Scent Sample Sunday: Mitsouko and Halston

Scent Sample Sunday: Mitsouko and Halston

What more can be said about Guerlain’s Mitsouko in this, its centennial year? Since its creation in 1919, it has attracted, confused, frustrated and even repelled those who smell it. Many great writers and blogs about fragrances have extolled its excellence and legendary status, as well as the challenge it poses to modern noses: Chandler Burr, Luca Turin, The Black Narcissus, Kafkaesque, Cafleurebon, Bois de Jasmin, Perfume Shrine, etc.

As part of my own process for trying to understand it, I began to educate myself about chypres, the fragrance family to which Mitsouko belongs. Along the way, I learned that several of my favorite fragrances fall in that group. One of them is Halston, now titled Halston Classic. I have a small bottle, with Halston’s signature on the bottle. As I read about them both on Fragrantica, I noticed that Mitsouko and Halston share many of the same notes. Halston: mint, melon, green leaves, peach, bergamot; carnation, orris root, jasmine, marigold, ylang-ylang, cedar, rose; sandalwood, amber, patchouli, musk, oak moss, vetiver, incense. Mitsouko: bergamot, lemon, mandarin, neroli; peach, ylang-ylang, rose, clove, cinnamon; labdanum, benzoin, patchouli, vetiver, oak moss.

How do they compare? The Mitsouko eau de parfum I have (first created in 2007 but listing the same notes as the original, reformulated in 2013 and supposedly quite close to the original) lasts much longer than my Halston, which I think is a cologne concentration (hard to read the tiny lettering on the bottom). The famous dry cinnamon note is strong, while none of Halston‘s notes come across as powerfully. In Halston, I think the carnation note adds the spice notes one finds in Mitsouko, while its sandalwood may provide some of the dry woodiness that Mitsouko gets from the cinnamon. On my skin, Mitsouko smells smokier than the Halston. Wearing one each on my hands, I can smell their kinship, and it seems entirely possible to me that perfumer Bernard Chant, who created Halston, may have had in mind the creation of a modern tribute to the legendary Mitsouko, especially with that peach opening. I doubt M. Chant would have missed the obvious reference to Mitsouko, famously the first fragrance to add a note of peach, by using a synthetic ingredient.

Halston is definitely easier to wear and easier on the modern nose, though still miles away from the fruity florals currently in favor. I especially love its marigold note. When I was trying out Mitsouko, however, my young adult daughter came to sit by me and declared “Never wear that perfume again, Mom!”. There is a dark side to Mitsouko, as many commenters have noted.

What do you think of Mitsouko or Halston Classic?

Fragrance Friday: Daily Post -“Aromatic”

Fragrance Friday: Daily Post -“Aromatic”

I don’t normally do the WordPress “Daily Post”, but one of this week’s word prompts caught my eye: “aromatic.” Well, I certainly have a response to that, as some of my favorite fragrances have aromatic qualities, even if they aren’t primarily classified as “aromatics”. But let’s start with a classic: the aptly named “Aromatics Elixir” by Clinique.

In many ways, Aromatics Elixir is a quintessential 1970s fragrance. It was launched at the start of that decade, created by the great perfumer Bernard Chant, for a new brand (Clinique) of the Estee Lauder company. It is green, dry, herbal and strong. Its creators positioned it as a “non-conformist chypre”, a perfume ahead of its time, that went “beyond perfume.” To me, it is in many ways the scent of 1970s feminism: independent, strong, challenging traditional strictures without becoming androgynous. Very in-your-face and unapologetic, but with its own beauty. If I were to assign a face to it, I would choose 1970s supermodel Lauren Hutton, a non-conformist beauty with her gap teeth and American style. Hutton had a chameleon-like quality, able to pull off effortless elegance in couture evening wear but showing off that same great bone structure in a plain white shirt, outdoors in the fresh air. Whenever I picture her in my mind, she is outside.

Supermodel Lauren Hutton in 1975

Lauren Hutton, 1975

Luca Turin describes the impact of Aromatics Elixir thus: “Smelling Aromatics Elixir on a strip and especially in the air following a string of ‘modern’ fragrances is like watching Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep after twelve episodes of Cheers.” That pretty much sums it up; as he notes, Aromatics Elixir “achieves at once salubrious radiance and luxurious dusk.”

But Bernard Chant created another great aromatic fragrance for Estee Lauder, shortly before Aromatics Elixir: 1969’s Azuree. I was lucky enough to find an affordable, unopened tester of Azuree parfum online – wow. This is a really complex fragrance with a lot of different notes balanced against each other. Luca Turin calls it a “citrus leather” with a leather-chypre heart and gives it five stars, contrasting its ongoing fidelity to the original vision of its creator with the sad dismantling of his other leathery masterpiece, Cabochard. Fragrantica lists its notes as follows: top notes – aldehydes, artemisia, gardenia, basil, sage, bergamot; middle notes – cyclamen, orris root, jasmine, ylang-ylang, geranium, vetiver, rose; base notes – leather, amber, patchouli, musk and oakmoss. My bottle is labeled as “parfum”, not “eau de parfum”, and both its strength and longevity bear that out, as does the slightly oily slick on my skin when I first spray it on. Other commenters have noted the excellent spray nozzle on this bottle, which allows you to spray a small amount in fine droplets. That is all you need! Azuree is strong stuff!

On my skin, Azuree opens with a jolt of aldehydes, bergamot and artemisia, with herbal tones from the basil and sage top notes, although I can’t distinguish those separately.  In the middle stage, I mostly smell orris root (really delightful and earthy, with an underlying carroty sweetness), vetiver and a hint of ylang-ylang. The story behind Azuree is that Estee Lauder, founder of the cosmetics empire, wanted to capture the outdoor scents of Cap d’Antibes on the azure sea of the French Riviera, where she had a villa in the years when Cap d’Antibes still looked more like the landscapes painted by Claude Monet and other Impressionists than the overbuilt hodge-podge it has become. Azuree does have a Mediterranean aura of dryness, citrus, herbs, and pine resin, as if one were looking down a dry Riviera coastline toward the stone pines of Juan-les-Pins from a sunlit Mediterranean garden. While roses, cyclamens and geraniums are listed among the heart notes, and they are all Mediterranean flowers that might grow in such a garden, along with the green herbs listed among the top notes, I really can’t pick them out.

View of the cliff garden, sea and boats, from garden of villa in French Riviera

View from villa in the French Riviera

As it dries down, Azuree becomes more leathery, dry and oak-mossy. At this stage, it LASTS.  If I put it on my wrists at night, I can still clearly smell its final drydown stage the next morning. Like Aromatics Elixir, this fragrance is so very different from the current trends of sweet, fruity or gourmand scents! It doesn’t smell old-fashioned at all, it smells almost radical. Yet at the same time, if one were to characterize it as a person, one might describe a free-spirited young woman, wearing no make up but with an “old soul” gazing from her eyes. Definitely one of the great beauties of the 1970s. If Aromatics Elixir is Lauren Hutton, Azuree is Margaux Hemingway, whose grandfather famously spent so much time on the unspoilt Riviera with the most glamorous, unconventional creatives of the day.

Supermodel Margaux Hemingway

Margaux Hemingway