Annick Goutal Les Orientalistes (Ambre Fetiche, Myrrhe Ardente and Encens Flamboyant) ~ fragrance review

Annick Goutal Ambre Fetiche, Myrrhe Ardente and Encens Flamboyant perfumes

Isabelle Doyen and Camille Goutal were inspired by beauty rituals of the harem to create Annick Goutal Les Orientalistes — a trio of scents (Ambre Fétiche, Myrrhe Ardente and Encens Flamboyant) released at the end of 2007. I think it’s time to enact a moratorium on evoking the past in perfume advertising and promotion, since most ad executives and copywriters apparently skipped history classes. Perhaps the young women of the harem enjoyed their beauty rituals; I sincerely hope, in some small way, the costly items in their toiletry cases and incense boxes made up for the fact they had (most likely) been kidnapped, enslaved and separated from their families forever. Oh yes, there were also those pesky eunuchs and the sultan’s controlling mother to contend with, not to mention stress-inducing rivalries between concubines that sometimes led to murder — or banishment from the harem (which usually resulted in a life of poverty).

I’m wiping all thoughts of “the harem” from my mind and enjoying Les Orientalistes as fragrances that pay homage to the art of perfumery in the Middle East.

Ambre Fétiche

Ambre Fétiche includes notes of frankincense, labdanum, styrax, benzoin, iris, vanilla and leather. Ambre Fétiche starts out syrupy, dense and a bit medicinal; I smell a creamy candy note, styrax and benzoin. Ambre Fétiche’s sweetness overwhelms me, but I expect that is as it should be; the amber formulations I’ve smelled from Egypt and Morocco are not dry — or ‘shy’. As the fragrance develops, Ambre Fétiche’s ‘syrup’ begins to crystallize and I smell a bouquet of resins sprinkled liberally with vanilla beans. Labdanum and leather notes rouse this rather dreamy fragrance and there is a touch of muskiness too, but not enough to “dirty” the perfume. I certainly don’t have an amber fetish (I only wear one amber perfume: Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan), but after smelling Ambre Fétiche, I can imagine some amber fiend scenting his stock of sugar with amber and making amber cookies, amber nougat, or brewing amber-infused tea and Turkish coffee. Ambre Fétiche has excellent lasting power and maintains its voluptuous character till you wash it off.

Myrrhe Ardente

Myrrhe Ardente contains both myrrh essence and synthetic myrrh resinoid, beeswax, guaiac wood, tonka bean and benzoin. Right out of the bottle, Myrrhe Ardente smells like a black cherry extract or liqueur; next, one smells rosy myrrh with ‘background’ benzoin and tonka bean notes. During the course of the fragrance’s development, I smelled a smoky honey accord, which I assume is the beeswax note. My favorite myrrh fragrance is Diptyque L’Eau Trois, a ‘hard’ and rough myrrh perfume. Myrrhe Ardente offers a well-mannered, soft and wispy alternative to L’Eau Trois. One day as I was testing Myrrhe Ardente, I drank a cup of hot chocolate; suddenly I was surrounded by a wonderful aroma — it was the myrrh and vanilla notes of Myrrhe Ardente mixing with the vapors of cream and dark chocolate rising from my cup. Has anyone created a scent using chocolate and myrrh accords? If not, they should. At the end of its development, Myrrhe Ardente smells comforting: a pleasant mix of vanilla, benzoin and myrrh with an incense ash note (this being Annick Goutal, the ash/smoke accord is refined, not harsh). As I wore Myrrhe Ardente, I kept thinking: “I’ve smelled this before…but WHERE?!” Finally it dawned on me: Myrrhe Ardente smells similar to Papier d’Arménie. Myrrhe Ardente’s lasting power is good and the fragrance stays close to the body.

Encens Flamboyant

Composed of frankincense essence and resinoid, “vieille église” frankincense, black and pink pepper, cardamom, nutmeg, fir balsam, and mastic, Encens Flamboyant seemed poised to win my Best of Les Orientalistes Award. Encens Flamboyant begins with sparkling fir balsam and frankincense, then, for a brief moment, Encens Flamboyant’s frankincense turns cloudy and smoky, and black pepper flecks the fragrance’s gums and balsams. On my skin, Encens Flamboyant is the least sweet of Les Orientalistes, but what sweetness there is seems to be produced by the spices: nutmeg especially. I chewed a mastic “tear” as I wore Encens Flamboyant (I’m not being too pretentious here; I have lots of mastic tears in the kitchen waiting to be used in a Turkish chicken recipe!) and that note is discernable in the fragrance if you really pay attention. Encens Flamboyant’s ‘old church’ accord makes itself known very early — imagine the smell of church vestments and tapestries scented with candle smoke and incense — but disappears quickly. Encens Flamboyant starts off bright, becomes smokier, mustier for only minutes, and then returns to the scent of fresh fir balsam. I got enthusiastic reactions from people when they smelled Encens Flamboyant — several people said I smelled like a “pine forest” or “pine tree.” I prefer those images to ones of harem concubines, anointing themselves with perfume and lighting incense — all dressed up with no place to go.

