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.


34 thoughts on “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together: Guerlain Mitsouko, a sort-of Perfume Review”

  1. I thought I would never get ANY of the old classic Guerlains, but, as I mentioned to you last week, I had a recent epiphany with Shalimar. So often it’s just a matter of trying the right vintage and concentration, isn’t it? The old EDC I’ve got smells really good — the powder and bergamot are dialed down and the leather and smoke are dialed up — but this makes sense because Shalimar seems like something I *should* like (since I generally love orientals). Mitsouko has never seemed like something I would like so I don’t even feel bad not chasing it.

    By the way your mention of Datura Noir reminded me I’ve got a nearly full decant and this stuff works best in summer. So I just put some on and I smell suntan-yummy.

    1. Sometimes it *is* a case of trying the right concentration, isn’t it?

      And sometimes it’s a case of knowing who you are and what you like.

      It is funny, I suppose I should have given up on Mitsy long ago – but I kept reading these paeans to it, and I kept thinking, “What in the world am I just not getting here?” Even though I’ve never exactly loved Shalimar, I could appreciate it as being artful and complex and well-done. Mitsouko, though, I was all… PEOPLE WEAR THIS???!? PEOPLE SMELL LIKE THIS ON PURPOSE??!? And “If I like chypres in general and this is the Best One, how come I hate it??” And this particular concentration did not have that mylordthisisbizarre sort of angle I just could not wrap my head around. I finally, finally got it. NOW I see why people like it.

      I mean, I still don’t like it. But at least I see where they were going with it, where I just didn’t before.

      Datura Noir is all bronzed florals and vanilla floats, isn’t it?

      1. Hee to “people smell like this on purpose?!” All the versions of Mitsouko I’ve smelled have been pretty off-putting to me too.

        Datura Noir is one of those “Noir” scents that’s not at all “Noir” come to think of it! That cherry-almond-coconut angle just doesn’t say “Noir” to me … it should be called Datura Soleil.

  2. MItsy and I were love at first spray. I have the EdT and some decants of the EdP from the formulation prior to the current one. The one that came with the rectangular bands of color at the top of the outer box. Stilling looking for a somewhat vintage full bottle of the EdP and I wouldn’t complain if a bottle of extrait fell in my lap, too. I’ve tried Shalimar in so many variations, and I’m still not getting it. I keep trying. But it’s just this sharp, acrid thing on my skin. I too, have a sample of vintage Coty Chypre from StC. And I long for a full bottle of this. But since I have no idea what vintage the bottles I see on evil bay are, I pass. But truth be told, I love Mitsy just a tad bit more.

    1. AHA! So you got some of that Chypre too… I will talk more about it soon, because I am planning a full review, but when I bought a sample of DSH Perfumes’ “designer duplicate” version, it FREAKIN’ BLEW MY DOORS OFF. I was expecting not to like it, I just wanted it for reference, but WOW. And the real deal is, hmmm… less brutal. More delicate. But still elemental.

      The Coty Chypre I see most often on ebay is the 80s stuff, which smells more like 1960s Miss Dior parfum than anything else to me. Nice, but too ladylike. I would actually call it a completely different perfume. I saw a mini bottle of vintage perfume go for about $135 last week. I love it, but that really is too rich for my blood. I just want Dawn to make more of her version. (Wonder what would happen if I begged her? I dunno, she just had a baby and I know she’s pretty busy lately.)

      So you’re a Mitsy BFF. You have plenty of company. And like I say, NOW I get it.

      1. You know there’s a school of thought that suggests that you’re either a Shalimar person or a Mitsouko person (or neither), but it’s rare to be both?

        I do really really love Shalimar Light, but it is an altogether declawed beastie.

        1. I’ve never gotten my hands on the Shalimar Light. I keep looking, but none of the usual decant sites seem to have it. Occasionally, I see a bottle on evil bay, but I hate to pay a huge sum for a full bottle that I may not like.

          1. When I first tried SL, it was cheap. Bought my first bottle for about $40, and liked it so much I went looking for a second from the same source, but it was gone. Took about three months and lots of searching to find the second one, and it was $60. Now? Ridiculous.

      2. A mini bottle for $135?!!?? Gah!! Yeah, I don’t think I’ll ever get a larger bottle of the vintage stuff. Just too much $$$ for my taste. I have college tuition I’m paying.
        Hmm, if Dawn didn’t just have a baby, I’d join you in begging her to make more of her chypre. But I’m guessing she’s pretty darn sleep deprived and tired right about now.

