Guerlain Mitsouko (pour homme) fragrance review

Yukio Mishima

During early spring, while I was reading Michael Edwards’ Perfume Legends, I was struck by the number of ‘landmark’ perfumes of the early 20th century I had not smelled. I hadn’t bothered to seek out many of the old Guerlain, Caron or Patou perfumes because they were for women and I would not be wearing them — so why bother? My interest in these vintage perfumes was ignited by Perfume Legends; in the book, Sylvaine Delacourte, artistic director at Guerlain and one-time assistant to Jean-Paul Guerlain, was quoted as saying great perfumes, especially chypres, could be worn and enjoyed by women and men: “A great perfume appeals…to all human beings.”

Today, men are more open to floral and fruit notes in their colognes. Fragrance houses like Serge Lutens do not categorize scents as “masculine” or “feminine” but encourage people to wear the scents they appreciate. In Robin’s recent article Notes on perfume and context, she suggested perhaps the best way to try fragrances would be to put perfumes in plain glass bottles — that way, no information on the perfume name, perfumer, ingredients, design/perfume house, packaging or “inspiration” would influence our judgment of fragrances. To take away such “markers” would also take away gender clues.

I began my remedial perfume studies with Guerlain. I ordered samples of classic Guerlain scents (in Eau de Parfum and Eau de Toilette strengths); when I received the fragrances, I immediately covered their names with white tape and I began to wear the “unknown” perfumes one by one. At the end of my experiment, there were three perfumes that stood out as unisex (or verging toward unisex) to my “contemporary nose”; I peeled away the tape from the sample vials to reveal: Vol de Nuit, L’Heure Bleue, and Mitsouko. (I’ve worn Jicky for years so it was not included in my “testing.”)

Guerlain Mitsouko perfumeMitsouko was created by Jacques Guerlain in 1919 and contains bergamot, jasmine, rose, peach, oak moss, pepper, cinnamon, and vetiver. Mitsouko starts with beautiful bergamot and rose; the rose surrenders to peach fairly quickly and peach begins its long march to the finish (and is joined by pepper and vetiver which butch up the fruit). On my skin, Mitsouko’s overall aroma is of ripe peaches (cushioned on oak moss in a nest of vetiver roots) sprinkled liberally with freshly ground black pepper.

One can easily find fruit accords in modern men’s fragrances; I especially like green mango, grapefruit, fig, raspberry and plum. Peach is no more “feminine” than those fruit aromas, and I certainly prefer peach to the apple, pineapple, kiwi and melon accords I’ve encountered recently in men’s colognes.

As I wore Mitsouko, I felt it was a close-to-the-body scent, but many people told me, hours after application, how good I smelled. Among Mitsouko’s admirers was a macho straight man who wears ozone/marine colognes almost exclusively. He said: “Kevin, I might get a bottle of that, what is it?” I was ready for this question because I had created a new name for Mitsouko in case I was asked about it; I wanted no one to automatically categorize Mitsouko (and possibly dismiss it) as feminine. I considered calling Mitsouko “The Tramp” (Charlie Chaplin was one of Mitsouko’s famous devotees), but in our day, “tramp” usually means a hot-to-trot woman and not a vagabond, so I decided to use the name “Mishima” — what could be more macho than a weight-lifting, army-loving writer who committed seppuku

Mitsouko Eau de Parfum lasts on my skin for over twelve hours and even after half a day of wear, the fragrance remains fresh smelling. Mitsouko Eau de Toilette is similar to the Eau de Parfum but it is brighter, more glaring; I prefer the Eau de Parfum concentration.

Mitsouko has recently been reformulated by Edouard Fléchier to remove (much-maligned) oak moss from the composition. I have not smelled the reformulated Mitsouko yet but please comment if you have tried it. If you want to experience the “old” Mitsouko, you’d better buy it sooner than later. When I finally told Mr. Ozone-Marine the perfume he liked on me was Mitsouko from Guerlain and it was marketed to women, he said: “No way! I won’t wear it but I might get my wife a bottle.” I bet if I could have presented him with “Mishima” in a metallic bottle resembling the silhouette of a suit of samurai armor he’d be wearing Mitsouko today — none the wiser, and smelling great.