As I dabbed myself with my samples of Les Orientalistes, I thought Myrrhe Ardente was OK, Ambre Fétiche was good (if too sweet for my tastes) and Encens Flamboyant was wonderful. Then I decided to douse myself with these fragrances and give each perfume a 24-hour solo testing. When applied lavishly (and worn with aplomb — in the style of the Middle East), my opinions of Les Orientalistes changed drastically. Encens Flamboyant breezed through its interesting stages of development and smelled mainly of fir balsam; its unvarying presence began to annoy me (I’d love the scent in soap or room spray form). After 10 sprays, Myrrhe Ardente revealed its subtleties, its delicate mix of sweetness and smoke; to me it was the most evocative of the Middle East and the most incense-y of Les Orientalistes. Ambre Fétiche smells complex, luxurious and it ‘pulsates’ on my skin; it became my favorite.

Les Orientalistes are perfect for layering — with each other or with perfumes that highlight a particular ingredient in Les Orientalistes. Try layering Myrrhe Ardente with Serge Lutens Miel de Bois or L’Artisan Parfumeur Vanilia; dilute the sweetness of Ambre Fétiche by combining it with Serge Lutens Gris Clair, Eau d’Hermès, or Santa Maria Novella Iris; and add more (frank)incense to Encens Flamboyant with Tauer Perfumes Incense extrême.

Les Orientalistes fragrances are Eau de Parfum strength and come in 100 ml spray bottles. A fourth scent, Musk, will reportedly join Les Orientalistes’ line-up on Valentine’s Day 2008. I can’t wait to smell how Isabelle Doyen and Camille Goutal will tackle musk, can you?

For buying information, see the listing for Annick Goutal under Perfume Houses. As of this writing, I don't think the trio has arrived in the United States yet.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Oh my…if Myrrh Ardente reminds you of Papier d'Armenie, does that mean it's similar the the fabulous Bois d'Armenie? I can feel my credit card vibrating in my purse… Come on samples, fly faster to me! Lovely reviews, Kevin.

  2. Anonymous says:

    VG: SIMILAR, yes, but I need to try them “arm to arm” to smell the differences. If you like Papier d'Armenie and Bois d'A…I feel confident predicting you'll like Myrrhe Ardente too.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I had the same thought – Kevin your description of the Myrrh Ardente has moved it to the top of my must sniff list.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Sariah: I hope it lives up to your expectations! I really like it…

  5. Anonymous says:

    I love the way you really PLAYED with these, hard. I only had wee samples. I can see getting what you got when sprayed on with a heavy hand. (Although the amber makes me a bit queasy.)

  6. Anonymous says:

    March: I can't explain it but Ambre Fetiche made me LESS queasy the more I put on! HA! K

    • dchristiok says:

      Ha! :) Yes, I understand!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Kevin, I think you should have put on a recording of Mozart's “Abduction from the Seraglio” and spritzed with abandon to help put all historically accurate thoughts of harems far out of mind. As always, an excellent and evocative review.

    Myrrh Ardente and Encens Flamboyant sound pretty wonderful, but I'm also craving Tauer's Incense Extrême after Robin's review. It always comes down to triage in these cases. Wondering if you could draw any comparison between EF and CdG's Avignon and Zagorsk? You make it sound almost like a combination of the two, both of which I like a lot (just recently order a bottle of Zagorsk). That bright, crisp balsam note immediately lifts my spirits while still being “incensy” and wintry.

    I also agree with you on the “dousing” method for getting the full effect of any scent. I'm constantly frustrated with dabbing on tiny 1ml samples. My ideal is to spray away with any new scent I'm interested in, and bystanders take cover!

    Speaking of myrrh and incense, are there any fans of L'Occitane's Eau d'Iparie out there? I keep meaning to pick up a travel size at my local shop for a [very] cheap thrill, which is always welcome relief from pricier diversions.

