Guerlain Mitsouko Festival of Weirdness

Today´s Festival of Weirdness includes: a scent sleuth story; my new odd perfume love;  and a little weird music. Pick and choose.

I was leaving the house, early and a little hung over, for training at an outdoor environmental research center. As I poured my coffee I caught a whiff of scent on my sweater. Suddenly I became obsessed with recalling a fragrance — not the one I was smelling, but some other fragrance it reminded me of. There was an earlier scent, a lovely and perfect smell, and it danced around maddeningly on the edges of my mind and wouldn’t stand still. Clearly something I had been neglecting recently, but what? Suddenly nothing else seemed more important. What scent was I trying to remember? I went up and peered into my perfume closet, rifled through the Candy Box, stared at my bottles. Hmmmm. Was it L’Artisan? Maybe Passage d’Enfer? No… the longer I looked the more the entire thing drove me nuts. What fragrance was I trying so frantically to remember? Finally in sheer desperation I started pawing through my earliest, most primal perfume loves. And yes. Of course. Really, what else could it have been?

guerlain mitsoukoIt was Guerlain Mitsouko.

The spectacularly strange classic that probably more than any other launched my obsession. If you are reading this and you have never tried Guerlain Mitsouko, please give it a sniff some day. The EDT will give you the general idea, but (like most Guerlains) it pales beside the smoothness of the EDP. When I wear the parfum I am … the Queen. I am not even going to try to describe it, although I include this quote from Chandler Burr’s fabulous story on weird fragrances in the August 2005 New York Times:

Frederic Malle, the creator of the exquisite Editions de Parfums, defines {weird fragrances} nicely: “They are themselves.” For Malle (and lots of others), Guerlain’ Mitsouko is one of the smartest fragrances ever, “a bizarre accord of chypre, fruit and you have absolutely no idea what else.”

I realized suddenly why I had such a difficult time remembering such a distinctive fragrance. I was not trying to recall the weird smell of Guerlain Mitsouko freshly applied. I was trying to conjure up what might be my favorite, most familiar Mitsouko: the way it smells days (or weeks) later on the sleeve of a wool sweater, on a scarf, on the collar of my velvet evening coat.


I can execute a complete about-face when it comes to a fragrance. Sometimes this 180-degree reversal comes on the next wearing, as it did recently with Lorenzo Villoresi´s Garofano, which was a too-green rose the first time out of the gate, and a stunning, leafy carnation from then on. Sometimes this reversal comes weeks (or months) later, frequently when I´ve had a chance to reconsider something about the fragrance and examine it from a new perspective.

Le Labo Vetiver 46 represents a different sort of reversal — it is something I would have rejected instantly as completely unwearable not so long ago. On me, Vetiver 46 is an outer-limits style of fragrance I´m now willing to explore. Having broadened my horizons considerably during the last year of devoted scent sluttishness, my definition of “fragrance” has moved well beyond scents most people might reasonably describe as at least pretty, into the far reaches of the sort of experiential you-are-there virtual reality perfumes described by Cait here on Legerdenez. Vetiver 46 is breaking new ground for me: a fragrance that is almost anti-seductive. Le Labo Vetiver´s notes are vetiver, pepper, gaiac, labdanum, cedar, and olibanum, and on me it smells, basically, like incense and a musky, sweaty post-coital armpit. The best I can hope for when I wear it is that nobody around me can smell it.

So why on earth do I wear it? Because it smells interesting, and (in this particular case) sexual in a way I find pleasing. It has a circular, humming quality that reminds me of a tune off the soundtrack of my misspent youth, the musical piece “Mea Culpa” by David Byrne and Brian Eno on the fantastic, eerie My Life In the Bush of Ghosts (1981), an album so revered by the funky (and frequently sampled) it has its own website here where you can listen to an excerpt of “Mea Culpa”, which is all drumbeat and unintelligible mutterings over a bass that propels you forward into unfamiliar darkness. (see footnote)


Footnote — here´s a great description of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts from

“Every song is built around pre-existing recordings, from taped exorcisms to radio show callers to the chanting of Algerian Muslims. Using sometimes large, sometimes small pieces of this original fabric, David Byrne and Brian Eno proceed to transmogrify them into frighteningly modern music with the occasional aid of likeminded artists. “Regiment –  grooves along to Lebanese mountain singer Dunya Yusin (who is also represented on “The Carrier” “America Is Waiting” is the closest to Talking Heads´ music, “Mea Culpa” slows an argument below comprehension, “Help Me Somebody” is a jet-propelled sermon, and “The Jezebel Spirit” sets an exorcism in a suitably harrowing arrangement. Side two adopts a more subdued approach, beginning with the remarkably effective “Qu´ran” and ending with an ambient piece featuring no taped voices, “Mountain of Needles.”  Byrne and Eno were undoubtedly pioneers (although artists like Holger Czukay had reached this summit earlier), and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is telescopic in its vision… My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is a landmark album – twenty years on it´s still fresh – and fanned the dim flame of hope that, if extinguished, might have caused many a musical fan to throw themselves before the wheels of an unstoppable REO Speedwagon.”

  • Patty says:

    Hi, Patty, and welcome from the other Patty.

    I’m so glad you found us.

  • Patty says:

    I LOVE this blog! I can’t believe that there is so much wonderful writing about perfume on the internet. After hearing about the Duke U. PhD student who writes Bois de Jasmin, I spent an entire day following link after link, reading perfume blogs and ordering samples. You make me want to try Mitsouko all over again.

