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