Annick Goutal Chine Imperiale

oak treeThis morning I wore a sweater to walk over to the market in the rain, which – hello?!?  A sweater in June in Washington, D.C.?  What´s next, frogs raining from the sky?  A plague of locusts?  Seriously, I´m waiting for further signs of the coming apocalypse.  I think some of you are having mad weather elsewhere in the country as well.

I visited my sister-in-law Kate and family this weekend in their small town on the Eastern Shore and played country mouse.  I love going there.  I read their local paper and recognize half the names.  People know who you are when you go downtown.  They have a saltwater pool, and the flat terrain´s perfect for aimless bike riding, one of my favorite childhood activities.   Kate has this gift of making a house into a home. Every house of hers, from the Santa Fe pueblo to the Eastern Shore four-square, is timeless and magical and feels old and full of secrets in the best possible way.  It´s a gift I admire.

Anyway, this weekend for my birthday, she gave me a hand-knit throw in a chunky, funky wool that captures the pink-to-pale variations of the lip of a seashell.  (This is the same gal who gave me that outstanding mohair sweater.)   The coolest part?  This throw smells like it´s been sitting next to a woodstove, or knitted beside the campfire.  It´s all smoky, and I don´t know why, but I´m enjoying it while it lasts.  That smell is perfect in this cool, damp weather, like the smell that drifts from my unswept fireplace in the summer after a hard rain.

It got me rooting around for my decant of Annick Goutal Chine Imperiale, a scent so obscure that my googling produced exactly one hit – a mention in a comment thread on Basenotes. a discontinued room spray (and it’s Chine, not Chene, see comments!   Searching for Chene gets you the Serge Lutens.)

It makes me sad when people dismiss Annick Goutal as a chick mecca of bosom-heaving operatic scents like Gardenia Passion, or standbys like Hadrien.  AG has done a few things that are frankly strange – the maple-syrup immortelle-fest of Sables, along with Oh Do Fear (okay, really Eau du Fier) which conjures up the La Brea Tarpits, or asphalt in July.  If the world were a better place, every Annick Goutal counter would stock their sublime, difficult to find Eau de Monsieur, a unisexy mossy/citrus fragrance with an unlisted but obvious dose of immortelle (here´s a link to my old review.)

If Monsieur can be viewed as a more conventional riff on the love-or-hate-it Sables, then Chine Imperiale is Fier cross-pollinated with Diptyque Essence of John Galliano, then diluted by half and hooked up with something like Dior Eau Fraiche, maybe, or even Monsieur without the immortelle.  I don´t know what the notes are, but Chine Imperiale is quite smoky at the top.  It´s not as intensely smoky as John Galliano or the recently offed Patricia de Nicolai home scent whose name escapes me but was very much wet-fireplace.  (Au Coin du Feu, and maybe you can still get it abroad?  People mention it, at any rate, but they were on clearance when I was in London, never a good sign.)  Anyhow, the smoky smell slowly fades but never goes away, and an oakmoss-heavy cologne scent emerges underneath.   It´s the oddest combination, but it works.  I´d love to know if anyone thinks Chine Imperiale is still available.  Actually, I´d love to know in general what the distributors are thinking.  Sables, for instance, and Duel both have a habit of popping up unexpectedly on retail shelves locally, only to disappear again for awhile.

My kids (and other victims) really loathe that smoky smell.  It got me pondering.  Why do we love what we love?  Why am I entranced by the idea of smelling like a bonfire, but not a rose or a caramel?   Like a grapefruit but not a melon?   Linden, but not lavender?  Musty crypt but not mint?  In the midsummer doldrums, I bury my face in that glorious woodsmoke-and-wool-scented throw and I can’t help but smile.  Woody-smoky-birchtar scents make me feel the same way.  Y’all feel free to throw out your favorites.  (Off the top of my head:  Lonestar Memories; Kolnisch Juchten, new and vintage.)  Maybe summer’s the perfect time for smoky campfire scents after all?

image: Oak Tree in Winter at Lacock Abbey, salt print from a calotype negative, early 1840s,

  • BBJ says:

    I just tried Tabac Blond. It’s absolutely beautiful, except that it smells like a cigarette. My twenty-first century mind cannot wrap around this being a lady-like, or remotely OK thing to smell like. And yet, TB is very pretty. Except that it smells like a cigarette.

