A mostly linear fragrance, Heure Exquise—like the film I am comparing it too—doesn’t require a complex unfolding of elements to create a profound sense of beauty. As any romantic can tell you, the most potent element in any formula is that rare and precious thing we call chemistry. Whether it happens instantly or develops over time, true rapport is the only thing that matters. When the sky deepens and the evening star appears on the horizon to wink at the moon, I will always be looking up—and I’ll forget again to write the review I planned, the one where I compare perfume to art that hangs on walls.

Annick Goutal Heure Exquise: Exquisite Chemistry

Suzanne's Perfume Journal

September 15, 2011:

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You wouldn’t have to visit my perfume journal often to realize that I’m an incurable romantic, embarrassing as it is to admit at my age. Whenever I smell a perfume that is either really beautiful or incredibly sexy, I think of romance or sex, although on occasion I might think of a stirring landscape, for those figure quite strongly in my personal psychology, too. Rarely do I think of comparing a perfume to a painting, sculpture, or a piece of architecture, which is odd and rather inconvenient, considering I minored in Art History in college. I would love to tell you that when I smell Annick Goutal Heure Exquise, I envision Egon Schiele’s Boats Mirrored in the Water or even Van Gogh’s Starry Night, but that is not the case. When I smell Heure Exquise—in English, the “exquisite hour”—I think of dusky city walls and the twilit streets that lovers walk down when they are first finding each other. I think of the quiet intoxication of Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke’s one-night romance in the 1995 film, Before Sunrise.

Consider that film for a moment: it’s about the chance meeting of two people who have immediate chemistry and only a small window of time to get to know one another. They’re both riding a train—she’s on her way home to Paris, he’s due to catch a flight home to the United States the next morning from Vienna, the city they are quickly nearing and where, unable to afford a hotel, he’s planning to pass the evening and, in fact, the entire night, roaming the city streets. When they arrive and it’s time for him to disembark, he asks her to consider the crazy thing one normally wouldn’t entertain under such a brief acquaintance—to get off the train with him and continue the conversation they’ve only a short time ago struck up, keeping him company until his plane leaves early the next day. She agrees, and their romance—and thus, the entire film itself—takes the form of a running conversation between two people who are connecting and baring their souls to each other for the first time. It’s one of those films in which there is little plot, yet the experience of watching it feels real and deeply engaging. It’s also a film that strikes me as far greater than the sum of its parts, creating a sense of magic—natural magic, the kind we yearn for and think is reasonable to believe in—mainly through dialogue, tastefully simple cinematography, and the chemistry of the two actors playing the parts. And that’s the way the perfume I am finally going to talk about strikes me, too: magical in a way that is greater than the sum of its parts.

When I smell Heure Exquise, I smell its four distinct notes—galbanum, rose, orris, and sandalwood—as if they stand out in high relief from whatever other notes constitute the fragrance. They are easy for my nose to separate out, and because each one is so distinct, it gives me the impression (or the illusion) that here is a remarkably simple perfume formula. Even so, the way these notes interact with each other is nothing short of stunning: they have immediate and perfect chemistry, each of them winking at one another and seeming to operate on some kind of axis by which they continually pair off and perform pas de deux’s, exchanging partners back and forth. The galbanum and orris have a masculine bent in this fragrance; the rose and sandalwood here are über feminine. I suppose that if any one note “steals the show” for me, it’s the rose: it’s lush and tea-like and pretty as all get out. Flirting with the creamiest sandalwood note I’ve smelled in a long time, it only gets prettier.

Other perfume reviewers have referred to the orris in this fragrance as powdery, but I find just the opposite. Orris sometimes presents itself to my nose as having a stiff leather smell (like the smell of a very new pair of shoes) before turning powdery, and this more austere expression of orris is what I predominantly smell in Heure Exquise. Reinforced by the green galbanum note, it lends a deep, twilight-sky feeling to the fragrance that makes the lush rose and sandalwood notes pop, as if they are the blinking points of light in this olfactory firmament.

Annick Goutal Heure Exquise eau de parfum can be purchased from a number of boutiques and department stores, including Nordstrom, where a 100-ml bottle is currently priced at $120. My review is based on a spray sample sent to me courtesy of my fellow perfume blogger Undina.

Images: movie still from the 1995 film, Before Sunrise, featuring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy is from www.cinema.de; Annick Goutal Heure Exquise bottle photo is from Nordstrom.com.