Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Mind Moves in Mitzterious Ways

I knew this day would come.

I knew it from the first.  I felt it, I recognized the direction, if not all the contours, of the path, and that eventually, I would get to the destination, even though from the first, I felt no need to go there.

In fact, it felt like I did not WANT to go there.

Yet, here I am.  Mitsouko, I found my way to you.

Should any of you run into me on the trails of the interwebs, or if you have been a regular visitor to me here, you will know this:  about two years ago, I decided life was too short to hide certain truths.  I outed myself.  I do not like Mitsouko, I said.  The more I said it, the louder I got.  It is screechy.  It has fangs and claws, and I do not mean that in a good way.  The peach kills me.  This one is a mean spirit with tough skin.  Yes, I said those kinds of things.  And more.

Though sometimes I would just raise my hand, meekly, and say "me...over here...I, erm, haven't found the love."  Because part of me is Sally Field, afraid that you might not really like me.  And while I refused to drink the KoolAid, I knew there were those out there who said "if you don't love Mitsouko, then you really aren't into perfume."  Perfumista card revocation, all that stuff and nonsense.

I don't buy it for a minute.  But you can feel the attitude, even when not expressed.  "How in the world can you not LOVE it?" your super attenuated ears hear thought, but not spoken.

I'll tell you how.  A headache THIS BIG how.

But that was then.  This is now.


Meet Ms. Right, Mitsouko edc, in the watch bottle with the gold plastic cap.  According to a fantastic website with pictures and everything that I must have found on a day not available in my browser history and I didn't bookmark and I will search and find and replace this italics with eventually, that means it was manufactured sometime in the 1970's.  Which probably has a lot to do with what I am about to describe, given that oakmoss was still wantonly harvested and stuffed into a variety of perfumes.

Oakmoss.  I hate that it is endangered.  I appreciate that it is protected.  It is, unfortunately, a common thread among many of my favorite perfumes--in fact, given that I am a chypre fan in general, it is nearly unavoidable.

Well, it WAS unavoidable.  Until overharvesting and allergies and IFRA came along.  Shoot.  Actually, shoot me twice; another favorite note?  Sandalwood.  Mysore, cruelly overharvested sandalwood.  Gotta love the universe's cruel twists on the grown up who started life as a passionate fan of Ranger Rick and has in general followed a predictable trajectory on things involving flora and fauna.  

But I digress.  Here's the real story, the story of how patience, and a bottle of naproxen sodium, helped me find my way.

I've always known that I would *likely* find a door into Mitsouko.  I mean, if it is so bleeping iconic to a range of noses, then, well, something must be going on.  But I felt no need to push the issue, not hard.  There were so many other things to discover and to love that Ms. Mitz could just sit over there with her fawning dance partners and I could stay on my side of the hall and we'd twirl around each other as circumstance allowed.

Because I am patient, and somewhat stubborn, I collected a little of this and that of the Mitz along the way.  An edp, relative modern vintage.  A vial of vintage parfum.  A decant of a vintage parfum de toilette.  Hell...I'll go ahead and 'fess up now...I even have a full size edp of the next to last formulation, because I got it for less than $30 and knew full well I could place it in a foster home if I eventually decided to cease all hope.  But nothing did it.  Screeeeeeech.  BONK.  Thwackomp.  Nasty old lady.  Every blasted time.

I started creating iambic feet for "cursed persicol"; I lambasted the supersaturation of what was probably a worthy chypre with something that didn't toll my end, didn't chime it, but rang it in with a triangle and a gong.  It was my first and generally only example of a raspy perfume that did not please, of something that presented as a low alto but had the effect of an off-key soprano.  The powerful, belty kind, not the warbly Jeannette MacDonald kind.

Am I clear about how Mitsouko and I have gotten along?

Okay, good.  Now dig this.  I ordered a full bottle (that's right, now going to be my second full volume of something that, no matter what the iteration, has not played nice with me) of Eau de Cologne.  Why?  I played the odds.  The package suggested vintage, and I called the vendor and confirmed the pictured item reflected the something I was ordering.  I knew that at the price I was getting it for, I could turn around and re-sell it to one of those fawning fans for the same price, and we'd both be happy.  And because...well...I realized I had never owned one of those iconic Guerlain watch bottles.  Fine, I admit it.  It was a purchase that could easily be covered, egged on by a little bit of collector syndrome, and very little logic when it comes to love for what was inside.

Respect, though.  It had my respect.