  • March says:

    Sybil, I got your package in the mail yesterday. Let me know if you like anything.:)

  • March says:

    Katie — thanks for the link, that was really interesting. I used to spend some time listening to King Crimson too. Glad you got your pkg. Good luck with the move!:)>-

  • sybil says:

    March…I will look forward to applying Mitsouko liberally! Thank you! And I’ll try and e-mail you a pic of my dog…or have my daughter do it, more likely.

  • Katie says:

    Okay so this is SO WEIRD that you mention Eno, because I *just* read a copy of an old article from Details magazine where he stakes out his OWN perfume obsession –

    (If that didn’t copy and paste correctly, I’ll try it again as html if the commenting system you’re using here will let me.)

    I just saw that link maybe a few days ago on a POL thread, too. What a strange coincidence!

    PS – This Linden-lover owes you a big thank you email, M, thanks!

  • March says:

    Cait — yes. Perfume haunts me, from my mother’s My Sin on into the present, and I suppose the future… will I ever settle down enough to be able to allow my daughters to associate a single perfume with me? I wonder.

    Weird. Mitsouko reminds me of rain too. It is completely inappropriate on a sunny day. En Passant, Passage d’Enfer (incense in general) make me think of rain.

    Goody on the package! FYI I sent yours a couple of days ago… I took your spice rack dig seriously and tried to include some non-incense stuff, there’s a couple I’d love your reactions to.

  • March says:

    Sybil — do they still MAKE Mitsouko?!?!? (drops dead on the floor.):o

    Yup. They do. You will either like it or … uh, you won’t. You will know soon because I’m gonna stick some in your package. Don’t be shy. Give it a big, healthy dollop on your skin. Stand back. Let it wake up and uncurl its tail… before I scare you, let me say it is not “weird” in a modern-perfume way. It is a bold floriental and the fragrance that made me decide Guerlain hung the moon. Some cranks think that Caron, or Malle (or Serge) hung the moon. But they’re wrong.

    Vetiver in general smells like bandaids on me, which is why I am enjoying this one, although I think it’s foul. Jolie-laide, that’s it! I would love to see a photo of your dog!

  • Cait says:

    What a great post, March! It describes that process of being haunted by a perfume that keeps me comin’ back for more. And that sort of links it up to Patty’s question yesterday about why we are obsessed with perfume. For me it is to be haunted. Mitsouko is haunting. I reminds me of rain (my thing for rain is almost as serious as my thing for perfume) and a certain time and place. As to Vetiver, I must have these le labo thingies. NOW. P.S., March, a coupla bottles are going to be winging your way. I am posting them today.

  • sybil says:

    Thanks for the giveaway! I can’t wait, and DD#1 (the jasmine lover) will be thrilled. Do they still make Mitsouko, or is it vintage? I’m also really curious to try the Vetiver #46. How does it compare to Vetiver Extraordinary? (which smelled non-sexily of bandaids and mercurochrome to me).
    The french term for pretty-ugly is, I think, jolie-laide? (But you’re talking to the woman who’s consistantly been dropping the L’ off L’Aromarine.) The only reason I know it is ‘cuz a friend described my dog that way!

  • March says:

    Patty — I have a package to send to you, I’ll slip some EDP in there. I know you’re not the big Guerlain lover — you get extra credit for trying!(*)

  • March says:

    Marina — it is ugly-beautiful. What is that French term for that? Anyway, it’s the first one I’ve fallen for that has NOTHING sweet or “perfume-y” about it. Even Musc Ravageur smells a bit sweet on me. I imagine if I asked 10 strangers to sniff it, they’d all make the same repulsed face, you know? Like they’d sniffed sour milk.

  • March says:

    Pam — no worries. I misspell it Mitsuoko all the time (which seems more correct to me somehow.) The worst thing is when I get the names of fragrances wrong in reviews… yes, you are absolutely right. Mitsouko is something that smells just as wonderful when it’s rediscovered months later on perfumed clothing.

  • Patty says:

    Great post. I have Mitsouko in EDT, now I think I need the EDP to get its full glory. It is unique and definitely like nothing else anywhere.

  • Marina says:

    What a great association for Vetiver 46! But what is it about it being “almost anti-seductive”? It is perfectly seductive…though, come to think of it, I think I know what you mean…It is aloof, austre, ugly-beautiful and doesn’t TRY to make you like it. And it is exactly why we do like it. Because it couldn’t care less. 😕

  • Pam says:

    AAARRRGGGHHH. And I’ve had my coffee, too. Sorry for typing Mitsouko wrong first thing. Yeesh.:((

  • Pam says:


    It’s funny you began today’s post with Mistouko. I wore it yesterday, just a dab of the parfum. Forgot about it, then a couple hours later I leaned in toward my wrist and smelled ripe, sun-warmed peach. Not the candied molecule that smells like peach Jell-o, but the other peach molecule, the one that smells like the real thing. Mitsouko to me smells like sun ripened peach resting on a mossy, smoky darkness with (as Malle says) who knows what else. Its peach note strikes me as so beautiful, unlike that other peach, the Jell-o smell, which is getting tiresome because it’s everywhere.

    Minimum cooking time for Mitsouko: 2 hours. And you’re so right. The longer it lingers on, the better it gets.@};-