Heavy Hitters: Guerlain Jicky, Mitsouko, and Shalimar

Well, there was a some talk recently about Shalimar and I had to admit that I’d never tried it. Which for someone who is supposedly a frag hound I suppose a sin that would cause a reader to wish me a stern “good luck” and never comment again. But I hope you’ll be kinder. I smelled it on others but almost didn’t want to try it because of my attempts to love..

Jicky. Jicky, as I am sure you all know, is credited with being one of the first modern perfumes- at least one of the first to include artificial ingredients. Specifically, Vanillin. Apparently, they felt that actual vanilla just didn’t have the ooomph that they could achieve with the new man-made version, so they added that in and were off to the races.

Now I have tried to love Jicky. I have tried it in EDT, EDP, and even once in the pure perfume from a tester at the Neiman Marcus in South Coast Plaza. I so wanted it to be great on me: I wanted people to ask what I was wearing and to be able, with a knowing smile, breathe “Djzzeeeekeee..”

But it just never quite got there for me. It’s a lovely lavender fougère with vanilla notes and citrus. After a while some of the promised civet comes in and out, but more like walking a garden path and passing a point at where an animal might have rubbed up against. I would imagine in the older versions that the civet might have been more prominent (If you know me, you know I like mine in the face-hugger territory since I tend to gut the note) but it is in there.

Having worn it now for a while I realize that I was approaching Jicky the wrong way- I was expecting it to come to me when I should have been going to it. Aptly, for a fragrance that is apparently named after the memory of someone beloved by the perfumer, Notes of Jicky come in and out like the signal on an old-time radio station at night when you’re away from the city. Like seeing someone else in the curve of another’s check or the timbre of their voice. Jicky is a memory, a dream, a ghost.

I’m still walking the fence on this. $135 from Guerlain for 75ML isn’t the worst price point (but it is 3 months of car insurance) and it’s not carried that I can see at the usual suspects. So we will see.. (EDIT: Oh who am I kidding. I purchased fom Guerlain. Should be here Thursday.)

Mitsouko is one I have never tried either (I know- I have to break these admissions gently in stages.) Back in the day when I worked at the Rizzoli bookstore in BH there was an older French lady who used to shop who wore it. It smelled lovely on her and I asked what it was: she told me it was Mitsouko, but the Mitsouko we got today was not like the one she had in her youth (which she said in a perfectly fatalistic French way that no American could replicate) So, Mitsouko was really rounding out the trio here: I was jumping feet first into Shalimar, giving Jicky another try, so why not Mitsouko?

Now, perhaps Patty can drop in here and comment as to whether this Mitsouko is post the 2014 reformulation or not? (The reformulation got raves so I wouldn’t feel bad if it is- quite the opposite, since I would be able to get it.) Whichever it is, this opens with bergamot almost immediately joined by a spicy “peach” note- I put that in quotes because it doesn’t really smell of fresh peaches, or (thank gawd) of that artificial peachy note found in the lesser brands of hand moisturizer. It’s a little stewed, a little off (aldehydes?), fizzy almost; like peaches that you’d darned better use or cook before they go bad. And I mean that in a good way: just this side of over-ripe. Lush, luscious, juice dribbling down your chin, gleefully ripe.

Makes you hungry, huh?

Luckily that calms down fairly quickly and we get to the main event: a chypre with the slightly-off peach note, mossy base and a surprising hit of pepper to it. There’s an almost yeasty aspect to it that seems on me to want to veer into play-doh territory but never quite gets there. Reapplying later in the evening I get more of a punch out of it- I suppose that it grabs onto skin that isn’t as freshly showered more easily. The peaches start a bubblin’, the aldehydes shimmer and there’s a bit of smoky leather in there. In a way it seems more like something that Germaine Cellier would have done: it has a fair bit of swagger and danger along with it’s chypre loveliness, but Mitsouko predated Bandit by a good 25 years. All I can think is that this must be glorious in the perfume strength, and the vintage stuff must have been killer.

But picking it apart in this case diminishes it: I don’t know how apt the comparison is, but doing so reminds me of people who resolutely break down the shower sequence in “Psycho” like they were mini Francoise Truffauts. In this case parsing what goes on behind the curtain almost takes away from enjoyment of the show. Because Mitsouko is a mystery, and sometimes mysteries are best remained unsolved.

