Friday Guest Post: Estee Lauder Sensuous

By Nava

If there was ever any doubt as to whether the behemoth cosmetics and fragrance companies are paying attention to what´s going on in the world of niche fragrances, Estée Lauder´s latest offering, Sensuous, is absolute proof. They have succeeded in bringing a woody feminine scent to the department store masses.

Off the top of my head, I can think of a bunch of niche scents that I love, that are reminiscent of Sensuous. I´ll get to them a little later on. First, I must say that I am not especially adept at comparing a scent to a feeling, or a scenario, the way Luca Turin and Chandler Burr are so spectacularly capable of doing. What I´m aiming for here is to tie this in with my post from last week, bringing my thoughts together with this fragrance and the massive advertising campaign Lauder will most assuredly inundate us with. So far, Sensuous is exclusive to Bloomingdales, and the ads haven´t reached that in-your-face stage yet.

Speaking of the ads, there is a website,, dedicated to the launch of the fragrance. Earlier this week, I received an e-mail from alerting me that the scent is now available online at their site. Much of what is on the launch site is now on their company website as well. They´ve certainly done their homework vis-a-vis the advertising: there is a Q&A section with Aerin Lauder, as well as short videos of the spokesmodels, Hilary Rhoda, Carolyn Murphy, Gwyneth Paltrow and Elizabeth Hurley, explaining what “sensuous” means to them. I´m pleased with how this particular bit of the pitch has been constructed; they picked four women to represent different age groups: Rhoda, the twentysomethings, Murphy and Paltrow, the more introspective thirtysomethings, and finally, Hurley as the elder stateswoman in her early forties. Each woman looks absolutely gorgeous in those androgynous white button-down shirts. And, they look womanly – even Rhoda, the youngest, is photographed to portray a maturity that belies her youth. In keeping with their respective age ranges, each woman defines “sensuous” differently as it relates to their particular stage in life. It all sounds very cerebral and intellectual, but I can´t help but be reminded of the scene in the movie “National Lampoon´s Animal House”, when Eric “Otter” Stratton meets up with Dean Wormer´s wife in the supermarket scene where they debate the sensuality of a cucumber. Mrs. Wormer, being older and more experienced, tells Otter, “Vegetables are sensual, people are sensuous.” Later on, we see a drunken Mrs. Wormer show up at the Delta House toga party and have a Mrs. Robinsonesque encounter with Otter. Although, I don´t think Anne Bancroft´s Mrs. Robinson would have ever been as sloppy as Mrs.Wormer.

For her part, Aerin Lauder espouses some very heartfelt sounding thoughts about their newest fragrance offering. She feels that “Women can be sensual at any age,” and how “Each of our models represents a different side of sensuality. Hilary conveys youth while Carolyn´s classic look communicates elegance. As an actress, Gwyneth brings an emotional range to sensuality and Elizabeth portrays confidence and wisdom.” I was intrigued by her inspiration for the ad campaign, “A great photo of Lauren Hutton in a white shirt from the 1970s. It was so timeless and beautiful.” What would have reeled me in completely would be the inclusion of Ms. Hutton, who is now in her 60s and still gorgeous. “Confidence and wisdom” and beauty, certainly don´t diminish after 50.

While I am reasonably impressed with the images and inspiration behind the scent, I feel the selling of Sensuous is done with the same banal marketing claptrap as a thousand other department store scent launches: “Estée Lauder Sensuous was created to evoke the warmest, most feminine side of a woman.” “Her softness. Her confidence and grace. Her strength.” And, my favorite: “You are luminous. You are real. You are Sensuous.” The groupings of the notes go to great lengths to make the scent sound unique and unlike anything anyone has ever smelled before: The “Atmospheric Florals – feminine and airy. A veil of petal-soft textures: sheer jasmine, Ghost Lily, lush Magnolia, and an exclusive Ylang Essence.” The “Glowing Amber – rich, glowing amber pulses with a warm, luminous, feminine passion.” The “Mandarin Orange Pulp – a surprising accent of Mandarin Orange Pulp creates a touch of juiciness to tantalize the senses.” The “Black Pepper – captivating traces of Black Pepper add mystery to the delicious woodiness and sensuality.” The “Molten Woods – a rich mysterious core of smooth, fluid woods exudes a sleek, modern sensuality.” The “Addictive Honey – addictive nectar-like honey blended into the body of the fragrance enhances the warmth lingering deep within.” At this point, I´d like to invoke another strong, sensuous cinematic female character: Susan Sarandon´s Annie Savoy from that classic baseball film, “Bull Durham”, and say in her breathy, Southern-belle voice, “Oh my…”