        1. The 80s stuff can go for something like $130 for a 75ml bottle, which is bad enough, but the real vintage is horrendously spendy, assuming that you can even find it.

  3. Ah ha! Mals, you have let the genie out of the bottle for sure this time, because the more I smell Cotys, the more I suspect strongly that Guerlains were Guerlainified versions of BIG HITS. So Jicky= Fern Royale, Shalimar=Emeraude, L’Heure Bleue=L’Origan and of course, Mitsouko=Chypre but with a peach note. By the way I’m nearly certain that Apres L’Ondee =l’Origan too but I’m waiting to smell vintage L’Origan to nail that surmise down. I mean, their friends talked to my friends (or nose in this case) and then it talked to me.

  4. I’m with you: whenever someone waxes ecstatic about Guerlain perfecting Coty’s formulas for the upper crust, blah blah blah, my eyes glaze over.

    I remember when I first read that the Grossmith perfumes were originally designed for servant girls and that actually made them incredibly appealing and fascinating to me (when the commenter’s intent, I think, had been to disparage the perfumes). Of course, with Grossmith, they’re definitely no longer in the servant price range with their revival.

    I’ve struggled with most if not all of the classic Guerlains. Certainly no great loves in there… maybe if I tried the right formulation of L’Heure Bleue. Chamade or Nahema also seem to have potential but I don’t quite group those in the classics. Maybe Vega? But that’s so hard to find.

    Anyway your great love of the Cotys makes me wonder if I shouldn’t seek them out too…

    1. I didn’t read that about the Grossmiths! Probably my eye went straight to the >$300/bottle part and then I stopped reading. Those special crystal bottles are To Die For, but I think they’re something like $600 per, and the fragrances didn’t really appeal so I JUST IGNORED THEM. It’s easier that way. Designed for servants… there’s something sort of awful, and fascinating, about that.

      I agree, I wouldn’t call Chamade or Nahema “Guerlain classics.” Alas, I cannot smell Nahema. I don’t know why. I can tell there’s something on my skin, but I can’t smell it. Weird, huh? I have a small decant of vintage Vega, and it’s suffered age damage, but the small decant of rerelease is gorgeous. “Guerlain does No. 5” is a good descriptor for it. If you don’t like No. 5, I wouldn’t bother with Vega. I swapped away my Mitsouko edt decant, my small bottle of Shalimar PdT, and my bottle of L’Heure Bleue parfum when I was trying to shed stuff that I didn’t wear, so you see that even though I appreciate the classics I don’t love any of the Big Three.

      I keep hoping to run across some vintage Chypre at some point. Maybe I’ll invent a time machine and return to 1930 to buy some – if I do, I’ll bring back as many bottles as I can carry!

      1. Hi Mals, I went back and found the comment about the Grossmith perfumes being marketed to servant girls (scroll all the way down!):


        It is VERY, VERY interesting, and not a little ironic, that they brought back mass-market perfumes as super luxury items. Also makes me want to read the book that AnneMarie references there.

        I also want to amend my remarks above: seeing the comment again, I don’t think AnneMarie was disparaging servant girl perfume as much as the idea of reviving servant girl perfume as a 1-percenter perfume.

        Anyway, something about the Grossmiths: their servant girl history, their insanely gorgeous $600 Baccarat bottles, whatever it is, really appeals to me. But I haven’t smelled them.

        So weird about invisible Nahema. That and Chamade are near the top of my “samples to buy” list. I’m not sure about Vega. I like, but don’t love, No. 5, and Vega is so hard to find even if I did fall in love… Now, when you get your 1930s time machine going, give me a call about the Chypre, you hear? 🙂

        1. Thanks! I think I kind of skimmed that bit on Betrothal because of that $600 special bottle thing, and because the notes on the first three didn’t really grab me.

          Re Nahema: I NO RITE?? Freakish. I sent my Nahema parfum sample off to Joe A (do you know Joe? He doesn’t comment on NST as much as he used to, but then, neither do I) and he said it was awesome. Re Chamade: PM me, I’ll setcha up. Re Vega: it really is very much No. 5 through the top and heart, but the drydown is more sandalwood/vanilla (a la Guerlain, of course) rather than the drier vetiver/musk/wood of the Chanel. The Guerlain is friendlier, but you do absolutely have to like aldehydes. A LOT. Especially because the last time I checked, you could order a 100ml bottle online (Bergdorf Goodman, I think, or maybe Barneys?) for $325. Owwoowwwch. Re Chypre and the time machine: I’ll save a bottle for you!

