Sensuous Noir (Estée Lauder)

Sensuous Noir is a reminder to me never to dismiss a flanker just because its predecessor didn't speak to me. I disliked the original Sensuous because its amber had a sluggish quality that I just couldn't ignore; to me, it smelled like fried churro dough, and I promptly turned my back on it forever. When Nude and Noir followed, it never occurred to me to explore the line in search of something different or better. I arrogantly assumed that it would be a waste of my time.

But I've changed my mind, and I have my pal (and fellow Garden State resident) Blacknall Allen to thank. She and her delightful mother-in-law met me for lunch not too long ago in the Jerseyest setting imaginable-- an Italian restaurant at the shore. (My memory's hazy, but there may have been a candle stuck in a Chianti bottle present.) Over plates of linguini carbonara and mozzarella en carozza, Blacknall handed me a sample of Sensuous Noir, promising me that whatever composite image I'd formed of the impeccable Estee Lauder catalog thus far, things were about to get dirty.

Bwuh? I had no idea Estée Lauder could DO dirty. Most of their fragrances are thoroughly patrician in nature, wrinkle-free and well-appointed; even the spicier orientals seem to have a stock portfolio or two tucked demurely away. In my opinion, the closest Lauder ever got to "sexy" was Tuscany per Donna, a fabulously zaftig honeysuckle that just burgeons over the top of everything-- the bottle, its bra, your boundaries. It stuck out like a sore thumb from the rest of the Lauder oeuvre until Sensuous came along, but the latter seemed to me less sexy than grease-spattered-- a pretty girl trapped all day in front of a deep-fryer.

Nevertheless, I took the plunge-- and Sensuous Noir surprised me by being, well, scrumptious. Like Sensuous, it's an ambery lily with a good sprinkling of spicy black pepper. But across the boards, perfumer Annie Buzantian seems to have given the ingredients a salutary tweak. All the ballast has been shifted from amber to patchouli in this formula, and both are better for it. The amber is now creamy, sweet, and vanillic instead of merely viscous and oily; the volume and bass have been turned up on the patchouli, whose vibration now reaches clear down to your feet like a good, soul-satisfying musical beat. There's still black pepper for those who love it-- and there's that gorgeous lily, still extravagant and carnal, but now relegated to the background... and somehow even sexier because it is more subtle.

Not nearly as restrained is Estée Lauder's description of this scent-- god, I love perfume PR-speak! They employ adjectives as if deciding to unload an entire linguistic arsenal in one go: feminine, intensely rich, mysteriously seductive, fluid, exquisite, subtle, velvety, narcotic, spicy, tempting, enticing, sleek, unique, luscious, captivating, smooth, earthy, elusive, hypnotic, glowing, luminous, mystifying. (Someone in corporate might want to invest in a dictionary; that last one actually means bewildering or perplexing, and sometimes -- depending on its context -- deliberately intended to commit deception.) As for ingredients, we are offered such conceptual marvels as "melted woods nature print", "creme noir accord", and "patchouli prisma". I have no idea what any of those things are, but I know what they do-- they WORK.

How do I know? When I wear it, it's not men who can't help themselves, but other women. They lean closer to breathe in my scent and whisper tremulously in my ear, "Oh, you smell so good-- what IS that? You HAVE to tell me. PLEASE."

To paraphrase Nancy Mitford at her most congratulatory, "Fantasia, fantasia!"

Scent Elements: Rose, jasmine, lily, black pepper, woods, patchouli, benzoin, honey, amber