We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together: Guerlain Mitsouko, a sort-of Perfume Review

Let’s get this straight, right up front: I have tried. I mean, she’s the Empress. Ruler of all she surveys, epitome of style and grace and the Art of Perfume, often-cited as “the best fragrance ever.” Oh, the shame I have felt at failing to adore her! It’s me, isn’t it? It must be my fault. I have given the Empress plenty of skin time, plenty of chances to make her case with me, multiple trials in varying weathers, various concentrations and ages. All in all, I have worn Mitsouko in five different versions now, probably up over twenty trials now…

And… FAIL. Failfailfail. Only one of these concentrations has worked for me, and even that one was not love, so I hereby put the Empress back on her pedestal, bow low, and step away. Y’all go ahead and worship, I’ll not stop you. I’ve seen the greatness now, but not the love.

I tried modern Eau de Toilette first, early in my Fumehead Forays, back in 2009. I liked the ambery basenotes, but that was all: Mitsouko was shrill and musty, dusty and unpleasant, good bone structure in a really ugly dress. I swapped my decant.

Then at some point I realized that I typically do very badly with classic Guerlains in EdT formulation. They often seem harsh, sharp, un-blended. Stabby, even. Shalimar EdT? Hideous lemon-patchouli-dirty ashtray-powder bomb. L’Heure Bleue EdT? Hell’s Medicine Cabinet. Yuck. I made peace with Shalimar in PdT, a beautiful lamplight glow in a rainy evening with woodsmoke in the air. L’Heure Bleue in parfum smelled full and complete in a way that the EdT does not, all deliciously-medicinal pastry.

(I did love my small decant of Apres L’Ondee from the minute I bought it, though. And Chamade, which I first tried in vintage parfum de toilette, has been lovely in every version I’ve tried. But those are strongly floral; make of that what you will.)

So then I sampled Mitsouko EdP, and it was, well, not as awful. Again, I really liked that nice ambery thing in the base, but the rest of it seemed so… just wrong. Just wrong. Ditto for the sample of vintage EdT a kind friend sent me. People wear this on purpose? Gah.

Mitsy parfum (from a sample labeled “vintage” at Surrender to Chance) was peach and mustiness. Musty musty musty. HORRible. Beyond horrible. I mentioned the fact that I was Officially Giving Up on Mitsouko on a Facebook perfume group, and a longtime fan of it suggested that the oakmoss has gone off in this parfum. Someone who’s only recently come around to liking Mitsy swears that a vintage Eau de Cologne version is the only one she can possibly do; “no screaming,” she said, and “the peach is in the background.” Someone else recommended the EdC too, but the only way I know of to get it is to buy a whooooole bottle of it on eBay, and I just don’t think it’s going to work for me, so there I’d be, with a whoooooole 100ml bottle of Mitsouko EdC that I’d have to get rid of somehow…

And then, I went trolling eBay, Just in Case, and bought this beyond-cute micro-mini parfum of Mitsouko in this very-cute li’l box, just to try. The famous Louise says it’s generally a good iteration, from the early-to-mid-1990s, and she owns two of them. (You don’t know Louise? She’s good friends with March of Perfume Posse, the instigator of a whole slew of PP posts labeled “Blame Louise,” and the wearer of all kinds of things that I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot dabber vial top, like Angel, but also of Datura Noir, which I like, and she’s BFFs with Mitsy. Also, she teaches middle school, which just leaves me gasping in awe.)

I could wear this. There’s no Mean Girl in this bottle. Everything is there: the bergamot, the milky peach, the jasmine. The labdanum and iris. The oakmoss. Well, let’s be honest here: the oooooooakmosssssss. This thing is All About the Oakmoss. Which, okay, if you are an Oakmoss Ho, I can see how Mitsy would be the ne plus ultra of fragrances for you. And clearly it is for a lot of people.

Also, it is symphonic in a way that makes me finally get why people swoon over it. I geddit now, okay? I geddit. Everything works together and swirls in the same direction and has this distinctive personality, and yes, it is autumnal, and rich and nostalgic and tapestried and masterpiece-y.

Yet I remain a Mitsouko Philistine.

It still does not speak to me in the way that its predecessor Coty Chypre does.

I’m still not absolutely convinced that there isn’t some sort of mental placebo effect going on when I test old Cotys versus classic Guerlains (particularly the old Guerlains that seem based on their Coty counterparts – like Shalimar and Emeraude, L’Heure Bleue and L’Origan), because the Guerlains are very good. Is it that all the old amazing Cotys are gone, either discontinued or crippled through ever-cheapened reformulations, and I’m such a sucker for The Love That Can Never Be? Or is it that I’m annoyed with everybody’s saying that Jacques Guerlain improved all of Francois Coty’s ham-handed creations, that Coty was after the shopgirls’ trade while Guerlain, more artful, pursued the deeper purses and discerning noses of sophisticated women?

