More than a decade has passed since I purchased my first bottle of Ce Soir ou Jamais. Its creator, the late Annick Goutal, called it the scent of her life.
The French perfumer launched an upscale perfume house following a career as a pianist, and later as a fashion model. It was a chance encounter with a perfumer from Grasse that led her to discover her true talent for blending beautiful fragrances, and in 1980, according to the perfume house’s website, “Annick Goutal began an artistic, olfactory journey that led to the creation of a successful brand.”
Her delicate, yet intense floral fragrance, Ce Soir ou Jamais, my favorite of all the Annick Goutal perfumes, is composed of 160 secret ingredients—including many pure essential oils extracted from nature. This liquid flower is to the nose as Moet & Chandon Dom Perignon Charles & Diana 1961 is to the palate. (Not that I’ve ever sipped this champagne, but I’ve read about it and can only imagine.)
The fragrance of Ce Soir ou Jamais is reminiscent of a Turkish rose surrounded by hibiscus, ambrette, and patchouli, and it smells like a delicate and very real rose—not a synthetic flower from a laboratory. I think that’s why this perfume touched me so deeply—and continues to resonate with me to this day—on an almost primordial level. As an artisan perfumer who hand-blends natural fragrances, Ce Soir ou Jamais is the only perfume I will wear that is not 100 percent natural.
To call it a special fragrance doesn’t do it justice. It is a gift for those who view the world through an olfactive lens—and for the hopelessly romantic.
Ce Soir ou Jamais. The English translation is tonight or never. Even its name intrigues, and hints at romance.
Roots of Inspiration
Annick Goutal wrapped all of her perfumes in stories. Her scents were inspired—not based on mass market appeal. Naturally, I jumped to the conclusion that a man was the inspiration behind Ce Soir ou Jamais, with the perfumer creating it as an ultimatum. My mind immediately wandered over to, “He either asks me to marry him tonight, or fini! It’s over.”
I mean, wouldn’t your mind go there, too? Ce Soir ou Jamais. Tonight or never. Right?
But several years ago, a saleswoman behind the perfume counter at the flagship Saks gave me the real scoop. As I went to pay for my precious potion, she whispered, in an I-have-a-secret voice, “Do you know the story behind this perfume?”
I said that I did not know the official narrative, but I had a pretty good idea of what it might be.
As if she could read my mind, she quickly responded, “It’s not what you think.”
At that moment, I was spellbound—held captive on Fifth Avenue by a woman selling me an expensive bottle of perfume and telling me a romantic story, but not romantic in the way I had assumed. The saleswoman recounted that Ce Soir ou Jamais was Annick Goutal’s interpretation of a rose she stumbled upon in a priest’s garden, and she had worked with great determination for 15 years to recreate her experience of the ethereal scent.
When the perfumer was finally able to capture the fragrance, her business advisors told her she could not launch it in the marketplace because it was too expensive to produce. The markup would need to be very high – thereby making it cost prohibitive for people to purchase. Her advisors predicted a costly flop. They said, “No.”
Not giving up, Annick Goutal set out to win her way and share her fragrant masterpiece with the world. There was one night, in particular, when she realized that if she couldn’t persuade her business investors to finally see things her way—and immediately, it would end up being too late. She had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. For Annick Goutal, it really was ce soir ou jamais. Tonight or never.
Leaving a legacy of some 20-plus fragrances in her library, the perfumer passed away in 1999 at age 53. Today, her work is continued by her daughter. The perfume house still produces Ce Soir ou Jamais, but the fragrance remains elusive and difficult to find.
I love the story the saleswoman behind the perfume counter at Saks shared with me. And based on my own due diligence, I believe, for the most part, it is true.
Sensory + cerebral
When was the last time you stopped to smell the flowers? Or watch a sunset? Or listen to the birds sing? Or sip some really wonderful wine? Or hug a friend? I’m not being accusatory; I’m guilty of sensory neglect, too.
However, it is when we marry our senses—sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch—with our magnificent mind that we are at our most human and in balance with the world around us. When this equilibrium is achieved, it translates positively to all areas of our life.
Too often we sacrifice senses to the cerebral. And this is especially true at work, where the emphasis is on using our mind rather than engaging our senses. But it's not an “either-or” proposition. What’s best is a combination of sensory and cerebral. When we are in this balanced state, we are able to view things honestly, unleash our creativity, and make solid, rational decisions.
I once heard someone describe the mind as a bully and caution that if we’re not careful, it can completely consume us. We all have times when we’re guilty of overthinking things. When our mind is running amok, that’s when we especially need to consciously tune in to our senses and push the re-set button. Stop by a market on your commute to work and pick up a bouquet of flowers for your desk. Listen to Bach or Mozart. Engage your human senses, even in small ways, and you will begin to see positive changes in yourself that can lead to great possibilities.
Remember the inspiration behind Ce Soir ou Jamais. One woman stopped to smell a rose in a church garden, and her entire world blossomed.