Now on to the (arguably) most famous, and of the three, most readily available one: Shalimar. (To make it a trifecta. Like I wrote, I’ve never tried it. I know, “bad fumehag! Bad!”) Credited as the first Oriental perfume and created in 1925 it is named for a garden at the Taj Mahal. Fragrantica lists the notes as:

Top notes are Citruses, Bergamot, Lemon, Cedar and Mandarin Orange

Middle notes are iris, Patchouli, Vetiver, Jasmine and Rose

Base notes are Incense, Vanilla, Leather, Opoponax, Civet, Sandalwood, Tonka Bean and Musk

and writes that the scent was released in 1990. I don’t know if that’s because of a reformulation or the Eau de Parfum was from 1990. But listing these notes in order of top, middle and base is almost false advertising: the beauty of Shalimar (like Jicky and Mitsouko) is that at each stage, another stage manages to peep it’s little head out only to magically disappear just as you go looking for it. The blazing bright citrus opening will have a surprising visit of musk, the floral heart will suddenly show a vein of rich vanilla or the woody base will will flash some peel. And has anyone before or since done more with vanilla than Guerlain? That way of balancing warm vanilla, which can become cloying, with tonka’s hay accord and citrus’ cutting brightness (along with usually a fair dose of musk) says Guerlain the way Orange leather says Hermes or tailfins say Cadillac. Vanilla isn’t a favorite of mine in many cases because it become overwhelming in glottal heaviness: Shalimar gets close but pulls back as it dances around on your skin.

None of these seem to be interested in making a good “first impression.” They were clearly from a time when shopping meant ladies sat while models showed the clothes: the idea of a rack full of Schiaparellis, Diors and Chanels was about as likely as an all you can eat Beluga and Bollinger happy hour at Stuckey’s. Running the gauntlet at Macy’s trying to avoid getting hosed down by the spritzer boys and girls was something yet to happen. I would really love to experience these in perfume strength- Mitsouko and Shalimar especially I think would be killers full strength. (Shalimar is the most easily available in perfume, but at $350 I just can’t. Oh for Looto winnings..) Mitsouko, and to a lesser extent Shalimar may read to the modern, untutored nose (he wrote with his firmly poited skyward) as “Old Lady” scents. Well, if they are then get me my corsets and crinolines, and beware my parasol- I think it’s well past time we let our inner “Old Lady” out..

Shalimar seems to be available still at retailers like Saks, Nordstrom, and Bergdorf’s as well as at discounters. Jicky and Mitsouko seem to be the most easily available directly from Guerlain, which promises free shipping and samples even to the US. My samples were purchased from Surrender to Chance.

  • March says:

    This is … an incredible post. I loved it, every word and nuance of it. So, thanks for starting my day this way, I needed it. Mitsouko I tried early in my perfume journey when Chandler Burr wrote about it, over in the ol’ Saks near my house, and it just … f’ing blew my mind. It was like a whole world opened up to me. Mitsouko is still my “one” perfume, my most loved. I have numerous iterations at this point and TBH I think I like the screechiness of an older EDP better than the smoothness of the parfum. Like Musette I’ve deployed Mitsy strategically in weirdly different ways — it’s my armor in stressful/scary situations. But I also wear it (discreetly) when I am attending a really special event like the opera. Jicky I wanted to love but never quite did, and Shalimar always seemed too sweet (and also, not Mitsouko). But your writing about it along with Cinnamon’s recent love letter to it have me itching to try it again, if/when I can smell things properly.

    • Tom says:

      I like Shalimar and will likely get some, but I think I NEED Mitsouko. Even if I never wear it out of the house. It’s just damned good: luxurious in a way we don’t see anymore (probably where it get’s the “old lady” moniker) but in a way.. inescapable is the word that comes to mind. Commanding, seductive, impossible, enticing: all of the things I ain’t.

      And it smells soooooo preeetttttyyyy….

  • Dina C. says:

    There’s a Guerlain shop in “France” at Epcot in Disney world where I first sniffed some of the most famous scents. I had just started my fragrance hobby, and Luca Turin’s descriptions in The Guide were really compelling. If I sampled Shalimar and Jicky, they left me cold. Don’t even remember them. I do remember loving Chamade, Apres L’Ondee, and Mitsouko. I sprayed my arm with some Mitsouko parfum, and for the rest of the day that wonderful scent trailed along with me. I love the way it develops and changes as time goes by — it’s not linear. I have a bottle of the edt, which is also great.

    • Tom says:

      Yeah, I think a bottle of Mitsy is in my future. Top Ramen for a month, but worth it. I will have to go back to Surrender to Chance for a couple three more Guerlain. So far I hear Chamade- any others?

