If not now, when?

Annick Goutal and daughter Camille as a child.  Daily Mail UK.

Annick Goutal and daughter Camille.

By March

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.”[pullquote]Annick used to wear L’Heure Bleue from Guerlain. She was crazy about Guerlain. I am too. — Isabelle Doyen[/pullquote]

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.


  • carole says:

    This was a beautiful review-thank you for it.

    I love Ce Soir. I even have a small stash of the body cream. The AG line seems to give me hope-it’s a funny thing to say about this perfume house, but it’s true. Can you believe that she composed this under the circumstances? I knew sh died when she was young, and that the last five years of her life were described as unbearable. I have such respect for her courage to make beautiful things in the face of such an illness, and to Isabelle and Camille for continuing the journey.

    I wore this to work once and it had a devistating effect on my coworker. He just raved about it.

  • Victoria says:

    This is so heartbreakingly beautiful, and now I really want to try Ce Soir Ou Jamais. I absolutely love it when there are stories behind perfumes, and when notes connect to memories. Gorgeous post!

    • March says:

      Thanks so much for stopping by! It’s always fun to have a comment ping into my mailbox…. I write these things and put them out there and hope they’re read. Annick Goutal seems to have disappeared off most of the counters, at least around here, but it’s easy enough to sample online.

  • Austenfan says:

    I loved reading both your Goutal posts. Most of all it’s just great that you are posting again.! I’ve always loved Ce Soir ou Jamais, but I can see that it is not the most likeable of the Goutals. I snatched up one of those gorgeous EDP bottles on ebay years ago, so I have plenty to last me a lifetime. I can’t decide which Goutal I like most, Heure Exquise is at the top of the list, as is Songes and the original Eau de Monsieur.

    • March says:

      LOL I looked on eBay for a hot second and decided my decant will tide me over just fine. An actual bottle would last me several lifetimes. It’s fun for me to hear what people’s favorite Goutals are!

  • Suzy Q says:

    March, this was a beautiful story beautifully written. Just one week ago a friend and I shared a sample of this perfume and decided we needed more. We gave the sample to another friend who has started a new romance, We three are artists, which gave the review even more resonance. Thank you.

    • March says:

      I’m always happy to hear about a discovery of a previously untried fragrance. Whenever I look with boredom at the new items on the fragrance counter, I remind myself that there are wonderful things out there I just haven’t run across yet!

  • Kandice says:

    Thank you for this post. It was just beautiful. I didn’t know some of the history of this house or this fragrance so it was nice to learn more about it. I love pear is some fragrances but struggle with rose. I may have to try it just to see.

    • March says:

      Have you tried Petite Cherie? Just checking! Petite Cherie is pretty much a pear soliflore (solifruit?) I don’t wear it much these days, but it’s fun to sniff.

  • Ann says:

    Such a lovely post, dear March! I had never heard all this about Annick Goutal so that was cool. I’m thinking that now maybe I need to revisit the Jamais. Thank you!

    • March says:

      I knew she was young when she died, but not how young … as AllGirlMafia described it above in comments, AG’s combo of quirky and pretty is what I love so much.

  • AllGirlMafia says:

    This title, post and the retro photo of Annick and Camille makes me think of one of my favorite Tracy Chapman songs-

    • March says:

      You know, I wonder if that’s what was in the back of my mind when I was writing this?! I loved that song, used to play it all the time.

  • Tara C says:

    What a lovely story, thank you for sharing it. It reminds me of Sandrine Videault, who also passed away of cancer a couple of years ago shortly after completing her magnolia fragrance. Life like perfume is ephemeral and yet persists in our memories.

    • March says:

      Everything seems a bit suffused with melancholy on this cold, rainy day… but I’ve a small warm dog on my lap (interfering with my typing, btw) so there are worse things. I still haven’t tried Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine… no matter how pretty it may be. I grew up surrounded by that scent, and it seems unlikely/impossible to bottle something so ephemeral.

      • Gwenyth says:

        Life is often suffused with melancholy because life changes and moves at it own pace. We must acquiesce because, really, there is no option, is there?

        However, in my experience, I can deal with the things life throws my way if I have a warm dog or cat nearby….
        Their unconditional love and unwavering devotion is balm to my soul.
        Frequently I have dogs scattered about my feet and a cat on my lap as I type. It’s all good…… 🙂

        • March says:

          After a lifetime of larger dogs, the current varmint is the size of a loaf of bread and weighs about 7 lbs. She sleeps in my bed, and other foolishness I’d never allow. She’s a delight. Just the small weight and warmth against my hipbone or back cheers me.

  • Gwenyth says:

    March, March, March — very few reviewers can write like you do. This review of Ce Soir ou Jamais is masterful!
    You have the ability to write about perfume in a way that speaks to me – either with dry wit, laugh-out-loud humor, or incredible pathos.
    You’ve stated exactly how I feel about Ce Soir ou Jamais. Upon first spritz, something about CSoJ “spoke” to me, but I never understood why. This review of yours is perfect.

    For me, perfume and my love for it is inextricably connected to memories of my mother, whom I lost four years ago. We had a wonderful relationship, not perfect by any means, but full of love and respect. My earliest memories of her about love and tenderness and how she smelled of Chanel and Estee Lauder perfumes. I miss her. When I read about Annick’s scent-laden scarf, I experienced a rush of memories of my mother and how her clothes and scarfs all carried her scent – even years after she was gone.