  8. Anonymous says:

    HI Joe: On my skin at least, Avignon (polished/gleaming) and Zagorsk (foggy, cold) are more complex than Encens Flamboyant. The more I wore EF the more FIR BALSAM took over the entire composition. I like all three of these incense fragrances, mind you, but EF would come in third if you put all three on a table in front of me and said: “Two of the three bottles in front of you are FREE…choose.”

  9. Anonymous says:

    Chiming in to second March's appreciation — you really worked hard for us, thanks!
    And can I come over for some of that chicken? Or maybe you'd be willing to share the recipe — I've been experimenting with mastic lately.

  10. Anonymous says:

    AHTX: I'd be happy to send you the recipe: warning: IT AIN'T EASY! HA! Just write me at kevsta11(at)gmail(dot)com and put “Sultan's Chicken” in the subject…I'll send it to you.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Great review, Kevin! Ambre Fétiche was my favorite from the start, but now I wear Myrrhe Ardente just as often. I've tried layering them with Encens Flamboyant, and the result was always a pleasant surprise. Although I apply them lightly, my samples are running out quickly, so I'll have to make a choice soon – how I wish they came in 50mL! My beloved Ambre Fétiche is not suitable for early mornings at the office; the other two are much more sensible in that respect, and they'd probably get more 'mileage' for that very reason. I'll wait for the fourth Orientaliste before I make my decision. (Although deep down I know: it *has* to be Ambre Fétiche!)

  12. Anonymous says:

    Hi Marcello: since these ARE layering scents why isn't there a set of three 1 oz bottles? Talk to the Annick Goutal folks about that!

  13. Anonymous says:

    There is if you feel like spending 500 euro on that 50 ml. parfum set ;-)), but yes, surely a more affordable coffret would have been great! Perhaps that will come once the 4th scent enters the line?

    Either way, very nice review. I own Ambre Fetiche and love it with a passion right now. Such luxurious warmth with that underlying hint of sensuality. Go for it, Marcello!

  14. Anonymous says:

    Tried these in Paris shortly before they were released. Loved EF best, then AF, then MA… not a big myrrhe fan as I get a very strong mushroom note from it, just like SL's La Myrrhe. After only one small spritz though I can't say which I'd prefer over the long run, but I am a major incense fan and can't wait for these to arrive in the US.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I wouldn't mind a 50mL version (I like that volume, and I'm not big on layering myself), but you're right: 1 oz / 30mL would be even better for the reason you mentioned. I'm going to Paris next month, I'll see if I can forward your suggestion to the right people :-)

  16. Anonymous says:

    I am not jumping up and down over these. What is that stage of a perfumista where you still feel compelled to sample everything, and yet everything you sample smells boring and unoriginal? That's where I am, and these three AG's fit right in.

  17. Anonymous says:

    :-)) Actually, I'm glad you bring up those details about the coffret. I saw it in the press kit, and simply assumed it was 3x100mL EdP in a very expensive case.

  18. Anonymous says:

    I liked these, but now you make me think that i need to go and really spritz them on…

  19. Anonymous says:

    BrothaG: a white leather jewelbox is SO not me!

  20. Anonymous says:

    Marcello: I assumed the same thing…the press kit and photos were SLIM this go-round — the same two photos were used for everything press-wise it seems.

  21. Anonymous says:

    M: you are now the official rep for the 30ML Contingent of Perfumistas/Perfumistos United for Manageable Perfume Collections, NST Division.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Cazaubon: too bad about myrrh=mushroom for you. Myrrh is one of my top five favorite perfume notes: I've told those who must know: break the bank and put shovelfuls of myrrh on my funeral pyre before it's set aflame! HAHAHA!

  23. Anonymous says:

    Keeter! You are now a sufferer of la maladie: 'Je Déteste Les Parfums, Non-Contagieuse'! Don't buy any more samples and swear off all fragrances for six weeks…at least. Your chances of recovery are very good if you follow my orders, K, M.D., PhD

    (Bela, if you're reading this, spare me The Slap of the Day! for terrible French usage!)


  24. Anonymous says:

    Tom: they BEG to be applied with a free hand…if you have a sample vial? Pour the whole thing on at once…if the application forms a rivulet from neck to navel — you did good, K

  25. Anonymous says:

    I thought they were inspired by the Bible (the presents given to Jesus) and not by harem beauty rituals. I don't find anything sensual/opulent in them but rather a sober approach, close to what a divine gift might be. At least in France the “communication” for Christmas was rather “catholic” than “oriental”. Did Goutal promote the perfume in USA with this arabian touch, or am I misinformed?