What I didn't know it had was smooth.  That's right.  Smoooooooth.  I opened this bottle a week ago, put some on my skin, and...sonofagun.  No screech.  No nasty raspy bits.  Just smooth, moderately amplified green.  With that peach, but this time the fruit didn't have a billy club.  In fact, the fruit felt a little more diffuse, even while behaving a tad more citrusy.  It was a layer that didn't clog the pores of the rest of the composition; it rested somewhere on top and gently meshed with but not behaved like a loudmouth.  Nor, in fact, did any of it.

Ms. Mitz had become a very cozy blanket.  Unh-hunh.  I said cozy.  I said blanket.  As in something I wore, but didn't wear me.  As in a something that might be a particular type of blanket (this one more on the wool side, but not itchy), but chosen by me, and which then becomes a part of my ensemble.  A Woolrich cloak, or a serape.

My friends, I found the secret door.

Sometimes I think of a perfume I can't wrap my head around as something I just have not discovered my own key to.  I allow myself the possibility that I still might not like it in the end, but I might understand it.  And respect it.

With notes, I have the same approach, but have the advantage of a little more flexibility.  Because notes can be presented in different ways, in terms of emphasis and co-notes and the hand of the perfumer, so there I am finding my way into a labyrinth.  Which opening is it going to be that lets me walk around and enjoy myself?  Vetiver was like that.  Struck me as medicinal and/or "useful" but not attractive in a perfume.  But I knew that I should take time and play with various presentations.  I had to go slowly, seeing as I actually had a bit of a distaste for it at first.  But one day, in one fell swoop, I found it.  I set myself up with a variety of vetiver containing scents, and let myself "feel" how each one worked.  First, the "trick" one let me in, then another one; perfumes that enrobed or wove vetiver with equally strong notes.  Now, I kind of appreciate vetiver straight up, but it took that kind of experience to get there.

I recounted those experiences here and here.

With a specific perfume--especially a big honking monolith like Mitsouko--it's a little different.  I mean, there it is.  It's more about approaching it from different angles, approaching it in different moods, trying again after finding your way in to other scents, because it's not like there are a slew of presentations (sweet vs dry, up front vs hidden, etc.) to play mind games with.  

Except...except the history of Mitsouko *does* allow for some variations on theme.  Nearly ninety years old, its main formula has been offered in various concentrations, and like any perfume covering that span, certain adjustments have been made in the formula.  PLUS, there is the issue of the oakmoss, real versus synthetic.  So, unlike with certain things that came in one "batch" only (because perhaps they only existed for a brief period of time), there is potential for nuance here.  The kind of nuance that says "here, this one; when it is this weight, and this emphasis on the notes, this one will work for you."

I pretty much hang my hat on that reason right there, when it comes to my truce with Mitsouko.  It's this batch, the one that comes in this bottle.  But I don't doubt the power of iconography, and it could be that other factors came together as well.  Remember that Aliage I wore as a winter hints of spring scent?  The citrus so sharply against the leather?  A memory of that passed through my head as I pondered my ability to live with this Mitz.  In fact, it passed through just as I was realizing that piercing peach note was still there, had never gone away, really--I was just able to see other things first this time.  So maybe me wrapping my arms around Aliage conditioned them somewhat for the contours of Mitsouko.

Maybe its the oakmoss.

Maybe I just changed my tastes a little bit.  (Okay, fine; a big, whomping, earth fissure of a bit.)

As has happened before, and will happen again, I find myself eating my words.  Hence the "changed my mind" tag; been there, done that.  Sheesh, I think I was just charping on (that's a harsh chirping, btw) on Victoria's blog about how I just couldn't get Mitsouko.  

The full truth is not so simple, though.  Because the fact of the matter is, I got brave while I was writing this.  Put on a couple of my other iterations, to mark my progress with them.  FAIL.  Same response.  Claws, headache.  So, for now, the magic is only in the big round bottle.  {chuckles} The one with the dunce cap on top.

My take away is the same as it is with certain people I have met and learned to enjoy limited quantities of time with.  The pleasure is there to be found.  You may need to be patient.  Very patient.  And it pleasurable company may only manifest itself under the right conditions.

But it's there.  Makes you glad you remembered to respect it.  But you don't have to love it, by the way.  Other people already do.

I think I'm going to go hug my Chamade.