      • Dina C. says:

        Cologne du 68 is a unisex spicy cologne that’s supposed to have 68 things in it. I believe it. Smells complex, not simple like most cologne. Vol de Nuit is a green cypress– very classy and old school glamorous. Parfum is gorgeous, comes in a cool bottle. More Ramen ahead!!

  • rosarita says:

    Great read. I’ve done a lot of Guerlain sniffing of many iterations of Guerlain classics and something about the famous Guerlainade just doesn’t sit well with me except for my beloved Shalimar. Thank goodness for Shalimar! I own it in different strengths from different time periods, even a tiny bottle of perfume that I stumbled into on eBay. My favorite way to wear Shalimar is at home in big billowing clouds. I also love Nahema, a big red honeyed rose, but then I love rose, ymmv. So many Guerlains like Jicky, Chamade, Mitsouko etc just don’t do a thing for me and it’s not from lack of trying.

    • Tom says:

      It’s strange how that can happen- it happened for years to me with Jicky and this time BAM!

      Shalimar is so gorgeous clouds is the only way to wear it. I wore a big squirt to bed last night and it was delicious.

  • cinnamon says:

    This inspired me to dig out my Mitsouko perfume this morning. Peach and aldehydes — I’m always surprised by how swanky this is in the best possible way. My bottle is around 20 years old, as far as I know (got it in a swap). It has serious character and depth.

    We know how I feel about Shalimar. I haven’t smelled Jicky in a long time and need to remedy that.

  • Alityke says:

    Tom how could you not be familiar with these three Golden Gals?
    Blanche (Shalimar), all shimmying & smokin’ hot. Dorothy (Jicky) big boned & gruff voiced Katherine Hepburn androgeny.
    Sophia (Mitsouko) smart mouth & takes no prisoners.
    I’m going to put Nahema in your head to explore for Rose. Feminine, sweet & just a little bat shit crazy.

    Chanel’s Le Lion ruined Shalimar EdP for me & I discovered Papillon Bengale Rouge is nearer vintage Shalimar than Shalimar EdP.

    Cinnamon had me hallucinating Shalimar with her descriptions of her birthday gift perfume that I bought the 2021 cologne, a current EdT & I found a preloved bottle of the Millesme Vanille Planifolia Ltd Ed on eBay uk that I’m waiting to receive. I got my sights on a 7.5ml of the perfume too.

    I’m still in shock that you’re not a Guelainaphile

  • Eldarwen22 says:

    I have various concentrations of all three. Let me tell you that vintage Mitsouko is gorgeous, so is Shalimar in vintage.

  • Musette says:

    Guerlain is an odd House for me – neither Jicky nor Shalimar has ever done it – I blame my mother for Shalimar (she wore the edt in the blue and white cylinder and it was vaguely shrieky) and I’m not a fan of Jicky’s notes in any iteration. The rest of Guerlain’s offerings are ‘I like it’ at best. Even Chamade. Yes, even Chamade.

    Now. Mitsouko. Omg. You have described it perfectly. I have several iterations of Mitsy, including a little scrab of vinty parfum and lemmetellya – omg. That DIVA! I love Mitsouko with the heat of a thousand burning suns. It is my armour. If I’m wearing Mitsouko, you’d better watch your step around me. In fact… y’know what? My hand is healing (training mishap) and it’s at that ‘fukc! this HURTS!!! level of sting, made more irritating because it’s random…. I’mo wear Mitsouko today and woe betide anyone who gets on my stinging nerves!



    • Tom says:

      They have some that I really like (mainly the men’s ones, plus Derby and Sous le Vent) but isn’t one that grabs me like Uncle Serge (I think I like the more obvious effects). Mitsouko grabs me. I can certainly see where it could be a warning; a pretty one with peaches and fizzy stuff and nummy vanilla, and a heaping dose of “DONOTFU@&WITHMEORIWILLDESTROYYOU” lacing it’s way all through it. I love it, and I’ll bet you absolutely rock it.

      If I smell it on you I will remember to mind my p’s and q’s. How you you prefer your coffee and would you like me to dispose of the bodies before or after tea?

      • Musette says:

        Babysnakes – you GET me! So you can come sit by me, we’ll have tea… then go dig some holes. DEEP holes. xoxoxo

        However, today Perfume Posse has declared me persona non grata, at least re this comment. I am SPAM! lol!

        Squoo that.


        • Tom says:

          It says I am spam whenever I use my iPad.

          I always say a true friend is one who will not only provide an alibi but help with the disposal.

          Of course we would neeehvah do that..