Second chance Monday: Guerlain Mitsouko — I get it, I (finally!) get it

MitsoukoShe likes me, she really likes me. Channeling Sally Field at the Academy Awards in 1985, this post shares a very pleasant surprise for me: finding favor at long last with Mme. Mitsouko. I want to thank the Posse’s Musette for loving it and mentioning it often, and Roja Dove for several of his creations, which helped whet my appetite for scents of this nature. Now I am no fragrance expert, so this is just one perfume lover’s take on a formerly avoided classic.

In the past, I never had any luck with the great Guerlain lady, no matter how I tried. In my defense, though, most of my trials were early on in my fall down the rabbit hole. And the ones I attempted were all of unknown modern vintage and most likely the EDT, although I do remember spritzing the EDP a time or two. (Does anyone have any idea how many times this has been reformulated?) Not to mention there was no telling how long the various store testers had been sitting out on counters and shelves in the light and heat.

On each try, I recall there being a vaguely murky unpleasantness about it, almost a mustiness, and that, combined with an undercurrent of bitterness, overpowered everything else when it hit my skin. “This is what people are waxing poetic about?” I asked myself, puzzled, although I knew in my heart that Mitsouko was a sophisticated, complex scent and difficult to pin down. I just figured that maybe I just wasn’t cut out to be a Mitsy person.

But I’ve heard so many folks testify over the years about how the vintage or parfum version of something turned them around, that I knew there might be hope for me.

So after loving other chypres, and also several of Roja Dove’s beauties, and knowing of his background and history with Guerlain, I figured his Diaghilev (and several other of his chypre-ish creations) couldn’t be all THAT far-flung from Mitsouko. And maybe my nose had developed a deeper appreciation for such over the years. So I took the plunge and got a teensy-tiny sample of vintage parfum. I opened my mind, opened the vial and gingerly applied.

The heavens did not open with angels descending singing “hallelujah” or anything quite so dramatic, but this time Mitsouko’s beauty was plainly evident, unfolding in lovely succession. At the start, the bergamot, rose, jasmine and peach were present, gently glowing, and as it wore on, a dusky warmth ensued as the florals, fruit and spices mixed softly, giving it a plush creaminess and pleasing fullness that had been lacking in my previous attempts. Then, at long last, its woody, mossy drydown rounded everything out to create a smooth and happy ending.

Now I probably won’t be reaching for this very often, and I don’t feel the need to scour the ends of the earth to get a bottle of the vintage, even if I could find it and afford it.

My experience is from dabbed, so I am a wee bit curious about spraying, but cost and availability aside, do I really want to push my luck? Not so much. I’m just happy that Mitsouko has deigned to glance my way and give me a slight nod and the hint of a smile.

Now if only I could get Shalimar, Jicky and Chanel No. 5 to love me …

Have you ever battled with a scent, trying to “get” it and failing time after time, and then one day, for whatever reason, it just clicks?

P.S. I realize the Sally Field quote above is not accurate as to what she actually said in her acceptance, but is a common misquote. But I like it, anyway, and it worked for me.

  • CC ... says:

    I’ve given up on “getting” Mitsy. However, vintage No.5 and Shalimar, I love…so I’m not a complete philistine, thankfully. 🙂

    • Ann says:

      Hi, CC — fret not: As the Meatloaf song goes, “Two out of three ain’t bad.” At any rate, even if you absolutely detested all three, it wouldn’t be the end of the world; you’d still be a cool, full-fledged perfumista. Here at the Posse, we’re firm believers that you like what you like and it’s all all right.

  • Dina C. says:

    Like Tammy and Rosarita, I grew up wearing Arpege, so I was well prepared for Mitsouko. I had never heard of it until I read “Perfumes The Guide” by Tania Sanchez and Luca Turin. His description made me want to try it, so I ordered a sample. I thought it was amazing stuff. I have a bottle of recent edt nowadays, and I like wearing it in the fall best.

    My stomach clenched up reading Michelle’s story of loss. I just want to reach through the internet and give her a hug. So sorry this happened!