          1. sent you an email re: Chamade.

            Vega might just work, because I lurve aldehydes, just Chanel No. 5 doesn’t completely connect. I prefer No. 22, Arpege, and First.

            I do know of Joe! I like his comments.

          2. Love Joe. (Haven’t checked my emails yet today.)

            Vega might work for you – looks like you and aldehydes get along fine! Somehow I have failed to try First. I really like Arpege but only seem to wear it in the fall, and even then I have quibbles with it: I would love to merge the top and heart of the modern edp with the drydown of the vintage extrait. Extrait is sooo ripe and rich and dirty until the drydown, but the modern is thin when it gets there. Whatcha gonna do? And I haven’t clicked with No. 22 – it’s sugary. I mean I can feel the grains of sugar crunching between my teeth. But perhaps I need to try it again. It was close to good, and I think I had the vintage edt. SOMEWHERE here is a sample of the LE version that someone sent me, and I hear that one is slightly different.

          3. Oh, First is so great, I think! I’d like a bottle. It’s hard for me to square it with Jean-Claude Ellena’s more recent creations – it’s SO SO intensely waxy-aldehydic. I think it’s a masterpiece, really.

            I luuurrrrve modern Arpege, but haven’t never tried vintage of it before. The modern’s drydown is more of a skin scent, you’re right. It is pretty close to being my favorite perfume of all time.

  5. Fabulous post, Mals. I laughed my head off. (And partway into “before you came into my life, I missed you so bad” the music kicked in, and it’s been an earworm for the rest of the evening.) Uhhh, is this where I admit I STILL haven’t tried Mitsy?

  6. I’m with you. I’ve tried it repeatedly and each time it doesn’t get any better. I don’t smell anything wonderful. It’s just not for me. I like Shalimar but mitsouko is not on my favorites list in any way. I don’t know if it’s chemistry or a weird scent association. I won’t be buying it which leaves more for those out there who do like it.

    1. It was such a relief to Finally Get What Most People Get out of Mitsouko, and to feel that I understand it, I can grasp the appeal… and to say, “You know, it just isn’t for me. No hard feelings.”

  7. Hello! I think it’s my first comment here, eventhough I’ve been following you for over a year or so… I cannot get around even trying Mitsouko! I once had my mom smell a bunch of things on paper and Mitsouko is the only one who made her say “oh! that’s nice!” so I offered her a decant and she sometimes wear it or leave it on the leaving room drawer and this thing must have stained the wood for its smell was around quite some time and all I can see in it was some odd artifical green thing. It’s not really totally disturbing but it so much doesn’t appeal too me! I’ve got a similar reaction to Shalimar, I have to say… Both edp. It makes me feel like a weirdo! The only anti shalimar perfumista! 😀 Take care!

    1. Welcome, Caroline! Glad you decided to drop in on the chat.

      There are people who fall in love with Mitsouko at first sniff, I’ve heard their stories. (And people who fall for Shalimar that way, too.) Makes me feel odd to not join them. But you are definitely not the only person to not love those two!

      Now, I did fall very hard for Emeraude the first time I smelled it… this would have been in the 1980s, when I was very much a floral girl. I could not have said anything about what was in there, but I loved it. Still love it (the vintage stuff, anyway). And I do see the relationship between Emeraude and SHalimar – but there you go, I love Emeraude, and I don’t love Shalimar. I don’t know why.

  8. I love Mitsy. I love her vintage and I like her well enough as she is now. But I fully understand Mitsouko just not working out. I have the same problem with Jicky, where people rave about her crazy animalistic ways, and I just think she’s a bit stinky. Jicky’s also an empress like Mitsouko, but I try as I might, I can’t say I like it and I’ve given up on it too.

    Now, Coty’s Chypre, that’s another story and I’m glad that it hit a good nerve with you too. I got lucky with a beautifully preserved bottle and wish more than ever whenever I put it on that Coty had continued to make classic Chypre.

    1. I have never tried Jicky, largely because I have Lavender Aversion (even blooming lavender gives me a horrendous headache), but also because I don’t think Jicky quite has the same sort of reputation as Mitsouko, being recognized as somewhat old-fashioned even among Jicky fans where Mitsy is seen as being both timeless and the epitome of chypres, la creme de la creme, if you will.

