Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Annick Goutal Les Absolus Ambre Sauvage: fragrance review

ISIPCA perfumer teacher Isabelle Doyen and art director for the Goutal brand Camille Goutal have proven their flair for the concept of an "oriental" perfume mainly through the collection Les Orientalistes some years ago. A trio of worthwhile scents came out in 2007 including Ambre Fetiche Encens Flamboyant and Myrrhe Ardente. The collection was augmented in 2008 with Musc Nomade a firm favorite of mine in the stakes of intimate musk fragrances. Their current output on the orientalist theme for their more upscale line Les Absolus(there's also Vanille Charnelle and 1001 Ouds) leaves me rather hesitant as to how much this is a corporate decision rather than an artistic one; especially taking into consideration the details surrounding Ambre Sauvage.


One look at the luxurious packaging and the price asked (195 euros for 75ml of eau de parfum) suggests a target audience of wealthy patrons shopping for posh gifts; Cartier lighters and Tiffany's more serious silver pieces engraved for the ocassion. This is undoubtedly true for most niche fragrance brands nowadays; just look at the Section d'Or by Serge Lutens (including L'Incidiaire and all the others) with its stratospheric prices! It's not an easy to digest truth for readers of perfume blogs and fora but it is nonetheless true enough and one should at one point make peace with the facts.

But what about the scent?

Sauvage (i.e. wild) is a name brandished a lot in 2015 because of the masculine fragrance launch of the same name by Christian Dior and LVMH. Loosely based on part of the name of the classic Eau Sauvage from the 1960s the modern Sauvage is anything but. Similarly Ambre Sauvage (Wild Amber) by Annick Goutal is not to be taken literally.

Amber by its own makeup is a scent produced by the synergy of two colliding forces; the dark resinous id of labdanum/cistus and the malleable softness of vanillin super-ego. I have elsewhere described how some ambers seem to be like child-POV engulfing hugs by well meaning aunts; too much of a good thing. Thankfully the refined French aesthetic of Doyen and Goutal ensure that their manipulation of the materials is never saturated. The raw materials become in their hands building blocks of a gouache where the colors melt into one another to the point where you can't quite discern where one begins and one ends. Doyen and Goutal have argued that basing their concept on the etymology of raw materials is a whole different ball game than working on memories; memories can only go as far in the pursuit of olfactory accuracy. By following the material's arc one can direct themselves into a mapped out path and deviate knowingly.

This is at once grace and irony in this case nevertheless: with sauvage in the name one expects something untamed and untramelled even by the codes of gallic civility and correct navigation. Neither the inclusion of patchouli (a lightly chypre facet) nor the wink of a leather-animalic quality in the top notes evoke a wildness that would be out of place in a salon. Ambre Sauvage is a classic refined amber rather than a poet maudit. Unlike Ambre Sultan by Lutens with its uncinventional aromatic impression of a Moroccan dish the Goutal fragrance is quite Parisian.

These two elements (leather and patchouli) do lend nevertheless a sophisticated character that cuts it above the soup of sameness among many ambres in the niche market. A delicious cooling smoke-chocolate hint recalls the treatment of lavender drawn through to its caramelic end of the spectrum in Doyen's L'Eau de Lavande for Annick Goutal many many years ago... The more Ambre Sauvage dries down the more it declaws itself; thanks to vanilla absolute coming forth creamy and smooth and mouthwatering but never cloyingly sweet. And it's perfect on a man as well. It's hard to dislike Ambre Sauvage.

Furthermore Ambre Sauvage smells dangerously close to Ambre Fetiche. Although the latter is among the better ambers out there (and one of the ambers I personally wear for that very reason) the launch of the former at this point in time suggests that a rather more concentrated edition with obviously high end packaging is meant to aim at more moneyied customers. Not necessarily more discerning ones. One might want to make peace with the facts at last.


