Sunday, July 26, 2009

Perfume's Grail

“....the Holy Grail,” says Paul Theroux in his travel book ‘The Pillars of Hercules," the real thing....carved from greenish agate (chalcedony), as is the base, an inverted cup set with pearls and emeralds, with gold handles, and it is held together by a gold post and jeweled bands....This simple cup might have acquired the gold and jewels since Jesus used it. The authorized Cathedral pamphlet offers all this conjecture as fact.”

“It is venerated,” he continues, quoting Grail expert J.A. Onate. “It ‘receives a continuous growing cult....The cup is very ancient work and nothing can be said against the idea that it was utilized by the Lord during the first eucharistic consecration.’”

Nobody gets all that close to this cup, Theroux also points out. The godless tourists wanting to peer at it are allowed to enter its chapel only when a priest is saying mass. They must then sit or kneel to listen to the sermon, which goes on continuously whenever the chapel is open.

Reading this made me think about Mitsouko.

All the combinations and permutations of Mitsouko-worship separate the perfumista from the masses. Saying you don’t like Mitsouko in this particular culture is as much a heresy as a film student’s denouncing “Citizen Kane.”

How many Mitsouko grails are there, though? There is the modern EDT, one of the first classics to be reformulated. Then there is the modern EDP, grudgingly considered by the cognoscenti to be acceptable, to a point. There is the old EDT, in the big round bottle, and I suppose there is an old EDP, although I’ve never seen it. Finally, there’s the modern extrait, and, ultimately, the agate chalice: vintage Mitsouko perfume.

I started with a sample of the EDT, as most do. I was expecting an epiphany. What I got a sharp, strange and yeasty scent. I kept waiting for it to “develop.” It didn’t. My husband came home and said, “What’s that funny smell?”

I soldiered on. I thought, no, I knew, that the perfume bloggers and forum fans just had to know something I didn’t. After all, no one is born liking Parmesan cheese. I obtained samples of the EDP, and finally the modern perfume. All of these were better, by degree, than the EDT I’d tried at first, but none were the l revelation I’d expected.

The next step was inevitable; find some vintage. First, the expense. How could I justify it, when I wasn’t sure, buying unsniffed, as they say? Then came the time-consuming fleabay search. The checking of the feedback. The comparisons of bottles. Of labels. All the frustration and doubt which comprise authentication. Then, the hair-raising bidding process.

Ultimately, this was a matter of faith. As with the Spanish priests who believe that Christ drank from their agate cup, I finally just had to believe that the vintage quarter ounce of Mitsouko I ordered would be real.

The bottle came, nestled in with a silk scarf, which lined the box. In my haste to open the package and sip from the chalice, I cut a slit in it. Not a good omen; I held my breath.

The perfume was so...smooth. Peaches preserved in Olympian cognac. Somewhere, there was a hint of wood smoke, and there was beer, too, but this time it was monastery beer, made only by the abbot for his favored few. It was deep and rich, but not sweet, and it held together beautifully on my skin.

Here is the question. Had I ordered this bottle a year prior, would I have been able to appreciate it? Or was this a simple agate cup, tarted up with the pearls and emeralds of cognitive dissonance?

I’m not going to go on comparing old to new, note to note; there is plenty of information out there. But I am going to give up a decent sample of my vintage Mitsouko, about three quarters of a ml, and about the same amount of the modern extrait, to one lucky winner. I’d like to hear what you think. Was the vintage version All That for you? Did it make the earth move? Or is the Emperor really just naked?

Leave me a comment by Wednesday, August 12, midnight US EDT, and I’ll pick the winner (at random, of course) of perfume’s agate cup. I’ll throw in a few other samples of my vintage favorites too.

The Holy Grail is said to be held by the St. Mary of Valencia Cathedral in Valencia, Spain.

Quoted passages are excerpts from “The Pillars of Hercules -- A Grand Tour of the Mediterranean” by Paul Theroux, ISBN 0-399-14108-1.

The photo is from Wikimedia.


Amy Gibson Thomas said...

Dear Pat, I will happily throw my hat into this intriguing, random ring.


Ines said...