  26. Anonymous says:

    I need to try this line! But I am systematically working my way through about 50 plus samples at the moment.
    Not enough noses on my head.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Since I first reported that here in English, thought I'd include the original French text from

    “Inspirées par les peintures du XIXème siècle évoquant les soins de beauté des harems, les créatrices…”

    and from the AG Rotterdam website:

    “Three priceless treasures inspired Camille Goutal and Isabelle Doyen. They were bewitched by the splendor, light and atmosphere; captivated by the Orient and its mysteries” — note that the Rotterdam site does not mention harems, but there is a painting of women in a harem on the Les Orientaliste page.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Should have made this more clear — they have not as yet promoted the fragrances in the US at all, since they are not for sale here yet.

  29. Anonymous says:

    OC/NST: And to add more: I did read about the Goutal “harem” theme in several online editions of French fashion/beauty magazines…

  30. Anonymous says:

    Kim: ain't it the truth! Every sample I smell these days brings to mind another perfume I can't remember the name of…brain space/memory banks are depleted.

  31. Anonymous says:

    Hahaha! Thanks for the laugh, K!

  32. Anonymous says:


    These new AGs sound great; although, I completely agree with you on the “orientalist” (pun-intended!) imagery that is often relied upon to sell perfume–it amazes me, as someone who did graduate work in the history of the Middle East and contemporary Orientalism, that this stuff still works! I suppose we're stuck with it, as long as the buying public prefers their perfumes to have French names and Eastern pedigrees…..

  33. Anonymous says:

    HopeB: everyone seems to love those images of the harem and the “happy concubine”. The more I've worn Les Orientalistes the more I like them, and I've decided when my bottle of Ambre Sultan runs out, I'll replace it with Ambre Fetiche…I only need ONE amber so it should be a new one! I'm afraid I fall into the language trap myself: everything sounds better in French except perhaps “August”….

  34. Anonymous says:

    L'Artisan parfumeur puts out three bottle sets of their scents as well as another 5 bottle set as well. The three bottle set was with their Saffron, Piment Brulant and Piment Piquant- not really the same as this trio but similar in emotives…Too bad Annick Goutal does not market her scents the same way. My friend layers Jo Malone fragrances as well…

  35. Anonymous says:

    smellfetish: L'Artisan's sets usually include scents I don't like or scents that I already have in 50ml size…never satisfied. I have noticed a few men's releases recently coming in 30ml sizes…a GOOD trend.

  36. Anonymous says:

    I got samples of these from Andyfrog on Ebay, and I really only like the Myrrhe Ardente,and the Ambre Fetishe. The Encens Flamboyant smells really burnt on me and triggers an instant migraine. Has anyone else had that problem? The Myrrhe is my favorite out of the three.

  37. Anonymous says:

    Oh dear, no, I didn't have any such problem w/ any of them. I was surprised to find I liked Myrrhe best too though — it isn't usually a favorite note of mine.

  38. Anonymous says:

    I have to say I agree th Myrrhe Ardent is my favourite too though it has a slightly offputting medicinal, cough syrup (cherry flavoured?) type head note. Layering it with Encens Flamboyant cleared that cough up and both made a nicely rich, woody resinous brew. This was my best experience with all four. I managed to get Musc Nomade in a sample too from TPC but to me the SL MKK and FM Musc R are more interesting musks, and the amber, well, just smells amber. It's like hearing a rich constant cello note played at one pitch and dynamic all the time (interesting for a while to contemplate the timbre and the harmonic resonances, but then you yearn for the Dvorak Cello concerto complete). But I can see it would make a nice base for something like Eau d'Hermes or enrich Diptyque's Eau Lente. In fact, in another experiment, the Amber and Musc worked ok together but tended towards being sickly sweet. At these levels of exclusivity, however, they are awfully expensive layering excercises! I'd be happy to receive them as a gift though!

  39. Anonymous says:

    They ARE lovely layered! So far I have tried the Myrrhe Ardent and the Encens Flamboyant, as you did Santemon. Makes me think of the holidays, probably the balsam fir in the Encens.

    Could these be the 3 mythical gifts the Magi brought to the manger? Some say the 'gold' mentioned is rose oil, which I can accept given that I love rose, but it could just as easily be amber, could it not? '~)

    The Ambre Fetiche and the Encens Flamboyant worn together are prefect for fall weather, in my humble opinion. And today I am wearing the Encens with Mandragore…very nice.

    I have samples of these 3 and will be receiving the Musc Nomade soon. Can't wait to try layering these with some of my floral AGs. These are one/some? of the new fall releases that have lived up to my expectations. Yeah!