So what does Sensuous really smell like? Personally, I get none of the “Atmospheric Florals”. On me it is woody and somewhat peppery, which I love, and turns pleasantly sweet as it dries down, leaving me with the lingering honey note, which I find very nice, but not “Addictive”. There is very little amber, and the “Mandarin Orange Pulp” is barely discernable. What truly surprises me is how lightly this scent wears, since if you rely solely on its description, it sounds like one of those really intense woody-amber scents that for me would be akin to wearing a fur coat to the beach. I am a devoutly seasonal scent-wearer; I retire all my heavy incense-y, woody, peppery, spicy scents when the warm weather arrives and never so much as crave them until the first autumnal chill. My initial sniff of Sensuous came courtesy of a scented strip of ribbon given to me by a salesperson in Bloomingdales. It was a warm day and the ribbon was so thoroughly saturated, I thought there was no way I would be caught dead wearing this in the summertime. When I read Robin´s review on Now Smell This, I had to re-evaluate it, and alas, I concur with her completely when she says that Sensuous “[wears] beautifully in the heat,” and is “appealing to both the niche snob perfumista, as well as the general public.” I couldn´t say it any better myself.

Now, back to what Sensuous reminds me of. I got into woodsy, incense-y, spicy, less gourmand niche scents a few years ago. I sampled many of them and came away with a number of favorites: Satellite Padparadscha – when you want something dry, woody and spicy, there´s nothing better than this one. Donna Karan Black Cashmere – this is my “fur coat on the beach” scent which, on a frigidly cold day, could keep you warm even if you were to stand buck naked at a bus stop during a blizzard. Idole de Lubin – sweet, boozy, almost syrupy woods. I think the noses employed by Estée Lauder might have had a snort or two of this one when Sensuous was in its developmental stages. Profumum Olibanum sits at the summit of the niche woods/incense mountain for me: Sandalwood, incense and the merest hint of orange blossom; this scent is perfection. Finally, the grandmamas of the category, Shiseido´s Feminite du Bois and Serge Lutens´ Bois et Fruits. These last two are quite difficult to get one´s hands on (not that that would deter the lovely March), but if you want a scent somewhere along the lines of these niche beauties, you need look no further than the Estee Lauder counter, and will not have to dig deep into your pocketbook (1 oz. sells for US $39.50) for a surprisingly pleasant, eminently wearable fragrance. Sensuous may not be an original by any stretch, at least not to a niche perfumista like me, but I like it. I really, really like it.


  • Wayclossy says:

    very intresting

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  • whodat says:

    All I can think of is the redneck joke about Sensuous: “Sensuous up, wudja get me another beer?”

    I’ll have to go smell it and see if I’m so enchanted that it wipes the bad jokes from my mind.

  • Jacki says:

    Wonderful review, I will add this to my “need to smell” list right away. It sounds like me but with the mass market scents it’s always luck of the draw. (Good price too!)

  • GGS says:

    HaHaHa at Mrs Wormer quote! You are revealed to be a fellow baby-boomer! :d
    Great article. Look forward to sniffing this one…

  • Elle says:

    Woods? Honey? I’m there. And you’ve reminded me that I have been neglecting Padparascha. Love that scent!
    But…am having a little bit of trouble w/ Elizabeth Hurley being the one associated w/ wisdom. Lovely woman, I’m sure, and intelligent w/out doubt, but wise? I don’t know. Maybe she is. Am not sure Lauren Hutton is wise, but she’s certainly interesting and original and I’d have loved to have seen them use her in the group as well.

  • moi says:

    PR claptrap is right, and almost purple enough to put me off the perfume. But, given my general love for The Estee, both for its mostly brilliant perfumes and manageable price points, I of course look forward to smelling this. Seriously, though, I think the bottle design is a little weak.

  • Kathryn says:

    Hi, Nava. What an interesting post! Your description of the notes make it sound as if Sensuous might be right up one of my several alleys. On the other hand, the familiar “banal marketing claptrap” you describe so well does get me down. As someone relatively new to all this, I am wrestling with the question of whether my efforts to avoid buying into tiresome mass marketing serve only to land me in unnecessarily expensive niche snobbery. The marketing language of niche brands is frequently just as ridiculous, but it is less irritating because it’s less pervasive. And niche brands don’t hire spokesmodels who not only don’t resemble me, but who are, in some ways, antithetical to who I am and want to be. But the thought of Therese Roudnitska, the muse of Le Parfum de Therese–there’s a personal association that I’ll buy in a minute, not just because I love that perfume. I do find it difficult to separate the actual fragrances from all the messages wrapped around them, so the argument between my nose and my pocketbook continues. However, today I’ll resolve that tension by laughing all day at your description of Mrs. Wormer and by trying to figure out how I can get a sample of Profumum Olibanum. Thanks!