ADDENDUM 7 March 2011:  There are many fine reviews of Mitsouko out there.  Helg's over at Perfume Shrine is one, and I bother to add it here because I found that she posted the same week (cue Twilight Zone music), and while she talks about all sorts of interesting historical details and does some wonderful cultural readings, she also notes the different effects of various vintages, concentrations, etc.  So I self-servingly note a post that supports one of my own observations, and which tickled my fancy. Besides, if per chance you haven't been there yet, chances are you should.  I think you'd like it. 

photo author's own


Ines said...

I'll just quietly state here, I'm not really getting along with Mitsouko.

But I'm guessing, it's the same thing as with you, I haven't found my version (like I did with no. 19). :) At least now I know where to start again.

Marina said...

Like Churchill said, never, never, never, never give up :) That's how I eventually came to love Shalimar and Nuit de Noel. I actually gave trying with Mitsouko, however :)

Musette said...

well, well, well (evil cackle coming :-).....loookee there!

so glad you found the love - and I totally agree that you can respect Her and even appreciate Her and not want to wallow in Her. I, of course, begin and end my day at the Shrine. But I'm a lunatic.

I hope you to sniff this 'awakener' someday - I've got an 80s (maybe 70s) etd that we can compare it to!

ScentScelf said...


Do not be quiet! One of the reasons I started to speak up was I suspected I was not alone, and I wanted company. :)

Good point about No. 19; I think that is the one I most commonly hear tales about coming around to. Me, I started with intrigued respect and genuine interest, and quickly ramped up to love.

But all is not lovey dovey in perfume land. See next comment...

ScentScelf said...


LOL! Churchill. I'm thinking my upper lip perhaps got so stiff from trying to protect my nose from the Mitsouko... ;)

Hey! What's this you say? Et tu, lovely? No Mitz for you? Where was my support team????

Good heavens. I had forgotten about Shalimar. You know that some people have a pet name for it, right? First two syllables the same, the last...well...human ambergris. I choose to continue to turn a blind eye. Will pretend I only heard "Nuit de Noel" and continue to apply on occasion.

ScentScelf said...


I am not sure if I found *the* love yet, but certainly a *way* to love...

"Awakener"? Do tell!

Musette said...

sorry - that was sloppy typing. I meant to say that I hope to smell this version of Mitsouko that awakened your maybe-love.


Ines said...

What do they call my wonderful Shalimar?! Shame on them! ;)

It took me a while to get Shalimar but now I adore it. In any variant, it's just so right for me.

Rose said...

So pleased you found a way in- I had to do this too although mine was just in a perfume department and it was about smelling differently I think- now I love it. Although I prefer L'heure Bleu for my own tastes Mitsouko is possibly the most beautiful perfume I have smelled for what a perfume should be

Tamara*J said...

Honey I loved LOVED reading this post! Hooray for you and your newfound adoration!
So that's the ticket huh?
I should try it too but I almost can't deal, me being traumatized and all.
I shall miss your company and I do envy seeing you leave my Mitsy meanie corner edge of Perfumeland but heeeey girl hey you still hanging around in Sh**limar's neck of the woods! ha. ;)


Vanessa said...

I am so glad you found a route in to Mitsouko - I am only familiar with contemporary incarnations and get the rasping mean facets you evoke. I do like that bottle too - it reminds me of one for Bal a Versaille that is not the one I own either!

Josephine said...

Again late to the party...

After pouting about not 'getting' Mitsouko, I abandoned/put aside/ignored/gave it up about 3 years ago. In Seattle. After applying it to my skin at Nordstrom and nearly gassing everyone out of the conference I was attending.

Mitsouko and I have baggage.

I'm at this bratty point in my perfumista development (more like perfumadolescent) that I can't be bothered to 'try' to love anything. After a reasonable number of attempts, I either do or I don't. Maybe I will revisit in a year, maybe I won't.

Life is short - perfume is abundant. Mitsouko can bite me.

The Left Coast Nose said...

So, like, super late, but the vestiges of the party are still super fun.

First of all-- what an amazing post!! Funny, erudite, honest, straight at the heart of your experience. Brava!

Next, I, too, and a Mitsouko hater. (Best line so far goes to Josephine: "Life is short - perfume is abundant. Mitsouko can bite me." Hah!!)

It smells like a mash to me, like someone put a pizza in a blender and made a shake out of it-- like it could be good, if only all the elements were reconfigured differently.

So it makes perfect sense to me that, through time, patience, and an open mind, you found the bottle where all the bits were saturated juuuuust right, and it all comes together for you.