    • Ann says:

      Hey, Dina! I’m seconding you on the reaction to Michelle’s tragedy, but hopefully all our good wishes will comfort her and bring good things to her soon. So you like the Mitsouko EDT? Is it the one out now or a bit older?
      Thinking back on it, I really should have liked Mitsy because in college I was wearing and loving lots of sharp, chypre-ish scents, but who knows? Maybe my nose just wasn’t ready for her particular style and it took a while to get there.

  • Mitsy I liked pretty much right away, though the formulation I actually own a bottle of isn’t the best. Shalimar was a tough one for me the first time I tried it. I had gotten a set of carded samples on ebay. The first time I tried it, it made me think of baby wipes, which was an association I wasn’t thrilled with. Smelling vintage changed my mind on that one.

    • Ann says:

      Jennifer, lucky you to have enjoyed Mitsy from the get-go. And I’m glad to hear Shalimar finally clicked for you. I’ve tried almost every iteration of it and I still get that diaper/baby wipes vibe, so I’m just not going to worry about it.

  • poodle says:

    Mitzy and I do not play nicely together. I still can’t find what everyone else raves about. I have trouble with a few of the classic Guerlains. I’m okay with it though because there are plenty of other perfumes out there to tickle my nose.

    • Ann says:

      Yes, Poodle, I agree — plenty of other fish in the perfume sea to love. If I never “get” Shalimar, well, it won’t be that big of a deal. BTW, hope you’re holding up OK and hanging in there. Thinking of you and sending you a big (non-Mitsouko) hug!

  • FeralJasmine says:

    Hi Ann, glad the Lady decided to cooperate with you. I don’t care for most Guerlains because the base goes weird on me, with a prominent note that smells a lot like disposable diapers (in their unused state, I hasten to add.) so I have finally given up on the line, except for SDV. But I recognize them as classics, except in the newest forms, and love to hear about other people wearing them.

    • Ann says:

      Hi, lady! It’s so funny that you mentioned the diapers — sometimes that is what I get a little of with Shalimar (nobody throw anything at me, ha!). I don’t get on with all that many Guerlains either, but I’ve found several that are quite nice, including the SDV you mentioned. Yum!

  • Tiara says:

    Feel so bad for Michelle….that’s awful.

    I finally got No 5 but have given up on Shalimar, Mitsy, Joy and a few others. There are so many other perfumes to enjoy that I don’t mind skipping these. I don’t want to work that hard at pleasure!

    • FeralJasmine says:

      “I don’t want to work that hard at pleasure.” Love this, Tiara! I will give something a few tries, maybe try an older version once or twice, but won’t labor at my perfume. Besides, this hobby is expensive enough without straining to acquire new lemmings.

      • Ann says:

        Tiara and FeralJasmine, you are so right — there’s no sense fretting over elusive perfumes. But when one does finally click, it is so nice.

  • Sherri says:

    Yes, definitely! A lot of the Frederic Malles were just “okay” the first wearing, BUT after about three wearings, I fell head over heels in love with Lys Mediterannee (it took the Tom Ford lily to make me crave this one and in turn fully appreciate what a beauty LM is!), Portrait of a Lady (took dropping a sample onto the bathroom floor; don’t recommend this method of becoming addicted 🙂 ), Fleur de Cassie (it initially smelled like Apres L’ondee to me; not that there’s anything wrong with AL, just kinda reminded me of my grandmother. It took 3-4 wearings to fully appreciate it, and the thing with FdC is it always smells different each time I wear it! Iris Poudre, I absolutely hated first sniff, and now adore it!

    Lemme tell you, FM selling that discovery set is a great move on their part. We, as perfumistas, get to spend time with each fragrance, and speaking from my experience, end up with several full bottles one we get to know the fragrances (and one needs several wearings to become acquainted with this line especially). The quality of these perfumes is amazing and quite addictive!

    Also, my two cents on Chanel No. 5: try an OLD vintage bottle of Eau de Cologne (not EDT). Mine has an $8 sticker from Walgreens on the bottom on the box if that’s an age indication. It is absolutely gorgeous! It has a not exactly snuggly (Chanel and snuggly seldom go together in my mind) but sensual quality the other versions lack, and none of the irritating whatever it is about other Chanels that bothers me.

