I admire Estee Lauder (the woman and the brand) for producing some scents I really like and then not discontinuing them, thank you very much. My favorites tend to be from their back catalog – the original Azuree, Private Collection, Youth Dew, Cinnabar. Even if the Lauder department store areas have a nasty habit of hiding these older gems behind the counter, what´s not to love about a company with several fragrances from $35 – $65 (check their website), which in today´s market is essentially free? I admire rather than like most of the “newer” releases like Beautiful, Pleasures and White Linen. Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia was beautifully done but not my sort of thing at all. Sensuous is all right, but I can only really smell it in the lotion, and even the summery Bronze Goddess was more a cheerful rip-off of the smell of tanning oil than a new scent idea, although I bought a bottle.
So I wasn’t anxiously awaiting the new Private Collection Amber Ylang Ylang. For me, “amber” in a fragrance name is often associated with some viscous, cloying smell that smothers me like the proverbial trapped fly. The marketing materials say Aerin Lauder “drew inspiration from the luxurious simplicity of her own private world. The fragrance captures the essence of an enjoyable evening in a warm, inviting room filled with the luxurious textures of wood, velvet and cashmere in browns and golds.” The words private and intimate are repeated throughout the release. Notes are bergamot, geranium, golden amber, ylang ylang, Bulgarian rose, honey, incense, vanilla and sandalwood. (Elsewhere there are references to Ceylon cinnamon that didn´t make it into the main list of notes.)
I´m under the impression Amber Ylang has gotten a somewhat lukewarm reception among perfume nuts, and a first sniff gives me a suspicion why – if you are a fan of their Tuberose Gardenia, surely Amber Ylang is rather mousy by comparison. Tuberose Gardenia is an elegant, dressy scent that commands a certain amount of attention when it makes its entrance, whereas Amber Ylang is more likely to sneak in quietly through the side door and be sitting in that comfy plush velvet chair over by the fireplace, drink in hand, before you even know it arrived.
And for some of us, this may not be a bad thing; even the most enthusiastic perfume lover can crave the occasional fragrance that doesn´t stalk into the room like Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada and hurl its fur at you in a diva-esque fit. Amber Ylang´s development is linear and unsurprising – the spicy-green pop of geranium and bergamot that fades almost before it’s registered, followed almost immediately by amber and its sidekick, the ghost of Play-Doh, that unique, doughy smell that can pop up for some of us in amber scents like People of the Labyrinths´ Luctor et Emergo (aka POTL) and Anne Pliska. I can´t detect the rose at all, and the ylang ylang and honey are rich rather than sweet. The incense (and the cinnamon?) are spicy-resinous, reminiscent of benzoin rather than something more churchy. There´s a mildly woody phase somewhat reminiscent of Sensuous. The drydown is a warm amber-woody-spicy vanilla.
Amber Ylang wears close to the skin, but like the softest pima cotton camisole, it´s there snug and warm for the entire day. I could still smell it faintly on the back of my hand in the morning. I experimented with wearing it at different strengths – a couple small spritzes vs. drenching myself, and while I enjoyed it even in higher doses, on one afternoon (and on my shirtsleeve) I got quite a bit of Play-Doh, although there was still enough else going on in the scent I really didn´t mind it the way I do in POTL and Anne Pliska.
Amber Ylang is certainly less of a powerhouse than anything like Beautiful or Beyond Paradise. For all that, it´s pretty. If Sensuous and Amber Ylang represent any sort of a directional trend by Estee Lauder, I´m all for it. Amber Ylang may also be the first reasonably amber-laden fragrance I want – amber for those of us for whom a little amber goes a very long way.
Amber Ylang Ylang as a concept is not exactly uncharted territory. On the other hand, I wore it for several days and there is a restraint and level of sophistication I find interesting. It´s not gourmand, and it´s not a cupcake scent – I could wear this to a business meeting and not feel like I was smelling girly. It´s not bitter like Annick Goutal´s Vanille Exquise, but it´s fully adult in the same way. So. For those of you who were hopeful of another blockbuster like Tuberose Gardenia – you didn´t get it. For those of you in the market for a quietly elegant comfort scent that would work all day and into the evening, Amber Ylang Ylang might be worth trying.
image, neimanmarcus.com: 1oz. parfum bottle (pictured) of Amber Ylang, $300. If you want EdP and a plain cap, I believe it’s $65 for 1oz.