The new trio of perfumes by Annick Goutal entitled Les Orientalistes (The Orientalists) is inspired by the tradition of Orientalism and the imaginings it implied - a phenomenon at its peak in 19th century Europe. At the same time, it pays homage to three main perfumery materials and notes: amber, myrrh and incense, also called Olibanum or Frankincense.
Isabelle Doyen and Camille Goutal have decided to literally interpret the familiar notion of an oriental fragrance by bringing out the figurative motif hidden in the warm, mysterious folds of compositions that today mix the intense, nonchalant, and sensual notes of amber, coumarin, vanilla, benzoin and patchouli...
In the middle of the 19th century, an Oriental perfume would have meant any perfume that included exotic substances evocative of the East and primarily among them patchouli as can be seen in the reconstitution of writer George Sand's Perfume by perfumer Nicolas de Barry. It is only towards the end of the 19th century with the introduction of Vanillin that orientals would come to canonically include this aroma originating from South America and most famously in Shalimar (1925)......
Au milieu de l'azur, des vagues, des splendeurs
Et des esclaves nus, tout imprégnés d'odeurs,
Qui me rafraîchissaient le front avec des palmes,
Et dont l'unique soin était d'approfondir
Le secret douloureux qui me faisait languir.
(Extrait de "La vie antérieure " de Baudelaire)
Les Orientalistes tackle the mystical lure of the Orient by resorting to incense notes which are to be found in all three compositions. The association of incense with religious mysticism is explained by chemists by the fact that the material possesses similar properties to Cannabis as it contains a common substance called Tétrahydrocannabinol.
The religious aspect of the perfumes, however are not pronouncedly solemn except perhaps for Encens Flamboyant which evokes more the smoke of incense as it uncoils in an Eastern church, or an Islamic mosque. Instead, Les Orientalistes seem to be in tune with a simpler everyday brand of mysticism, the one found in smoking a narghile or drinking beverages that liberate the mind, or again, the communion over food.
The silhouette of the church or mosque is not absent but more in the background. One could elaborate on the French relationship to religion and how telling it is to see this transfer of meaning. The tobacco note is a recurrent sensation, as are discreet gourmand notes, and with Myrrhe Ardente, one is even transported to 19th century cafés both in Istanbul and Paris.
Leather is another common point between them.
Orientalism was characterized by a fascination with the mores, sexuality and sensuality of the Orient. The harem, The sultan, the hammam, slaves, exotic architectures, luxurious raw materials and objects were populating the imagination of Westerners and awakening their senses. Paralyzed and numbed under cold climes, their limbs and ideas became more nimble when traveling to the Levant at the risk after a long sojourn of becoming overly lascivious and stupefied by the myriad of new, mollifying sensations.
Ambre Fétiche (Amber-Fetish)
Ambre Fétiche is a beautiful amber-y resinous perfume with a complex underlying accord of tar, herbs, sweaty musk, and rubber. It characteristically offers a pungency that borders on an evocation of stylized stench that is fascinating like all liminal sensations.
After a time, the jus sweetens, casting aside some of its boldness, softening down. Nuances of tobacco, hay and earthy patchouli come to the surface.
Ambre Fétiche unfolds like a melopia, a slow, monotonous chant that seems to accompany the sinuous lines of a nonchalant, sensual Oriental dancer's hips.
As the scent progresses it becomes a little bit more gourmand with a nuance of burnt brittle caramel. The smokiness is evocative of the famous painting by John Singer Sargent, Fumée d'ambre gris (1880). There are also very discreet citrus-y nuances.
The dry-down is bold once again, with a little quote from Caron Yatagan.
Myrrhe Ardente (Perfervid Myrrh)
Myrrhe Ardente is the most gourmand of the three scents and, to our nose, the most original too. It starts with an overdose of vanilla, which evokes vanilla ice cream then segues into a complex liquorish-y impression with a Maraschino (cherry liqueur) nuance and green herbal undertones. There is the coolness and oddness of aniseed on a woodsy leathery background.
Natural myrrhe has a coldness and freshness about it and here the sensations have been reinforced with mentholated nuances. It also evokes wormwood and the drink derived from it, Absinthe. It is an interesting even captivating contrasted composition offering an unexpected soft green, slightly misty and medicinal character.
The perfume through this association has a magical quality like going back in time to a 19th century Parisian café and smelling the absinthe-y breath of Verlaine half-stupefied before a glass of the green faerie. The café bar or comptoir shines in the shadowy light of a gloomy café. It smells now a little bit of dragée or sugar-coated almonds.
It is a fascinating scent, difficult to place. The mind travels from a kahvehane or coffee house in Istanbul where Pierre Loti is smoking a shisha wearing babouches to a dingy café beloved by sublime drunks like Verlaine and Rimbaud.
The scent becomes more powdery and feminine but is still infused with this strange oblique and mysterious aura. It smells a bit of hay.
The perfume presents affinities with Serge Lutens Douce Amère, but it is completely different at the same time.
Encens Flamboyant (Flamboyant Incense)
Encens Flamboyant presents both fresh and warm facets. A lavender cologne departure is quickly followed by resinous, smoky and sweet notes with hay and tobacco nuances and with leather in the back, the latter becoming increasingly heady and pungent. The leather seems to have been rubbed with fresh hay. The longer dry-down lets through a rose note.
There is something a bit rural about this scent. It evokes a horse, hay, herbs, chamomile, manure, in short, a farm but with an almost violent zealous addition of incense. It also smells a little bit of green clover. It reminds us of the frank earth-bound aromas of L'Air de Rien by Miller Harris but as if manure, lavender, and the scent of a horse had been accidentally mixing with the religious fervor of church-goers. It is like in that painting portraying a religious procession crossing the countryside with a priest balancing his censer. The quality of the incense here is more mystical, more evocative of an Oriental church where heavy rich religious textiles hold incense captive within their folds.
All three compositions seem to present more complexity in the top and middle parts of the development. The dry-downs become simpler, more linear, smelling good, but losing some of their evocativeness. Yet, their sensual charm cannot be denied. Like three differently decorated rooms in the house of Pierre Loti, they lead you from one contrasted atmosphere to another while bringing a certain unity of construction; you remain the host of one house whose creative and eccentric proprietor insists on a change of scene.
Ambre Fétiche has notes of: amber, incense, labdanum, styrax, benzoin, orris absolute, vanilla, cuir de Russie........
Myrrhe Ardente has notes of: myrrh, vanilla, tonka bean, benzoin, gaïac wood, beeswax absolute, ......
Encens Flamboyant has notes of: Incense tears, black pepper, rose, incense resinoïd, precious spices, old church-y incense, cardamom, nutmeg, fir balsam, lentisc absolute....
The 100ml EdP is priced at €120 and the gift set of 3x 50ml pure parfums is priced at €500.
Images: Annick Goutal press release
Isabelle Doyen and Camille Goutal will be on hand at Aedes on April 3rd, 2008 to autograph bottles and present their new trio of perfumes. A fourth Orientaliste, a musk perfume, is planned for release in April 2008 in France.