Annick Goutal Ambre Fetiche, Encens Flamboyant, Myrrhe Ardente (Les Orientalistes) : Perfume Reviews


The deeper I delve into perfumery, the more often I pose the question, “why perfume?” to myself. Why do I write about perfume? Why is it that exploring this subject never fails to be exciting and fascinating? Perhaps, it is because scents provide a way to experience the world in a manner that cannot be replicated with any of our other senses. Recently, an illustration of this appeared in the guise of Annick Goutal Les Orientalistes, a trio of fragrances inspired by the classical oriental notes—amber (Ambre Fétiche,) myrrh (Myrrhe Ardente) and frankincense (Encens Flamboyant.) They offered me an inspiration to dream.

Smelling Ambre Fétiche, I was taken into the Orthodox cathedral during high mass. Encens Flamboyant made me think of Gogol’s haunted village churches, while Myrrhe Ardente suggested a glimpse of a resplendent ballroom from the old Russia of my imagination. Without me noticing it, I was pulled under the spell of these scents and plunged into a daydream which I could resume by merely pushing on the spray nozzle. Everything fell into place, and I thought that little was needed for happiness. I stopped posing rhetorical questions to myself…

Although as a rule collections usually have their stars and weak links, Les Orientalistes trio is exceptional in this regard. All three fragrances are beautifully constructed in a neo-classical style, possessing luminosity, complexity and exceptional quality of ingredients. Their classical themes are presented in a streamlined, minimalist manner, which strikes me as rather modern. For instance, an interesting pyrazine note reminiscent of toasted bread is a perfect counterpoint to the darkness of Ambre Fétiche.  The balance among spices, woods and ambers renders the overall aura transparent and layered, rather than dense and opaque, as the effect would be in some traditional amber accords.

Unexpectedly airy and soaring, Encens Flamboyant is likewise a modern incense rendition. A burnt incense note is contrasted with the peppery brightness of fresh frankincense. The fir balsam infuses the composition with the delicious resinous scent of evergreen branches. It is a dry and relatively uncomplicated fragrance, but the result is nuanced and compelling.

Although I have a difficult time picking favorites, if I had to make a decision, Myrrhe Ardente would be my first choice. It exemplifies the opulence that can be found in Guy Robert’s fragrances like Dioressence and in old Guerlains. The transparent top notes are set against a baroque woody-balsamic accord, and this delicate balance is what sustains my fascination with the fragrance. As Myrrhe Ardente develops, neither the alluring softness of the composition nor its sensual warmth are compromised. Wearing this beautiful vignette of amber and woods, I feel like Natasha Rostova about to enter the gilded ballroom for her first dance—with all of its concomitant excitement, vibrancy, and readiness to fall in love.

Ambre Fétiche includes notes of frankincense, labdanum, styrax, benzoin, iris, vanilla and leather. Myrrhe Ardente — myrrh essence and myrrh resinoid, guaiac wood, tonka bean and benzoin, beeswax. Encens Flamboyant — frankincense essence and resinoid, “vieille église” frankincense, black and pink pepper, cardamom, nutmeg, fir balsam, and lentisque. Annick Goutal Les Orientalistes are available from Annick Goutal stores and Aedes. Bergdorf Goodman will also carry the collection.



  • Arwen: Thank you so much for reviewing Les Orientalistes. These fragrances are very lovely and in my opinion they are the best of Annick Goutal (although I love some others). I bought Encense Flamboyant, because I love incense. The other two are exceptinally beautiful. I still have samples of them, so I will revisit them before bed time May 28, 2008 at 4:37pm Reply

  • Tara: Thank you for talking about these, and I hope you will comment on Musc Nomade soon too. I immediately fell in love with the Amber and the Incense, two of my favorite smells in the world. I think they are among the finest AGs ever released and I am really enjoying them. If I were a Myrrh fan, I would have sprung for the parfum trio coffret. May 28, 2008 at 7:42pm Reply

  • Elizabeth: Myrrhe Ardente took me by surprise. At first, I thought it smelled like a cherry-vanilla root beer float. Then it grew on me. Now I can’t wait until the bottles are available in the US! Aedes said they would get them in October. Something about it reminds me of a glowing, melting candle: The beeswax, maybe? May 28, 2008 at 9:34pm Reply