      Coty Chypre is absolutely gorgeous. Gorgeous. I don’t know quite what I was expecting of it, having a) tried the 1980s rerelease which is very prim, b) had my doors blown off by the DSH Perfumes recreation, and c) read Luca Turin’s description of it as being “big-boned and bad-tempered.” The DSH is certainly… elemental and sort of Fauvist, if not entirely crude, but that vintage Chypre parfum is much more delicately drawn than I’d imagined.

      YOU HAVE A BOTTLE OF IT?? Now I must know… where do you live? And, um, do you have a Rottweiler or an alarm system? (please say no, please say no… 😉 )

      1. True, Jicky’s always got a bit of a reputation as being old-fashioned to begin with. I knew about it going in and thought, “Heck, we’ll see about that”. Well, I’ll never underestimate her again.

        I have a bottle from (I’m guessing and so is the person who sold it to me), somewhere in the 1960s or 1970s and it is only the EdT, not the Parfum (I would die for a well preserved Parfum version). I have one of the two Rottweiler/alarm system, but you’ll just have to guess as to which one. 🙂

  9. I don’t know the language of perfume; what the words mean in terms of what the perfume is or does, so this is all probably going to sound really simplistic, and for that I apologize.

    I just saw this and wanted to post because I had a recent experience with Shalimar that made me crazy. My mom used to wear Shalimar all the time when I was a very little girl. Like, all the time in the late seventies. That was her scent, it was her. My mom isn’t with me any more, and it struck me how nice it would be to have a bottle of Shalimar so that I could open it up and have mom there with me again.

    Scent memory is so incredibly powerful for most of us, and mixed in with that wonderful scent memory would be memories of her smiling, happy face, hugging me and my dad as we beamed back at her. We were not a wealthy family, but my dad always made sure that my mom had a bottle of Shalimar, because as he said, “She loved it and I loved her, and if I had to go without for a few months so that she could have something that made her smile like that at me, it was worth it.”

    I love my dad. He is the best man in the world.

    So I bought some without checking it out at a perfume counter first, and that was a terrible mistake.

    The Shalimar of 2015 is nothing at all like the Shalimar of 1978. At all. I remember my mom smelling like warm spice and hints of vanilla, incense-y and floral and everything wonderful, all of it balanced so perfectly from the second she touched it to her throat.

    Shalimar 2015 smells like musk and animals who need a bath on application, and after a while it begins to smell like a lighter musk with a lot of heavy vanilla, and animals who’ve had a bath. What a massive disappointment. I wish I had held on to just one bottle of her perfumes, but my aunt took everything there was. So sad.

    As an aside, I loved Emeraude too!

    1. Welcome, Jinxie! And thanks for such a lovely story. I’ll tell you the truth, the stories are the best part of loving perfume.

      Your dad sounds like a total sweetheart. What a guy. My condolences on the loss of your mother, too.

      I am sad, but not surprised, to hear that Shalimar doesn’t smell the way you remember it. Reformulations happen all the time, even when companies swear up and down and backwards on a stack of Bibles and their firstborns’ heads that nothing has changed, and FOR SURE Shalimar is not made to the same formula now as in the late 70s. I don’t know what concentration your mother wore, but it might have been something different than the one you found recently. Guerlain and Chanel both are straightforward about acknowledging that the formulas for their fragrances differ slightly among eau de toilette, eau de parfum, and parfum, and of course concentrations that they used to make (parfum de toilette and eau de cologne) would have been different still.

      If I could offer a couple of suggestions for you? I don’t know how long ago your aunt collected your mother’s things, but it might not hurt to tell her the feelings you had for your mother’s perfume and explain that you would love to have some of it. If there’s still some in the bottle, your aunt might be willing to put some in a smaller bottle for you. (See this how-to guide.) Or you might find a bottle on ebay. I’d search for “vintage Shalimar” there, making sure to look for the concentration your mother had (you said “touched it to her throat,” and I’m wondering if she maybe had the parfum version?). And of course check the seller’s feedback to see if they’re reputable, but Shalimar has been widely distributed – not only in boutiques and fancy stores, but also in less upscale places – so there seems to be a fairly good supply of older perfume being sold on ebay most of the time. I wish you luck finding some that seems right to you.

      Emeraude used to be so good… the current version is horrible.

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