Mitsouko Eau de Toilette by Guerlain Review
It’s so hard to write about our favorites, isn’t it?
Though I now favor the Eau de Parfum, the Eau de Toilette was my first exposure to Jacques Guerlain’s iconic 1919 House of Guerlain composition, Mitsouko.
Now, over the years, she’s accompanied me through thick and thin. My perfect, melancholy lemony-spicy-chypre companion.
And I have no idea how to write about her. Hence putting this review off. But done is better than perfect, and I’d rather have a record of my thoughts I can revisit in time than none at all.
When I first tried Mitsouko, I thought… “I don’t get it.” My experience didn’t align with the enchanted woodland forests I was reading about in myriad other reviews. And yet, something about it just wouldn’t let me go.
My first thought upon sniffing Mitsouko was that this… stinks? This smells, in the kind of way that my mother would want to cover up with a clean department store celebrity floral.
Mitsouko Eau de Toilette smells exactly like something, though I don’t quite remember what. I do hear the old lady comparisons in many reviews (though there’s certainly a debate about the sensitivity of that phrase). But it doesn’t smell like dust or politeness or powder.
No, Mitsouko smells like it is from another era. It smells like timeless, graceful maturity. It reeks with a certain sourness that I hated at first, particularly in the opening burst of green sharpness and spices, but then it started to remind me of libraries and old book pages, soft cuddly amber and ink…
There is nothing sweet in Mitsouko Eau de Toilette. Zero. Maybe a whisper of peach fuzz, but not a ripe, juicy peach you’d ever want to eat. Maybe a suggestion of a floral bouquet far, far away, wilting quietly on a dusty piano. Something in Mitsouko is very close to death. She is somber, sour, serious, and oh, so old.
And yet… I just can’t figure her out. I have to keep wearing her until I know her secrets. I can feel myself slowly falling for her mysterious whispering charm. I’m falling under her spell.
On me, the opening of Mitsouko is sharp and harsh, with spices I can’t quite name that have an almost anise-like pointiness. The vetiver is loud and green, like grass screaming as it is cut, and the oakmoss is pungent and inky.
I’m surprised by the strength and performance of Mitsouko throughout, but particularly in this first brash stage. That opening punch of spiky spices feels really familiar to me, and rather folk-medicinal. In the first minutes, it’s astringent almost like an odd spicy scent of cleaning wipes manufactured in a country with wildly different olfactory tastes for cleaning wipes.
I wouldn’t usually think of this as something I’d want to smell like, and at first it was my least favorite part of the scent, but now its grown on me. I simply don’t get the same anise-spice-table-wipes accord anywhere in Mitsouko Eau de Parfum, and I miss it. It really is one of my favorite moments of the perfume. There’s something so comforting about it, like cleaning your hands with hand sanitizer before a sunny summer picnic.
The iconic suggestion of peach in Mitsouko comes out right in the middle, as the green and inky nuances begin to quiet down unevenly and let slivers of fruit and beheaded flowers through their grasp. This isn’t a modern bright, voluptuous, juicy fruity accord. Not even close. Rather, it’s a grayish suggestion of peach fuzz, slightly bitter skin and a hint of nectarine-colored juice running down your arms.
In the drydown, amber comes out to play and softens the green bitterness of the vetiver and oakmoss, which have become soft and tea-like. There’s no tea note in Mitsouko, but the long oakmoss drydown is the perfect blend of dry, aromatic, and soft that I’d recommend to any tea lover in an instant.
This stage is so very enchanting and lovely, and I wish it projected more. Nonetheless, it envelops you in a close, comforting blanket of bitter, tannin-like oakmoss and gentle not-quite-vanillic hints of amber.
Day by day, I’d gone from strongly disliking this to wanting to bathe in it. I almost never buy more than a milliliter of any fragrance, with very few exceptions, but this one tempted me. It’s really just that enchanting.
Here’s what a full day of wearing Mitsouko EdT looks like for me:
First I brought her to work with me in the library. I couldn’t tell where the soft, gentle dusty library smell ended and Mitsouko began.
I then walked with her down to the farmer’s market for some flowers, and promptly got caught in a gale. Mitsouko sang beautifully all around me in the rain.
When I finally ran home in the rain, grabbed my umbrella, and walked to a dinner party, Mitsouko was still hanging all around me deliciously in the air.
She has a way of magnifying and blending with all of the best things in your own skin and all around you. She sings clear, resonant chords with dampness and rain, with water and rot, with overripe fruit and earth, with spices and sin. She embodies the cool late August nights when the road glistens with rain and the air is heavy with a refreshing wetness.
She is divine and she has graced me with her presence. I’ll have her as long as she will stay.