Could be any or all of those. Or, I think again as I resmell my sample of gen-u-wine vintage Coty Chypre parfum from the vial, it’s simpler and more personal: M. Coty knew what would clutch at my heart, and he bottled it.

I don’t think it’s going to happen, Mitsy and me. I just don’t. I’m just going to let her go. I just heard this song on the radio last night, Taylor Swift in a semi-humorous vein, singing, “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” and it seemed so appropriate I had to laugh. Mitsy and me? Never getting back together. I’m never trying her again.  I mean, like, EVER.

Because, finally, I appreciate her. But we don’t love each other. And I am, finally, okay with that.

(Meanwhile, Coty Chypre? All those tiny parfum bottles of you languishing in Great-Aunt Mary’s girdle drawer in the highboy or Cousin Mildred’s attic? I know you’re out there somewhere. Before you came into my life, I missed you so bad. I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s my number, so call me maybe…)

NB: My gen-u-wine sample of vintage Coty Chypre parfum came from Surrender to Chance, where it is ridiculously expensive but still cheaper than airfare to Paris to visit the Osmotheque. Just so you know. And the stuff is pristine, too: the bergamot’s a little faded, but there isn’t any nailpolishy weird topnote as I’ve come to expect from really-vintage perfume. Review coming soon.

BTW, I have no idea why some text is dark here and some is lighter gray.  I wrote this all in one piece on my laptop.  I keep trying to fix it, but so far no dice.

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Perfume Review: Liz Zorn Centennial (formerly named Historical Chypre)

I blame Musette. And ScentScelf.

These two ladies are some of my Favorite Bloggers Ever, and I love to read what they write.  Sometimes they move me, and sometimes they totally crack me up. We don’t always love the same things, although I share a love of Big White Florals with Musette and an appreciation of Greenies with ScentScelf, and I do know their real-life names. Word is that they live not that far from Chicago (as compared to the rest of the country), and both are devotees of  Liz Zorn Perfumes.

I cast a self-righteous pointer finger of condemnation in each woman’s general direction.

Because the other week, on one of the Facebook perfumista group pages, ScentScelf was nattering on about this wonderful Historical Chypre thing (which I always seem to read as Hysterical Chypre, probably because I am Not Having a Good Week, probably because I am approaching at least Pre-Menopausal Insanity, thus the Hysterical womb reference, which is probably ironic given that my teenage daughter is suddenly out there in the dating world, which hardly seems possible given that I frequently think of her as being nineteen-and-a-half inches long with nothin’ but peach-colored peach fuzz on her beautiful hazelnut-shaped head) .

Anyway, I noticed the chypre reference because that’s what I’ve been craving lately. I checked the LZ website, thinking about a sample, and then found that I couldn’t sample this one except as part of a set of six, and I’d already tried one of the set and didn’t like it (Oolong Ti), and three of the others sounded very Not Me by the notes, and that was bad odds so I forgot about it.

And thennn, Musette referred to Centennial in her recent post about craving chypres lately (where have I heard that before?), and she followed up that glowing reference with the shocking news that Centennial and several others in its line at Liz Zorn/Soivohle were ON SALE.

So I bought a bottle.

Soivohle Oudh Lacquer (couldn't find a pic of the Retro Collection, and my camera's being temperamental today)

At discounted niche/indie prices, it was still $18 for an 11 ml bottle of eau de parfum, which is not ridiculous, but still iffy for an unsniffed thing that I could wind up hating. And this package shows up the other day, and it has a little box in it that’s filled with a bottle wrapped in this exquisitely textured blue paper, a real joy to open.

So I opened it and spritzed.

Smells like Cachet,” I said to myself. I wore Prince Matchabelli Cachet, from the drugstore, when I was a teenager. Didn’t love it the way I did Chloe, but it was nice, and I decided that I’d give Centennial a real chance.

Liz Zorn’s website says this about Centennial: Otherwise known as our Historical Chypre, is a throw back to early 20th century Floral Chypres, with notes of Rose, Jasmine and Orange Blossom, wrapped in classic chypre veil. Now, you know me: I adore me some florals. I live in them. I never feel that they overwhelm me or out-girly me. I do not love those Fierce Green Chypres, Bandit and Scherrer and the like. They skeer me a little. They’re too mean. Miss Dior kept trying to shiv me when I first opened her vial, and I had to wrassle her to get her to behave.

But you throw me a floral with a chypre backbone, and I am happy. The intelligence and aquiline features of a chypre in the pretty silk-satin dress of good natural florals seems just about perfect to me, and Centennial does not disappoint.

