Jacques Guerlain 1919
Family: chypre, fruity
Beautiful bergamot
Period: The orientalist years

Thierry Wasser and Frédéric Sacone have re-created an extensive list of historic Guerlain perfumes, using the exact same ingredients as when they saw the light for the first time.

Considering that Mitsouko won Olfactorama's prize for best reformulation of 2013, we're of course eager to know exactly what Mitsouko smelled like when Jacques Guerlain wrote its famous formula in 1919. Among all perfumery's reformulations of classics, Mitsouko's has probably been the most debated and criticized by perfume aficionados. Therefore, it's a great pleasure to be able to report that the latest commercial version of Mitsouko smells remarkably close to the 1919 version*. Among Shalimar, Jicky and Mitsouko, the latter strikes us as the one whose modern version stays truest to the re-created vintage.

Thierry Wasser explains that the big problem in making Mitsouko conform with today's safety norms is not so much about oakmoss as it is about eugenol (spicy clove note), nitro-musk and bergamot, something which it shares with L'Heure Bleue. Because the safety norms are different for EdT, EdP and Parfum fragrances, Guerlain has three different Mitsouko formulas, one for each of the concentrations. The new reformulation concerns only the EdP which was the one to be most impaired by the restrictions.

However, Thierry Wasser says it's also hard work to find a norm-conforming oakmoss material that does Mitsouko justice. The allergenic molecule inside oakmoss doesn't carry much olfactive importance, but when you remove it, the material becomes lighter and hence more volatile. The challenge is to keep the tenacity of natural oakmoss, which has a long and slow evaporation curve and therefore works as an excellent fixative. To make the oakmoss effect last until the end of Mitsouko's drydown, Wasser has used a specific solvent that is thick and heavy.

Comparing new and vintage Mitsouko side-by-side, the most noticeable difference is a question of density which seems in large part to be linked to the bergamot, a key ingredient in Mitsouko (as it is in Shalimar). Thierry Wasser tells us that half of Mitsouko's formula consists solely of bergamot. The raw bergamot oil of the vintage meets us as rich, fruity, rounded and complex, and with a velvety, earthy, almost petrol-like facet that goes hand in hand with the base notes of patchouli, vetiver and ambergris. The bergamot of Mitsouko's modern version has a slimmer, fizzier and more linear character. As for the mossy aspect, it feels more or less similar in the two, although the drydown of vintage Mitsouko is slightly more damp and mould-like.

Finally, vintage Mitsouko appears more concentrated overall, hence more long-lasting, and also muskier. The latter adds softness and counteracts the dryness of Mitsouko which is more pronounced in the modern version; the nitro-musk problem of Shalimar also applies to Mitsouko, and to practically any Jacques Guerlain perfume. Jacques Guerlain used musk extensively in his creations to improve the fluidity and melting sensation of the fragrance. We thank Thierry Wasser for letting us discover Mitsouko of 1919, and also for having so wonderfully restored the commercial version.

Seeing lilac mentioned very prominently in the olfactive diagram, we are reminded that Mitsouko is in essence a floral bouquet, as Sacone points out; the dose of jasmine is even high enough to make it all the way up to the aldehydic peach top. However, the flower notes are counterpointed so strongly by the chypre accord that we often forget that Mitsouko is a floral, making it one of Guerlain's favourite feminines for men.

Frédéric Sacone reveals that there's an interesting "formule à tiroir" (recycled formula) story related to Mitsouko. During his research he found that Jacques Guerlain's 1935 formula for Cuir de Russie lists Mitsouko together with Chypre de Paris, a perfume from 1909, as principal ingredients. When smelling Cuir de Russie, we indeed get the scent of Mitsouko after the pungent smokiness of birch tar has waned. As regards Chypre de Paris, it's an aromatic fragrance with spices and leather. It underscores, by the way, that the name "Chypre" was used somewhat at random until Coty made it famous in 1917. Today, Mitsouko is often referred to as the quintessential chypre perfume, although technically it belongs to a subcategory of chypres, namely the fruity chypre family.

* After this article was written, Mitsouko Parfum and EdP went through a reformulation due to a problem with a raw material called Iriséine. Read more about Mitsouko   Read more about the Iriséine problem   Read about perfume ageing

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