Goutal blossomed late, coming to perfume making after a career as a prizewinning pianist and model. She then met a man, separated from him, found herself alone with a baby (her daughter Camille), was diagnosed with breast cancer and married her childhood sweetheart. She went into the skin cream business with a friend and instinctively felt they were missing two things, fragrance and packaging.
“My fingers remembered”, she says, harking back to her experience in her father’s confectionery. “I had acquired a great manual facility thanks to all the chocolate arranging. I had the idea of presenting the pots of cream like dainty packets of sweets. In beautiful handwriting we inscribed hundreds of tags to go with the bags”.
Then, in 1977, she met perfumer Henri Sorsana and spent the next seven years memorising ingredients and honing her talent as an extraordinary nose. The words were the same: note, harmony, key… “I was back with music again, with that part of myself I had been sadly cut off from”. Her first three fragrances, Folavril, Passion(her own personal perfume) and Eau d’Hadrien set her apart, and she opened her first salon on Rue de Bellechasse in Saint Germain.
Each fragrance is a touchstone, a reminder of someone or something important in Goutal’s life. “Like precious bouquets, gathering the rarest and most noble of natural essences, they are composed as a symphony, note by note, in an eternal quest for balance, quality and perfect harmony”. Her fragrance following is cult – once you have sampled the fruits of Annick Goutal you’ll be a devotee. The impalpable Eau d’Hadrien is a favourite of fashion editors, Madonna, The Artist (formerly known as Prince)… even the Guerlain family comes to Annick Goutal.
“It is very rare that a perfume creator can be free, because they are always linked to a big perfume company”, says Goutal. In the age of the corporate perfume she provides a truly bespoke service. “I have always had complete freedom… It is like making music by myself”. Her scents are like a silken web of memory. She weaves a wondrous story around each perfume. “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”.
Charlotte, her stepdaughter wanted something a little less naive. So Goutal drew up upon mimosa and cocoa. “This makes Eau de Charlotte a bit more gourmand…
And for my husband (cellist Alain Meunier), I created Sables…”(Interview: Vogue Australia september 1998)
Camille Goutal, who kept the fire burning after her mother passed away.
Photo: Antoine de Parseval.