Note: photograph of author Yukio Mishima by Shirou Aoyama (1956), via Wikipedia.

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52 Comments

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Isn't that just classic, Kevin ?

    Ironic.

    [Mr. Malle was horrified when I sweetly suggested that each wear what suited/flattered him /her... what a travesty !]

    I routinely dab my men [ both straight and not-so-straight] with whatever I deem they'll fancy- and rarely do I err.

    I don't give a fig for such nonsense, and I wish folks would quit fussing over 'genderism'.

    if you don't know your gender, a perfume botlle isn't going to be of much help, lol…

  2. Anonymous says:

    Kevin will be along to answer you I'm sure, but have to butt in to say I'm just shocked about Frederic Malle — wouldn't have expected him to hold such a view at all. Although I'm still chuckling over his statement about people not wanting to wear the same perfume as their maid, LOL…

  3. Anonymous says:

    It DOES seem obvious doesn't it: wear what you LIKE!! And I'm shocked about Malle's view on this…one would expect a more enlightened opinion. K

  4. Anonymous says:

    Oooh, K, that title's a tease. I got all excited at the thought of there being a male version of Mitsouko…but of course there's only the one. I can easily see Mitsouko being worn by a man – hey, even the name fits either sex. Mitsouko always makes me think of old, old library books – which I like; and what is Paul Smith Story if not…old books, an updated Mitsouko!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Sorry you got all excited about a new Mitsouko Pour Homme launch. (I can't believe Robin let me get away with that title, HA!) K

  6. Anonymous says:

    Add me to the chorus that cannot believe Malle's reaction: hasn't he smelled his own stuff?

    I love Mitsouko, and I would wear it myself in a heartbeat. Jeesh, it's not Jungle Gardenia..

  7. Anonymous says:

    Wonderful review! I've been sampling Mitsouko for some time now (I've been told it's the latest formulation) and it works really well on my skin. I'm still not sure if I'll go for the EdT or EdP (I think both can easily be worn by a man), I just need to figure out which one suits me best. Thanks for a great read, Kevin!

  8. Anonymous says:

    I, too am quite surprised to her that M. Malle has such ideas about fragrance and gender. I could see someone from, say, Lancome saying that, but not the head of a very unique boutique niche line his (I'm wearing En Passant today!).

    But on to Mitsouko. To me, Mitsouko is like sushi and the paintings of Jackson Pollock. I've stopped hopelessly trying to appreciate them and now I simply admit that I don't like them.

    There are many, many more perfumed fish (and artists, and cuisines) in the sea!

  9. Anonymous says:

    Tom: Last week I was reading that Ilie Nastase wore Fracas all the time, even on the court. It would be interesting to compile a list of strange bedfellows in scent. For instance macho men who LOVE and wear Jungle Gardenia. K

  10. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Marcello. I hope to try the NEW Mitsouko formula soon. Do you like it better than the “original?” K

  11. Anonymous says:

    Well you gave it a “try” at least! K

  12. Anonymous says:

    I'm not trying to dish the guy…

    He may have been fatigued, too.

    He certainly LOOKED tired…

    But I very nicely mentioned that it was the custom, particularly on the subcontinent, to wear whatever pleased one.

    What a glare I got !

    He seems very astute about marketing, and is firm in his opinions- not a bad thing.

    [Now, when I told him that Mitsouko was the first fragrance I ever chose for myself, at age 11- he just looked at me like I was an oddity. "Zat is most unusual for a young girl" was his puzzled comment.]

  13. Anonymous says:

    Shaking head at Mr. Malle's statement…tsk-tsk-tsk

    But more to the point, I love Mitsouko too (edp) so thanks for a great, funny post. I wear it regardless of its marketing, but I guess some (most?) boys will be boys…

    I haven't tried most of women's Guerlains but one fragrance that I like even better than Mitsouko is the cool chypre Parure (1970s). Have you tried it, K? Plum's the word… Ooh, and what a plum it is!

