One Thousand Scents

Friday, February 15, 2008

Rich and Strange: Clinique Aromatics Elixir

The opening of Aromatics Elixir is turbulent: soapy greenery, as if you'd washed a ficus in the shower with Ivory Liquid, immediately followed by a blunt-edged bitterness which will be a continuing theme. This bitterness comes from chamomile, softened, a little, by the first intimations of the floral heart.

The core of the scent is an armload of flowers, huge opulent quantities of them; rose and jasmine, as usual, but also carnation and ylang-ylang, lily of the valley, and orange-flower. And yet the scent doesn't quite read as a floral. The flowers are there, unapologetically, but the bitterness of the top note remains, and the strongest base notes, oakmoss and patchouli, are already making themselves known. Aromatics Elixir is like no other floral scent on the market; it is the scent of flowers cruelly imprisoned in a chypre cage.

Hours later, the drydown of the scent doesn't sound like anything special; it consists of notes you can find in a hundred, a thousand other scents--vetiver, patchouli, and oakmoss, unsurprisingly, because it is a chypre, but also ambergris and sandalwood and musk. And yet it is not merely warm or lush, though it is those things, and certainly not comforting: laced with the souls of all those dead flowers, and still one last trace of that signature bitterness, it is almost otherworldly, very much in keeping with the offbeat nature of the scent.

I first smelled it and the equally strange Wrappings, Clinique's second women's scent (a piercing and extremely green floral chypre in a fittingly angular bottle, released in 1990), at about the same time, and it seemed to me that this was part of a corporate strategy*; the company, I thought, was saying, "These aren't for everyone. Are you one of the elect? Can you handle them? Huh?" A lot of people can't; there is plenty of hatred for Aromatics Elixir, and it's not hard to see why. This is a scent that refuses to play nice. (Over the years I've had a love-hate relationship with it; sometimes the inherent viciousness of it amazes and delights me, and sometimes it's awful, a scrubber. It's like a Rorschach test that changes every time you take it.)

I can imagine what a shock Aromatics Elixir must have been in 1971, when it was launched; even next to YSL's Rive Gauche and Chanel No. 19 from the same year, not to mention all the other women's scents of the time, it stands out as something uncompromising and a little aloof. It's a declaration of independence.

* The strategy, if it was one, changed in 1997 with the release of Happy, a standard pretty-floral scent. Since then they've been churning out mostly flankers of the scent, plus a marginally novel floral-oriental, Simply. Happy, of course, was a huge seller, and so the rest of the company's offerings were no surprise; when there's money to be made, strangeness and artistry generally go out the window, so everything they've released in the last ten years has been of a piece with modern commercial perfumery. However, they did create a brilliant men's scent, Chemistry, in 1994, and they're still making it, along with Aromatics Elixir, so it isn't as if they've completely gone over to the dark side.


  • Hi!

    I really enjoy your posts! I was wondering if you would be able to insert my link into your website...if so, I greatly appreciate it! Looking forward to your next entry.

    <3 Eva

    By Blogger Unknown, at 1:18 AM  

  • Inherent viciousness is right! I've tried to love this scent since it first came out, to no avail. Just picked up a bottle at an estate sale and will probably pass it on. I feel like the veriest piker cause I cannot love it....but it's never boring!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:29 PM  

  • When he leaned over and said I smelled beautiful, I knew Aromatics would be my fragance! It's a fragrance that lingers - but doesn't overpower. I find the complexity to be one of it best assets. No bouquet of a thousand flowers - more like a chinese puzzle box with drawer after drawer being opened. And with each drawer, a new sensation. P.S. a male co-worker just complimented me on my perfume.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:42 PM  

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