I’m a chronic sampler who tries everything in the tiniest possible size and almost never orders more of anything, who cannot imagine having a signature and wearing the same scent every single day. Mitsouko is the first scent to seriously tempt me with settling down. She blends with my own skin and my surroundings gloriously, creating a bridge that helps me appreciate the beauty of both.
Unlike some heady sweet or floral thing, Mitsouko never exhausts me. I go to bed thinking how exciting it will be to wear her again. I think of her when I am trying other scents. I’m well on my way to having to order more.
This is also the perfume I break out on days when I’m exhausted and nauseous and need something to clear my head and help me focus. It’s pointed and angular and fresh while having a svelte elegance that makes every moment of subtly blended notes nothing short of riveting.
There’s something very romantic about Mitsouko.
Not romantic like kissing. Romantic like tragedies of the heart and missed chances, Edith Wharton novels and Lina Kostenko poetry. This is Countess Ellen Olenska. This is dramatic old black-and-white movies with trans-Atlantic accents galore. This is any number of tragically brilliant heroines that ultimately don’t end up where they should.
I’m a fickle, novelty-chasing forever sampler, and Mitsouko became my first signature scent. Each time I bring her out she shows me something new. Today it is a comforting, delightful cinnamon with an almost-chocolate nuance and something animalic and carnal in the background. Another day, she’s rain and dusty books, or perhaps dry vanillin and tea. She changes so entirely based on weather, climate, skin chemistry… she is divine.
One of the latest chapters in my Mitsouko story is that I caved and bought a tester from FragranceX (my first ever full bottle, of anything!).
I like her very much, though she is not the Mitsouko I fell in love with in my 1 milliliter sample. Gone are the anise-cinnamon disinfectant spices and the moldy peach that I know and love. This Mitsouko feels more earthy, vegetal, and so much more mushroom-y.
Perhaps she has a bit more of a citrus sheen — not bergamot, but something like a hint of lemon. Oddly enough, I get something animalic and civet-like, a skanky sexy note that simply wasn’t there in my first sample. My batch number tells me my bottle is from 2017.
I’ve heard Mitsouko doesn’t keep well, and department store lights probably don’t help. (Lesson learned!) I don’t know how some of you preserve hundred-year-old bottles of the stuff! Still, this version of her is pretty, though not as plush and mystical as what I first sampled.
(The conspiracy theorist in me can’t help but wonder whether sample distributors might put EDP in EDT vials to get more people to come back for a full bottle… but no, I think my bottle has simply started to turn.)
I do like this damper, more animalic, mushroom-centered, possibly-turned take on Mitsouko, though I still dream of the one from my original sample most of all. Someday I’ll find her again.
What’s the lesson here?
Perhaps that no two batches of a fragrance are the same, and that Mitsouko is among the more fickle, impermanent, and ever-changing. Exercise caution when buying used store samplers that have been sitting under bright lights at Macy’s for the last five years.
Or maybe, the lesson is to find and enjoy beauty in every little individual variation of a thing. Each slightly different day. Slightly different bus ride. Slightly different sunset. Slightly different Mitsouko. Even if it isn’t the one you fell for originally, each one is magnificent in its own particular way.
There were a few times when I sprayed what I now call the vegetal Mitsouko as a sort of room spray. Someone who swung by remarked that it smelled “very organic in here.” That really is one good word for the impression it imparts: organic, damp, mossy, earthy, vegetal.
Nowadays, I usually go for the Eau de Parfum of Mitsouko. Which I will review separately at some point, although for all pedestrian intents and purposes it is fairly similar. The Eau de Parfum is smoother, bolder, and lasts longer; it feels less prickly and angular, more gentle and softly blended and refined. It’s a little more fruit and a little less spice, a bouquet more live flowers and less simple vegetal moss.
And yet, there’s a special place in my heart for the Eau de Toilette. There always will be. And it’s the less expensive, more easily accessed form of Mitsouko to sample. Many people will probably say this isn’t their thing, but I think there’s still something quite edifying about sampling a historical work such as this one.
And you never know. You might be surprised and go from kind of hating Mitsouko to being simply enchanted. I know I was.
But if you don’t end up liking it, that’s okay too. It’s alright to kind of hate something everyone seems to consider a classic. That’s how I feel about Guerlain’s own Shalimar.
But I do think Mitsouko is an excellent representative of the chypre genre and a fascinating historical marvel. It’s had such an impact on the genre that you can learn a lot about chypres as a whole smelling Mitsouko.
And, if you’re uncertain if something oakmoss-heavy is your thing, Mitsouko is certainly less challenging than some of the modern ultra-filthy love songs to moss, like Lush’s Devil’s Nightcap or even Amouage’s Journey Woman.
For the price — certainly not drug store body spray, but more accessible than certain rare and indie chypres — it’s a solid educational opportunity and a perfume that remains utterly unique over a hundred years after its composition.
And, of course, it is uniquely lovely.