Mito’s topnotes are pure Spring. It’s all white dresses, espadrilles and birds singing.
Don’t let the green breeze fool you. Look closely and Spring’s annual rebirth gets messy. The birth and life bit isn’t placid, it’s explosive. Green is to plants what blood is to us: vitality. And like blood, green can connote both life and violence. Mito Voile d’Extrait reads like a dramatic production. Think of Mito as Kern’s Right of Spring.
The acceleration of the perfume’s opening is almost overwhelming but the topnotes settle into a legible green that ranges from sharp citrus to peppery grassiness. A world of green grows up around you and becomes the mise en scène for the unfolding of the rest of the perfume. The brightness of the topnotes is balanced by mossiness and the white flowers of the heart complete the picture. Creamy magnolia, breathy jasmine. Where green connotes vitality and growth, the white flower’s allure is its decadence, its hint of decay. From the moment a flower opens, it moves slowly toward its death. The threshold between ripeness and rot is a fine one and Mito teeters on the line.
Over the course of the heartnotes Mito keeps the green backdrop but shifts the focus to the white flowers, magnolia in particular. Moss connects the top and heartnotes and lends a bit of saltiness to balance the floral sweetness. It gives the heart a rich, slightly rough texture and magnifies magnolia’s inherent sultriness. The heartnotes are intricate but hardy and seem to rise up from my wrists almost unpredictably.
I’ve made the point before that perfumer Vero Kern is more a classicist than a traditionalist and I’ll stick by that. But in the case of Mito she manages to be both. Here she works in the tradition of perfumers such as Edmond Roudnitska and Germaine Cellier referring to both Dior Diorella and Balmain Vent Vert. Like Diorella, Mito has a decadent heart and a louche tone but it also plays with a chilled floral contrast as Cellier did in Vent Vert. Roudnitska and Cellier shook the perfumery of their times by the shoulders. Their works were as subversive as they were sublime. Cellier put the coded language of butch/femme lesbianism into her perfumes. Roudnitska re-created the scent of a delicate little flower in his seminal Diorissimo and in doing so defied convention and rewrote the rules for composition.
So, Cellier was profane and Roudnitska was radical. Where does that leave Kern? It’s too early in her career as a perfumer to characterize her body of work, but Mito is a hybrid pinnacle of the green and floral chypre sub-genres, a field that includes works such as YSL Y, Guerlain Parure, Chanel 19 & Cristalle, Estée Lauder Private CollectionEstée Lauder Private Collection and Parfum de Nicolai Odalisque. It is both meaningful and delectable and just as in Cellier’s Vent Vert and Roudnitska’s Diorissimo, art and desire go hand in hand.
The most satisfying artistic traditions step outside of their forms and their genres and Mito reaches outside perfumery. Kern has said that the inspiration for Mito was the sumptuous gardens at Villa d’Este, a 16-17th century fountain and garden extravaganza in Tivoli, Italy. Like the gardens, Mito is the result botany and artifice and feels like rococo drag next to the ‘just the topnotes, ma’am’ perfumery you’d find in fashion mag inserts. As Kern also demonstrates in Rubj and Rozy, sumptuousness is not a sin
Mito is a perfume that I could wear forever and still be surprised by. Disposability is built into most contemporary perfumery by design. Even the idea of a signature fragrance means the perfume you might wear for a spell before you flush it in lieu of the next one. Mito reminds me why many people in the early and mid-20th-century had one perfume that they bonded to for life. I’ve said that I could wear Diorella forever, but reformulation has nixed that prospect. Thank god I’ve found Mito. Now I know which bottle to grab if the house is on fire.
(Image from Pina Bausch Rite of Spring.)