By special guest writer Philippa Campsie, Toronto, Canada
“A woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future.”
That is what Chanel is supposed to have said. And Chanel certainly knew how to sell perfume. Chanel No. 5 was created in 1920, and 90 years later, it is still the world’s best-selling perfume. But Chanel herself did not develop the formula, she simply gave instructions to a parfumier called Ernest Beaux, who came up with the actual scent.
Just as women are a minority in haute couture, so women are a minority in the perfume trade. Yet one French parfumière stands out – Annick Goutal (1945–1999). The picture shows the boutique where her perfumes are sold at 14, rue de Castiglione in Paris, near the Place Vendôme.
Annick Goutal, parfumière
Annick Goutal was born in Aix-en-Provence, one of eight children of a chocolatier. She was gifted in music and trained as a classical pianist, winning first prize in piano performance from the Paris Conservatoire in 1961, at the age of 16. But the life of a concert pianist didn’t appeal to her. She went to London, opened up a secondhand boutique, and began to experiment with creating her own face creams and lotions.
She became more and more interested in perfumes, and went to Grasse in the 1970s to learn the art of the parfumier in the laboratories of the fragrance company Robertet. Grasse is in the south of France, near Cannes, a sunny town where flowers grow in profusion and where the laboratories of some of France’s greatest perfume creators are located.
During her lifetime, which was cut short by breast cancer when she was 53, Annick Goutal created 25 perfumes. Eau d’Hadrien is one of her best-known, launched in 1981 and inspired by the novel Memoires d’ Hadrien by Marguerite Yourcenar. It evokes the scent of Roman gardens and lemon groves. Nearly 30 years later, this citrusy creation is considered a classic. Barbara says it makes her think of the music of Erik Satie, and indeed, for Goutal, perfume was a form of liquid music.
(Barbara discovered Eau d’Hadrien on a visit to a friend’s house in New England about 10 years ago. There were perfume samples in the bathroom, and she tried them all. This was her favourite. When she told her daughter about it, however, her daughter laughed and said, “But mother, didn’t you know? Everyone I know wears this perfume.”)
Another perfume was inspired by Camille, Annick’s daughter by her first marriage. According to an interview published in Vogue Australia in 1998, “When my daughter Camille was seven, she was up on the terrace feeling the ivy and saying: ‘Maman, I want a fragrance like this.’ So she was the inspiration for Eau de Camille – honeysuckle and privet tree mingle with freshly cut grass.”
Annick’s second marriage, to cellist Alain Meunier, led her to create a male fragrance called Sables, inspired by the smell of the beaches on the Ile de Ré where she and her husband owned a house. She created Eau de Charlotte for her stepdaughter. Her last creation was Ce Soir ou Jamais (This Evening or Never), completed shortly before her death in 1999.
In December 2009, Meunier, now 67, gave a concert in her honour at the Cathédrale Saint-Louis des Invalides, playing three of the Bach cello suites as well as a piece called Etoile filante by the composer Georges Sosnovski, who has written music in memory of Annick Goutal.
Paris – scent and perfume
Visiting Paris is a wonderful opportunity to experiment with scent and perfume, and determine the kind that works best for you. The French have a word for the effect of a perfume – sillage – meaning the “wake” left by a perfume wearer. Perfumers design for sillage – how far it can reach and how long it will last. They also design perfumes to suit the season – lighter in summer, heavier in winter – and many French women have a seasonal “wardrobe” of different perfumes.
Although perfume boutiques use strips of thick paper called touches to allow customers to smell different perfumes, you really have to try them on your skin to know if they are right for you. The best approach is to spray your wrists with a small amount of something you like (don’t rub them together – just let them air dry), and then go for a walk for 20 or 30 minutes. If the perfume still smells good, it might be the right one for you. Never rush a purchase of this sort. Take your time. That is what a Parisienne would do.
Parfumier/parfumière is the word for someone who creates perfumes from a mixture of natural and synthetic scents. Annick Goutal’s father was a chocolatier – that is, someone who creates chocolates. Sables means sands. Une étoile filante is a shooting star. Sillage is the “wake” left by a wearer of perfume, and touches are the paper strips perfume shops use to allow customers to sample perfume.
Books: recommended by A Woman’s Paris™
The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris and New York
By Chandler Burr. Picador; First edition (2009).
Vocabulary: French to English translations
Chocolatier: Someone who makes confectionery from chocolate.
Maman: Mama, slang for mother.
Parfum: Perfume. Mixture of fragrant essential oils and aroma compounds, fixatives, and solvents used to give the human body, animals, objects and living spaces a pleasant smell.
Parfumier/parfumière: (M/F) An expert on creating perfume compositions.
Parisienne: Female native or resident of Paris.
Sillage: “Wake” left by a wearer of perfume, how far it can reach and how long it will last.
Touches: Paper strips used to allow customers to smell different perfumes.
Une étoile filante: Shooting star.
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Text copyright ©2010 Philippa Campsie
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