    Brain on blink.

  • Joe says:

    March, I love that question: Why do we love what we love? The perfect retort, of course, is one of my favorite maxims: “It’s good that we don’t all like the same things” (which I guess is just another way of saying “Vive la différence”).

    Birch tar is one thing, but you can keep your campfire, your dirty ashtray, your Eau de Smoked Ham, your Burning Leaves. But for some reason incense is a totally different story (and I lurve that Essence of John Galliano).

    I obviously need to check out more AGs because I do like me some immortelle. Maybe AG gets a chick-mecca rep because of those girly-fluted-Victoriana bottles. I mean, I think they’re nice bottles, but…. um, chick-mecca packaging. Butterflies. Just sayin’.

    • March says:

      Joe, you’re right. I suppose as a woman, I just look at the bottles and think “pretty” or “romantic.” But a man must see “girly.” I am not a particular fan of the butterflies… I do think the men’s square bottles, like for Mandragore, are quite handsome, though.

      Honey, you really need to try Monsieur! I am always shilling that to fans of immortelle. Tom (tmp00) turned me on to it.

      Always happy to meet another fan of John Galliano.

  • melanie says:

    I live north of Boston and so far we’ve had the spring that wasn’t. Now it’s officially summer, and we’ve still got rain drizzle fog and 50 deg temps. Oh well, what can you do.

    I’m a knitter and it was great to see your photo in the pink sweater. I’m a little sad to think that a mom somewhere knit a sweater for her daughter that ended up in a consignment shop, but I hope I’m also wise enough to realize that there are so few things we can actually control, and gracious enough with my knitting to let it flow from one person to the next. So you can enjoy the sweater and feel the love that went into its creation.

    • March says:

      I think Mom-Mom is probably a grandmother, and I tell myself that it’s all been recycled (maybe she was allergic to mohair?) and as long as somebody loves the gift it’s all good!

  • Jared says:

    I am thinking of Patchouli 24, one of my all time favorites. I think I’m going to try wearing it out in the summer- I haven’t before. But I am really really really curious about Lonestar Memories. This is something I must try and am so tempted to just buy it unsniffed!

    • March says:

      Lonestar is pretty darn glorious. I am sure if you google it you can find all sorts of reviews. I know I have one on here too.

  • Concurring on the “Chine” not “Chene” part, as I had the candle at some point. That and “Mes Nuits d’Ete” (I think that was what it’s called) had been favourites.

    I personally LOVE “Eau de Monsieur” which has a delicate immortelle note under the classic amber-chypre facade. Their “Vetiver” is also very distinctive, iodine-rich almost (it merits a seperate review, why do I never get down to actually do it?). I think the brand is very well made and it seems consistent: there is some romanticism across the board, but nicely enough not fake coyness which is a feat of Isabelle Doyen and Annick and Camille Goutal both.

    Why we love/don’t love what we do/don’t? It’s all associations/experience. Nothing else IMO.

    • March says:

      Your description is perfect — romanticism without coyness, and I agree completely. Since I am a fan of romanticism (how not?) I embrace it cheerfully.

      I am a little embarrassed by my Chene/Chine mistake (I should have checked with you or Denyse!) but happy to have it corrected for “the record.” Would hate to have people reading about something that never existed!

  • violetnoir says:

    Wow, that throw sounds beautiful, March. What a lovely gift.

    I have never heard of Chine Imperial, but it sounds gorgeous. AG really makes beautiful fragrances. She, also, makes an amazing tuberose soliflore that isn’t discussed too much.


  • Disteza says:

    There’s also that Le Labo patch number, which along with the aforementioned Fumidus and Black Tourmaline are probably the smokiest of all. For some reason I’ve felt drawn to cedar (of all things!) in response to the crazy weather. Maybe it’s a slightly different take on the the bonfire vibe?

  • Rappleyea says:

    The first time I wore L’Artisan’s Jatamansi, the scent brought a memory rush from summer camp – woods, campfires, etc. Their Voleur de Roses also has a very smokey vibe to me. I wear both of these, along with some of the smoky vetivers, in the summer. I think you got it right when you said “wet fireplace” as I always associate that faintly smokey smell with the smell left in the cool stones of a fireplace in the summer.

