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April 1, 2007

"Due Credit" By Luca Turin

"Due Credit" By Luca Turin

Faithful readers will remember that in the Nov 2004 Duftnote I wrote that Guerlain was preparing to reformulate several of its perfumes, most notably Mitsouko (1919), probably the best perfume on this earth. Mitsouko and all other fragrances derived from the legendary Chypre (Coty 1917) contain three basic ingredients, namely bergamot, labdanum and oakmoss. The problem was that oakmoss was thought to contain “resin acids”, and these are sensitizers. With repeated exposure a very few people can develop a nasty skin response to the stuff.

The place where you find the most resin acids is the rosin used by violinists to give friction to the bow. Allergies can be added to their long list of sufferings among which neck abrasions, poor posture, wearing ill-fitting black clothes and having to play Alban Berg’s Concerto. Much smaller amounts of resin acids are contained in perfume. But now that most real dangers (cholera, Russian tanks) are gone, EU politicians have found that several small fears can propel careers as nicely as one big one, and have been regulating all the horrible chemicals in our lives.

The fun part was that by the time the EU got round to restricting oakmoss, it turned out that the culprit was the cheaper tree moss with which it was frequently adulterated. But reversing legislation is as hard as putting toothpaste back in the tube, and perfumers had to work with the rules. Guerlain appears to have initially taken a typically LVMH approach, i.e. do a quick-fix replacement in the hope that nobody would notice, on the principle that if the CEO can’t tell the difference who the hell is going to disagree? But a lot of people were upset by the news, including some NZZ readers who wrote to Guerlain and got blah-blah answers back. Guerlain got very angry and quietly hired a young guy to do the dirty deed.

Then some in-house people refused to mess with the formula and walked out, at which point Guerlain brought in the great Edouard Fl├ęchier to fix the problem. He appears to have worked on it for a couple of years. Two days ago I got the new stuff, and it gives me great pleasure to report that Fl├ęchier has done the impossible. The new Mitsouko conforms to all the rules and smells sensational, ever so slightly different, more bread-like up top, a touch less sweet below and with a slightly stronger iris note in the middle. If I had to choose between the old and the new, regardless of habit, I might pick the new. Bravo.

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