  14. Anonymous says:

    I've tried Mitsouko on a blotter in the past, but I honestly can't recall if it was very different from the current version. (Haven't done a side-by-side comparison yet.) Back when LVMH revamped Guerlain's Vetiver, I was disappointed with the result (most of all, the top notes). But that was my signature scent, the one I knew and loved inside out. So I stocked up on old bottles. With Mitsouko I don't have that urge. I'm not familiar enough with the earlier version, and I very much like it the way it is now. I could be one of those who -sadly- don't know what they're missing…

  15. Anonymous says:

    I'll have to add that one to my “to try” list…I DO like plum.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I've never understood why scents get gender classification. I've always worn men's scents and have never given it a second thought.
    Mitsouko was one I didn't come around to loving until I tried the parfum. I find I can't wear any of the Guerlain edts and only a few of the edps, but I live and die for the parfum versions of many of them.
    But would the ozone/marine wearing macho man have felt the same about Mishima if he'd read Forbidden Colors? :-) Definitely one complex character.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Great article.
    I agree that it's time to stop classifying scent by gender and just wear what smells good. I've been wearing CSP's Vanille Abricot for years and it smells tremendous on me: I recently bought Vanille Peach and it's also wonderful, in a very different way. Peach and apricot don't just smell good on a woman's skin: they smell good on skin, period.
    And now I think I might have to go out and buy a bottle of Mitsouko (there's a local shop that has one bottle of the original, pre-reformulation EDP)….

  18. Anonymous says:

    I just bought a bottle of the “old” formula too…sad to see it go, but anxious to try the reformulation. I did read in Luca Turin's review of the new Mitsouko that the opening was breadlike and that is scary to me…”dough” is not a favorite accord of mine, K

  19. Anonymous says:

    HA! Good point! I doubt Mishima is on my friend's reading list at all…though he IS the type to Google something immediately if a name or term comes up he does not know. Guerlain EdT versions of the scents I tried were not quite as impressive as the EdP concentrations. I didn't try the Mitsouko parfum. K

  20. Anonymous says:

    I guess it's best NOT to know what one is missing. I love Vetiver too and didn't realize it had been reformulated recently. I thought Frozen Vetiver was worthless and I've yet to try Vetiver Extreme. K

  21. Anonymous says:

    Chaya: Love that last comment – so true! I'm actually not surprised at all about Mr. Malle, as it seems that, despite the packaging, he has tried very hard to “genderize” his scents. I think the French, and specifically most male perfumers and collection “overseers” (like Malle) in Europe have a very old-fashioned idea of women as muses – even if they are gay. I think the French still particularly like to see women as womanly. I certainly know that even the SAs at Lutens in Paris (and Serge is known for the unisexy approach) kept commenting rather pointedly: “That is a favourite of our MALE customers.”

  22. Anonymous says:

    And to think I would wear ALL of his scents! They all seem unisex to me, except for, perhaps Lipstick Rose. Even then, I hesitate to categorize any scent into feminine or masculine. I was dismayed when I read the description for his newest scent, French Lover. It was deemed “masculine” yet the notes could fit anyone!

  23. Anonymous says:

    Such is the world: women will wear French Lover without a problem…but most men, even if they loved Lipstick Rose, would hesitate to wear it. Thankfully we can all ignore FM's “philosophy” and do what we damn well please with his scents.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Ain't it the truth! When you read the backstories about Guerlain scents, it seems every Guerlain perfume concocted by a male perfumer was inspired by a woman: a WIFE, MISTRESS, MUSE, FEMALE PERSONALITY and especially that type of love: the “one that got away.” No doubt even Guerlain's masculine scents were made to please women and attract them.

