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Forty Years of Goutal Paris Parfums: A Fragrant Anniversary

Forty Years of Goutal Paris Parfums: A Fragrant Anniversary

Forty Years of Goutal Paris Parfums: A Fragrant Anniversary

by Elena Vosnaki

11 January 2021 

Prior to the explosion of niche fragrances in the middle of the 2000s, there were a tiny number of brands which were presenting the idea of a quite personal bond with the product, and Goutal Paris was one of them. Annick Goutal began as one of the first independent perfume houses in the early 1980s and still flourishes to this day, albeit having undergone some significant changes, particularly in the last decade. Although it was never niche in the exact sense of the word, it did help launch many a perfume lover's journey into less mainstream, more eclectic fragrant compositions.


With Annick's untimely death by cancer at an early age in 1999, the brand was kept aloft by her daughter Camille, and is now monetized by the Korean firm Amore Pacific. People were somewhat surprised to see the brand's name change to simply "Goutal Paris" in the last decade, a change that perfume admirers still haven't quite gotten used to.


Once upon a time, there was Annick Goutal, you see, a woman of intuition and emotion, a visionary who took hold of her dreams and followed them through. When Annick Goutal was excelling as a pianist, she had not anticipated that a collaboration with perfumers in order to scent a face cream would result in finding her calling: perfumery. She soon instilled her own romantic spirit into a small, fledging niche brand, one among the first, and embarked on the great adventure of launching fragrances with personal mementos attached to them.


Sables was dedicated to her husband Alain, inspired by their south of France escapades and the garrigue. Eau de Camille and Eau de Charlotte were respectively dedicated to her daughters Camille (who oversees the creation process to this day, when the brand has changed hands multiple times) and Charlotte. Grand Amour was inspired by the bouquets Alain brought her when she performed. Petite Cherie, one of the brand's highlights, was also personal; it recalled her daughter Camille again and is one of the first fruity compositions in the niche sector to become a best-seller. It was also the time when special bottles of opaline were topped with butterflies and romantic illustrations.


But none was as seminal or simple as Eau d'Hadrien, her first fragrance for the house of Annick Goutal, launching in 1981. The feat of the scent is that it manages to withstand to this day, serving as a classic reference for a citrus fragrance done right. The underlying beauty of the stark composition, radiant and sparkling in its cool glory, remains intact, earning it a Hall of Fame Award in 2008, bestowed by the International Fragrance Association.


The brand has recognized this cult status by offering several editions of the classic scent over the years. The main chord of the fragrance in Eau d'Hadrien is citrus and cypress. Brisk, simple, yet never simplistic, straight-forward, and with a subtly shadowy id to its bright ego.


Annick was an avid reader of Marguerite Yourcenar, her Memoirs of Hadrian (Mémoires d'Hadrien) being the fictional retelling of the Roman Emperor's thoughts and philosophizing on his life and life in general. The book, taking the form of a letter to Hadrian's successor (the equally profound emperor Marcus Aurelius), ponders on the vagaries of war, on the arts (especially poetry), on his lover Antinous, and on the theme of death. The reference for Eau d'Hadrien is very poetic; one could cynically suspect as with some modern niche brands that the reference followed the creation process rather than vice versa, but if one has actually read Yourcenar's book, it rings faithful.


Although Annick's own life was full of change — from model and chocolatier, to antique shop owner, to collaborator with her friend Michelle into Swiss skincare face creams, which prompted the initial scent investigation, and then into fine fragrance — the line was consistent; dreamy, refined, simple ideas conceived in fine materials of an emotional quality. The gold caps, in the "goudron" style were also the object of dreams. Although the fragrances were not labelled female or male in terms of the formula, the same composition was offered in two different presentations: the feminine one was very frou frou and romantic with a gold ribbon under the curvaceous cap and all ribbed glass, while the masculine version was presented in squarish bottles with a simpler cylindrical cap and a label in cursive typeface. They were extremely appealing and upscale-looking, being the object of endless photographs by perfume lovers.


The brand, however, had to change when Annick died. Her daughter Camille Goutal and perfumer Isabelle Doyen continued her heritage but also injected the brand with new elements. She is quoted as asking,"Are we in the right Goutal direction, would Annick create this type of perfume? We create going on our instinct, as we did with Annick anyway."


The Goutal company evolved in the years following Annick's passing in 1999. It had expanded from the first creations with perfumer Francis Camaill, under the creative direction of Annick herself, to the creative process of Isabelle Doyen and Annick working together, and later between Isabelle and Camille Goutal, Annick's daughter, now on to something else.


