Can Guerlain Mitsouko and Chanel No. 5 Tell the Future?

Over the past few months I’ve been having a lot of conversations about where the perfume industry goes after this current pandemic is resolved. Thankfully, I had a place to look for some answers. It has been said, “History does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” The book Perfume Legends II by Michael Edwards gives me some clues from the past to think about the future.

Michael Edwards (Photo by Gary Heery)

Perfume Legends II is ostensibly a book about the greatest French feminine perfumes. It covers the story of modern perfumery from 1882’s Fougere Royale through to 2010’s Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Portrait of a Lady. One of the unique aspects of the book is how author Mr. Edwards presents each entry through the words of the creators. Over the past 30 years he has interviewed the creators, perfumers and designers behind each legend. When those responsible for creation are no longer living, his research uncovered their words from interviews and press statements. Each chapter covers the creative process behind the perfume and the bottle. There is plenty to enjoy if you just focus on the juice and the flacon. What struck me as I have read through the book is how it is also a societal history of the beauty industry. I looked toward the book to reveal what happened the last time the world was affected by a pandemic.

That was in 1918 with the onset of the Spanish Flu. It was at its peak during the fall of that year. When I turn to the subsequent years in Perfume Legends II, I find two of the most iconic perfumes of all time; Guerlain Mitsouko and Chanel No. 5.

Mitsouko was released in 1919. Jacques Guerlain had been working on the Guerlain version of a chypre for seven years. In these early days of modern perfumery women wore mostly floral based perfumes. Mitsouko was going to provide them with an alternative. In this chapter it chronicles one of the first changes in the social status of women. 1918 also saw the end of World War I. Women had been stepping into traditionally masculine roles. This was why they weren’t looking for flowers anymore. They wanted a perfume with the same confidence they had found in themselves. Mitsouko was waiting for them.

It is too early to know what changes are happening with social roles in the current situation. Mitsouko tells us there is likely a perfume waiting to embrace that change.

One of the women who embraced the change back then was Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. The longest chapter in Perfume Legends II tells the story of the woman, her fashion sense, and her perfume. The book tells how in the summer of 1920 while summering in Cannes with her friends Misia and Josep Maria Sert she got the idea for a perfume. Mr. Edwards has revealed this story for the first time. It displays the forward thinking of Coco for which she is lauded.

The perfumer behind No. 5, Ernest Beaux, was also a man recovering his life. He had made perfume prior to the war and the pandemic. Afterward he would pick up the pieces of what remained. There is a popular myth that the creation of No. 5 was a mistake born out of pique. Anyone who reads the section on his process will realize something quite different. No. 5 is one of the great pieces of perfume architecture with each piece meticulously placed. Mr. Edwards lays out each step of the process. M. Beaux left nothing to chance.

By the time he was ready to show it to Mlle. Chanel she immediately knew what she had. She also realized that the perfume was the star and asked for a simple bottle to contain it. Throughout the book the stories of the bottles contain some of the most interesting views on the times they were created. Coco wanted No. 5 to stand on its own in the now iconic bottle known the world over.

No. 5 would be the beginning of one of the great perfume collections of our time. It is not hard to think there is a creative mind out there now considering their first move into the fragrance world. It is not hard to believe there is a perfumer out there with some new ideas. Once this pandemic comes to an end maybe they will find each other and create something which rhymes with the past.

Perfume Legends II is full of the rhythms of the history of modern perfumery.

Disclosure: I was compensated by the publisher for this.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Chanel Paris-Riviera- Mediterranean Chanel


All perfumers who take their place as an in-house perfumer at a prestige brand they must think of two main things. First, don’t screw it up. Second, how do I make it my own. Over the three years since Olivier Polge took over as in-house perfumer at Chanel, he has certainly achieved the first. The second seems to still be a work in progress. There are some definite trendlines forming; Chanel Paris-Riviera affirms many of those.