Your positive attitude (Second best line out of all of this: " Makes you glad you remembered to respect it. But you don't have to love it, by the way. Other people already do." Respect.) resulted in a well-earned pay-off.

You touch on another idea that intrigued me that I've thought about myself, off and on, and that's that constructed scents like perfume (as opposed to "natural" scents, like the smell of an orange rind, or peppermint tea) captivate us is because they make us remember things we don't actually remember. Am I saying that right?

They make us search our memory, or the parts of our brain that connect scent and memory to come up with an understanding of the mash of notes we smell. WHen you talk about coming to grips with a tricky scent as a labyrinth, or a secret door, it's that reaching for something that feels the same as a hidden memory. Your line: "Sometimes I think of a perfume I can't wrap my head around as something I just have not discovered my own key to." is about as close to that idea that I've read.

(And it makes me very happy!!!)

Enjoy the bottle, and thanks for the thought-provoking post!

Lucy said...

Love reading the description of your process. Certain classics like this remind me of my strange but real and strong aversions to things others love, arising from god only knows what.

I have hopes for Mitsouko myself. I always think of a quote from a book I loved as a teenager that has the heroine dousing herself in "oceans of Mitsouko" to become blindingly seductive. ("The Collector" by Fowles) written in the mid sixties in England. I bet that's the version I need.

ScentScelf said...

I think it is probably best if I save the nicknames for another day. ;) I am glad Shalimar has you among its fans. :)

L'Heure Bleu is one of those OTHER Guerlains...the kind I loved from the first, and never stopped. As is Chamade. It's interesting; I've noticed a number of people who like Mitsouko really Do Not Like L'Heure Bleu, and vice versa.

Glad you enjoyed! As for me leaving your company, time will tell. Even if we do part ways, it may only be for this particular version of the edc. Otherwise, I'll be back on your side of the fence.

ScentScelf said...

Yeah, that bottle. It's just...well...I don't even know if I like it, aesthetically, but it is so iconic...so I do like it. It's really, really round, I must say. Kind of makes me giggle, except I stifle it with respect.

I of course understand having baggage. Perhaps one way to describe my current detente with Mitsouko is that I've jettisoned enough weight to proceed, but I do not know yet whether we can fly the distance...but turns out I did enjoy this leg of the trip.

I totally LOL'ed at "Mitsouko can bite me." I'd be careful with that...let it near you, and it might. ;) Life is short, btw; I don't endorse masochism for all. It just happened to work for me.

ScentScelf said...

Left Coast Nose,
Hey, Stranger! Nice to see you out and about. Also nice to see you are still in the same form...such good thinkings you left here.

Yup, to use your mash analogy, I feel like I found the right spot and the right angle to stick the straw in and have it coming out tasting good. And I appreciate the nod toward open-mindedness...I tease about masochism, of course, when speaking with Josephine.

You know, I was about to talk about how Mitsouko seems to demand re-consideration, between the myth and the respect I have for some who love it, and this thought popped in my head: Why only the "difficult" one? Reminds me of the squeaky wheel, and that makes me want to seek out a quiet deserving but neglected one for my next patient approach.

I love this thinking of yours: "Constructed scents captivate us is because they make us remember things we don't actually remember." I am extra thinking on it myself now. Yes (I want to put an exclamation point there...yes!!), the labyrinth. Absolutely part of this.

And now I recall previous discussions of the power of scent and memory (somewhere around here is a post on lily of the valley and the story of a friend who cried upon smelling it, because it raised forgotten memories of her father)...but this constructed scent idea...could it be because we have to assemble a story, as it were, to explain what we are smelling? Kind of like I did when I "assembled" different views of my great-grandmother's wedding dress?

I'm going to meander around that for a while. Meanwhile, I am so glad that the idea of a difficult scent as a labyrinth in need of solving resonates with you, and that it makes you happy.

Knowing me, I'm not done attacking these ideas. Come on back. We'll chat again. :)

ScentScelf said...

Oh, Fowles! I really didn't read much of his, though I certainly knew people who did. What I DID read was The French Lieutenant's Woman, because a friend in undergrad insisted I did, and I thought she was the coolest. Turns out I loved it indeed. I still dream of owning a hooded cape, opera style, a la Streep in the movie.

Had there been Mitsouko in that one, perhaps I would have been given one more path of entry to liking it, kind of like those shortcuts in Chutes and Ladders.

Keep up the hope! (For as long as you want to, at least, she added with a wink and a nod at Josephine.) I found my version at a good price online.