It must have been twenty years ago, at least, but I can remember it in such detail – one of those summer sunsets that made it clear why New Mexico’s called the Land of Enchantment. There’d been a storm earlier, and the air was filled with familiar scents of resin and rain. I’d dipped inside the house, a crumbling adobe on the East Side of Santa Fe, rented by a wildly attractive boho-chic woman I knew only a little and whose style I very much admired. On a trip to the bathroom via her bedroom, I saw she had a bottle of scent on her bureau, and in a rush of inchoate desire I grabbed it and spritzed it on. I recognized the smell immediately as her signature, and hurried to wash it off as best as I could, right there in the tile basin. I was ashamed; I felt like I’d rifled through her lingerie drawer.
It wasn’t until eons later – just a few years ago, in fact – I remembered that bottle, and that moment, and knew what the fragrance was – Annick Goutal’s Passion (I’d become a bit of an AG fangirl by then.) Looking back, it seems like an odd choice for Santa Fe, but what do I know? She also lugged everything around in a beat-up old leather satchel I suspect was some wildly expensive bag I was too dim to recognize. Maybe her lover gave it to her in Paris, along with the perfume.
If you’ve read this far and you’re already holding your hands up, staving evil off with a Gallic merci, non gesture – it’s okay, I understand. Annick Goutal is definitely a house that comes up when people mention skin chemistry, or bottles going off, which is an infinitely more genteel thing to say than my god, that thing smells like wet roadkill. We’ll simply agree to disagree. Anyway, if you look past the popular niche /oddball AG outliers like Duel, Fier, and Sables, my favorite Goutal scents fall into two general camps: 1) the zaftig, billowy diva frags like Passion, Songes, and Grand Amour; and 2) the grassfed herd of herbaceous, petitgrain-rich, and/or citrus-aromatic scents like Hadrien, Le Chevrefeuille, Camille, Mandragore, Eau du Sud, etc. etc. Many of these have a bitter note somewhere that is, like tonic water, an acquired taste; I can’t really do the uncompromising, stylized greenness of Vent Vert or Jacomo Silences, but there’s something about a romp through the trampled foliage with Annick that absolutely delights me. Eau du Sud and Mandragore are probably my personal favorites, although I have several 15ml minis I’m almost as likely to reach for, especially in the spring or the heat of summer. Annick Goutal fragrances remind me of the French manner in flower-arranging – a studied nonchalance that belies a quiet, formal structure. It’s a look I find incredibly compelling, in flowers and in perfumery.
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Nuit Étoilée – via Fragrantica: — “inspired by the moonlight, starry skies, cool scent of woods and enjoyment in nature and solitude. The EDP edition is more sensual with the additional notes of iris and amber. Top notes: citron, orange and peppermint. Heart: pine, fir resin and iris. Base: amber, angelica, tonka and immortelle. “ Everyone hated this, right? I think the general response ranged from eh to meh to bleh. Certainly the dramatic Van Gogh-inspired starry night reference, and that gorgeous blue bottle, raised (and then dashed) expectations. Also, it’s scent-cousins with Mandragore, a scent I wear so much I’ve needed to replace the bottle several times.* Nuit Étoilée smells like the love child of Mandragore and Noel (an AG florist-chiller ambient spray I’m wild for), with a clean resin base. I’d have called it Lumière Bleue. Whatever, I’ll be wearing the hell out of this, everyone else is wrongggggg my precioussssss MORE FOR ME.
Mon Parfum Chéri par Camille – patchouli, iris, violet, plum, heliotrope. I love the story behind this one, featuring a perfume solid compact given to Annick (by Colette, no less) which became the inspiration for this fragrance. “As Annick Goutal dedicated the Petite Chérie perfume to her daughter, now it is Camille’s turn to honor the eternal beauty of her mother.” (notes via the AG website.) Unfortunately, the story and the notes are my favorite part; the fragrance itself I just can’t get behind, which is hugely frustrating – this has been quite the hit, at least among our people. Both Jessica at Now Smell This and Denyse at Grain de Musc have compared it to Femme (the vintage, not the new), and Femme was indeed the first thing I thought of. Frankly, their reviews are more eloquent than anything I’ll write here, so you should read them if you’re curious. I’ve tried decants from two separate sources, and next time I run across a bottle I’ll sample it. I like vintage Femme a lot, although it’s not something I reach for often, and Mon Parfum Cheri is even stronger. But there’s a darkness in the drydown which I find oppressively mournful rather than alluring, and I don’t know what the hell my problem is.
*A bit of a running joke for me – any number of disgruntled perfumistas have mailed/given me their bottles of Mandragore, with notes along the lines of You love it so much, YOU wear it. Well, that’ll teach you to buy blind based on one stupid review, won’t it? No? Me neither.
inset painting: Branch with Almond Blossom, Vincent van Gogh