    The house of Annick Goutal is, indeed, all about women and their stories about each other and the men in their lives.

    Thanks March! – and welcome back (?) I will eagerly look forward to any and all things you might write.

    • March says:

      Your comment made me smile all the way through, reading it…. especially your memories of your mother. Listening to Camille Goutal reminisce, reading between the lines, Annick Goutal must have been quite the handful. But love and respect (two words you used) popped immediately to mind when I read Camille’s words. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • Nina Z says:

    How beautiful that Annick Goutal spent the last months of her life developing a new perfume. And even though the pear note scares me, I’ll give that perfume one a try sometime because of that and because of how you’ve written about it. It is also so wonderful to have you back, and to know that is because you finally feel ready to write again. You are one of my favorite perfume bloggers because of your ability to weave a powerful story, with a greater meaning, into your reviews. Even though I have a very different kind of blog–a yoga blog–I have learned so much from you about writing (at the same time I just plain enjoyed your sensibility and your sense of humor).

    • March says:

      It’s truly lovely to be back, and thanks for your kind words. Like many people I am my own worst critic, and I tend to view everything I write with a withering gaze, thinking of each detail that could be better. Honestly, though, right this second I’m just happy to be stringing two sentences together… the pear note doesn’t delight me either. I think it’s a really weird way to open a rose fragrance. But it’s relatively easy to ignore, it doesn’t last all that long, and the drydown is worth it, to me.

  • Queen Cupcake says:

    Beautifully written, March. It is so nice to be able to read you again. Heure Exquise is still my very favorite but I like Ce Soir ou Jamais very much. Hamamelis wrote something I have subconsciously felt about the AG line: a woman’s story, all of our stories.

    • Hamamelis says:

      Dear Cupcake, Heure Exquise is my very favorite too, at the moment of all my perfumes (and I have quite a few!). I don’t know what its magic is, but I can’t get enough of it and am wearing it all the time.

    • March says:

      I was surprised last week to realize how beloved Heure Exquise is — not because it isn’t lovely (it is) but because I hear so much about the others. I’d have picked Hadrien, or Passion, or one of the weird ones as the most-mentioned.

  • Dina C. says:

    Thanks for sharing this interesting history of AG’s final creation with Isabelle Doyen. I haven’t sniffed this one. Even so, I found the story very touching because my dad died of cancer at age 52 as well. I think it’s inspirational to know that she spent her final days involved in an act of artistic creation and creativity. That urge to create, and the sense of smell, must have been two of the last things to remain with her when all else was stripped away. Lovely and so impressive.

    • March says:

      I wonder …. I wonder if those of us who’ve lost a loved one at a young age are looking at perfumery from a different angle. My mother died when I was right out of college. Her death, and everything that meant, has woven through my adult life and my feelings about perfumery. She wore My Sin (I wrote a post once, I think you were here then) and I have her bottle, although it never smelled as bewitching as I remember it on her. Camille’s words about her mother’s scent-laden scarf made me tear up a bit.

  • caseymaureen says:

    It’s so good to have you back

    • March says:

      It’s nice to be here. I’m trying not to overthink it. I simply couldn’t write, for the longest time, and it was hugely painful. I worried I’d never string an interesting paragraph together again.

  • Hamamelis says:

    Lovely post and you write very apt about the impermanent nature of perfume which echoes our own impermanence. One of the reasons why I love this art. There is something about the AG house that I like so much, maybe because at the heart of it are women and their stories. Thank you, I hope more AG posts will follow.

    • March says:

      I liked AG in a general way I never gave much thought to, before I ever fell into perfumery… well, a few people must feel the same way, I’m not exactly on the cutting edge of new perfumery these days. Based on my uber-boring walkthrough at Bloomies recently, I’m okay with that.

  • Heya March,
    How heartbreaking. I did not know this story. There is a bottle of Ce Soir ou Jamais here in my cupboard, tomorrow I will get it and wear the shit out of it. I love that Annick Goutal’s scents have stayed pretty true to their origins through so many owners and the few reformulations I’ve tried since the big packaging changeover are as good as the priors.
    Portia xx

    • March says:

      I’m impressed with how much they’ve preserved of the scents particularly after all the IFRA drama. I *think* I might even like the latest version of Hadrien better (although I’ve never been its finest fan, I can’t escape the furniture polish). A giant rose seems kinda perfect for you. I’d drench you with Paris, myself.

  • AllGirlMafia says:

    March, my love this is absolutely beautiful!! I’d never heard this story of one of my favorite perfumers and I sincerely thank you for sharing. My first Goutal was a bottle of Grand Amour edt and I was overcome by what I felt was the perfumers ability to convey a wealth of emotion and beauty through fragrance.

    I love the quirky-pretty aesthetic of this house. I am a fan of any well done rose and the description of ‘disturbingly feminine’ is enough to convince this Femme-Paris-Mitsouko lover- I need to try this asap.

    By the way, I tried Mandragore for the first time yesterday- Love it! Something of Mandragore reminds me very much of Chanel 5 Eau Premeire.

    • March says:

      Thanks so much! I am stealing quirky-pretty, which is such a perfect description of AG — and I absolutely agree about the emotional aspect. Maybe all of that together is what’s made me a longtime fan, before I ever became truly interested in perfume. Glad to hear you love Mandragore! That’s an interesting thought about Eau Premiere — maybe Mandragore would be the “masculine” version (if I believed in those descriptors) with its dry citrus and woods.