I haven't tried the vintage Mitsouko, but the modern version edp was nice. I haven't tried the edt though, is it possible there's such a difference between them? I'll have to try. :) And I'd definitely love to ne included for the sample draw.

Amanda said...

I would love to sample the vintage. I have a bottle of the modern EDP, and it is very nice but I feel like I'm missing out on something without having sniffed vintage. Thanks!

Oh, True Apothecary said...

Several years ago I purchased a vintage 1 oz bottle of the extrait, unopened, in its original box (both of them), showing it was purchased in the 1960's at a perfumery in the Virgin Islands, so read the pricetag. At that time, I wrote about it on my blog, and someone tried telling me that the extrait was the weakest dilution (perfumes, edp's and edt's being the stronger). Well, yeah, whatever. The bottle was full, no evaporation at all, the little neck band was loose and there was just enough scent oozing out to make a fair assessment of the fact that this perfume was hundreds of times more potent than the modern edt. It smelled of brandied peaches and had none of the weirdness I normally associate with modern Mitsouko, which I really tried hard to love -- well, it's more a love/hate thing. It's not an every day, or even every week (or every month) type of perfume for me. In the end, I sold the unopened bottle of extrait because I just couldn't bring myself to open and use it and figured I'd give someone else the opportunity. I regret at least not decanting a little for reference.

Ooh, sorry for the novel.

Great post.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading about your journey. I'm often in the same position...craving carnal knowledge of vintage fragrances and in "extrait" form to boot. But how to accomplish this? Or even finance it? How to assess the gamble of Ebay? (So I loved the part that you actually achieved an excellent bottle.) The ONLY "M" I've sniffed is that available in today's department stores. Not sure how I feel about it...part of me wants to roll in it
Love to be entered into your draw...

Elizabeth said...

Thanks for the chance to try this! Please enter me in the drawing.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking us along on your journey. Some parts are painfully familiar, although my holy grails were different from Mitsouko. For a fear of dismantling the legend, I never went near it. But I feel more prepared to face it now then I ever was. So please enter me and thanks so much for allowing one of us the opportunity to try it!

bookishredhead said...

Can I just say I adored, adored ADORED this entry in your blog. Beautifully written dear Perfumista!

Perfumeshrine said...

Great point and great simile, dear P! (not that I would expect anything less witty from you)

The Mitsouko cult has certain points to consider:
1)This is a fairly recent "cult" (after 2004), in the English speaking word mainly. ;-)
2)The above coincides wonderfully with a certain CB book about a certain connoisseur who is prolific in writing himself. Several of the other online connoisseurs were very much influenced by said person initially and therefore, well, who disses Citizen Kane and lives to tell the tale? (No matter I love Mitsouko myself and I like Citizen Kane a lot). But I have to bring this into the mix because I believe it's important and it created a track record for said fume.
3)The reformulation issue is a great way to mentally impose/suggest certain things to others ;-)

Therefore Mitsouko became the object of a mini-cult! The French are rubbing their eyes as they consider L'Heure Bleue superior to it (and it is considered the masterpiece of Guerlain)! But to enter that discussion one needs to go beyond the subjective ("scent is so much tied to personal opinions, no one can say this is better or worse" etc etc) and go into the objective evaluative criteria (something that usually applies to other arts, but not perfumery for some reason, interestingly!).'s all very blurred!!
I think it might be even more snobbish and more "discerning" nowadays to say one doesn't like Mitsouko! LOL (You get to thus disagree with one famous connoisseur and who but another can do that?) :P

And as a coda a couple of info tidibits:
1)It has been reformulated endless times since 1919, it just wasn't broadcasted to this specific miniscule comminity with such force before ;-)
2)The is no vintage EDP, because EDP as a concept is a creation of the 80s when scents were suppsed to scream their presence from a hundred miles. In the 80s, Guerlain issed Parfum de Toilette as an equivalent (which incidentally are all great, do grab them if you see them!).
3)Vintage juice can never be thought to be exactly as intended at its creation due to several issues: even with the best of conservation there is some progression to the juice through the years, much like wine (some take it, some don't).

Hope I didn't bore everyone stiff :-)

PS.Obviously, no need to enter me in the draw and thus deduct from others' chance to win some of this (indeed) excellent juice.

sascha said...