    • Nava says:


      “Animal House” is one of my all-time favorite movies, so I couldn’t help myself.

      I’m a big advocate of wearing what you like, whether it be niche, department store; whatever. My suggestion to you would be to sample, sample, sample. Our gracious hosts here at Perfume Posse run a sample/decant website called The Perfumed Court(click on the link above left that says Resources for Niche Perfume Decants and Samples). If they don’t have Profumum Olibanum, I know for certain that you can get a sample at

  • Lora says:

    Estee Lauder’s website is currently offering 3 free items with any purchase – a generous sample of Sensuous is one of the freebies you can choose.

  • Disteza says:

    Given that I’ve got my bottles of Olibanum and Idole, I don’t think I’ll need their lighter, femme-er cousin. It’s nice to see some love for those though! Olibanum is my go-to for whenever I’m feeling a little nefarious, temperature be d-md! I haven’t found an Estee Lauder frag yet that has worked on me; mostly they’re too boring, with no lasting power. Granted, Idole doesn’t last too long on me either, and Olibanum is lucky to get past hour 4.

    • Nava says:

      Idole disappears pretty quickly on me, but Olibanum tends to last for days. I’ve never been a huge fan of EL’s scents myself, but you do have to admire their construction.

  • tmp00 says:

    I sort of hope that wood isn’t the next fruity floral, if only because I don’t want to have to smell whatever Juicy or JLo or whatever is going to so with it.

    Having typed that you are forcing me to go to Bloomingdales to try this! 🙂

    As always, a joy to read your thoughts!

    • Nava says:

      I agree with that; mass market, department store and celebrity tend to not be a good combination when it comes to trends. Come to think of it, Hilary Duff’s “With Love” is a somewhat woody scent, so maybe the trend has already started. We’ll see…

      Thanks for the kind words. 🙂

  • Debbied says:

    Mmmm…woods and honey….I have to try it! And the price is certainly right!

  • MattS says:

    Is this totally femme? I might like to give this a sniff; I love Olibanum. And I wear it in the heat all the time. In fact, I usually save it for summer and wear heavier incenses in the cooler weather.

    • Nava says:

      Olibanum in the heat…^:)^ I am now very curious as to what you consider to be “heavy”, dear Matt!

      I would say it does lean towards the femme. Remember, this is Lauder we’re talking about here. That’s not to say you shouldn’t indulge in a drive-by spritzing if you happen to pass a counter. 🙂

  • alba says:

    Mmmmm. Idole and Feminité du Bois! I have to try this one, it’s obvious it must be good.

  • Elizabeth says:

    I’m awaiting samples of Olibanum and Feminite de Bois, so after reading this post I am pretty excited. I may sniff Sensuous, but Louise’s “fairly dull vanilla” description turns me right off. Woods = good, but vanilla and I don’t mix. Do you smell it in there, too?

    • Nava says:

      I guess the honey note would turn vanillic on some people, but it manages to stay honey on me. It does lend sweetness to the scent in the same way vanilla would, though. I’m sure there will be samples and testers galore before long, so you’ll be able to determine whether it will work for you. 🙂

  • 2scents says:

    Well, with that enthusiastic plug I will definitely be sniffing this when it hits my local mall. FdB, Idole, and Olibanum are a few of my favorite things! Thanks for the report.

  • Louise says:

    Hi Nava! It must be Friday, almost >:d< Welcome back! It seems that wood is the new fruity floral, or pink pepper. Lancome is next coming out with their woody perfume. An improvement in trends, at the least. Sadly, I found Sensuous to be a fairly dull vanilla with just a hint of woods on me. It had the same feel as Barb Bui and Rykiel for Woman, but with less nuance-and none of the incense or smokiness that makes these two intriguing to me. The bottle is lovely, though :d/

    • Nava says:

      Thanks Louise!

      You made a good point: I wasn’t thinking about woods being the next trend, but I guess it’s possible at this point. How many more fruity floral combinations can there possibly be? I read about Lancome’s new one – sounds more floral than Sensuous. We’ll see…:)