, warm and tender fragrance fulfilled this need. Mitsouko was a masterpiece that is still popular and loved. One of the few fragrances which has survived all the reformulations without loosing its charm and beauty.

The name Mitsouko comes from a novel of Claude Ferré “La Bataille” (The Battle) written in the same year. The main character is a young Japanese woman Mitsouko, the wife of a Japanese admiral who felt in love with a young British naval attaché – a thrilling affair of passion between two young loving hearts with elements of intrigue and deceit. The admiral did knew about the affair of his wife, but sacrificed his pride for his country.

The rumours says that Guerlain was inspired by his own love affair with a Japanese lady, but the truth remains behind the veil of mystery, because the “Mitsouko” means “mystery” in Japanese.

What does the mystery smell like?

When I put it on my skin it reminds me on cookies – yes, Mitsouko smells cookies on my skin – a sweet slightly milky fragrance I know from my childhood. It fills me with peacefulness and joy and I just want to keep smell this fragrance as one whole note without analysing the ingredients… no oakmoss, no bergamot, no peach – just cookies. My personal experience says that it’s not easy to “smell through” a note of an accord that give you a strong emotional impact – when you either like it a lot or hate. It’s also difficult to analyse a good balanced accord. The good accord is a point when you actually don’t smell the ingredients, but a new note that smells differently than just a mix of the components. The better the accord, the more difficult to analyse. Mitsouko is difficult for me because of both – it’s a perfect accord and it hits my emotions.

Sometimes it helps when you know learn the ingredients first. In perfume terms Mitsouko is a fruity chypre – a perfume based on the contrast between dark, dry, earthy and mossy smell of Oakmoss and light, fresh and citrusy bergamot mixed with a fruity note of peach. It´s remarkable that the spirit of intrigues and deceit is found not only in the name of Mitsouko, but also in the fragrance itself. Mitsouko smells peaches, but there are no peaches in Mitsouko – it’s the first (or one of the first) perfume where the synthetic material is used that is unknown in nature to simulate the peach fragrance.

The peach is made of synthetic material – C-14 (so called peach) aldehyde. In fact the C-14 aldehyde is not an aldehyde, but a lactone, but they didn’t know it in times of Mitsouko, so it’s still called C-14 peach aldehyde (still smell the intrigue and deceit? Even within a single ingredient of the perfume?) The smell of C-14 peach aldehyde (lactone) has a sweet fruitiness of peach and a creamy note of milk. The dark earthy oakmoss is a bit too heavy material to make a light and joyful perfume. The fresh brightness of bergamot alone is not enough to make a good chypre. Mostly you can soften the oakmoss with huge dosage of jasmine (the way how Coty has softened the oakmoss in Chypre). Guerlain found that C-14 peach aldehyde can also tame the beast (as the rumours says by accident, but who knows). Oakmoss, bergamot and peach made from C-14 aldehyde (lactone) – this is the essence of Mitsouko – a perfectly balanced accord.

Other notes reported in Mitsouko are:

Lemon, Mandarin, Neroli, Rose, Jasmine, Clove, Ylang-Ylang , Benzoin, Woody notes, Cinnamon.

It’s remarkable to notice that Mitsouko shares the bottle with another Guerlain perfume of a very different character – L’Heure Bleu. To explain that they often say that it was the time when perfumers didn’t have an idea that each perfume needed its own bottle – people buy what’s inside. But the rumours (yes, the rumours again) say that there was another reason. After the war, in the time of poverty it was not easy to find a bottle for the new perfume and the bottles from the stock were used.

This is a legend. My personal olfactory experiences with Mitsouko may follow sooner or later.

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