It was, along with L’Artisan Parfumeur, one of the very first niche houses, and I remember articles about Goutal in Connoisseur Magazine back in the day, that particular day belonging to the 1980s. Such perfumes as Heure Exquise are now thirty three years old, and have achieved the status of classics.
Still, if you came to the line anytime in the last ten years, you might be forgiven for thinking the eponymous Goutal was Camille, and that the perfumer had always been Isabelle Doyen. In fact, Camille is Goutal’s daughter and Ms. Doyen the perfumer she has preferred to work with, the creator of Duel and Madragore, among other Goutal hits. The house is changing once again, bought by Korean group Amore Pacific. You can spot this in the newer packaging, and the changed line up. It remains to be seen whether this is good or bad news for fans.
Originally, the Goutal perfumes did not have an in house perfumer, they were done by various different ones, in the manner of designer fragrances. They did share an aesthetic, and that belonged to Annick herself. She was one of six children whose father ran a confectionery business in Paris. Although Goutal was destined originally to become a concert pianist; she instead became a model.
After being diagnosed with cancer at thirty, she returned to Paris, where her sisters ran a children’s clothing business called Bonpoint. There she founded her own perfumery. The sweet shop influence permeated her early scents Folavril, and Eau de Bonpoint. Both had a wonderful sense of childhood, without being in the least childish. That sense of atmosphere and place and the romantic appeal of both, was a strong point of Goutal’s.
Folavril was a mango tomato leaf combination that was fruity and green and cheerful as a grin. Madonna is supposed to have worn it, and Eau de Bonpoint, was a simple orange blossom cologne. She reprised that cologne in her later release Neroli, which is now discontinued. Neroli, like Eau de Bonpoint, was orange blossom, but had an earthiness to the neroli that brought out its particularly Italian appeal. Like all the best of those early Goutals, if you loved it, you really loved it, which no doubt explains the high prices on ebay.
The hit was also Italian influenced, and also citrus based. Eau de Hadrian, was named after the book by Marguerite Yourcenar Memoirs d’ Hadrian, and is a combination of sprightly lemony notes married to a base that smells like a hillside in Tuscany, complete with bright patches of sun, unexpectedly deep shade cast by cypress trees, and peridot colored lizards darting in and out of disintegrating masonry.
If you have been lucky enough to smell the original perfume you know why it was such a great best seller. The current formula is a chemicated imitation due to IFRA restrictions. Hadrian was allied to Eau de Sud, a perfume that recalled the South of France in the same way that Hadrian recreated Tuscany. There was an engaging roughness to the texture of Eau de Sud, and like Hadrian, the scent was supremely evocative, in this case of lavender rows, the relentless percussion of cicadas, and sunflowers going to seed by the thousand in baking fields.
People have their favorites. Mine is Eau de Ciel, a wonderful scent of iris, rosewood and violets that does smell like water from the sky. It is one of the only perfumes I know that reads as sky blue to my synesthete’s brain.
Other people regret Sables the dry perfume that recalled dunes at a beach and was full of helichrysum, others again, Heure Exquise an elegant union of roses and iris. Then there was Passion, which Princess Diana wore, a more feminine, delicate version of Maurice Roucel’s 24 Faubourg for Hermes. I still prefer the Goutal myself.
But it all came to an end with Goutal’s death at 53 from cancer. She went out with the century in 1999, and the unique atmosphere of her creations dissipated like a cloud in sunshine. Her daughter went on to make Goutal’s line more financially successful, but it had lost that genius for evocation that was its forte while Annick lived. Every perfume that Goutal signed off on, resonated with atmosphere.
Now the line is comprehensive and interesting, but impersonal, and only the cash registers resonate.