One Thousand Scents

Friday, October 03, 2008

Difficult: Estee Lauder Sensuous

GOD. I have NEVER had so much trouble writing about a fragrance before. I started wearing Sensuous about ten days ago so I could write about it, and I've hardly worn anything since, using up the entire sample, and I've sat down to write something about it nearly every day since then, and after having written almost TWO complete reviews of it, I'm STILL not happy. I CAN'T FIGURE THIS SCENT OUT. It smells like an amalgam of dozens of other things I've smelled, but not enough like any of them to make this easy on me. How do other bloggers write about a new scent (or more) every day (or more)? HOW? (Yes, I know I did this in June; I still don't know how.)

So fine, whatever. I drank a bunch of Diet Coke, my favourite delivery mechanism for caffeine, the writer's best friend, and forced myself to sit down and finish this thing, and here's what I've got. Sensuous opens pretty dark and pretty sweet, with a hot stewed-fruit quality that resembles Sonia Rykiel's eponymous scent (the one in the short-sleeved-sweater bottle), and, to lesser and varying degrees, Todd Oldham, CSP Mora Bella, Comme Des Garçons White, and Dalissime, and no doubt a bunch of other things as well. There's a hint of underlying freshness, presumably from the listed mandarin-orange note, but mostly it smells cooked, in a very nice way.

Eventually the body of the scent appears, and it's a warm sort-of-woody sort-of-floral with an undercurrent of spice. It smells something like Givenchy Organza Indecence with all the spice notes stripped away or heavily suppressed, and Escada's Casual Friday likewise. The floral element is an extremely minor part of the scent; it's in there, as a nod to the fact that this is aimed at women, but it's not important. Mostly, this is about wood, and if a man doesn't mind a scent that starts off relatively sweet, he would not find people staring at him for wearing Sensuous, because it reads in part as a man's wood scent; the sweetness has deserted the scent by the time it reaches the middle, and while it isn't bone-dry, it's well outside the circumference of what usually constitutes a women's scent these days.

Despite the usual blah-blah about how the scent was "created to evoke the warmest, most sensuous side of a woman", it's not specifically feminine at all, and the advertising, which shows four models of various ages in little else but men's white shirts, does nothing to dispel this impression: it could just about as easily have been used to sell cologne to men--you know, the Axe/Lynx "these hot women will have sex with you if you spray this on your skin" kind of thing.

The burn-down is pleasant, really an extension of the heart of the scent, mostly glowy wood with amber and a honey note that peeks out from time to time. It lasts forever, standing up to a lathery shower without being diminished in the slightest.

The notes are said to be black pepper, mandarin orange pulp, atmospheric florals, molten woods, glowing amber, and addictive honey. Ignoring the rest of the unnecessary (but these days inevitable) adjectives, saying that "molten woods" is a fragrance element strikes me as being very silly, even (or maybe "especially") after reading this quote from the perfumer:

For Sensuous we imagined a fabulous wooden sculpture, and wondered, if you could take all that sleekness, all that sensuality, but then melt it so that it was fluid, almost like a river of wood, what would that smell like?

I don't know. Would it smell like nonsense?

I have no problem with the idea of an abstract scent, but if you melt a sculpture, you don't have a sculpture any more but a pool of hot bronze, and if you try to melt a wooden sculpture, you get the fire department showing up, which might not be a bad thing, but it won't smell anything like Sensuous. I think this is just the copy-writer's way of saying, "No, we promise you will not end up smelling like a pencil sharpener or a hippieful of sandalwood oil." The wood accord doesn't smell like any specific wood; it just smells soft and woody and reassuring. Is that what they meant by "molten"?

If you can ignore the advertising twaddle, Sensuous is a nice addition to the Estee Lauder line, one of the best things they've released in more than a few years. Bless them, too, for making a 30-mL bottle available for those who hate to buy anything more because they know they'll never use it all up. (Lauder used to make everything available in 15-mL bottles; it'd be a shame if they stopped doing that altogether, and it would be nice if Sensuous were available in that size as well, but at least they're not forcing people to buy 50- or 100-mL bottles or even bigger, HERMES and CHANEL and L'ARTISAN.)

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3 Comments:

  • Chemistry is an amazing thing. I wanted to love Sensuous, because I prefer woody scents and liked that EL was trying something different. I went through two samples and couldn't smell much but a faint carmel note that wore off in no time.

    By Blogger Anita, at 7:12 AM  

  • Sensuous was just blah on me. I'm pleased that EL is daring enough to create something other than a fruity floral and perhaps Sensuous is perfect for their target market. I'm already a fan of woody scents so I have a chest full of the woodiest, dry sticks, twigs, firewood and smoky charred remains already. ;-)
    I recently tried Fireside Intense by Sonoma Scent Studio - now THIS is woods (wood + smoke + leathah!). Also, SSS makes Winter Wood and Champagne de Bois which are more examples of woody-nirvana.

    By Blogger Abigail, at 12:41 AM  

  • Oh, look -- here you are! I had you mentally confused with Octavian, of 1000fragrances... whoops.

    I'm gonna go dig up your Demeter reviews.

    In the meantime, I will add here that I am clearly anosmic to some large percentage of Sensuous, and what I found wildly frustrating was the sensation that something was *there* and I can't smell it. I got, essentially, the scent of woody musk fleetingly discovered on some old sweater in the closet. This makes me sad, because I think I would like Sensuous very much if I could smell it.

    By Blogger marchlion, at 2:54 PM  

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