A Mother’s Legacy: We Follow the Sentimental Scent Trail of Camille Goutal
Growing up with a model for a mother would already be awe-inspiring, but add to that one who later became a world-class perfumer, and your childhood is guaranteed to be different from other kids on the block (or in this case, the quaint streets of Paris). Such is the story of Camille Goutal (the towheaded tot above) and her mother, Annick (the striking brunette), who founded her eponymous brand in 1981.
Despite her mom being one of the most renowned “noses” in France and a jaw-dropping beauty, Camille says that growing up, she never understood the power and fame that Annick possessed. “I had to be polite, generous, honest; I had to behave, I was raised like that,” she explains. “My life was totally normal and natural, but with an incredible mother.” So normal, in fact, that Camille never realized Annick had been a model (plucked from her job as an au pair in London by photographer David Bailey) until she asked about her life before perfumes. “She had no pictures of herself around the house, but I saw some of the pictures when I asked, and I thought they were so funny because they looked very sixties,” says Camille.
“Funny” was a common theme in the Goutal household. “Everyone always thinks my mom was so classique, but she was always making jokes all the time,” Camille remembers. “Still, even though she was funny with me, she was still very strict [about my upbringing].”
Regardless, from an early age, Annick wasn’t strict enough to forgo adding aromatic whimsy to her child’s life. To be sure, Camille grew up going to her mother’s shop in Paris after school and testing each and every scent both on the market and off. Then, when Camille was 8 years old, Annick gifted her with her own signature scent: “My mother had first created Eau de Charlotte for my older sister, and I told her I wanted one,” she reveals. “She asked what I wanted, and I just turned my head toward our small terrace that had a lot of flowers and ivy and honeysuckle, and I told her I wanted something that smelled like our garden.” A short while later, the fresh green and white floral Eau de Camille was born. (It wouldn’t be the only fragrance Annick crafted for Camille. When she was 18, she received the pear and rose cocktail dubbed Petite Chérie, which Camille says was inspired by her mother’s perception of her as a young woman.)
But Camille’s scent memories from childhood aren’t only tied to the perfumes. She says her fondest fragrant recollection is of breakfast. “We used to have breakfast in my mother’s bed on Sunday morning, and I used to wake up to the smell of coffee and toasted bread,” she says. Another memory strongly tied to food was her mom’s beloved poule au pot. Although Annick didn’t cook often, she was superb when she did and indulged Camille in her favorite meal twice a year at her daughter’s urging. “She had this recipe from her own mother that was a spin on the classic French dish, but unfortunately she never gave it to me!” she laments. “I can’t do it anymore.”
As she grew, Camille temporarily abandoned the aromatic arts and discovered an inclination for photography, due to her father’s influence. “I traveled a lot with my father and he always had a camera with him, and I was constantly stealing his camera at a very young age,” she says, laughing. “I didn’t dare take any pictures, but I was always imagining paintings in my head when I looked through the camera lens.”
That early exposure to taking pictures led Camille down a career path as an interior-decor photographer, and her work was published in Elle Decor and Vogue. But she returned to her redolent roots when her mother died from cancer in 1999, at age 53. Camille then took the reins of the perfumery alongside her mother’s longtime collaborator, Isabelle Doyen, which she says she did out of a natural impulse—not necessity: “All those fragrances were like my little brothers and sisters, so I just stayed in the family, but I didn’t think about it as needing to continue her legacy. It just felt normal to me.”
Today Camille and Isabel conjure up new fragrances just as Annick had done. They always start with a memory or a feeling they want to evoke. “We think about it till it’s very precise in our minds. We can smell it before creating it,” Camille explains. One nose starts building the main body of the fragrance from an organ of an impressive two thousand notes, and then they both continuously enhance it with other scents until the memory has been brought to life. “It’s a bit like cooking,” she says. “We have to memorize all the notes, so we organize them in the organ alphabetically. We work regularly with three hundred to five hundred, but some notes have never even been used.”
As for the biggest fragrance tip Camille learned from her mother, she discloses it’s still about maintaining an organic aura: “She loved to wear very feminine fragrances, but she never wore too much of them. Her perfume was always subtle and natural. You should never spritz on more than four sprays, and even that’s for really light and fresh scents. Stronger ones require less.”
But will the heritage continue beyond Camille? She says only time will tell, but she’s not concerned with pressuring her two daughters, ages 11 and 14, into the family business: “Of course, they were very young—they were each 5—when they started to wear fragrance. They chose scents with lots of violet and vanilla, but they haven’t said what they want to become yet. It’s more important to me that they are happy than being forced to continue the legacy.” Somehow, we think following the perfume trail initiated by their grandmother will come naturally—an acute olfactory instinct seems to be in the genes.—Christiana Molina