Friday, July 16, 2010

Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly, a girl with kaleidoscope eyes....

Guerlain Mitsouko EdP

My scent of the day today is L’Artisan Vanilia, and for the first time ever that I’ve worn it, it really doesn’t sit right with me. I know that happens sometimes, but when it comes to something I love enough to own, I’m always surprised. Being that I fall into the category or sniffas who like to put on a fragrance in the morning and still get hits off it several hours later in the day, it’s a blessing most of the time, but on that rare occasion when the scent just doesn’t sit right, my affection for strong scents can be a total nightmare. Today every time Vanilia wafts up toward me I get a feeling like an itch on the back of my eyeballs – pure irritation. And I hate saying that about my dearly departed Vanilia, because it kills me that it was discontinued. But today, it just isn't doing it.

Some scents are like that, though, love them or hate them, they elicit strong opinions. The reviews read like love letters or hate mail and there ain’t no in between. One classic scent you this with a lot of classic scents in particular. One example is Guerlain Mitsouko.

Mitsouko (1919) is described by Guerlain as follows:
Her name was Mitsouko. It means “mystery”, a mystery of tenderness and softness. She is this enigmatic, disarming and determined woman who accepts her destiny with the courage of the greatest heroines in literature. A masterpiece of balance, this mysterious perfume is made of spices and wood with subtly fruity accents. Little by little, Mitsouko evokes the assertive scent of underbrush. Its tonality is warm and sensual, it makes its presence known softly and embarks on a long story… Created especially for Guerlain loyalists, this modern sculpture doubles as a refillable spray case that reveals a glimpse of your perfume’s mystery and recalls the fine engraving of precious jewelry.

Fruity chypre. Mysterious, Balanced, Velvety A masterpiece of balance and originality, Mitsouko marries a fruity note of peach with jasmine flowers and May rose. The mysterious dry-down of the fragrance blends spicy notes with those of underbrush and vetiver.
My general thoughts? Mitsouko is spicy sweet, like a combination of warm skin and over ripe peaches, cooking in the sun and covered in mold and moss. Sounds gross right? It isn’t. It’s a sweet smell that also manages to be earthy in the same way freshly turned earth mixed with loam and fertilizer and all that other stuff that makes soil good for plants but...really strong smelling. Which is funny, because Mitsouko really isn’t that strong compared to say Lorenzo Villoresi Alamut or Tauer Perfumes L'Air du desert marocain or hell, even Shalimar, but the smell it has is strongly unique and substantial.

The first bite of Mitsouko is sharp. Then the scent turns faintly sweet offset by the smell of loam and soil, then becomes weirdly dry like a dusty room. It’s definitely peach, but not a sweet peach, like you’d imagine a lip gloss smelling. It’s a brutal smelling peach, a peach that has been left to rot in the hot sun, allowing it to begin to decay, merging with the grass and earth and growing covered with moss and mold. Imagine standing beneath a peach tree where all the fruit has fallen to the ground and been abandoned there. The smell that wafts up toward you is no longer sweet, but more earthen and real in its dying imperfection. This sounds gross, but it isn’t. It’s strong and unique and rare, really rare. And the scent changes, over and over, giving different views of the same scent like a kaleidoscope, made of the same notes but presenting itself in different ways as you twist and turn through the application and drydown.

Trying Mitsouko again today I was transported back to when my great grandmother, Mimi, moved out of her home of almost 50 years and in with my grandparents after a significant stroke. My mother took my brother and I along when they went to clean out her house. Among the classic hats and letters written in a long spidery hand was, I’m sure, some really fine perfume that is now long gone to the world. (Oh, had my ten year old self only known!) Trying Mitsouko again today I realized that I had smelled it before – in her house. Many of her handbags and hats, some of which I inherited, smelled like Mitsouko! In fact, so many of her things – coats and hand embroidered handkerchiefs and various personal effects – smelled of Mitosuko that in my memory the whole house smells very vaguely like it. Perhaps it was a trick of memory that makes me believe that now, but I don’t think so. From the first moment I smelled Mitsouko, I thought it was familiar. After sniffing at it occasionally over the course of a year I never remembered. It’s funny how memory works like that.

The other thing Mitsouko reminds me of is the way that press powder (and the occasional puff powder) used to smell. I don’t mean the super fancy light weight full coverage cure your acne powder we use today. I’m referring to the cake like pats of powder that smeared across the skin like stage make-up, filling in every pore. Or it reminds me of the huge white fake furred puffs of clinging powder everyone liked to gift me when I was a little girl, much to my mother’s chagrin as it had a propensity to end up spilled every where. I suspect this is why Mitsouko is one of those scents that gets charged by non-noses as “Old Lady” smelling. The lovely smell suffers from associations, which is actually a testament to how ubiquitous and beloved the scent once was – everything smelled like it!

Mitsouko is not my favorite classic, but I can understand why it has survived. It’s a really unique scent, particularly today when most commercial fragrance has moved far away from this kind of scent. In that way, it reminds me of Jane Eyre. Perhaps, at the time Jane Eyre was written, there were close to a hundred or more serials being printed and distributed. Each was its own story, but they all shared certain story telling elements common at the time. Jane Eyre was special, and endured, because it was the serial that managed to capture the imagination of the people to the point that they would stand on the docks, awaiting the ship from Europe that would bring the latest installment to them. Perhaps scents like Mitsouko, like knock-offs of cK One or Angel, were very popular at the time and could be found any and every where. But Mitsouko, the original, the best example of that kind of scent, is the one that continues to make a lasting impression. You can tell one hundred Southern romantic dramas, but there will only ever be one Gone with the Wind. There will only ever be one Mitsouko. And that alone might make it worth the price of admission.

Picture yourself on a train in a station,
With plasticine porters with looking glass ties.
Suddenly someone is there at the turnstile,
The girl with kaleidoscope eyes.

- “Lucky in the Sky with Diamonds,” The Beatles
(You can listen to Elton John's version of the song here)

Want more? Try...
~ a review from Scentzilla
~ a review from Perfume Posse
~ a review from Ayala at the Smelly Blog
~ a review from I Smell, Therefore I Am
~ a review from Bois de Jasmin
~ a review from The Scented Salamander
~ a review from Oh, True Apothecary!
~ a review from Olfactarama
~ a review from Pere de Pierre
~ a review from Sweet Anthem


Josephine said...

Wow, lovely, well-written post.

ChickenFreak said...

I agree - a lovely post. It makes me determined, yet again, to try Mitsouko, yet again. But I fear that I will still never appreciate it. But it has enough presence that I blame myself, rather than the scent, for that fact.