Centennial opens up with a smack of bergamot and a little waft of what I would swear were aldehydes, as well as a hint of the inky-green, juicy moss-and-labdanum stuff you get in real chypres. It’s pretty bloomy at this stage, but two spritzes keeps it within my self-imposed three-foot radiating limit. It’s only after about half an hour that I really notice the florals, and they are so well-blended that I can’t even tease them out from the big bouquet individually. I think that I smell something else in there, too, a note that smells quite dirty to me. It’s not civet, or at least I don’t think it is – it could be narcissus, perhaps, with the barnyard connotion it sometimes has, something overripe. There’s a sweetness to the floral mix that I attribute to the orange blossom and maybe just a sweet-banana bit of ylang-ylang, and it balances out that inky pine green of the chypre base, and it is really lovely. There is also, at the end of this stage, a suedey peachy thing over the inky pine that reminds me just a bit of Mitsouko (which I do not love, remember?) but softer, closer to the skin.

After about three and a half or four hours, Centennial is down to a skin scent, a delightfully soft bathed-and-talcumed smell that reminds me of the far drydown of 1980s Coty Chypre or of Miss Dior parfum, the vintage stuff, with its wonderful contrast of skin warmth and cool powder. It is huffable, preferably with nose about a centimeter from skin, and really almost sexy, I’d say, in a cozy yet intellectual sort of way.

Centennial does not last much past the four-hour mark. It is a little less long-lived than I’d like, especially for an EdP, but I know that mostly-natural perfumes tend to last a shorter period of time on my skin, and the drydown is so pretty that I forgive it for being short.

I went to pick up Gaze from school about an hour after spritzing Centennial; he’d had after-school band practice. He got into the car and commented, “Hey, you smell really good. I like it.” I asked him if it reminded him of anything, and he thought for a moment before responding, “It makes me think of an old church just letting out after the service. In the summer. Like… old ladies’ perfume, but like outside too, sort of fresh.” Oakmoss must remind him of church in some way; I remember that his comments on Roja Dove Diaghilev, another chypre, mentioned “old churches” as well (but were less complimentary!).

I am rather sad to report that Centennial has sold out. I have been addicted to it for the past three days, only abandoning its dregs for a hit of DSH Chypre, or the modern floral chypre Mary Greenwell Plum, or my sample of Liz Zorn’s based-on-Centennial fragrance called Love Speaks Primeval, the one with Africa stone in it.

My outstretched pointer fingers have become a potential embrace, just waiting for the time when I might meet either Musette or ScentScelf face to face. I want to thank them – for the laughs, the thoughtful connections made, the word “palimpsest,” the cow emoticons, the whole bit.

And for Centennial. You gals got it right. Thanks. Really.

Photo of Soivohle Oudh Lacquer from Nathan Branch.

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Perfume Review: Nobile 1942 Chypre

I should never, ever read the “new and upcoming” fragrance notices at Now Smell This. Ever. Nobile 1942 Chypre is a case in point: I do really enjoy chypres when they are very floral, as this notes list would indicate. Also, the inspiration for the scent is enticing. I don’t know much about Anna Magnani, except that she was an early film star of the smoldering Italian type, and that from the pictures on her biography, she was beautiful. It makes perfect sense to honor an emotional, sensual woman like her with a beautiful floral chypre.

So when the word came that a friend was going to split up a bottle of Chypre 1942, I jumped into the split for 5ml, my head filled with dreams of the beautiful floral chypre I imagined from the new fragrance publicity release, which goes sort of like this (given the limitations of BabelFish and Google Translator, please bear with my interpretation of the original Italian):

Anna Magnani, from Wikimedia Commons

Languid like a lioness returning from the hunt, Anna comes into the house and collapses into her thoughts, enveloped by a cloud of cigarette smoke and wafts of Chypre. Chypre 1942 is dedicated to Anna, a woman full of life and faith in the possibilities of fate, who likes to observe and read the stars, witness the rising of the sun, fixing her deep gaze eastward. Anna’s unconventional lifestyle and naturalness overwhelm those around her, in a storm of instinctive charm and fascination. Her style is unconventional – the way she dresses, perfumes, and adorns herself. The scent’s originality and refinement fittingly crowns her perfect, attractive figure, and gives an air of imperious femininity.”

Believing a fragrance ad is a bad idea. Even if you discount 80% of the claims, you will nearly always be disappointed. 

When I opened the package from M, before I’d even unrolled the bubble wrap, a very sweet and intense smell of baby powder blew out like a mushroom cloud. “I hope it doesn’t smell like that,” I said to Gaze, alarmed. “That’s dreadful.”

He made a face, too. “It smells like… I mean, just that little bit there, it smells like… powdered marshmallows.”