  25. Anonymous says:

    It's been noted elsewhere that the so-called “old” formulation, which has been out on the market for quite some time, is actually different (and widely seen as being not as well done as THE original) than the original. That being said, the “new” one has been claimed by some reviewers, as being closer to the original.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Z: very interesting info — thanks.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Wonderful review, a pleasure to read! Mitsouko has never quite worked for me personally- a strong peach note in a fragrance is something that just doesn't seem to agree with me- but I admire it as I do the majority of Guerlains. I agree completely with your point about the silliness of gender-specific fragrances, and as I'm sure you know, that is a very recent thing; up to the early twentieth century, men routinely wore what would today be considered “feminine” fragrances- single note florals were as popular with men as with women. Violet, especially, was a favorite of nineteenth century gentlemen,(Napolean, Beau Brummel, and Oscar Wilde were all devoted to it) and the whole idea of men's and women's fragrances being separate is largely a modern day marketing technique.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Kiki. I'm keeping up the floral tradition as far as violet is concerned; I love Unicorn Spell, Ajaccio Violets (Trumper) and Violet Empire.

  29. Anonymous says:

    Kevin,

    Bravo. I have emailed this post to many friends. I do not understand gender classification in the art of perfumery. I'm not going to dismiss Georgia O'Keefe because she paints flowers! (Granted we WEAR perfume, but I don't need silly marketing execs deciding whether I can wear a masterpiece or not). Art is too powerful and important to discriminate. I say Bravo again.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Bryan. One hopeful sign: I've noticed that many niche lines are trying to keep descriptions of scents, even packaging, gender neutral (as do the online boutiques that stock the fragrances). The more powerful mainstream perfumery world still loves the MALE/FEMALE labels though. K

  31. Anonymous says:

    Great review, Kevin!

    So many classics are perfectly suitable for women and men, especially Guerlain gems like Sous Le Vent, Jicky and Mitsouko. Shalimar, Chamade and even Apres l'Ondee are awesome, too. It took me some time until I dared wearing female-marketed fragrances in public. One day I overcame my inhibitions and applied one 'feminine' favorite. At work, a female co-worker came over, took a smell at my neck and said: “What a wonderful cologne you're wearing today. It's a shame the best fragrances are men's colognes. I'd wish there was a female version of this stuff. What is it?”. I was wearing Bois des Iles.

    Although of course there's much stuff on the other side of the perfume counter that I'll gladly leave to the ladies, it's always worth to take a glance there from time to time. Luca Turin's good old 'Perfum Guide' (1994) gives some good suggestions.

  32. Anonymous says:

    speaking of gardenia and men wearing what they like – remember in The Maltese Falcon, when Iva gives Sam Joel Cairo's card to present him? The card was strongly scented with gardenia. I'm guessing gentlemen scented their cards and handkerchiefs with the scent they wore?

  33. Anonymous says:

    Bois des Iles IS a good one…did you fess up and “admit” to your co-worker what you were wearing? I think sometimes it's best to keep favorite scents secret…especially in an office where people BUY perfume.

  34. Anonymous says:

    Hmmm. Scenting one's hanky is one thing (nice to have I guess in smelly places), but a scent-saturated calling card is going one step too far! Though that is one way to use up cologne I've not thought of before.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Sorry to hear about FM's comment. But Luis from BG New York, who was there with him, and who knows that I wear “men's” scents, opined that I would probably like French Lover, and that it would smell good on me.

    Mitsouko is my favorite perfume. I think I will wear it today.

  36. Anonymous says:

    Sorry–I meant that Luis is the FM rep at BARNEYS in NY.

    I haven't tried the reformulated Mitsouko–and I am afraid to.:)

  37. Anonymous says:

    TRY the new Mitsouko and tell me what you think..I'll only trust someone whose favorite it's been over the years…you of all people will know the difference(s).

  38. Anonymous says:

    Get a grip, FM. It's perfume, not a bra.

  39. Anonymous says:

    HA! True. Poor FM…who would have thought a simple Mitsouko post would 'expose' him so? K

  40. Anonymous says:

    Hah, I told her it was Egoiste… some secrets have to be kept, indeed ;-)

  41. Anonymous says:

    My man wears Agent Provocateur on occasion – he's hoarding a small sample of it, I'll have to get him a full bottle for his birthday or something. It's much better on him than on me, his skin brings out an animalic leather note that's entirely absent on me, and the roses and overt femininity of the fragrance produce an interesting clash with his anything but feminine appearance. It's a great fragrance on him.