    • Ann says:

      Hi, sweet Sherri! Thanks so much for sharing your experience with the Frederic Malles. They might take a little while to love, but boy, are they worth the effort. And thanks for the tip about the No. 5 — I’ll be on the lookout for that version. I’ve found that the Eau Premiere is about the closest I can get to “liking” a No. 5, but not sure if that really counts. 🙂

  • Lynley says:

    Oh Michelle I just want to send my condolences, that’s such a tragedy. I’d have cried for hours!

    Fracas is my loathe to love frag. I HATED it, and any tuberose. They just smelt sickly sweet and plasticy and made my head hurt. Then one day I tried it again and just ‘got’ it. It’s like it was a totally different smell and I could notice all the nuances I couldn’t smell before. It even made my lifelong nemesis Poison (vintage parfum only) almost likable! 🙂

    • Ann says:

      Lynley, I think most of us are crying as well. What a heartbreaking thing to have happen! Too funny about the Fracas — truly, what a difference a day made, eh? I must confess to loving the tiniest dab of vintage Poison; I always have, but folks just oversaturated it there for a while. Now that it’s (mostly) faded from people’s memories, I can wear it sparingly and enjoy it.

    • malsnano86 says:

      I hated Poison for EEEEEEVER – but it was, as Ann, says, one of those scents that people way overdid. I mean, you could not walk through a girls’ dorm at college without coming out smelling of Poison… now that it’s not in the air all the time, I rather like it.

  • rosarita says:

    Thanks for sharing your story, Ann! I haven’t spent much time trying to “get” Mitsouko because I’ve read so much about how wonderful the vintage is and I don’t want to fall down the vintage search rabbit hole. What I’ve sampled is undoubtedly modern and all I smell is peach and I’m not a fan of peach; Shalimar on the other hand is perfection to my nose, and I didn’t discover it till nine years ago. Chanel 5 has been part of my life for decades but then Arpege was my first perfume, given to me when I was 8. Personally it’s been gourmands that I am just now “getting” and I enjoy the occasional fruitchouli, which took a good ten years to grasp. Still not for everyday use.

    • Ann says:

      Thanks, dear! And as I mentioned above, I’m right there with you on the vintage search thing — just not doing it. I do envy you getting along so well with Shalimar and No. 5 though. Which gourmands and fruitchoulis are you enjoying?

  • malsnano86 says:

    It took me a long time to appreciate Mitsouko. I knew I ought to at least try it, and I think I tried it in seventeen different combinations of relatively-modern edt, vintage edt, edp of unknown provenance, vintage parfum from TPC, in cold weather, warm weather, rain, sun… SIGH. Nothin’ but ewwww.

    I also failed with several other fruity chypres: AdP Profumo, So Pretty, vintage Femme (oddly, the modern was okay), Miss Dior Cherie, Parure, Yvresse… ugh. However, after enjoying vintage Miss Dior parfum and a sample of Diaghilev edp – which has, to my nose, a distinct reference in the first ten minutes to Velvet Stage Curtain* – and shelling out for a sample of vintage Coty Chypre parfum which I promptly fell in love with, I bought one of those teeny-tiny 2ml Mitsy parfum bottles, you know the ones that come in the cute little patterned box? It was lovely: autumnal, rounded, rich, smooth. A Mitsy-loving friend tells me this was made in the early 90s, and it’s a good version.

    I still didn’t LOVE it, but at least I finally GOT it. I don’t really wear it so I should probably sell it on ebay and at least recoup part of the $30 I paid for the adorable presentation.

    The 10ml bottle of vintage Coty Chypre parfum I paid $130 is worth every penny, though.

    * I’d forgotten the story about Diaghilev spraying his curtains with Mitsouko when I tested Diaghilev, and it took me several minutes to figure out why the fragrance was reminding me of middle school… our 7th-8th choir had no classroom, so we met on the auditorium stage where the piano was, and yes, there was a freshly cleaned velvet stage curtain there! I thought that was genius to put into a fragrance.

