Embarking on Eau du Fier (2000), probably the most profoundly esoteric fragrance in the Annick Goutal perfume line, is like plunging yourself body & soul in the most smoky osmanthus-laced tea pot. It never really caught on, reverted quickly to the exclusive Parisian boutique salespoint and has been entirely discontinued now registering as very rare. A victim of its tough swagger and unconventionality. My own precious bottle was among the relatively older batches featured on the Parisian shelves from around 2005, but these shelves have dried up by now. The reason? Perfumer Isabelle Doyen had used a high level of natural birch tar, now banned by perfume industry self-regulatory body IFRA apart from its purified forms, and then in very small concentration.
But couldn't it be reformulated, mot clef du jour, using a purified grade of birch tar? Yes, it might. Sadly, the sales were never substantial enough to justify the trouble and cost of doing so. Eau du Fier, you see, is the most phenolic-smelling, the most tar-like, the most bitumen dripping on beautiful apricot-smelling petals evocative scent in existence.Though an unmissable must-smell and must-own for anyone (man or woman, it's technically marketed to men) who craves a dollop of tarry, leathery, pungent campfire scent in their perfume wardrobe, Eau du Fier isn't exactly a crowd pleaser, nor will it get you Miss Congeniality brownie points, here, in Paris or in the US. Like a song by songster Dionysis Savvopoulos says about Greece, "it forms its own galaxy". But it might get you attention from people who won't immediately connect it to perfume and that attention would be positive.
Fir (fier in French) and birch tar are at the core of Eau du Fier, a smell which concentrated at such a degree is so smoky, so acrid and so idiosyncratic in its intensely phenolic blast that it grabs you by the throat and whips you into attention. Phenolic scents (those containing phenols) are intense, smelling between black soot and barnyard; a horsey leathery pungency that is evident in natural essences of castoreum (a secretion from beavers) , narcissus and of course in birch tar, i.e. literally "cooked" birch wood that produces that famous waterproofing agent that was originally the source of Russian Leathe/Cuir de Russie. It's no coincidence Eau du Fier is like Russian Caravan tea (and Tibetan Lapsang Souchong, much like Bvlgari Black); associations work that way.
The opening of Eau du Fier can be likened to dry and decidedly non-animalic macho images of riders in the plains, cooking on an open campfire, much like in Sonoma Scent Studio Fireside Intense or Lonestar Memories by Tauer. Or a racing pit, hot with the scents of competition and tires melting. Less barnyard and more open-air atmosphere, here with a slice of orange peel to reinforce the resinous-smelling and dry/clean feel. It borders on the divisive smell of rubber with a serving of bitter orange reminiscent of pure frankincense.
But the initial smokiness in Eau du Fier is soon mollified by an apricot note that recalls osmanthus flower, a material with naturally fruity-peachy-lactonic facets. This stage is comparable in feel ~if not smell~ to the smoother, yummier intersection in the just recently discontinued Tea for Two fragrance by L'Artisan Parfumeur (also from 2000): the trick is done with gingerbread in the latter, giving a spicy-gourmand edge to the smoky black tea notes on top. In the Goutal, this fruity stage is pleasantly sweet, contrasting with the introduction and playing hide & seek on the skin with the butcher elements. Daim Blond by Serge Lutens reprises the suede and apricot trick, but whereas there the effect is a spilling off her cleavage alto, here it's a bone-vibrating bass.
Bottom-line: Eau du Fier is probably the most tar-like smell this side of Tauer's Lonestar Memories and an uncharacteristic specimen in the typically airy & prettily feminine Goutal stable. Along with Sables, one of the most original and boldest Annick Goutal fragrances and a thouroughbred that should be featured in any self-respecting collection, even if you only occasionally put it on your skin.
Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Annick Goutal news & fragrance reviews, Definition: Phenolic, terpenic, camphoraceous smells.
painting Starry Night Over the Rhone (1888) by Vincent van Gogh