  1. Anonymous23:39

    That sounds really lovely, but the price, ouch.
    I love Myrrh Ardente, it's perfect for colder Autumn weather, in fact I'm wearing it right now! Probably that and Ninfeo Mio are my favourites from AG

    1. Their myrrhe is my favorite as well ;-)
      I love it so! Ninfeo Mio is another highly likeable one. Have you tried Grand Amour and Passion? Both reviewed on this blog (use the Search function)

  2. I'm sad that Goutal (head office I mean at Amore Pacific) thought it necessary to follow the same route. I'm an avid lover of the original trio, loving deeply Ambre Fetiche. If I wasn't so anosmic to Musc Nomade I'd own it as well but alas. Given the price I won't even bother testing unless a sample falls my way. Instead I will stock up the originals just in case they decide they are too good to stay, and too cheap compared to the new ones. And here's hoping there's a future release in the style of Mon parfum Cheri; bold, unrestrained and simply beautiful!

    1. It is rather an odd decision; bringing something so pricey when an equally good perfume very very similar exists in the line up. This is the reason I started the exploration of the line with this one. I luckily had stocked up on all 4 Orientalistes; proved a smart move.
      Musc Nomade is great for layering under too "prim" things ;-)
      I still have hope for AG. They haven't abandonded the idea of offering worthwhile compositions in semi-popular distribution.

  3. Miss Heliotrope01:29

    As we have discussed several times previously, most recently when looking at whites, there is a difference between what we want the name to say about us, and what we are prepared to smell like. Names can be out there, but if the scent is, then it's a bit too scary.

    Which covers the price, as well.

  4. Thank you very much for your thoughtful observations on this perfume. It sounds like something I would love ( I love Annik Goutal in general). I am not talking about prices here, of course! Perhaps Ambre Sauvage would not appeal to me as much as the Ambre Fetiche which you mention. However no one, rich or poor, is knocking on my door bearing gifts of perfume, right at the moment. Therefore I will content myself reading your blog! I can picture what you describe very well! That is almost as good. I love being able to understand what you describe.

    1. confirm -alas- what I have been saying. We perfumephiles do not a great dent make in the revenue of perfume companies should we choose to spend our buck elsewhere. Therefore...
      But to paraphrase a popular quote "we'll always have Perfume Shrine" (it even begins by the same letter!)

  5. annemariec09:32

    Ambers really aren't my thing so I dodge a bullet here, but it does confirm my impression that people like us (sorry to use that expression) who really known and love fragrance aren't the target market for these upscale offerings. Or maybe I'm wrongly assuming that rich people have no taste in perfume? Hopefully I am wrong ...

    1. It's not so much that rich people don't have taste in perfume so much that rich people do not choose with an endless search for the most obscure and the most intriguing. They're offered a selection of "upscale" brands and they make their choice out of those. There's bound to be gems in there as much as there's bound to be duds and the final choice rests on the individual...just as it happens with perfumephiles like us. The only difference is the scope of offered brands; I doubt rich people often get the option of rummaging the lower shelves of a derelict drugstore or the artisan warehouse of a struggling naturalist.

      I'm not big on ambers either; but they're a popular genre. So worth doing right. :-)

  6. Oh this sounds like something I would love, love , love !
    I am a Amber addict ... ever since that minx at POL .... Victoria..... sent me a lovey sample of Anne Pliska ...... I make - yes - MAKE- my hubby buy me Anne Pliska at Luckyscent every Christmas ! LOL
    Loved L'Occitane's Amber perfume but that got the gong! It was beautiful and I loved their Amber room spray too ... that went !!! Rrrrrr
    Ambre Sauvage probably will not come to my shores and if it did the price would be even more hefty!!!
    Helg ... I do miss POL ... I am at Basenotes and its very nice but ... Oh my - POL :( ........ miss it so.

    1. I DID like L'ccitane's amber as well! What a good reminder. I wonder whether I could find a bit now that one of their stores has closed locally. I'm too annoyed with the escalating prices; it's like spitting on the face of perfume lovers who labor for love and not for exhibitionism. Anne Pliska...the memories! I remember how Victoria loved it so much!!!


      I also miss POL. It had something special about it.

  7. Helen Christine Gailey14:30

    Your poetic description, brings us into the heart of the romantic fragrance, where my senses are embraced with the passion of your description. I close my eyes and enjoy the caress and fleeting memories evoked by your magical words. Thanks you, I hope the discovery of the fragrance will be as enchanting as your words.


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