  42. Anonymous says:

    I purchased Mitsouko recently and have fallen head over heals in love with it. It's certainly wearable by men, it's not exactly the most feminine scent out there. It truly is unisex. Just because it isn't a pumped up sillage monster with masses of civet and patchoulie scaring the hell out of everyone, doesn't mean it can't be worn by men.

    It smells fantastic on my skin – but then maybe that's because another delicate scent by Guerlain also smells great on me, Coriolan (which itself used to be sold on female perfume counters).

    Long live Mitsouko POUR HOMME!!!

  43. Anonymous says:

    Forgive me for butting in on a masculine review, but I just tried Mitsouko EDT today after hearing many horror stories about reformulation. Dear God, it's amazing. Why Guerlain would even bother to turn the lights on to produce one more bottle of Insolence is beyond me, when more time and energy could be put into producing Mitsouko. Mitsouko smells OLD in the best possible way. Think being the first person to open King Tutt's tomb and finding gold, saphires, bejewelled scarabs. No? Okay, then think sparkling martini glasses, cigarette holders, red lipstick, satin dresses and loads of pearls. Sorry guys, I did say I was butting in. This fragrance dances and changes for hours and just when you think you know MItsouko, she slaps your face and reminds you you never really will. Calling Guerlain tomorrow to try and score some EDP.

    • Isn’t this weird? I wera it for several hours now and I still do not know hwat it is. Weird in a positive way!
      Do I love it? Do I need it? YES. have only the EdT, I think sometimes it might be more sparkling then the EdP. Lasts long enough…

  44. lornaw says:

    I have gone back to mitsouko . I had worn it since my teens but noticed that it had changed much sweeter and more fruity and jumped ship for parfums caron. The most recent bottle i tried (my sisters) was mitsoulko as i remembered it and since my favourite narcisse noir by caron is a travesty of itself after a reformulation i have gone back to mitsoulko. I think the reformulation has taken it back to the original that i knew and i love it

  45. mitsouko says:

    Well , my screen name is Mitsouko ! :D It runs in my veins. i adore Mitsouko and all have done. i love it now too ,in the new formulation. yes, it’s lighter but still wonderful to me. :)

  46. sweetgrass says:

    I just tried Mitsouko edp for the first time (got a 2ml bottle on ebay), and I think I might be in love. I don’t know the age of the bottle, so I have no idea what formulation I have. The peach note reads kind of vanillic to me. It’s sweet and creamy, but the other earthy and spicy notes balance it out and keep it from being too sweet and gourmand. It’s an addictive scent, and I couldn’t get enough of it. I imagine I will be going through this tiny bottle pretty quickly. I think my cat liked it too. He sniffed my wrist and then started licking it. I like Mitsouko on myself, but I can only imagine this on a guy.. I think it could be very sexy.

  47. sweetgrass says:

    I just tried Mitsouko edp for the first time (got a 2ml bottle on ebay), and I think I might be in love. I don’t know the age of the bottle, so I have no idea what formulation I have. The peach note reads kind of vanillic to me. It’s sweet and creamy, but the other earthy and spicy notes balance it out and keep it from being too sweet and gourmand. Later in the drydown I get little hints of incense. It’s an addictive scent, and I couldn’t get enough of it. I imagine I will be going through this tiny bottle pretty quickly. I think my cat liked it too. He sniffed my wrist and then started licking it. I like Mitsouko on myself, but I can only imagine this on a guy.. I think it could be very sexy.

  48. josephine jackson says:

    Mitsouko was Jean Harlow’s perfume … Glamor personified.

  49. kate says:

    I go bacj to this time after time after time and its wonderful…
    The Nirvana of perfume. There are no other words…

  50. Have you smelled the newly reformulated version of Mitsouko where they added oakmoss ? I believe the batches created in 2013 have the oakmoss. I hear this new version smells very close to the original perfume of 1919.

    • Kevin says:

      Ferris: no, but I need a new bottle, so the timing may be GOOD. Thanks

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