Estée Lauder Sensuous Noir (2010): Sensuous in the Evening, in Public Spaces {Fragrance Review}

Sensuous Noir by Estée Lauder ($48; $60) is the latest feminine launch by the beauty company. It arrives on the market two years after the original Sensuous which was seen as a move to step back from the floral portfolio at Estée Lauder and surf on the woods trend for women. The fragrance was reportedly developed by Karyn Khoury, Senior Vice President, Corporate Fragrance Development Worldwide and Evelyn Lauder, Senior Corporate Vice President in cooperation with Firmenich's perfumer Annie Buzantian.

According to the press release, the idea behind this new iteration is the following,

"Sensuality as an experience and as an emotion has a very broad spectrum of expression. There are many moods, many facets, many shades of sensuality, which range from the more luminous expression of Sensuous to deeper, darker, more mysterious expressions," says Karyn Khoury, Senior Vice President of Corporate Fragrance Development Worldwide, The Estée Lauder Companies Inc. "This concept of further exploring a darker, more mysterious olfactive territory and deeper shades of sensuality inspired the creation of Sensuous Noir."

Notes: Exotic purple rose, night blooming jasmine, rose essence, black pepper / melted woods Nature Print, crème noir, richly faceted, earthy and elusive Patchouli Prisma, spiced lily / benzoin, creamy vanilla, rich honey, glowing amber.

The fragrance opens on a honeyed woody impression which quickly becomes more animalic and musky. There might even be a hint of leather, an illusion which can be created by a benzoin note. The fragrance after letting out these facets settles for a more linear mode. The composition then gently deepens, becomes more tangibly woody-buttery, thus reconnecting with the signature accord of its forebear, Sensuous (2008).

The woody accents this time combine the famous "molten woods" sensation with drier, dustier notes of wood evoking cedar and later sandalwood in the drydown. The alliance of musk and cedar together with light florals is particularly felicitous and pleasurable to smell. It recalls flower beds fertilized with cedar wood chips to my nose.

The scent is warm and welcoming. The honey is soft. The amber betrays a hint of water so as to acknowledge the taste for freshness and in order not be polarizing. The woody accord is centering...

Sensuous Noir succeeds in prolonging and pushing further the idea of a mainstream woodsy fragrance for women, the original motivation behind Sensuous. The progress can be felt in the evolution from comforting woods drenched in butter to the same but with more distinctive woody accents sticking out from the lava of woods. 

Regarding the "noir" motif, if you think of black or another dark color, Sensuous Noir does not contradict you and accompanies your thoughts but I would not say that the fragrance readily evokes the color black. A hint of black licorice and a caramelized note contribute their tonalities to the "noir" sensation but only in retrospect. They are not bold enough to impose their presence from the get-go.

The perfume is relatively, perhaps even surprisingly light, considering its suggestive name and the list of fragrance notes which invited you to think of a much more daring and narcotic composition what with night-blooming flowers, crème noir and purple rose notes. It is really a light, wearable noir scent where the dark intensity can be felt only in contrast with a bright sunshine-y day.

As I was observing when reviewing Mary J. Blige My Life the other day, the rule-of-thumb of designer fragrances, which is to aim for a blended-in feel rather than one with shocking proportions, is verified here as well.

Having said that however, and once your expectations get lowered, Sensuous Noir does smell dark. The spicy-lily note is quite perceptible in the mix. But the scent remains overall quiet and unobtrusive. Despite its labeling as a "woody floral chypre", it lacks the projection of this kind of perfume morphing instead into a skin scent. It is a perfume with the feminine workforce in mind. It is not an outrageously seductive concoction.

Compared with the original Sensuous, Sensuous Noir is paradoxically less forceful in its impact, more subtle, not that Sensuous was invasive. I find that the characterization "intensely rich, seductive" offered in the ad copy is not really adequate. This view expresses more the desire of such an experience than the reality of it. The cue we get from patchouli to think of the scent as nocturnal is more a suggestion than a full experience.  The Patchouli Prisma is not heavy at all. It is on the contrary a bit airy, incense-y.  If the floral notes are darker than in Sensuous, they are not Gothic but rather dressy and sleek like an Yves Saint Laurent black smoking for women.

A true flanker, Sensuous Noir will appeal to fans of Sensuous who will enjoy finding the same signature accord but with a new, spicy twist. It abandons the crunchy, fruity green nuances of jasmine petals that were in the original, which retrospectively one can see created an interesting, more daring contrast in the midst of a warm composition evoking "a river of molten woods." 

In my eye, the composition fulfills the mission of consolidating the Sensuous olfactory signature in people's psyches rather than being interested in creating a truly noir atmospheric theme. It is a great scent for conservative souls, not so much for people seeking novelty, a sentiment which would be reinforced by the presence of a rose-patchouli accord, only made dustier, a popular jazzy standard these days in perfumery.      

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