One Thousand Scents

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sugar Shock: Myrrhe Ardente by Annick Goutal (eventually)

I had a revelation.

A few weeks ago I spent some time talking about my newfound (or newly reawakened) love of ink, and to a much lesser extent the pens with which to employ them, and since then, this has happened:

First I ended up subscribing to what amounts to an ink-of-the-month club at Goulet Pens: ten bucks gets you five curated 2-mL samples, and my first batch contained one ink I'll probably never use (magenta), two I never would have thought to buy but will enjoy trying (shades of green), and two more that it will be fun to play with (a bright blue and a weird sepia black).

And then, well, I won't bore you with the details except to tell you that that bottle of ink up there, a limited edition called Bleu Ocean by J. Herbin (I already have six of their regular cartridge inks because I do not waste any time), is in the post and on its way to me. It went on sale at Goulet Pens on Thursday at 2 p.m. my time, and within twenty-four minutes, every bottle that Goulet had was spoken for. And one of them has my name on it, and soon it shall be mine!

Now, as Robin over on Now Smell This has said regarding fragrances, "$100 is the new free." A department-store scent is going to cost you upwards of $50 for a 50-mL bottle, and niche scents pretty much start at $100 (there are exceptions, like Etat Libre d'Orange, currently $80). You'll pay $155 for a Frapin, $250 on up for an Amouage, and apparently if you have to ask how much JAR scents cost, you might as well not even bother. I've paid $120 for a Serge Lutens and not batted an eye, because I knew it was worth it to me. I have also on a couple of occasions paid $140 for a Lutens and most definitely hesitated over it, but then done it anyway because of the pleasure it would bring me: I've never had the nerve to buy any of the $200 bottles. (I would like to note for the record that I am not some insane spendthrift: I have a few little obsessions that I indulge, but I don't have a car or a house or any other big money pit, so I can do this from time to time with a clear conscience.)

In the discussions about the new Herbin ink, Brian Goulet said, "$22 for a 50ml bottle of ink is certainly a premium price", and my first thought was, "Yeah, that's kind of a lot of money for ink," which usually runs between $8 and $15 depending on the manufacturer and the bottle size. And then I realized, "No, wait a minute: $22 for a 50-mL bottle of liquid is a STEAL." If it were a fragrance, it would be so cheap as to be negligible. And a bottle of ink is probably going to last you about as long as a bottle of perfume, and if you have a bunch of them and switch them around a lot then they'll last (in aggregate) just about forever. The Herbin limited edition is niche, that's all, just like Pelikan Edelstein

and Caran d'Ache

(both about $25): Pilot Iroshizuku

is the JAR of the ink world at $35 a pop, and like niche scents they are all packaged in particularly beautiful (in fact jewel-like) bottles with gorgeous packaging.

And that was where I had my revelation: ink people and fragrance people are exactly the same. Exactly the same. They discuss the tiny differences between this one and that one, and collect many subtle variations of the same thing. They stock up when something might be going out of production. They admire or disdain the bottles and boxes. They collect and treasure their little bottles of liquids. They buy, make, and swap samples. They complain about the price. They trade tips about methods of storing the bottles and the unwieldy little sample vials that multiply like rabbits. They worry about reformulation and the possibility of spoilage and spillage. They obsess.

In other words, ink people are my people. I don't know why I didn't realize it sooner.


I have never found an Annick Goutal that I loved enough to buy a bottle of. I had a bottle of Eau de Charlotte for a while: I got it in a swap and I wore it for a bit and then I swapped it back away, because it was appealing enough (blackberry jam and cocoa) but not me. Eau de Fier is interesting and compelling but not especially attractive. Eau d'Hadrien is fundamentally boring, I think. I tried Rose Absolute last month and boy did I ever not like that. I might not even want to write about Duel because I really don't get it — I think it's hateful. And as for Myrrhe Ardente (currently $135), well....

I love reasonably sweet scents, I love myrrh, and I love the contrast between bitter and sweet (as in Lutens' yummy Douce Amere), but Myrrhe Ardente has a touch of that bitterness we expect and a whole lot of sweet, with a strange artificiality to it that resembles waxed paper or coated cardstock. It is incredibly single-minded, really no development, just that hint of myrrh drowned in buckets of olfactory sucrose. It's more than just cloying: it's overwhelming. Wearing it for a quarter hour is like eating a package of Marshmallow Peeps, box, plastic wrapper and all. Wearing it for longer is like eating an entire case of them.


  • Being no fan of Myrrhe Ardente, I might have passed this post over, but thank heavens I clicked. You've shown me an entirely new dimension to ink. As an artist, I have gone through intense loyalties to various India inks-- FW Black was the supreme ink for its incredible depth-- it seemed to swallow light like a black hole; FW White was purely, entirely opaque and so bright, never diluting or washing out. I have a vintage 32 oz. standard "schoolroom" bottle of Hunt Superblack which dries on the page like lacquer or enamel; it's down to its dregs, but I hoard it like gold. Sax, Winsor Newton... these were poor cousins. But until I read this post, I had no idea of the levels of beauty that the bottling & presentation could reach. *cries & covets*

    By Blogger olenska, at 12:06 PM  

  • I've got a mini of Myrhh Ardente upstairs that I'll have to revisit. And how fascinating that ink has its connoseurs as well. Recently I was chatting about my perfume obsession with an aide at my son's school, and she got it because her husband is the same way with cigars: reads blogs, gets samples in the mail, takes notes on the different flavors, and every Saturday afternoon smokes just one cigar.

    By Blogger Dionne, at 10:57 PM  

  • Everything, I guess, has its obsessive devotees. At least ink obsessives get off fairly cheaply, all things considered (although they do have to own fountain pens, and with not many exceptions those are just crazy expensive). The cigar thing doesn't surprise me at all. Just as there are perfume people and ink people, there are wine people and whisky people and yarn people and watch people: any small consumable is going to strike some group as fascinating and desirable and worthy of collecting and obsessing over.

    And Olenska, if you think those ink bottles are beautiful, and they are, you should see the boxes they come in. No expense spared to make them covetable. And you do know that Hunt Super Black is still in production, right? Like perfume, it might have been reformulated, for all I know, but it's out there, and you can still buy 32-ounce bottles if you so desire. For $20!

    By Blogger pyramus, at 4:03 AM  

  • You may find what Octavius has to say interesting on his latest blog on paper and ink;)

    By Blogger Howard, at 5:18 PM  

  • I see u recently wore Lutens' Santal Blanc. I scurried to Barneys after reading your toothsome review on Jeux de Peau but failed to make the same association even after spraying them on each arm & sniffing them the rest of the day. All I got was the lingering richness of baked goods in the drydown; good but not the 2 for 1 sale @ the Saint Serge's bakery! Could I ask you to elaborate on their similarities as you were certain that it wasn't just any sandalwood, BUT Santal Blanc..

    By Blogger Howard, at 5:19 PM  

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