    • March says:

      Jatamansi is a lovely summer scent, I have a decant of it as well. I wish it were a little longer lasting, but then I’d probably be sacrificing some other aspect of the scent.

  • Natalie says:

    Mmm, I love the smoky ones… I’ll admit, I never thought of AG as a smoky kinda line — Encens Flamboyant has a touch of it, but it smells horribly moldy on me — so I’ll have to seek this one out to see if it will change my impressions. I highly recommend Black Tourmaline for a serious smoke-fest; Lonestar is lovely too.

  • Louise says:

    I so love some smoke scents, but usually as bottom layers-my fav is CB Bonfire.

    One thematic scent group I am deeply drawn to is tobaccos…Bell’Antonio is a current crush, and word of a new, sweeter Hilda Soliani tobacco is throwing me into lemming mode. Vento Canale, CB Tobacco accord, TF Vanilla thingy-all are attractive to me.

    It’s not smoke, exactly, but there is a deeply buried memory of my dad smoking a pipe, and a favorite uncle who is still clenching his pipe at age 93. But I couldn’t tell ya if I love tobacco because they evoke memories-or if they just smell wonderful 😉

    • Shelley says:

      I think that sometimes, a pipe is both just a pipe, AND also something else. Too hard to tease apart pure olfactory response from experiential association…so let the cards fall where they may. Especially if they land on a positive reaction. 🙂

  • fountaingirl says:

    Oh this sounds amazing. But I have a promise to myself that I won’t go lemming after the rares, because that way lies madness. For fire scents, I love AG’s Encens Flamboyante, very smoldering and smoky on me! Also, a tip if you ever want to smell like a bonfire, complete with wood and smoke and heat and the lot. Arcana Soaps, of all folks, makes a limited edition around Halloween called “Holy Terror.” It is “Bonfire in a Bottle,” at least on me. It’s an oil, and it lasts forever. To put it into perspective, it smells so realistically like fire that it is hard to wear everyday, but I used to wear it on morning runs in West Virginia to trick myself into feeling warmer!

    If you google for it you have to use “Arcana Soaps” though, even for the scents — the line started with soap, and thus the name. And the bottle is something like $13, which is utterly reasonable for a bizarre but fun frag.

    • Mindy says:

      ITA–“Holy Terror” is smoke in a bottle with a little bit of monastic frank, myrrh and beeswax…my favorite though is from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, a limited edition, Singing Moon, autumnal fires sprayed by wind howling over the Atlantic.

      Nice to see someone give some of these fragrance oils some deserved recognition!

      • March says:

        Wow, you have made Holy Terror sound even MORE appealing.

        You know, I tried a couple of BPALs awhile ago (can’t remember which) and had a skin reaction. Me, the gal who wears room spray, as witnessed by today’s post. That freaked me out enough I haven’t tried any more of their product.

    • March says:

      Heh heh — a whole new product line I need to check out, thanks! I love the way you use it on your morning runs.

  • Olfacta says:

    “….bosom-heaving operatic scents like Gardenia Passion” –(insert laughter here) –that’s great! And true. A recent great-deal purchase for me, and I usually have to mix it down with something drier, particularly if the DH is around.

    I think of smoky scents for fall/winter; “Lonestar Memories” is more about concept than anything, imho. “Sycomore” has that burning aspect which is the smokier variety of vetiver, right? That’s about as far into smoky as I go, at least to wear out of the house. But I like “Burning Leaves” for an alone-scent, for painting or whatever, in the cold months.

    And weird weather. It was 98 and windy here yesterday. Not really humid, just hot. More like the west than the limpid east.

    • March says:

      Burning Leaves. Insert headslap here. In fact if I can’t find my Tea for Two maybe I’ll wear that today.

      Gardenia Passion was, in fact, my intro to the AG line before I was interested in perfume. A friend wore it, and I liked it so much I snuck into her bedroom at a party to see what it was!

      98 and windy? Ugh.

      • Louise says:

        I wuz a’wondering when your love for Burning Leaves would pop out in the threads…and putting in a plug for CB’s Bonfire accord-much less $$$, just as nice, IMHO.

        • March says:

          That’s funny, is the price that different?

          I just got back from Frederick, looking at the Metro crash… looks pretty bad.