  • Girlsodeadly: Haven ‘t smelled them and don ‘t really want to. Annick Goutal was my first introduction to niche perfumery in the mid 90’s, back then you could even find her line at Sephora in New York (nomore) and at the time she was a big hit at Bloomingdale’s. Eau du Ciel was my favorite until one day I thought it was too flowery (maybe reformulated and I didn ‘t realise?) but also Heure Exquise was really lovely. By the late 90’s the former Castiglionne director before she retired told me Annick had died, they were being bought by Taintainger, she was very concerned and worried. Finally I lost interest in her fragrances. I never thought her fragrances were masterpiece perfumes but the Goutals reflected Annick ‘s identity and character beautifully which brings me to this orientalist theme that everybody in the niche category has done many times over because they all have their amber etc, it ‘s just not Annick Goutal, it ‘s disconnected with her olfactory signature.
    I’d rather keep my memories of fantastic past fragrances such as Heure Exquise and Eau du Ciel than move on to these orientalist Goutals. May 29, 2008 at 12:33am Reply

  • risa: I’m extraordinarily pleased you took all these fragrances to Russia with you, since I was a bit put off by the exoticization of female subjugation induced by the marketing. However, I do adore Ambre Fetiche and I’m excited for the next two fragrances in the line! May 28, 2008 at 10:35pm Reply

  • carmencanada: I’ve been similarly struck by the high quality and delicate, spare rendition of themes that Serge Lutens has treated so differently (save for the incense).
    These are fairly contemplative perfumes to me, not overly complex but exquisitely balanced. In all, while they don’t strike me as “not Goutal” there is clearly a new direction in Isabelle Doyen and Camille Goutal’s work.
    I’m planning on re-testing my samples of all four to see which one I’ll get first, but your favourite Myrrhe Ardente is also mine (BTW, remember when we went to the Palais-Royal and I said I didn’t like La Myrrhe? I finally got it. Such searing beauty!). May 29, 2008 at 2:59am Reply

  • Judith: Thank you so much for the beautiful review. My favorite of these is the Encens; as you said, although it is uncomplicated, it is compelling. I really like the Ambre too, but I’m afraid I didn’t “get” the Myrrhe. Something bothered me about it when I sampled it, but I can’t remember what. Clearly, I need to try again. May 29, 2008 at 7:37am Reply

  • chayaruchama: How interesting !
    The Myrrh is my favorite as well, although I have both the AF and MA; I feel that they are ‘very much’ Goutals, in the sheer, diaphanous quality they possess.

    Interestingly, the Musc Nomade reminded me of several other musks by independent perfumers , so I had no real need to purchase it. May 29, 2008 at 7:47am Reply

  • Yelena: V- so delighted that you reviewed Les Orientalistes. I, too, have recently taken some time to experience them. I am amazed that the scents are actually special enough that you can devote several evenings to just experiencing how they develop on the skin without a moment of boredom. How rare is that today? My favorite was the Encens Flamboyant- the Myrrhe Ardente was very odd. One day it was rich, opulent, almost golden. On another day, alas, I got the scent of bandages and betadine. I am hoping for some cool summer evenings so that I can ruminate on the scents further. May 29, 2008 at 9:52am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Arwen, I was completely taken by them from the first time I smelled them. These collection and Songes represent a new direction for Goutal for me. May 29, 2008 at 11:05am Reply

  • Sveta: Oh, these sound so wonderful! I love the smell of church. May 29, 2008 at 5:00pm Reply

  • Flora: I really must go try these soon. They sound just divine – and who would not want to be transported to a fantasy world? Lovely review! May 29, 2008 at 11:45pm Reply

  • elena singh: Oh, V, you have just brought back the memories of being 13 and reading “War and Peace” for the first time and getting all giddy about Natasha’s first ball – all excitement, anticipation, candles, silk, lace and ruffles! And for the perfumes – well, after rading this review I will try to get some samples tomorrow for sure. I don’t think Nordstrom would carry it, though I need to call and ask. Sound like must try.

