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Estée Lauder Sensuous Noir

Say ‘Estée Lauder fragrances’ and what comes to mind?  Light, airy, pretty – and wearable, sure.  But – with the exception of Youth Dew, that turbo-charged oriental which kickstarted the whole Lauder Empire – rarely is the word ‘sexy’ conjured up.

Well, light the blue touch paper and retire – because here comes Sensuous Noir, which I predict will not only change how many scent-lovers regard the Lauder portfolio, but even entice quite a few true scentophiles away from their niche fragrance loves to enjoy a mass market fragrance that – well, it just doesn’t smell like a mass market fragrance.  (You know what I mean.  There’s no obvious peach or raspberry in there, and it’s way too sophistiquée for a teenager to dab on her gel-bra-ed décolletage.)

When the original Estée Lauder Sensuous was launched in 2008, quite a few of my fellow beauty editors fell for it hook, line and swirly glass bottle.  And personally, The Scent Critic is a long-term fan of Karyn Khoury, Lauder’s resident fragrance genius, and has a huge amount of of time for creations like Pleasures – which created a whole category of ‘sheer’ scents – and Beyond Paradise.  Khoury actually has her finger in many fragrant Lauder pies (including the masterful Tom Ford range and Aerin Lauder’s twists on her grandmother’s Private Collection).  But still, I am happy to go on record as saying:  I think Sensuous Noir is Karyn Khoury’s best yet, and I hope that the wider fragrance public – much of which sadly seems to want to smell like a tropical fruit salad, right now – ‘gets it’, too.

From the first soft hit – as gentle as being biffed by a baby’s fist in an angora glove – this is fah-bu-lous.  It’s said to be an ‘after-dark’ version of Estée Lauder Sensuous, and there’s a defiite echo of some of the same notes, described as ‘Molten Woods’, and a gently nose-tingling crunch of black pepper, too, which takes the edge of the dripping-with-honey heart notes.

Ah, the notes.  Lauder have one quirky habit.  And a note is not a mere note:  it often gets a clever name that sets it apart from everyone else’s perfumes.  So here we have Spiced Lily (oh, I am loving those gentle spices – a veritable Dean & Deluca rack of them), Purple Rose, those Molten Woods, Crème Noir…  Get the drift?  This ‘tweaking’ and renaming of ingredients thing is a very American signature.  Yet this fragrance itself doesn’t smell in the least ‘American’.  (The Scent Critic likes to play a game when I smell a new perfume and guess which side of the Atlantic it was created on. I’d have put my money on Europe for Sensuous Noir, if blindfolded for my first encounter rather than discovering it over tea at The Langham Hotel with the perfumer herself.)

Where the original Sensuous is very ambery, it’s a patchouli element that tethers this and endows Noir with its sexy, earthy quality.  (Characteristically Lauder refer to it as ‘Patchouli Prisma’, but patchouli by any other name would smell as divinely exotic, to The Scent Critic.  I’m almost as crazy for patchouli as for vetiver.)  Of course the other patchouli-rich scent in the Lauder portfolio is Youth Dew – and if I close my eyes and breathe very deeply, I get the sense that in the most reverent way Sensuous Noir subtly pays tribute to that pioneering Oriental, first marketed as a bath oil, which put Estée Lauder on the perfume map and muscled right in on the French.  (Who’d pretty much had it all their own way, scent-wise, till the 1950s.)

This stays soft – and, yes, sensual – throughout the Burt Bacharach-ishly smooth progression from top to heart to base notes.  It’s come-hither and snugglesome, at the same time:  sexy and cocooning.  It’s intimate rather than shout-y.  It’s a samba, not a tango.  But –  a very good sign, this -  The Scent Critic’s ultra-efficient right-handmaiden gushed, ‘Oooh, that’s l-o-v-e-l-y’ as she drifted within range.  (We do have our ‘Eeeew’ moments.  We really do.)

Bottom line:  it’s going straight on my dressing table.  (There’s no finer compliment.)  Karyn, go home, take the afternoon off and pour yourself a glass of champagne. Charge it to Leonard!  You deserve it.  (NB  Karyn does give full credit to Anna Buzantian, who worked on this scent with her.  Well, pour her a glass, too!)  And I hope Sensuous Noir encourages the world’s fragrance-wearers to wake up, smell the Purple Rose (and the Patchouli Prisma) – and put fruit salad back on the dessert menu, where it belongs.  Not behind their ears.

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