    • Ann says:

      Howdy, Mals! I’m loving your stories and your experiences with those scents. And I’m glad you at least “got” Mitsy, even if it’s not love. But that Coty Chypre — woo-hoo — you hit the perfume jackpot! Enjoy every last drop of that great.

  • Michelle says:

    Oh Ann,

    I’m in mourning. This weekend the top shelf where I store perfumes somehow came apart and brought everything to the floor. Four bottles were completely smashed, Crepe de Chine, a lyre bottle of Bal a Versailles, Escada Margaretha Ley, and the most precious enormous baccarat vintage sealed Mitsouko. I cried for about 2 hours. I had some amazing luck a few years ago and picked it up at an antique fair for under $50. It was so beautiful! I had planned to open it after I defended my thesis to celebrate last year, but never could bring myself to cut that string. Boy, am I kicking myself. I don’t know what I’m supposed to learn from this, I guess that everything we hold dear is fleeting, so grab a hold of it and use it now, don’t wait.

    I’m happy that you are able to appreciate it now!

    • malsnano86 says:

      OH NO. Can’t blame you for the tears, that’s a real loss – and a reminder that life is short.

      The only places I park perfume are a) current seasonal rotation in a hatbox on my dresser and b) everything else inside the bedside cabinet (an old washstand): dark, climate-controlled, and relatively close to the carpeted floor. However, it occurs to me that I didn’t really have any forethought for possible smash prevention. It’s just what I happen to have available to me, so I can’t congratulate myself.

      Will cross my fingers that the universe puts another bottle of vintage Mitsy in your path someday.

    • Ann says:

      Oh, no, Michelle! I am so, so sorry to hear that. Reading this makes me want to cry, too. It’s so maddening when accidents like these happen, isn’t it? And it makes you want to triple-wrap everything in bubble-wrap, but that puts such a damper on one’s enjoyment of the perfume. I’m thinking of you and commiserating with you (as I’m sure many others are and will be, too). Hang in there; I’m hoping the universe will bring some similar treasures your way soon that you can enjoy.

    • rosarita says:

      Oh, Michelle, what a terrible thing to happen! I’m so sorry, just had to share my condolences 🙁

    • Gwenyth says:

      May I offer my sincere condolences on your loss? What a heartbreaking situation.
      We, your fellow Perfumistas understand and offer hugs ((MIchelle)) of support.

      If there is a lesson to be learned from this sad situation it may be: life is ephemeral so enjoy the people we love and enjoy experiences which come to us; perfume is a ‘thing’ that brings joy so “gather ye roses while ye may”.

      Congratulations, however, on your education accomplishments! Master’s Degree? Good for you. 🙂
      I am a lucky one. I adored Mitsouko at first spritz. Most of the formulations I’ve sampled have been wonderful. I didn’t know Mitsouko existed until I was almost 50 years old. I had loved perfume all those years but, because of a serious lack of upscale shops which sold perfumes, I did not have the opportunity to sample it. One day I was in a large store in a large city and spied a bottle on the counter. Spritzed. My eyes rolled back in my head. I was overcome with the beauty of this creation and I think I even had tears form in my eyes from the wonder of it all…..

      That was the beginning of my fall down the rabbit hole on my journey to becoming a Perfumista.
      Mitsouko. She started it. 🙂

      • Ann says:

        Gwenyth, I love it that Mitsy started you on your fall down the rabbit hole — what a classy way to go!

    • tammy says:

      Oh my goodness, I got teary-eyed reading this. I am so sorry. It wasn’t just the Mitsouko; you lost several really gorgeous things.

      I’m sending out good vibes and certainty that you’ll be able to replace these bottles and find even more good things!

      • Musette says:

        Oh, sweetie! That is heartbreaking. But perhaps it’s a reminder to Eat Dessert First! I wear EVERYTHING. No more hoarding.

        I foresee you defending the living hell out of your dissertation, blowing their minds….and you will do it in whatever the heck you want to wear on that day. Mitsouko would’ve been proud to celebrate with you and She’ll be with you in spirit!


