Petroleum and peach schnapps… Mitsouko by Guerlain The Perfumed Dandy’s Scented Letter

Half her world, or so it seemed, came to give their lives at Verdun.

But what she got, was given or perhaps took was freedom.

So if she chooses now to smell of petroleum and peach schnapps and drive cars and boats too fast, surely we can all understand a little why.

She parties hard, lives each day, they say as though it were her last on account of lives that did not fly, men who died in trenches to move lines on maps and bleed angry armies white.

Yesterday, ambulant driver, she scuttled back and forth through filth ferrying human shrapnel to medical ward ammunition dumps.

Today, she presses her foot down hard on every kind of accelerator, sprays on every sort of new scent, tries on every type of new sex, but nothing brings erasure.

About her person she still smells iodine and the moss that grew everywhere no matter how cold or wet or hot and dry or lonely it became.

Others fancy that the War will pass from memory, its greatness given up to greater sadnesses yet to come.

Its sorrow so it follows will be surrendered to gentler Orientals, when in desperate-to-forget dancehalls grass makes way for hay, bitter oranges for sweet ones and lilacs for irises.

But for her, with her name that recalls the other side of the world and its war, that future happiness will never happen.

Tomorrow will be as today is and yesterday was: a machine age tragedy in three acts played out over petroleum gas and peach schnapps.

Mitsouko is peerless.

It was the perfume to end all perfume.

And though it could not hope to be that, it remains the greatest of them all.

Some sniff it smells of automobile gas, others pretend to perceive only peaches.

Truthfully both parties are in part true. There is an essence of petrol in the stronger concentrations, but this is a kerosene to carry away souls not some dirty old diesel.

And the peach is the antithesis of soft, sugared, supermarket-sparkling clean soft fruit: it is an ageing momento mori too fleshy, flabby and fast on its way to mould to be too long of this world.

Then there is the moss, which is at once warm woodland floor and dank winter tree bark, which pervades every part of the composition giving lie to the idea of a flat Earth in fragrance.

The grass here is not green but dry and yellowing, the spices subtle yet, in the cinnamon especially, sometimes deceivingly strong: seeming to come and go from the scene.

Flowers play a very second fiddle, only lilacs catching the melody upon occasion to give mournful orchestration too the whole piece.

And quite a piece Mitsouko is: perfume’s first unquestionable masterpiece.

Talking of male and female here seems silly and frankly insulting.

Does Guernica have a gender?

Yours ever

The Perfumed Dandy.

The Perfumed Dandy

36 Comments

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36 responses to “Petroleum and peach schnapps… Mitsouko by Guerlain The Perfumed Dandy’s Scented Letter

  1. rickyrebarco

    for the next day, Wednesday,. Lutens, Lutens…
    Serge Lutens Tubereuse Criminelle Please!

  2. Miss Misty

    Wow what a review. You captured Mitsoukos soul perfectly. She always seemed to me like someone searching for her place in the new world order after WWI, but never truly managed to blend in. She arrives with the grandeur of the lost Belle Epoque thinking Art Deco’s equal opulence would embrace and fit her. But she never truly gets over what happened in those four years of suffering. She carries herself through the Roaring Twenties, eager for life with a heavy heart.

    • My Dearest Miss Misty
      How right you are. You wonderful line ‘She carries herself through the Roaring Twenties, eager for life with a heavy heart.’ sums things up so succinctly.
      This is indeed a sorrowful scent, one that parties too0 hard because in a way it craves the destruction it has witnessed.
      Also I must concur that Art Deco, for all it’s slightly severe beauty, is a machine age riposte to the sensuality of Nouveau and the Belle Epoque.
      The Dandy tips his hat to you and offers you some lilacs he picked while wandering lonely this morning…
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy.

  3. R

    yes. quite wow. if you just did the first part, i think it would still be the ultimate review of this perfume. amazing. congrats, sir!

  4. I remember Mitsouko sitting on my grandmother’s dressing table… Love how you’ve captured the spirit of an era in a bottle of scent. So evocative. I wish you and Lanier would collaborate on a book – and I want an autographed copy!