    PS: I also love Diptique Eau Trois for my “War and Peace” fix (the candle chandeliers and smells of old palaces filled with old rugs, oil paintings and books). I think you wrote about that one. Eau Trois makes me regret I was not born in the 19th century – aristocratic family would be strongly preferred! LOL May 30, 2008 at 7:43am Reply

  • Bev Frederickson: This is the first time I’ve commented even though I’ve enjoyed Bois for some time and missed you when you weren’t posting. This review has inspired me to head to the nearest Goutal counter even though it’s a line with which I’ve not been enamoured. How does Encens compare to DK Black Cashmere or Bond Andy Warhol Silver Factory??? May 30, 2008 at 1:36pm Reply

  • linda: V, I fell hard for Ambre Fetiche and even ordered the rest blindly. Ambre Fetich is so warm, complex and deep!
    Have you tried Musc Nomade? I am also interested to try it. May 30, 2008 at 2:21pm Reply

  • violetnoir: I love reading your reviews, V, because you tell us exactly why you love, or don’t love, a specific fragrance and why. You give us the notes and translate the sensation of those notes into something that is easy for the reader to understand and access in his or her own mind. This review is a perfect example. Thank you!

    Anyway, I agree that the trio is well done. I tested all of them, but decided to put them aside for the cooler weather. So far, however, Myrrhe Ardente is my favorite.

    Hugs! May 30, 2008 at 5:10pm Reply

  • Marina: You wrote, “Gogol’s haunted village churches”, and I now have this urgent desire to re-read Vij 🙂 “Otkrojte mne veki!” 🙂 May 30, 2008 at 9:57pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Tara, the coffret idea is excellent! I saw it on Aedes website already, and the presentation is great too. June 3, 2008 at 11:36am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Elizabeth, I can definitely see a burning candle in Myrrhe Ardente. Maybe that is why I imagine a 19th century (pre-electricity) ballroom lit by candles. June 4, 2008 at 10:11am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Risa, I know what you mean, although because my first thought of harem as simply women’s quarters (rather than the Ottoman harem that so inflamed the imagination of the West), I did not take the idea quite that far. Still, the first thought was of old Russia! June 4, 2008 at 10:12am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Girlsodeadly, I love the new path that AG has taken. Songes and this collection represent something new and exciting for me. June 4, 2008 at 10:13am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: D, La Myrrhe is perfect for you! I am so happy to hear that you changed your mind about it. June 4, 2008 at 10:14am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Judith, I love that Encens takes a different road from what I usually anticipate–crisp, dry, refined. June 4, 2008 at 10:17am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Chaya, I have not tried Musc Nomade yet, but I am still curious about it. It is not easy to do a good musk, so I am interested to see what direction Annick Goutal Musc takes. June 4, 2008 at 10:20am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Lena, they are definitely fragrances to contemplate. The more I wear them, the more interesting facets I discover. I had a difficult time picking favorite! June 4, 2008 at 10:25am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Sveta, so do I! It is such a wonderful scent. June 4, 2008 at 10:26am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Flora, nothing is better than to be transported to a fantasy world! 🙂 June 4, 2008 at 10:27am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Elena, Aedes should have them, and I imagine that BG will carry them soon as well.

    “the candle chandeliers and smells of old palaces filled with old rugs, oil paintings and books…” I love this description of yours! June 4, 2008 at 10:34am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Bev, thank you, and I am glad to see you here.

    Encens Flamboyant is relatively dry, whereas Black Cashmere is sweeter. Black Cashmere is also quite cedarwood dominated. I have not tried Silver Factory, so I cannot comment on it. I should look for my sample. June 4, 2008 at 10:37am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Linda, no, not yet, but I am very curious about it. June 4, 2008 at 10:43am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: R, thank you so much! Your words mean a lot to me. I am glad that you are also enjoying this trio. I also agree with you that some of these fragrances would be even better in cooler weather. June 4, 2008 at 10:46am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Marina, I re-read Gogol all the time. His imaginery is simply breathtaking. June 4, 2008 at 11:08am Reply

  • Miriam: V, thank you for this lovely review. I had high hopes for Goutal a few years ago, with Mandragole that sounded so magical- but then I sniffed and on me it smelled like lemon pledge.

    These, however, sound like the real thing.

    My favorite incense scent (indeed, my daily signature) has always been Giacobetti’s Passage d’Enfer. Would you say that the Encens here is similarly etherial and dry? How would you compare the two?

    Thanks for keeping your blog alive, despite moving onwards and upwards in the world of perfume. July 1, 2008 at 5:54pm Reply

  • a: I love this blog, I love your writing, and this review especially makes me want to dash out in the middle of the night to a perfume shop and get this fragrance. xoxo
    p.s. my favourite fragrance is diorissimo, and you did it full justice in your review. July 11, 2008 at 7:55pm Reply

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