          • tammy says:

            I have a cousin who rides one of the Metros to and from DC every day….not sure which one. He’s not answering his cell, and I am freaking out. He leaves east of DC, though, so I am thinking he is surely okay.

        • BBJ says:

          The I Hate Perfume Burning Leaves? To me that simply smells like maple-flavored ketchup. I don’t get the burning part. Maybe I should try it again.

          I love the beautiful smoky wood note in L’Aire Marocaine, but the rosy potpourri underneath it bugs me.

          I’m just fussy, I suppose.

      • Joe says:

        I kind of love that you snuck into the friend’s bedroom to root around her vanity table instead of asking her the name of her marvelous-smelling perfume.

  • carter says:

    Wonderful post, March. Sometimes it’s so easy to connect the dots — Jolie Madame smells like the bottom of my mother’s purse — and sometimes it’s clear as mud. But that’s what keeps us fascinated, salivating like Pavlov’s dogs and dropping buckets of ducats on tiny little bottles of mystery and wonder. Dontcha think?

    • March says:

      Mystery and wonder. Word. (Oh, wait — does it count if my daughters don’t see me slanging and roll their eyes?)

    • Musette says:


      We must’ve been separated at birth, I swear (and you have to subtract about 20 years on my end, mininum, okay?)

      Anyway, when I first smelled T42 (my first ‘wack’ scent (read: not flowers or citrus), my first thought was “the bottom of my mother’s evening bag!” with the little bits of tobacco in there as well as the scented hankie. Many moons later, many other scents evoke that fond memory and if you throw in leather you have the bottom of her everyday bag. Lipstick Rose does it as well, though I’m not a fan of wearing it. Sometimes I spray it in the pages of a paperback book I’m going to donate to the li-berry, just to pass my mamma around a little bit.

      It’s supposed to be 93F here. I was going to go with Bigarade Concentree (and may still, in the afternoon) but for now I’m throwing caution to the winds and wearing CARNAL FLOWER! bwahahahahaha!


      • carter says:

        Yes, I think that many of us have formed powerful connections to scents that evoke our mothers pocketbooks. To me, that bag contained the key to it all — it held the secret to everything about her that I didn’t yet quite understand and wanted so badly to know; the woman I wished someday to become, a woman just like her. It was the emblem of her power, her femininity and, in a way, her *otherness* — who IS this woman when she’s not being Mommy? Sure, that pocketbook (because let’s call it like it was) was also the magic portal to limitless supplies of kleenex, bandaids, Teaberry gum and popsicles when the Good Humor truck rounded your corner, but the practical aspects of the thing were so not the point.

        Is it any wonder that Le Sac de ma Mere resonates so powerfully with nearly every fully-grown woman who knows in her heart that the essence of her childhood and who she is now began the first time her mother bent down and murmered “Will you run and get me my purse, please, Honey?”

        Now, about the separated-at-birth business — are you saying that you are 20 years my junior or senior, separated-at-birth? Because I think you’re probably at least 10 years off, either way 🙂

        • carter says:

          What I’m trying to say is that unless you are either 35 or 75, that number just can’t be right.

          • Musette says:

            Huh. I would’ve sworn I was about 20 years older than you, based on your photos. But I’m way past 35, not anywhere near 75. We’ll just roll with that for now, shall we?:-)

            btw – I love your description of what Mother’s purse means to us. Lovely!


            ps. Carnal Flower + 93F (not heat index – actual Farenheit) = not bad at all! I mean, I wouldn’t want to dig a ditch wearing it but just walking from an A/C car 100 ft or so or sitting, fanning yourself , it blooms nicely! It won’t be replacing my Eau de G or Bigarade but for those nose-thumbing days….mebbe so.. subway???? mebbe not..

          • carter says:

            Go for it! I wore Tubereuese Criminelle yesterday — it was like New Orleans here yesterday minus 10 degrees, but dang the humidity! — and it absolutely rocked. ROCKED, I tell ya!

  • hk says:

    Hello there, March! Might it perhaps be ‘Chine Imperiale’ instead? I have here a bottle with that name on the tag, labelled ‘parfum d’ambiance’ (or more prosaically, ‘home perfume’), that I purchased off eBay awhile ago, together with a bottle of ‘Mes Nuits d’Ete,’ which smells very strongly of immortelle. I’ve always assumed these were the last stragglers of old, old stock.