  5. I know just how much this review means to you personally. I am moved and touched by your words and it has erased all memory of any other thoughts on this perfume. Pure masterpiece in perfume and prose.

    • Mr Lanier
      That is most awfully kind of you.
      However, the Dandy would like to point readers to your marvelous and quite contrary take of Mitsouko, which has stuck fast in my mind.
      It can of course be found at Scents Memory your estimable blog.
      I think a little of its spirit rubbed off on my thinking about Narcisse Noir.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  6. It’s a very nice review for a great perfume that unfortunately doesn’t work for me. I keep trying – but still no.

    • Oh Ms Undina
      I’m so sorry to hear that Mitsouko doesn’t want to be your friend. I really wouldn’t take it personally there are people all over town whose skins and noses she has offended.
      But I’m afraid this Dandy can’t help loving her all the same.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy.

  7. Lilybelle

    Mitsouko doesn’t like my skin either (mine is an edt from late 90s/early00s, which might be why). BUT…it evokes such visuals! I get these autumnal, silent, forlorn images. Smelling it is like stepping through a magic mirror. Thank you for another wonderful review, Mr. Dandy. I am enjoying them.

    • Thank you for the kind words Lilybelle
      Now, I much prefer the EdP to EdT – tough I know to many noses this is the most petrol-revolting of the lot.
      Though beautiful, the toilette is undeniably sharp, if not tart.
      The extrait is a heaven of a certain sort but has’t some of the colour of the top notes.
      Your words – silent, forlorn, autumnal are so well chosen.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  8. I never thought of Mitsouko as beng aggressive: I’ve always seen her as a grande dame type of perfume, or at least a lady of the house type. But then again, I think of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca when I smell it. So maybe you have a point.

    “And the peach is the antithesis of soft, sugared, supermarket-sparkling clean soft fruit: it is an ageing momento mori too fleshy, flabby and fast on its way to mould to be too long of this world.” -Phenomenal.

    And I think you’re right about Mitsouko being torn between Belle Epoque and Art Deco. It’s big and fleshy like Belle Epoque, but the pretty simple structure (dry chypre+peach) is more Art Deco. Plus the juxtaposing of soft on hard is also Art Deco.

    • Why hello Joan and welcome
      Perhaps ‘wilfull’ would be better than aggressive and Rebecca could certainly be said to be that!.
      I think your comments on the cusp between Belle Epoque and Deco that Mitsouko sits are just perfect – thank you for them and your other kind words.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  9. The interesting thing about Mitsouko is that because this perfume is hailed as a masterpiece, we try try and try again to learn to love her. I also did not get along with Mitsouko for many years and repeatedly tried and failed, but eventually I learned to love oakmoss and then she really bloomed for me and I understood what everyone was raving about.

    • Dear Lisawordbird
      Welcome!
      I so agree with this sentiment.
      But aren’t many great works of a troublesome challenge at first, and doesn’t the endeavour make the outcome all the more rewarding.
      The Dandy thinks it does.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  10. Dear Mr Dandy,

    I tried Mitsouko several moons ago and did not care for it. Your review will have me scurrying back to look at it again with fresh eyes and a new perspective.

    Your friend

    IScent

    • Dear Iscent
      Many people don;t get along with Mitzouko – I’m on pain of death not to wear it around Dandy Mansions!
      But, perhaps more than any other perfume, it is perhaps best understood in the context of its time and the role of women in the world.
      It can justly lay claim to being, with No5 and Tabac Blond, the greatest cultural artefacts of fragrance.
      Do give it another go – and remember the concentrations are very different from one and other…
      Thank you so for popping by.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  11. My vintage EdT decant of Mitsouko is utterly lovely, but not at all like your experience… It just fails to take me away, fails to evoke anything… Perhaps I really ought to find some EdP to sample. ;)

    • Dear Nadja
      Welcome! Do make yourself at home!
      Though others prefer other concentrations, it is the Eau de Parfum that I find quite the most transporting of all the Mitsoukos – though I like them all.
      It has a richness than is sometimes lacking in the toilette whilst retaining some of the top noes than seem to disappear on my skin with the parfum.
      Wearing it is a unique experience, though I’m afraid I cannot guarantee it will assist with time travel.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  12. mitsouko19

    This review is the most beautiful thing that I have read about Mitsouko, a perfume that I love for years and I still keep loving after the last reformulation.

