Claude Farrère: 1 post

What Does The Word Mitsouko Mean?

Of the legendary fragrances, Guerlain classics have some of the most beautiful names and stories to go with them. Shalimar and Shah Jahan’s gardens in Lahore. L’Heure Bleue and the streets of Paris at dusk. Après L’Ondée and a sudden May downpour. And there is Mitsouko. The fragrance created in 1919 was inspired by two extraordinary successes of its time–a perfume and a novel, Coty’s Chypre and Claude Farrère’s La Bataille. Farrère was a close friend of Jacques Guerlain, and a few years earlier Farrère mentioned Jicky in his novel Opium Smoke–“Jicky poured drop by drop onto the hands blackened by the drug.” This image delighted Guerlain enough to return the favor by baptizing a new creation after Mitsouko Yorisaka, a character in La Bataille (The Battle).

Farrère’s novel sold more than a million copies in its day, but the perfume inspired by it survived the test of time better. Much of Farrère’s work, La Bataille included, doesn’t excite. It’s a novel of conventional value and somewhat stuffy, nostalgic style inspired by Pierre Loti’s Madame Chrysanthème, Farrère’s commander during his stint with the French navy. To Farrère’s credit, unlike Loti, he attempted to present Japan as an evolving modern society, rather than a place of ikebana and geishas. The background for the story is the Russo-Japanese war of 1905, in which Japan wiped out the Russian fleet and demonstrated that the Meiji era reforms put it on equal footing with the Western powers. Farrère had spent three days in Nagasaki and had done his own research, but in the end, the plot suffers too much from melodrama and clichés borrowed from Loti, without Loti’s refined style.

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