  40. Anonymous says:


    Could it be the Mandrake in the Mandragore has me thinking of Harry Potter?

  41. Anonymous says:

    Kevin, these arrived in Vancouver six short days ago and already stocks are getting dangerously low; I just bought the last bottle of Myrrhe Ardente a couple of hours ago, after debating the relative merits of all four Orientalistes overnight from generous spritzes to wrists and backs of hands yesterday (no samples, grrr).

    I'm not good at picking up musk unless it's something in the form of MKK, so that one didn't do much, but loved Ambre Fetiche and Encens Flamboyant. Yes, the Ambre. as you mentioned, was rather sweet but pulsated beautifully (love that description of yours!) and the Encens was cool and lovely. But OMIGOD, the Myrrhe Ardente was edible, it was so delicious. I got that honeyed quality, a glowing, creamy myrrh, and a nice whack of warm spices — very round and rich, yet fine-grained and almost elegant. Thanks so much for the excellent reviews; I never forgot what you wrote about them, so was keeping my eyes peeled for their arrival. Thank goodness you wrote so evocatively, or I would have missed the boat on their stock, and god knows when this little city of ours would get more stock. Waaaiiillll. We are definitely in the backwaters sometimes, way up here. . .

  42. Anonymous says:

    Robin: I can't smell the musk fragrance at all…yep, the musk molecule must be too big to fit up my nose! HA! I'm still going back and forth between Myrrhe Ardente and Ambre Fetiche…I'm down to my last drops of Ambre Sultan so AF may win! I always think of Vancouver as the Holy Grail of perfume in the NW, you seem to get scents before Seattle, but Les Orientalistes ARE in Seattle…so come on down if you need 'em!

  43. Anonymous says:

    Gosh, Kevin, our little burg a Holy Grail??!!! That's so exciting. I always think we get so shortchanged up here in The Great White North because we don't have all the gorgeous niche scents I keep reading about on the blogs, but then I guess there are very few places which actually DO!!

    LOL at the molecule/nostril comment.

    Maybe you'll need both ambers, Kevin. Heaven knows you deserve them!!!


    Robin from Vancouver

  44. Anonymous says:

    P.S. If you would like to swap some of your Ambre Fetiche for some of my Myrrhe Ardente, I'm rrazzell on MUA!!! Seriously, it's SO cheap to snail-mail a little envelope down to Seattle.

  45. Anonymous says:

    Tested the Myrrhe today and almost scrubbed it immediately due to the head note! My patience was rewarded about 15 minutes later. I had Parfums de Rosine Rose Poussiere on (from earlier in the day) and the mix was fabulous – but potentially quite overwhelming. This one is great in small doses. I applied it 6 hours ago and still smell it.

  46. Anonymous says:

    Omigosh, I thought I was the only one in the world who knew about L'Occitane's Eau d'Iparie. I love it. It's one of those deceptively well-behaved scents beneath which is lurking smoldering sex appeal and true beauty. Wow. Pennies a sprtiz, too. I'm going to spray on a TON of it tonight in your honour.

    I also love just drenching myself in scent to really LIVE in a big cloud of it and know it inside and out. You're so right about those little dabs: it's like the tiniest sip of wine. It just doesn't work. You really need a generous mouthful for it to hit all of your tastebuds and to feel the weight and texture and concentration of it. Yippee!

  47. Anonymous says:

    Kevin , what you had to say about the non-exotic life of a harem member was very good to read , thank-you. Your reviews were very helpful indeed. I'd like to try Armani Prive Bois Encens but the price is too much. This sounds like a good alternative. The mention of pine is interesting as when wearing pure frankincense it starts to smell very much like pine in quite a short time.

  48. Anonymous says:

    Kevin , I like what you say about the inhumanity not exoticism of harems. I also lovethat you've helped me decide which of these three perfumes I'll like most. I'd like Armani Prive Bois encensbut it's rather too expensive .

  49. Anonymous says:

    R: I never bought a full bottle of Ambre Fetiche…these days I sample so many fragrances I don't have time for my “bottles”…it's sad, so I barely bought a full bottle of anything in 2008!

  50. Anonymous says:

    Stich: the Armani is nice…but thank goodness it does not last on me! HA! I'm saving money!

  51. Anonymous says:

    Think of your lucky bank balance compared to mine!

  52. Oana says:

    I am going back to my home country and they do have Les Orientalistes in the niche perfume shop. I cant wait to test it and I dont know why but since the first time I’ve heard of Ambre Fetiche I am going nuts. I kind of feel I am going to love it. Hope it wont disappoint me :)

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