    Thanks for your words and your time, Dandy.

    mitsouko19

  13. This is a beautiful review, and though I feel ever so soppy saying it, it brought a tear to my eye! Those brave World War 1 women. Big fan of Guerlain. Where can I buy a bottle of Guernica? Is that a new one?

    • Dearest Cat
      Thank you so much for your comment, it does mean so much when people enjoy a review, especially of such a wonderful fragrance.
      As yet no one has tried to bottle Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica, but it would be a very powerful perfume if they did.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  14. Oh be still my beating heart. I love this!

    Lovely tribute to Mitsouko :) Thank you!!

    Amanda

  15. I wish I could like this post twice. This is the best review of Mitsouko I have yet to read, because, as Miss Misty has already correctly stated, you captured her soul. Mitsouko is special to me, since blind buying a vintage parfum of this classic was my entry into my perfume obsession. And at first I despised her. But she wouldn’t leave me alone until I was under her spell.

    Bravo!

    To be honest, I kinda wish someone would write about me like that. That damn Mitzy! I must surrender to her terrible beauty!

    • Dear Reneetamara
      First of all welcome to The Dandy’s, please do make yourself at home.
      Secondly, thank you so much for your exceptionally generous comments.
      Mitsouko is, for me at least, one of the very most soulful of all scents. A fragrance that embodies history rather than belonging to it.
      It’s also a challenge, but one I’m sure we agree very much merits taking on.
      Thank you again for taking time to read.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  16. Bee

    Wonderful piece! The first person I knew that had a ‘signature scent’ was a jazz musician called Ivan and that signature was Mitsouko. That was too many years ago and I was young and in love – not with him, although he was quite something! – with the music and Mitsouko but it took me a long time to feel I had the confidence and esprit to wear it myself. Now I can’t imagine not having a bottle in my collection. Some day I will have the pure heaven of the pure parfum.

    • Dearest Bee
      How ever did I miss this comment!?!
      Now that’s something of a scented tale… a jazz musician called Ivan with Mitsouko as his signature. Novels have been written about less.
      I must confess to being with you, it’s a perfume I can;t imagine ever wanting to be without.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  17. Reblogged this on The Perfumed Dandy. and commented:

    The Post You Love Most. Looking back over the last year The Dandy noticed a strange thing, there is one scented letter far more adored than all the others… Mitsouko. It has been read, so the figures say, almost ten times more than any other of my aromatic missives. In fact, one in twenty visits here is to pay homage to Guerlain’s masterpiece. Let us do so again this Sunday. Yours ever, The Perfumed Dandy

    • jennyredhen

      Maybe Mitsouko is your most searched perfume because it is so lauded by the pundits and yet many many people don’t have a good result with it. It is a very difficult perfume to understand. Do you love it, do you hate it??? I was bitterly disappointed with Mitsoukop but the more I wear it the more it opens up. Other of your blog followers have said the same. Is it the perfume that opens up or is it our olefactory sense? So many unanswered questions!!!
      A mystery. Many perfumes have no mystery whatsoever.

      • Dearest Jenny
        A good point.
        I’ve pondered long and hard as to why Mitsouko should be just so far out in front.. I mean nearly ten times more views!
        But perhaps you’re right, a perfume that leaves people conflicted over its virtues is bound to have them searching for alternate views.
        Personally I adore Mitsouko. but then have an affinity with chypres and animalics (I find that petrol note slightly skanky on my skin) and so it would be my kind of thing.
        I say its peerless, maybe it would be more precise to say that it has been made peerless… Coty’s Chypre and others that would have formed its fraternity have fallen away or been mutilated by reformulation over the years, so it seems to stand rather alone.
        Maybe it is this sense of being the last scent standing that makes it such a mystery, for an enigma it is and I’m convinced you’re right that is a large part of its attraction.
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy

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