Annick Goutal Eau de Camille: convergence of scent and memory

 

Last week, Ann wrote about childhood memories in a (perfume) bottle, and I commented that CB I Hate Perfume’s 1966 At The Beach and Annick Goutal’s Eau de Camille were perfect distillations of my childhood summers. That wasn’t the first time I’d thought of Eau de Camille recently. Each spring, when the New England snow starts to recede, I celebrate with spritzes of Eau de Camille. The notes are ivy, privet tree, honeysuckle, seringa (lilac), and cut grass. Eau de Camille offers a realistic crisp green beginning: the dark green of ivy, perhaps, though to my nose it’s a blissful mix of shrubbery and grass against a backdrop of tiny white flowers. Privet hedges, to be exact: the hedges that lined the lanes of the Long Island town I spent summers in decades ago. Privet has extraordinarily fragrant white blossoms in early summer, and Eau de Camille captures that perfect childhood moment of walking home after a hot day, leafy trees offering shade overhead, the smell of freshly cut lawns in the air, and that intoxicating scent of privet: the deep green of the hedge leaves, the pure sweetness of the flowers. I don’t get lilac or honeysuckle, though others may; I get privet, in bloom, and grass. The scent of childhood summers. (There is a perfume called Privet Bloom by Hampton Sun, which also explores the smell of those privet hedges—but it is much harsher, with none of Eau de Camille’s effortless grace.)

 

I bought Eau de Camille first in my early 20s, back when the Annick Goutal SAs insisted on spraying the scents into the big gold caps for you to sniff (maybe they still do), which seemed quite mysterious. I remember Eau de Camille smelled like no perfume I’d tried before. (This was in the early ‘90s, mind you, and Eau de Camille was almost shocking in its elegant clarity compared to the other perfumes cluttering the counters at Saks, like Giorgio and Eternity and Calyx.) A sniff of Eau de Camille summoned up a hidden garden behind an ivy-laden door: dark, green, dreamy. Like many of the Annick Goutal fragrances, Eau de Camille is in no way overpowering, but neither is it simple: it has a roundness that makes the scent experience feel complete. While there are no hard edges to Eau de Camille, it’s more than just a pretty face: I wear it every spring and always receive compliments, but if you spray it on a gloomy mid-winter day, it’s better than a dose of antidepressants.

 

This spring, I realized that for the past year or so I’d seemed to like the idea of Eau de Camille better than the fragrance itself: I thought about spraying, but often did not. On the rare occasions I did wear it, I realized I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I expected to. It finally occurred to me that my bottle might have turned. The juice was quite gold in color—different from the picture on the AG website—and that, combined with my odd reluctance to wear it, made me decide to invest in a new bottle. It wasn’t an easy decision, as money is tight these days and a gigando bottle of Eau de Camille requires more of a financial commitment than was needed in the old days, when you could get tiny travel bottles—often as gifts with purchase. But I bought one anyway, and I’m so glad I did: it smells distinctly different than the juice in my 7-year-old bottle. So that’s just a note to anyone who sniffs this at a counter: make sure they’ve got a newish bottle going. I remember lots of online chatter in the past about the fragility of AG fragrances, and my experience with Eau de Camille reinforces that.

I should point out that not everyone loves Eau de Camille—and not everyone agrees that it’s ageless. Arielle recently included it in her list of “First Fragrances” for young women, and while I certainly agree with that, I think anyone with a love for privet could wear this with pleasure. If you look farther back into the annals of Perfume Posse, you’ll find that March did a mini review of Eau de Camille several years ago, and I believe her conclusion was essentially “Eau de Vomit.” So consider yourself warned! Be sure to test it before you commit to the enormous 100-ml bottle, the only size sold these days.

Annick Goutal Eau de Camille is available as an eau de toilette in 100-ml bottles for $120.00 at Saks, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, and Lucky Scent. You can also find it at online discount stores galore; but given my recent experience with a turned bottle, I would be wary of such sources, since gawd knows how long their bottles sit around before being bought. (Then again, you might get lucky!) My spritzes, for this review, came from my own bottle, bought a few months ago from Neiman Marcus online.

 

Photo:  Gap Gardens/Carole Drake

11 Comments

  1. Oh, Sam, thanks so much for writing about this beauty in-depth! I know what my SOTD will be tomorrow (can’t get to my samples now or I would be wearing it right this minute). And good to know about the shelf life; if my decant is still OK, I’m moving it into the fridge posthaste! Thanks again!

    • I hope your decant has survived! It’s such a lovely, charming scent, and perfect for this time of year.

  2. Sam,

    I missed most of the Goutal boat. The idea of privet is intriguing, though…..

    xo :Devil:

    • Privet is THE BEST. Definitely give this one a try, if you get a chance. Much better than that Privet Bloom thingie if you crave privet. (And who doesn’t? 😉

  3. I love the smell of privet bushes. I didn’t know Camile smelled of privet. I haven’t really bothered with too many of the AG scents because I heard they don’t have much lasting power but I should give them a try and see for myself. Great review.

    • Oh, do give Eau de Camille a try! Privet is only one of its notes; EdC is more often discussed, online, as a honeysuckle fragrance (but I think that could lead to disappointment for honeysuckle fans). To my nose, EdC really gets The Privet Experience. 😉 I hope you have a chance to try it. (As others have told you, however, it isn’t long lasting. But–that means you get to spray it more often! 😉 )

  4. What a beautiful, evocative review. A pleasure to read first thing in the morning. I’ll have to revisit this one–I’ve sniffed it at Saks, but never worn it. When I was a child, there was a big Victorian pile across the street which had at one time been an orphanage (this was in NYC) and there was a privet border surrounding it. It’s in my scent-memory, too.

    Interesting to know AG frags have a reputation for turning. So far, my bottles of Eau du Sud, Petite Cherie, Violette and Muguet are still good, but I was given a bottle of Eau du Sud by a friend who was very pleased with himself for paying less for it than I normally did. It didn’t smell bad, but it didn’t smell right, either. Someone suggested it may have sat on a runway too long. Anyway, I spray it on my dogs, but I don’t tell my friend.

    • Ha! “I spray it on my dogs.” Thank you so much for that chuckle. Those are some delicious smelling pups if they’re sporting Eau du Sud! You know, I’ve bought probably two AGs from online discounters–and neither smelled “right.” I’ve decided, for me, it’s not worth the potential savings if I’m not happy with what I get in return. I’m sure sitting too long on a runway is exactly what happened to them.

      By the way–I grew up in NYC and never knew of a Victorian ex-orphanage surrounded by privet right in the city. WOW! Sounds incredible! Where is it, if you don’t mind me asking?

      • Sam, it was the Hebrew Orphan Asylum, built in the 1880’s, and closed for that use in 1941, when it became a drill hall for soldiers (we always referred to it as “Army Hall.”) It was torn down in about 1958 to build a big playground. It was on Amsterdam Avenue between 136th and 138th Streets. Here’s a link to a photo:
        http://images.nypl.org/index.php?id=836667&t=w

    • I recently saw your lovely Annick Goutal series on Australian Perfume Junkies. Really nice to read your take on them. They’re wonderful, aren’t they–“little journeys every one,” as you so perfectly put it.

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