I am a firm believer in the magic powers of vintage Mitsouko (especially as compared to the current versions). Please include me in the drawing!

Anonymous said...

A wonderful 'ista once sent me a vial of vintage Mitsouko cologne. It was so smooth and wonderful and had none of the weird edges that the bottle of EdT has which I purchased in '05.

So,yes, please put me in the draw for the samp of the vintage parfum. Thanks.

Lovely post!

Rappleyea said...

Wonderful post and welcome back! And Helg, thanks for chiming in! As I'm "vintage" myself, and have worn Mitsouko since high school (along with Vol de Nuit), I have to agree with Helg's sentiments regarding its elevation to holy grail status. For all of those years, it was just a very nice perfume, one not as sweet as Shalimar, which was too sweet for me.

It was only with the most recent reformulation when the oakmoss was removed, that for me, Mitsouko changed irrevocably. I've smelled the latest (only in extrait), and I don't think it's too bad. It's just not a chypre anymore, but more of an oriental. I think Guerlain would have done better to discontinue "Mitsouko" and named this new version something else altogether.

No need to enter me in the draw as I have a bottle.

thescentmuse said...

For a chance to sample a "survivor" scent...please count me in for the randomness.

maitreyi1978 said...

I left a comment on the latest post before reading this one. Now I really want to try this. Thank you for commenting on the different vintages. I have only tried the modern EDT and I have been wondering what the fuss was about.

ScentScelf said...

Ah, yes, Mitsouko. She of the pronoun-worthy status, nickname known (Mitsy), eliciter of "ooohs."

I'd kind of like to know her. I think.

I've only smelled modern edt. Have yet to be transported. I have a friend who confessed to me that she has wondered "what is up with me" with that, my Mitsouko meh-ness. When she ascertained I had smelled only modern, only edt, she felt all was explained.

I dunno. I'm kind of afraid.

What if I don't like it? Am I banned from perfumista college? What if I need enough to take my time with it? After all, it took a while for me to learn to love Arpege, and that's not challenging. (It's just aldehydic, which is NOT an auto-exciting thing for me.) And what about this vintage business? Why should I go about training my palate for budgetary heartbreak, anyway?

So many fences to walk in perfumeland. It has to be beautiful--to you. It has to be given a chance, because you are learning/evolving. It could be the find of the century, or it could cost you a few centuries. You could have a millenia of cash, but if it is the right Holy Grail, maybe there are only four bottles of it, and two of them are owned by bottle collectors who only yesterday siphoned the juice into the washtub.

I dunno. Do I want to smell it? Is there a point to that rabbit hole???

Oh, yes.

Musette said...

Pat -

Depending upon the vintage (and I have only sniffed a Very Few) it can be hellish - or it can be one of the most divine things ever encountered.

I wear the modern EdP and Parfum constantly - it's one of my HGs.

Vintage scares me for the same reason it scares most of us - what if I LUUUURRVE IT?

Well (she sighs) - it's a chance I gotta take!

sign me up!

xo A

pavlova said...

Wonderful post, as always! I have the edp and have not fallen in love. Perhaps the vintage would do it for me -please include me and thanks for your generosity.

fountaingirl said...

Oh I would love to try the vintage Mitsouko! I got a bottle of the modern EDT, and I went from "hmm" to "okay," to "OH YES." I even learned to really like the 'bread note' in it. I may even like it better than the edp, though I vacillate on that (in the edp I get soft peaches with honey and wood, of all things). I can't imagine how amazing the vintage parfum must be!

macgr3g said...

Eons ago, I scandalised the shop attendant by blithely purchasing M - " you do know its a ... 'woman's'... fragrance" and all I could think to ask was "what's the difference? I like it!". (and nothings changed since ;) Years later when going to repurchase, none of the versions smelled the same, so decided to go without to keep the memories alive. I'd be grateful to have a chance to revist a long lost friend.

Kathy said...

I honestly haven't had the chance to try many vintage perfumes, but I do have a tiny bit of vintage Rochas Femme. It doesn't rock my world because it is too sophisticated for my casual lifestyle, but I do like to dab a bit on from time to time in the privacy of my own home. I'd love to be included in the drawing - thanks!