Thursday, February 23, 2012

Annick Goutal Eau du Fier: fragrance review

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


  1. I wonder of Tea for Two is itself now outside of IFRA standards, that being the reason for its being DC'ed...

  2. I love Eau du Fier.... it tops my wish list. I fear I'll never have it, though. I have a tiny vial and that's it. One day I will end up paying the outrageous prices you see for it.

  3. E,

    short answer: is is, though it could be reformulated to meet them.
    But L'A is issuing new stuff now all the time and have to make room for them.

    I know, it's not a gratifying reply.

  4. F,

    isn't it a very individual thing? I find that for something so intense, so stange, it projects as very "clean" and very dry (like a great lemony vetiver say is dry) which makes it easier to wear than anticipated. It just needs a light hand and a bottle should last a lifetime, so well worth the money I suppose.

  5. Discontinuations leave me so sad. I haven't ever smelled this and now I probably never will. It's too bad, sounds like a very intriguing fragrance.

  6. S,

    yeah, aren't discontinuations a bitch.
    Sometimes people sell decants on splits sites or even bottles on Ebay. There's hope yet!
    It's unique to be sure.

  7. E, it's Eau du Fier (not 'de').

  8. Indeed! Thanks for the catch!
    (and it was a good opportunity to catch a typo towards the end too)

  9. What a lovely review. This quality and articulation is what brings me back to your site.
    I was luckily able to buy this from the Place Vendome boutique in April 2011. At the time they had stock but no box. Instead it was sold in nuit de cellophane (word play).
    And about 25ml leaked en route back home to the UAE. Ironic really, of the 20 or so perfumes my wife and I brought back, only the most desired, most rare leaked.

    Smelling EdF is reminiscent of drinking Lapsang souchong.

    Thanks for the review.

  10. Thank you very much for your comment and your compliment!

    So sorry about this happening to you. Bad luck. On the other hand you were able to get some, which is so very fortunate! There is no more of this, so I'm sure you will cherish it.
    (and forgot to say: envious of your bulk perfume shopping!)

  11. Thank you for posting on Eau du Fier. Your description brought back memories of my early PhD-writing days in London in the early 2000s. I was unable to purchase such an exclusive fragrance at the time, but I could not resist it. It reminded me of the smell of greasy steel parts inside the anti-aircraft guns I was trained on as a conscript back in the 1990s. It was a strange yet intoxicating scent. And of course it reminded me of a strongly brewed Lapsang (or rather a Tarry) Souchong. So, being unable to have a bottle at home, I would make my way to Liberty on Regent Street and help myself liberally from the sample bottle. Even the salesgirls knew me (I would go twice a week after the library closed) and smiled. My clothes had been soaked in it and I could feel it on jackets and sweaters months later, while unpacking. It was a great scent, even the colour was agreeable. By the time I could afford it, it was discontinued -and now I can only bring it back in memory. Oh well! Thank you so much for reviving the time for me. George

  12. G,

    that's an amazing recounting of a very personal story, thanks for sharing!!
    I can see how something that one associates with a very specific time and place (and memory) can hold a very powerful thread in their heart. I'm glad you happened to find this review of this very special scent here and we got to "meet" through it :-)

    Και ευχαριστώ για το σχόλιο, πατρίδα! :-)


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