When writing my Annick Goutal ramble last week, I read up a little on the house and Annick Goutal herself. There are a number of interviews with Camille Goutal (Annick’s younger daughter) discussing her role in the company after her mother’s death in 1999. The interviews often include Isabelle Doyen, who’s still house perfumer and who worked with Annick Goutal from 1985 onward, on many of the line’s fragrances.
Isabelle Doyen (talking about Annick) in Vogue: “Then she said, “I have an idea for a perfume that I’ve wanted to create for such a long time, which is a rose that smells like pear.’ I looked at her and said, ‘Since my childhood I’ve wanted to make that perfume.’ It took us ten years to create that rose-pear smell, Ce Soir ou Jamais.”
From the Annick Goutal website: “The scent of a lifetime, of a disturbing and graceful femininity. The secret and unique staging of a sweet and delicate rose… Turkish rose, ambrette seed, and 160 secret ingredients…”
I have no idea what the sauce secrète is, but Ce Soir ou Jamais contains a bushel of pears at the opening – the same pear as Petite Cherie, which was released in 1998, the year before Ce Soir and, I’m guessing, an offshoot of that same creative process. It’s not clear to me how the smell of a pear and a rose overlap, other than their general sweetness, and it’s not a combination I recall sniffing anywhere else in perfumery. The pear takes a few seconds to materialize; if you’re not expecting it as part of your floral bouquet (and why would you?) it’s highly likely to read as something approximating the sickly sweet smell of bug spray – as any number of online reviews on Fragrantica and elsewhere attest. Nor was Tania Sanchez much of a fan in The Guide – she has nice things to say about several AGs, but dismisses Ce Soir ou Jamais grumpily as smelling “far too much like a glass of white wine that’s been sitting out all night.”
Annick used to wear L’Heure Bleue from Guerlain. She was crazy about Guerlain. I am too. — Isabelle Doyen
Camille Goutal: “Ce Soir ou Jamais is, for both of us, the most touching one because when my mother was at the hospital for the last six months, she was still working on it with Isabelle. Isabelle would visit her every day, and they would smell the fragrance. It’s incredible: Six months after her death, her scarf still smelled like it. It was very comforting and reassuring—in a way she was still there.” It was the last fragrance Annick and Isabelle Doyen worked on, and the culmination of Annick Goutal’s career.
What would you do, if you were facing the end of your time here on earth? If you were an artist, how would knowing you were dying affect your work? Would you aim for a final masterpiece? Or maybe some oddball idea you’d always wanted to try?
I found Ce Soir ou Jamais unsettling before I knew its backstory; I thought the reference (“tonight or never”) was to an impetuous and ultimately star-crossed love affair. Ce Soir ou Jamais smells like every possible emotion, at a fever pitch. There’s love and affection to be sure, but also a moodiness, and a petulant, reckless fury. It’s the drydown that breaks my heart a little. An hour after the opening sweeps in on a sharp breeze, the scattering of rose petals on musk is so lovely and so utterly unconnected to the earlier drama that it took me a few tries to convince myself they were the same fragrance. As a non-lover of rose fragrances, I’ve taken a shine to this one; what that means for those of you who actually like rose perfume, I couldn’t say.
It is entirely possible I’m reading way too much into this, but maybe Annick Goutal wanted to pour everything – everything she had left to say – into that fragrance. I’m almost 53, the age she was when she died of cancer. She probably thought she had decades of life ahead of her, until the day she knew she didn’t. When we play with fragrance, we play with the general construct of impermanence. Every scent, no matter how finely or poorly crafted, passes from our skin eventually. At the same time, we can rewind and play a moment over and over, delighted with each fresh spray. Tonight or never. (I like to think Annick Goutal would also agree with Go big or go home.) If not now, when?
Quotes taken from “Perfumer Camille Goutal on Her Mother Annick’s Legacy, Her First Stateside Boutique, and Fragrance Infidelity,” Vogue, April 11 2014.