My own impression is that the creation of the Les Orientalistes collection was a turning point towards directing the brand into something different. Wearing the latest Goutal scents in the Les Orientalistes line (Ambre Fetiche, Myrrhe Ardente, Encens Flamboyant, Musc Nomade) I find that they inject a neoclassical style into what is essentially a “thick” school of perfumery: the oriental tradition. The fragrances are based on a group of notes that are infused with darker elements: amber, smoke, and resin. I personally found them very pleasing to various degrees, but the criticism I have heard about them is that while they are out of sync with the previous Goutal style, they are also too “thin” to be convincing orientals. (People perhaps forget Sables, Eau du Fier, or even Songes and Grand Amour in the Goutal line, which are certainly full-bodied.)


The sub-collection Les Absolus was inspired by the craziness for oudh and Arabian-inspired offerings of the Middle East or those who like to offer gifts inspired by the Middle East: 1001 Ouds, Ambre Sauvage, Vanille Charnelle and later on, Rose Oud. The compositions are denser than the previous Orientalistes, and they do not especially recall Goutal fragrances in style; they seem a thing apart.


In 2018 a collection of alcohol-free waters was introduced, aiming at Muslims, Far East customers, and anyone wanting to use fragrance while out in the sun.


"Created as a delicate alternative to classic fragrance formulas, all four alcohol-free waters procures an olfactory pleasure inspired by the benefits of water. A pure concentration of freshness and fragrance in a porcelain-like white bottle for the whole collection. Sprayed on the body, hair and clothing for your enjoyment from dawn to dusk."


The white flacons are decorated with charming illustrations of roses, herbs, fresh leaves, and butterflies. The Goutal Alcohol-Free Waters collection includes the fragrances Songes, Eau d'Hadrien, L'ile au The, and Rose Pompon and launched in mid-June 2018.


In 2020 all the bottles were changed, even in the newer Absolus collection, into the simpler cylindrical style.


For a good while the transformation and transliteration of former formulas into a more "cologne"-like concept brought renewed interest into the brand. This was probably the turning point of change in the packaging.


The stylized and plainer presentation of the bottles — no more fluted bottles, all oblong lines and plain gold caps — was meant to create a more unisex aesthetic, as was the name "cologne" in the broadcasting of the products. Three Colognes were thus launched, all resting on fresh approaches to beloved raw materials: neroli, vetiver, and citrus.


On the other hand, Parisian sophistication was not forgotten either.


The playful and very French-styled Oiseaux de Nuit collection, introduced in 2016, seems like a quiet Parisian throwback to the roots for the brand, from the presentation to the concept: champagne bubbles and sequin-dressed (Nuit et Confidences), iris and patchouli for an evening gown accompanied by a marabou in deep purple (Tenue de Soirée), and a colorful silk scarf on the neck (Etoile d'une Nuit.)


For some of the time between the years 2015-2020 the brand seemed to be straddling two boats: two different approaches, two segmentations perhaps. Then it was decided to jump forth into the new, injecting just a note of heritage.


In 2020, therefore, the past was revisited via Le Temps des Rêves, a composition highlighting and celebrating the ethereal beauty and happiness of the bitter orange tree, citrus aurantia or Seville orange, the tree that is the emblem across Southern Europe. Predictably, the ad copy insists on the Grasse references, mentioning how the South of France and the iconic birthplace of perfumery contributed to the idea even to Annick's mind back when she launched her eponymous brand...


Alas, the discontinuation of many of the brand's iconic fragrances (for instance Eau de Ciel; Eau de Charlotte, a proto-gourmand; and Heure Exquise Eau de Parfum, etc.) and almost all their soliflores, in recent and not-so-recent years, has been noted as a subject of lament on perfume boards.


For many perfume lovers, there will always be a place in their hearts for Goutal perfumes, but they often feel that the brand's glory days are over. Maybe the market has been oversaturated with newer releases, leaving the field more antagonistic, especially for refined and quiet compositions like the ones Goutal excels at. Maybe it's that the economic crisis has left people with a more intense desire for showcasing how they spend their hard-earned money, opting for more "bang for their buck," i.e. requiring a costly posh fragrance to really project like a foghorn.


Additionally, expanding one's segmentation into more countries, where possibly the aesthetics require something different than the European or Northern American norm, (for instance Asian countries go for watery and discreet eaux, or Brazil demands refreshing blends with fruity tonalities), also dictates style and performance. Goutal fragrances have never been brash, so the acquisition by a South Korean firm makes perfect sense.


What will the future bring for Goutal Paris? We will be here to witness it. We certainly wish the venerable brand a happy 40th anniversary and thank them for shaping some of the best memories of our growing up.

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