    • Martha says:

      Michelle, I am very sorry to read about the broken bottles of perfume. It is a bit of a treasure hunt to find some of those old bottles so I hope you are again successful should you decide to replace the ones you lost.

  • Portia says:

    Hi Ann,
    I grew up with most of the classics so that’s what I expect fragrances to smell like. Mitsouko and I have been friends for a long time.
    I am starting to like fruitchouli, recently there have been a couple of them that I have had a craving for, Coco Mademoiselle and Miss Dior le Parfum have both turned mt head. All because I fell madly in love with Cacharel’s Liberte last year. Now I can’t see myself wearing them exclusively but at least I’m not turning away either.
    Portia xx

    • Ann says:

      Hi, Portia! Hope you guys are cooling down a bit down there. You are so fortunate to have had that experience in your youth; I grew up in a tiny backwater town in Florida and any serious perfume was 80 miles away. So I got the usual suspects for girls growing up. So glad you’re finding some love among fruitchoulis; there are some nice ones out there.

  • eldarwen22 says:

    At various points in my perfume nut journey, there have been perfumes that I didn’t like in the beginning then just fell in love with. For the longest while, I had a hell of a time with no. 22 because I found the aldehydes to be on the harsh side. Worth Courtesan was the whole fruity thing that did go into love. No. 5 was the whole rancid thing when I put the lotion on in the department store. Now, I didn’t like Mitsouko in the beginning and it was the huge peach note but I kept coming back and couldn’t figure out why. Mitsy makes you work for it, it’s like peeling an onion. I love the current Mitsy in EDP form and the current EDT is a disgrace to the name. It took me a while to enjoy Mitsy in vintage form though.

    • Ann says:

      Isn’t that always the way? But it is wonderful when that certain something finally clicks. I hear you on the lotion — not good. In fact, unless the scent has just launched and I know the lotion is fresh, I rarely will test it in the store. They go bad so fast in the heat and the lights that you just don’t know, and an icky experience could ruin the scent for you altogether. Must try the current EDP Mitsy the next time I’m in the city, though. Thanks!

  • Martha says:

    I wonder about the confluence of factors that has to occur before a perfumista finally gets a particular fragrance? In part, I think it’s due to olfactory education. You know, simply sniffing and smelling dozens of different things until you emotionally engage in an open- minded way with a scent. There was a thread on Basenotes last summer or fall about a current iteration of Mitsouko being really good, so maybe you were just smelling some lousy formulations before now. I think that I have smelled only the EDT and didn’t really like it much

    • Ann says:

      Howdy, Martha! I think you are so right — sometimes all the pieces have to come together, the stars align, etc., for the magic to happen. And so glad to know about the Mitsouko; I need to go look that up on Basenotes. Thanks!

  • tammy says:

    Arpege helped me to at least appreciate Chanel No. 5, and Femme helped me come to love Mitsy. Didn’t like her at all upon first sniff, but years later when I sampled and fell in love with Femme, the lightbulb went off! I really love it now. Have never warmed up to the Chanel, but Arpege and Y helped me “get” aldehydes, which had previously just smelled like hairspray or some other chemical-type thing to me.

    Y probably helped ease me into Mitsy as well, come to think of it. It has certainly made me a slave to oakmoss! 😛 (Not to mention a bitter hater of IFRA)

    • Ann says:

      Thanks, Tammy! I love it how one scent ends up turning into an entry point for another scent and so on. I guess that’s how we build our tastes. I’ve never tried Y, and my mom wore Arpege, I think, for a spell, before switching over to Ma Griffe, but that was before my time. So I definitely need to sniff both.

  • Liz K says:

    Mitsouko and No. 5 were love at first sniff for me but Shalimar is another story. I fear I will never understand her. Coco was the one that took me a while to love. My cousin and mother both wear it and wear it well and it always used to make me long for fresh air. I now sneak a quick (very light) spritz when I visit.

    • Ann says:

      Lucky you, Liz, to have had instant love with two of the classics. Glad you’re starting to come around to Coco, but I know what you mean — easy does it!