As I was sniffing the newest fragrance from the house of Annick Goutal, I came to think about fragrance names. How they belong in different groups to attract different audiences, how the name has to keep what it promises, and sometimes even live up to the expectations that it invariably sets. There are the young frags named typically in English with a name that might as well be a pop song; ‘Curious’ anyone?, ‘Play it spicy’, ‘Midnight heat’, ‘Dynastie Vamp’, ‘Rockin’ Rio’ or even ‘Glam Princess’? Somebody must have had fun coming up with these names. Or the minimalist approach like no. 5, gs01, Molecule 1, Blood A or Type B; the white canvas, there for us to imagine and associate (almost) freely. Of course there are many more directions and boxes which perfume names will fit into. The newest Annick Goutal Nuit Etoilee belongs in that very decidedly fine French perfumery category of names going all the way back to the beginning of the last century; L’Heure Bleue (1912), Coeur en Folie (Rose de Rosine, 1925), Quand vient l’ete (Guerlain, 1910) , Adieu Sagesse (Patou, 1925), Le Temps de Lilas ( Houbigant, 1922). And of course this tradition of poetic impressionist naming of fragrances, has very much stayed en vogue with more traditionalist perfume houses. All are names which might as well be the title of a poem set to music by an impressionist composer like Ravel or Debussy. Or it could be the title of a painting by Monet, Renoir or in this particular case post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh, because, according to the press release, Nuit Etoilee was inspired by Vincent van Gogh’s picture of that name. The thing with a name like that, and an inspiration like that, is that it will automatically bring some pre-empted expectation with it.
Vincent van Gogh’s painting ‘De sterrennacht’ (1889) depicts a starlit sky above a town with a big cypress to the left of the golden ratio of the painting. The sky swirls as it sucks you in and tells a story as much as it raises questions. What was he doing there, Van Gogh, was he there at all, or is this an imaginary nightscape? And the cypress, aren’t cypresses the trees of churchyards and eternal goodbyes?
So has van Gogh’s painting got anything to do with how Goutal’s Nuit Etoilee smells? The press blurb does not miss the chance to speak of tradition and excellence, the fragrance, however, is not a veil of stars sighing with melancholia, and that’s probably a good thing. The fragrance is modern; it’s unisex, easy, light. It starts out fresh without being overly hesperidic, the mint only adds a touch to the feel of cold night-air and to soften the citrus, it doesn’t stand out. Shortly thereafter the scent is that of distant pine trees and I smell something light anisy. As the pine draws closer I feel it taking on an incense-like quality, which I enjoy, and the combination is bright and round at the same time. The press further speaks of ‘from the coolness of night to the warmth of wood’, and it is absolutely the route it takes from a fresh breeze to the sap of pines and firs, which at the end get mixed with an almost edible note of immortelle. It makes the last lingering on my skin warm and resiny, while still keeping a cool distance.It’s a pleasant fragrance- not a lot happens, but perhaps not a whole lot is meant to. Maybe the Goutal Starry Night-story is short and sweet, maybe we are just meant to stand still and stargaze next to the cypresses for a moment in time. After all it’s just an impression, an inspiration which came from a masterpiece.
And maybe that’s all there is to say, because after all it’s 2012, whatever the name.
-Jasia Julia Nielson, Contributor