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Perfumer Camille Goutal talks ‘French girl’ fragrance

Few perfumeries manage to do old-school French glamour whilst staying fresh and relevant quite like Annick Goutal. We chatted to perfumer Camille Goutal about the sweet-smelling secret to their success…

Back in 1981, former pianist Annick Goutal turned heads with the now-classic scent Eau d’Hadrien. It swiftly became the fragrance to wear with your power suit and crimped hair – with celebrity fans said to include Madonna, Sharon Stone and Oprah to name but a few. Several more dazzling perfumes were to follow, all exuding the same ‘laissez-faire’, French girl chic. After her mother sadly passed away, perfumer Camille Goutal is now at the helm of the company, working alongside fellow ‘nose’ Isabelle Doyen to produce more gorgeous creations. We met her to find out more about her fragrant endeavours…

Interview with Camille conducted by Cult Beauty’s guest fragrance writer, Viola Levy

{Cult Beauty} Salut Camille! Thanks for chatting to us. First things first, what makes a good perfume in your opinion?

{Camille Goutal} A good perfume is simply one you can’t live without – it doesn’t need to have a certain ‘something’. My favourite fragrance won’t be your favourite fragrance. For my point of view, it doesn’t even need to last a long time. Of course as a consumer, you’re happy when your perfume lasts, but it’s not the mark of a good scent. People are expecting their scents to last longer and longer, expectations are much higher than they were 15 or 20 years ago.

{CB} Where do you go for inspiration when creating a perfume?

{CG} Travelling – I can’t live without it. I just need to discover new things and new places all the time, otherwise I’m not happy! For Isabelle It’s a bit different – she reads poetry and travels through her mind as it were. All of our perfumes are based on memories, so for me it’s memories of travelling, for my mother it was remembering the people she loved. For Isabelle it’s more about the depths of the mind and escapism, but memories are the one thing that ties everything together.

{CB} Speaking of memories, there’s definitely an element of nostalgia with your perfume, Chèvrefeuille… 

{CG} That’s a very sweet memory, inspired by my childhood in Provence. My mother was one of eight children, so I had 18 cousins to play with! We all grew up together and had a very magical childhood with a lot of love. Of course we had tough moments – with cancer in the family – but there was so much love at the same time. My cousins were like my brothers and sisters. When we used to play together, we’d wear these crowns made of honeysuckle (‘chèvrefeuille’) that was one of the sweetest memories of my childhood – which this perfume reflects.

{CB} And obviously there’s your mother’s famous scent, Eau d’Hadrien – why did it become so famous?

{CG} It’s a mystery. Everyone asks us this question! I think it was just a little different from the other perfumes around at the time. It’s sparkling and it’s fresh, but there’s also a tenderness to it. I think that’s why people love it so much.

{CB} Following on from that, you created Les Nuits d’Hadrien. What was the story behind that?

{CG} It’s a funny story! You know before Eau d’Hadrien, my mother read the novel Mémoirs d’Hadrien and in it, there is a love story between the Roman emperor Hadrian and a young soldier. And that was partly our inspiration, but mainly it was to create an evening version of the original Eau d’Hadrien. It’s similar to the original, but a bit more of a deeper, oriental bouquet.

{CB} Do you always have a clear idea in your mind before creating each perfume?

{CG} You always know where you want to go with a scent before you develop the formula. Usually when you cook, you know what you want to make, so you buy specific ingredients. With perfume, it’s the same thing – you know where you want to go and what notes to work with. We use over a thousand ingredients, so if we didn’t know beforehand what we wanted, it would be disastrous!

{CB} How do French women tend to wear perfume?

{CG} French women just don’t think about it! They just grab their bottle and spray the quantity they feel like wearing. Women from other parts of the world are afraid that they’re not wearing their perfume the right way – they’re worried that it’s too much or not enough – as if it were a precise science! But the point is to just have fun and wear your fragrance wherever you want to wear it! Fragrance is just about pleasure – if you think about it. It makes you feel happy and better – wearing it should just be an easy gesture.

{CB} Did you always want to be a perfumer like your mother?

{CG} I’ve always loved scent but didn’t really think about it when I was younger. When you’re surrounded by perfume all the time, it just becomes the norm. I worked as a photographer for a long while, but that changed when my mother died. I didn’t want someone else to take over the creative side of the business, because the way my mother created fragrances was very different from other brands. So I retrained as a perfumer myself. Although I found the technical side of perfumery fairly challenging – the creative side was actually easier than I thought. I started to smell everything and I realised that I had a lot of ideas. I could ‘smell’ the fragrance in my head before I’d actually created it, it pretty much came naturally to me.

{CB} What’s the secret to Annick Goutal’s success?

{CG} Nothing that we create is ever ‘too much’. My mother created pretty heavy fragrances in the early days, but even the more intense creations were not overpowering. I think it’s part of her elegance – nothing she did was too ostentatious.

{CB} What’s your favourite place to travel, smell-wise?

{CG} Polynesia – you know Tahiti? It’s not the easiest place to get to – it’s so expensive and so far away! But the last time I was there, the scents were incredible! We could smell the orchids, vanilla beans, gardenia, frangipani flowers … it’s a dream! If you love scent, sun and the sea, you should definitely go there!


Verity Douglas

Verity Douglas

Content Editor

Verity is our Content Editor and a Cult Beauty veteran. Currently on maternity leave, raising Cult Beauty’s honorary ‘word nerd’, Tabitha, she speaks fluent ‘beauty’ and loves nothing more than the marriage of language and lip balm (and cleanser and candles… ad infinitum). Nothing can stop her from quoting Nancy Mitford, treating herself to yet another Bella Freud candle for her desk or buying that pilgrim-esque collared or heavily fringed outfit she’s been eyeing. You can trust her to debunk widespread beauty myths and dispense invaluable advice with ease…