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, www.sensuousis.com, dedicated to the launch of the fragrance. Earlier this week, I received an e-mail from esteelauder.com 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.