G. is possibly the most refined creature I know –with drawers full of bespoke lingerie and shells groaning with books, she is a scholar in the guise of a courtesan, worthy of the 1001 Nights… When I first met her, she wore JAR Jardenia, which I’d never heard of at the time, and owned a stash of vintage fragrances, including several sealed bottles of the original Rumeur and Narcisse Noir. After having lost touch with her for four years, I ran into her recently and was eager to learn which fragrances she currently favored. She answered that there were none: she smells the “chemical soup” in the new ones, and the intense eroticism of the vintage ones take her to emotional places where she would rather not go.
As she can’t live without fragrance, she scents her skin, clothing and house by burning woods and resins sent to her from the Middle East. When she opens her coat or moves about, you can catch faint whiffs of the fumes.
G.’s smoky aura somehow brought to mind Annick Goutal’s Les Orientalistes, released at this time last year: a trio of scents echoing the gifts of the Three Wise Men to baby Jesus, gold (replaced here by amber), incense and myrrh. The trio composed by Isabelle Doyen and Camille Goutal has an inward-turned, meditative quality, despite the epithets (“Flamboyant”, “Ardent”, “Fétiche”). The ancient resins that Serge Lutens – the reigning Orientalist of Western perfumery – displays in the Baroque mode (in Ambre Sultan, La Myrrhe and Serge Noire) are reined in by Doyen and Goutal. The result is neither the decadent erotic fantasy of 19th century Orientalist painters nor an olfactory snapshot of a spice-laden souk, but an intimate glimpse into a darkened room, which could be G.’s boudoir. Not much unfolds within that space: the scents don’t evolve a great deal, just as a haze of burning resin smoke permeating clothing might…
With its orange-mandarin-cinnamon facets, Myrrhe Ardente is the brightest – it has the warm glow of burning ember and, with its vanilla, the edible quality of a boiled sweet (for more, please refer to my earlier review).
Though the myrrh first seduced me because of its quirkiness, I have now fallen rather violently in love with Encens Flamboyant, the darkest and least sweet of the trio.
There is something warm, burnt, almost charred brought on by the adjunction of black pepper (oddly, that same almost gunpowdery pepper note makes a fleeting appearance in another favorite, Chanel 31 rue Cambon). The pepper lends the incense a facet that hovers on the edge of comfortable funkiness; Encens Flamboyant has the depth and comfort of a raw leather chair worn smooth by age in room where incense has been burning for decades.
I have been spraying this on my fur coat in the bitter cold of the Canadian winter: though there are no animalic notes in it, it makes me feel like some mythical animal curled up by a campfire, perhaps on the trail of the Three Wise men… But this lioness can lie down with the lamb.
The Orientalists are currently available in limited edition flacons, candles and body care at Annick Goutal.