    • carmencanada says:

      Yes, you’re absolutely right, Chine Impériale! It is no longer made, but the candles have been re-edited for an exclusive location, the Merci charity shop in Paris:

      Merci was founded by the late Annick Goutal’s sister and they sell a few AG fragrances in plain bottles (you can also refill) at a 40% discount. They also have 5 discontinued candles.

      • March says:

        Thanks so much to you and HK, and thanks for this additional info! I was relying on the handwritten label on my decant… oops. An easy enough mistake for us to make. For all I know the person who sent it to me, and I can’t remember who that is, peeled it off of a mis-labeled decant too!

        I’ll fix the post. Wonder if you have any idea how the Sac de ma Mere room spray is coming along?

        • carmencanada says:

          You’d have to ask Aedes, they’re the ones who are putting it out as their exclusive Annick Goutal scent. I think there were some issues with the bottle, the juice is done.

    • March says:

      That’s it! Or it must be…. I of course was relying on the hand-written label on my bottle (which pretty clearly says Chene) but that’s an easy enough mistake to make. Off to fix the post. Good score!

      • hk says:

        Those were acquired during a slightly madder period of perfume-collecting. I wanted to add, too, how much fun it has been, being a long-time reader here. Carmencanada’s ‘Grain de Musc’ is also terrific!

  • carmencanada says:

    I’ve never heard of Chêne Impérial (that’s without an “e”, as chêne is a masculine noun) and I very much doubt it’s in production: it wouldn’t have escaped my beady eye. I’ll ask Isabelle Doyen about it when I get a chance.

    We did, in fact, discuss the profile of the AG scents and I came up with the following conclusion: Annick Goutal was always inspired by vignettes from her own life with her husband and two daughters.

    So, to me, you have super-feminine, romantic mama scents; tough and offbeat papa scents; sweet and whimsical daughter scents.

    The recent output of AG sort of goes beyond that, though, but I think most of the older ones fall into those classifications.

    • March says:

      I love your characterization of mama, papa and daughter scents. I’m very fond of the line. Do you have any theories about how/why immortelle seems to appear as often as it does in AG fragrances?

  • Francesca says:

    I love AG. Even when it’s a particular fragrance I’m not so crazy about.

    • March says:

      They’re the sort of scents I’d want to give as gifts, just because they are so charming and lovely to look at and to smell.

  • Jarvis says:

    Oh my, March! You have me lemming Eau de Monsieur *and* Chêne Imperiale! “Fier cross-pollinated with Diptyque Essence of John Galliano, then diluted by half and hooked up with something like Dior Eau Fraiche, maybe, or even Monsieur without the immortelle”?? Sign me up!

    PdN’s Au Coin du Feu is quite lovely and smoky, too.

    • March says:

      Jarvis, if you like immortelle even a little, and/or you like what tmp00 likes, please try Monsieur, which you can find online, I think. As noted below, I’m off to fix the name of the fragrance and post — alert commenters have pointed out it’s Chine Imperiale! 🙂 (I was working off a handwritten decant label.)

  • Elle says:

    Wow. Am just entranced by that photo. Stunning. And what a fantastic sounding gift from your SIL!
    Had to smile when I saw this post because earlier this evening I put on Tea for Two. It’s anything but cold here – temps were in the high 90s today, but smoky scents comfort me all year long and since today is the solstice, I thought it was especially appropriate since we’re now officially on the winding down side of the year. I adore all the scents you mentioned and also can’t survive w/out CB’s smoke/fire accords, SSS Fireside Intense and Profumum’s Fumidus (my latest mad love).

    • March says:

      Well, there you have it. I have to dig up Tea for Two. It occurred to me typing this that maybe T42 would be just the ticket in this peculiar weather. It’s very sunny right this second, wonder if it’s hot and humid?

      Ooooh, I’ll have to look up Fumidus!

  • tmp00 says:

    I’ve never smelled this- I’ve never even heard of it! I’d love to have AG bring back Monsieur, I can’t find that anywhere..

    • March says:

      Ya, you haven’t heard of it because I got the name wrong (see comments below.) Although I think it’s still obscure and unavailable, so not that much has changed. Off to fix that now…. Monsieur I love thanks directly to YOU, my friend. You are the one who tipped me off.