But this is supposed to be a chypre,” I said, bewildered. “Wonder if I got the wrong split? I know M was splitting Muschio from the same house as well, and I just can’t imagine that something called Chypre is supposed to smell like… well, like powdered marshmallows.”

Because I was so confused, I sprayed some on a bit of paper – which I almost never do, preferring to go straight to skin. (I don’t wear paper, after all.) The top notes were almost chokingly powdery, intense and sweet. I went to Fragrantica to check out reviews there of this fragrance, and there was only one, from someone whose name I did not recognize from the split I participated in. It said something to the effect that the reviewer was puzzled by the name Chypre, since the fragrance was really more an oriental vanilla scent than anything else.

I tentatively decided that I was not, after all, insane.

I’ve now worn Chypre 1942 half a dozen times, in 90F weather and in 70F, at night and during the day, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it is not a bad fragrance. The choking powder cloud became less pronounced each time I sprayed it (gunk in the atomizer sprayer clearing itself out?), and the sweet vanilla character more prominent. It’s not bad at all.

It’s just not a chypre. There is no oakmoss that I can discern in the formula, and the amber used is the vanillic, powdery stuff familiar to me from, say, Bvlgari Black, rather than the rich and sweet amber in Mitsouko or Alahine, or the labdanum in Coty Chypre or vintage Miss Dior.

 

Nobile 1942 Chypre, from Fragrantica

There are some perfumistas who have a rigid definition of the chypre genre: Bergamot, oakmoss, and labdanum must be in the spotlight – and if the fragrance under discussion doesn’t smell like the “Fierce Green” chypres Bandit, Alliage, Mitsouko, or vintage Miss Dior, fuhgeddaboudit. “NOT A CHYPRE!” they thunder on the fragrance forums. “Chypres must have the proper proportions of the three magic ingredients! No fragrance being produced currently can contain the right proportion of oakmoss!  Patchouli does not make this scent a chypre!” And I concur that these touchy people have a point. If Coco Mademoiselle is a chypre, good heavens, almost anything could be called a chypre, our standards having been compromised to a shocking degree.

However, my own definition is a lot looser. Coco Mademoiselle is a woody floral with patchouli, and it is not a chypre. Idylle is not a chypre, either. Its moss is too slight and its amber nonexistent. But in my opinion, if a particular fragrance’s major characteristic is that tangy-bitter, almost dangerous smell common to Miss Dior and Coty Chypre, even if there is something else involved (citrus or florals) as well, it’s a chypre. I don’t even mind if there is proportionately less moss and amber than there used to be in a classic chypre. As long as I immediately perceive that bitter quality, the fragrance is going to be designated a chypre in my mind. Thus to me, L’Arte di Gucci is a rose chypre nonpareil, a big complicated rose fragrance sitting on top of a moss-patchouli-amber-leather-musk structure, bitter and dark green. Likewise, Mary Greenwell Plum is a modern floral chypre in my opinion: it may open with a tangy, fruity citrus, and it may continue with a soft white floral, but underneath it all, coloring the entire experience, is a quiet chypre backbone augmented with a bit of patchouli (and therefore “modern”).

Given that my standards for calling something a chypre are lower than many people would accept, you can believe me when I tell you that this Nobile 1942 fragrance is most definitely Not a Chypre. And I should have known when I saw the list of notes:

Top: bergamot, mandarin, orange blossom

Heart: tuberose, jasmine, damask rose, benzoin

Bottom: vanilla, amber, tonka bean, Mysore sandalwood, patchouli

Chypre 1942, released in 2011, was created by Marie Duchene.

So where’s the oakmoss? Missing in action. The rest of the fragrance sounds nice, to be honest – and I think my eyes saw “Chypre” and just skimmed past the absence of oakmoss. It could have been an omission; notes lists are so often incomplete or misleading. I suppose it’s really my fault for not noticing that this thing could not possibly be a chypre.

Well, then, what is it? I’d call it a vanillic-floral oriental. It does open up with a short prelude of citrus notes, backed by that flat vanilla-amber, and it does a brief impression of Shalimar Light (which I love, by the way). In just a few moments, though, it slides into a sweet rich floral, in which a slightly-powdery rose seems prominent to me. It’s perfectly pretty, as a matter of fact, and my bet is that The CEO will probably like it. After a couple of hours, Chypre 1942 heads straight for the familiar oriental route of amber-vanilla-tonka, with very little sandalwood noticeable. It does last for about five or six hours on me, with modest sillage shrinking down to skin-scent levels as it goes through its development.

As I said, it’s not at all a bad fragrance. I’ll enjoy wearing my small amount in cool weather. It is pretty, it seems to contain a fair amount of natural materials, and its drydown is coherent. That’s a decent combination of assets.

But it’s definitely not a chypre.

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