I fought tooth and nail to get my hands on a vintage-ish bottle of Annick Goutal’s Heure Exquise, and each time I wear it, I am less and less convinced that the juice was worth the squeeze. Yes, the sandalwood in the drydown is gloriously real, yes, the rose is a powdery delight, and yes, the iris is the starchiest, whitest Irish linen tablecloth you ever did touch. But given the ocean of sharp, musky green soap you have to wade through to get to them, I wonder if I’d have been better off investing in another bottle of 1980s Samsara. Until I remember that I’m not terribly fond of that one either.
I have no real criticism to levy at Heure Exquise in particular. Viewed under any even halfway objective lens, it is a beautiful fragrance. It is just that my soul remains unstirred by green, aldehydic fragrances that draw on galbanum for their emotive power.
My problem, however, is that I am also drawn to the evocative descriptions of the scent’s retro, womanly charm whenever it is reviewed. I project myself onto these descriptions, imagining myself to be the type of woman – elegant, fastened-up, but undeniably sensual – for whom Heure Exquise seems to have been created.
But not only am I not that woman, once on the skin, Heure Exquise and its ilk (yes, the whole genre) smells dated to me. Chanel No. 19, Annick Goutal Heure Exquise, Chanel Cristalle, Ormonde Jayne Tiare, Guerlain Chamade, Lancôme Climat, Amouage Gold Woman – all behemoths of classic female ‘power top’ perfumery – are scents that I respect but cannot bring myself to love. On the rare occasion that I do wear them, any attempt to mold them to my own personality falls flat and I am left feeling slightly judged (by my own perfume!) for doing unladylike stuff in its presence, like answering emails in my underwear or balancing a bowl of peanuts on my belly as I flick through Netflix.
Still, with Heure Exquise, the am-I-a-dirty-girl-or-am-I-not vibe gives me pause for thought. Past that atmosphere-rip-tear of a virulently green, dry (gaspingly so) galbanum resin, which gives it more than a passing resemblance to Chanel No. 19, Heure Exquise settles into the almost civety-floral aroma of a bar of Chanel No. 5 soap that’s cracking and grey at the edges, making it seem not entirely impossible that this particular lady who lunches may not have changed her underwear in recent memory. I’m not saying that it’s animalic but there is something a little poopy or yeasty about that musk-sandalwood tandem.
And it is precisely this quality of Heure Exquise that makes me cling to my half used bottle. I appreciate a bit of ladylike smut holding its corner against the hospital corners of floral aldehydes (the horsey, slightly grimy undercurrent in both Vega and Cuir de Russie, for example, is exactly why I love those fragrances). But while Heure Exquise is probably the epitome of the classic, feminine power scent and deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Mitsouko and No. 19, I am never 100% myself in it and for that reason, it has got to go.
Source of sample: I bought two bottles of vintage-ish Heure Exquise from the Parfumo Souk in 2021 – the second one only because the first was confiscated en route to me by Dutch customs. I should have taken this as a sign from the universe that this perfume and I are ill-matched. But of course I didn’t.