Aromatics in White and Black (Clinique)

Sometimes I worry about Estée Lauder. The company, I mean; not the grande dame (who is safe in her grave, though likely rolling over in it). During its first half-century, EL -- along with its subsidiaries Clinique and Aramis -- judiciously released one or two well-crafted fragrances per year. Many of these have been deemed classics of perfumery. But among the avalanche of flankers which followed Lauder's death in 2004, none came close to achieving that accolade. Most don't even try. Matters have only grown more troubling of late. With its systematic takeover of competing fragrance brands (Donna Karan, Michael Kors, Ermengildo Zegna, Jo Malone, Le Labo, Frédéric Malle, Tom Ford), EL now resembles that corporate Borg known as Coty, subduing and assimilating all who tremble in its path.

From this chaos emerges Aromatics in White (2014) and Black (2015), two sweet fruity-florientals which trade on the name of the 1971 Elixir without inheriting any of its gravitas. JC -- who adores the original Elixir to infinity and beyond -- purchased full bottles unsniffed and presented me with generous decants for my birthday. Even before I unpacked the gift bag, the buoyant golden scent of White's orange blossoms tickled my nose.  Its friendly florals seem squeaky-clean until they suddenly don't-- and when they don't is when things get interesting. Ambergris and labdanum give White a Dune-like dissonance and danger, at once sexy and glowering, successfully depositing its drydown yards beyond the expected goal post.

Like so many perfumes with 'Black' or 'Noir' in their names, Aromatics in Black is way too lighthearted to be dressed in that somber shade. It commences with a brassy blast of grapefruit and bergamot reminiscent of Chanel Coco Noir, which I believe it is meant to emulate. It's much nicer, though, in that diffuse unthreatening way of all Nice Lauders. I don't know what "plum leaf accord" is supposed to smell like, but the heart of Black smells like sweet red plum pulp, and that's fine with me. Like a stubborn compass needle, it keeps pointing toward By Kilian Back to Black, which I suppose is its North-- and maybe now I can finally stop accusing Puredistance Black of plagiarism now that I know Everybody's Doing It.

In White, Perfumer Nicholas Beaulieu promised a modern fragrance evoking the same "attraction on skin" as its august predecessor. I suppose the concept of attraction has undergone as many redefinitions over time as have popular perfume tastes. That being said, I do find both new Aromatics to be attractive on my skin... though I wouldn't say that either of them redefine Elixir, or (for that matter) Estée Lauder.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, pink grapefruit, "plum leaf accord", osmanthus, jasmine, neroli, myrrh, vetiver, tonka (Black); Sichuan pepper, violet leaf, labdanum, rose, orange blossom, patchouli, leather, white musk, ambergris, benzoin, vanilla (White)