Last summer Chanel launched the “Les Eaux de Chanel” collection. They are meant to represent the connection of Coco Chanel and the specific city in the name. The collection is also meant to be an off-shoot group within the Les Exclusifs available at the boutiques. The first three Les Eaux defined their own space within that Les Exclusif oeuvre. As M. Polge has been doing throughout his tenure he has been giving the fragrances he has produced a more pronounced lightness. This is pushed to its extreme with the Les Eaux. Not to an extreme within lighter fragrances just an extreme within Chanel as these are the lightest Chanel perfumes. Which captures the idea of Coco Chanel on vacation exuding an air of sophisticated insouciance. Paris-Riviera continues in that style.

Olivier Polge

The inspiration is Coco Chanel’s home “La Pausa” built on the Cote d’Azur in the 1920’s. this would be where she would entertain others vacationing on the French Riviera. When M. Polge looked at photographs of the time he noticed a lightheartedness to Coco when surrounded by friends. To capture that M. Polge creates a Mediterranean style perfume with Chanel bloodlines.

This begins with a focal point of sun kissed citrus as orange is given delineation by petitgrain. This is a sunny flare typical of summery fragrances. This continues into a heart of jasmine and neroli. I like this combination and M. Polge finds a nice lighthearted balance. The green tinted neroli finds a slightly indolic jasmine an ideal partner. The hint of indoles impart that sunny skin scent usually provided by musks. This ends on a lovely softly comforting benzoin and sandalwood base accord that is pure Chanel.

Paris-Riviera has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

M. Polge has been assiduously lightening the Chanel fragrance aesthetic. In the Les Eaux de Chanel collection I think he is refining that thinking with precision. Paris-Riviera is a laughter filled Mediterranean perfume which feels completely Chanel.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Chanel Les Exclusifs Misia- The Son Also Rises

When there is a changing of the guard it also attracts a level of scrutiny depending on the success of who is leaving and who is arriving. On the perfume side of Chanel, 2015 will mark that change from Jacques Polge to his son Olivier Polge. Over the past few months since the change has been announced there has been a lot of talk of what might change and what might stay the same. The time for hypotheticals are over as Olivier Polge has released his first perfume as in-house nose at Chanel, Les Exclusifs Misia.


Olivier Polge

In those discussions I was expounding the theory that Olivier Polge would be an upgrade from his father’s recent desire to play it safe. What I admire about Olivier Polge is his ability to make perfumes full of bold slashes of raw materials. If there is anything Chanel has been missing of late it is that desire to be bold. Misia would be a test of whether the son would be willing to step up and lead Chanel into the future.


Misia Sert by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1904)

Misia is named after Coco Chanel confidante Misia Sert. Mme Sert added Coco to her artistic salon of writers, dancers, and artists in 1917. They would form a tight friendship which would last the rest of their lives. For the perfume named after Mme Sert Olivier Polge was not trying to capture the lady herself. He has said he was inspired by her patronage of the ballet and imagined Coco and Misia attending a performance of the Ballets Russes. He wanted to capture the smell of the lipstick and powder the ladies wore matched with the leather of the backstage milieu. In choosing to interpret a point in time rather than an entire life it allowed Olivier Polge the freedom to use those bold strokes I am so fond of.

One thing I like about Misia is there are really are only two phases to its development. Olivier Polge chooses to work on two separate accords. The earlier developing one is the lipstick and powder accord. For this Olivier Polge chooses Rose de Mai and Rose Otto combined. To the roses he infuses orris and violet. This all comes together with a metaphorical snap on my skin. I also see this as not crimson red lipstick but something in a more muted shade of red. It feels more sophisticated than provocative. There is also an unusual contemporary almost artificial vibe underneath all of this. It gave it an almost Madame Tussaud’s quality of plastic simulacrum. I really like the choice by Olivier Polge because if this was just another lipstick accord it wouldn’t have differentiated itself. This gives it an almost unstuck in time quality. Most of what is interesting in Misia is in this phase and I found plenty to keep me engaged while wearing it. The base is a traditional transparent leather accord made up primarily of benzoin and tonka bean.

Misia has 8-10 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I am more excited about Misia than I have been about a Chanel fragrance in a long time. I think he is the infusion of new blood the brand needs to stay relevant. Based on his first effort Misia smells like she just might herald the beginning of a new creative era for the fragrances of Chanel.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I purchased.

Mark Behnke