New Fragrance Review: Estée Lauder Modern Muse (2013) {Perfume Musings}



Modern Muse is the new fragrance creation for women by Estée Lauder and one they see as "the most important fragrance moment we’ve had in a decade,” according to Women's Wear Daily. The way we interpret this is to think that it might also mean something like "they well hope to have captured how a woman deeply desires to smell for the next decade to come, at least". Of course, everybody wished they could launch perfumes that would go on to live as centenerians, or even inching closer to Mathusalem, like the Guerlains whose Jicky issued in 1889 is still a. Even Chanel have yet to concretize this ideal with their No.5 born in 1921 -- soon enough they will reach the mark...

What we mean more specifically here is that even if a perfume endures overtime, it can achieve another level of felicitous longevity which is cultural and not just commercial. Seen from this perspective you can gauge whether a fragrance is representative of a decade, or not. We think that a decade is a fair measure. Maybe you could argue that a scent is a symbol of your decade, not that of others, and you would be right to underline this nuance. But if you were wearing Giorgio in the 1980s, then this is the fragrance not just of your decade but that of everyone else's since its sillage was so rampant and still today is immediately recognizable, with the possibility of a negative reaction. If you can say, oh, no, Giorgio, not again, you kow this means that the 80s are suddenly back in the midst of the second decade of the 21st century, not in a good way, apparently. 

Mitsouko by Guerlain may still be around and considered to be a masterpiece of perfumery and a reference, it also represents a decade, that of the 1920s. An episode of Downton Abbey showcased an old form Guerlain flacon to chime in 1920, and we think it would be the latest "nouveauté", Mitsouko issued in 1919. At that level of charisma, a perfume ends up incorporating a period's mystique in its image. Through Mitsouko, the spirit of a raucous decade lives on and we can well imagine a Fitzeraldgean character wearing it in ongoing remakes of The Great Gastby or Tender is the Night or The Other Side of Paradise.

With Modern Muse, we are here the contemporaries of its launch and there is no saying how long the perfume will continue to live on physically, and in our memories. Well, for the latter part, perfumers have a few tricks up their sleeves, so that fragrances come haloed by the aura of their elders. Decded, this means they always try to incorporate something of our past olfactory experiences in perfume. It could be profoundly affective smells or more often than not very familiar and effective accords, which have been test-driven by the forces of the market previously.

What we can tell is that the olfactory personality of Modern Muse reveals that it was carefully crafted using past experience to thrum the strings of a more recent classic, Narciso Rodriguez for Her, a co-creation of perfumers Christine Nagel and Francis Kurkdjian released 10 years ago, in 2003. If Modern Muse is to perdure it will be thanks in part to the reflex of familiarity it triggers in minds used to smelling an all too familiar sillage, the trails in particular which are snaking through our streest carrying the modern musky rose chypre accord of Narciso Rodriguez for Her. It is one of the most copied perfumes in our era. It has given birth to great spin-offs, like Idylle by Guerlain, and more popular still in the US, Sarah Jessica Parker Lovely. 

There is also more discreetly hidden, the inspiration called Coco by Chanel. The same concentrated and almost syrupy sweet resins are there to add heft.

The latest Estée Lauder for women however is not a lazy composition, it is just a very well studied one, and one which pretends to be efficient if not original. Parameters have been examined, new balance sought out and touches of boldly daring nuances have been added. It is a conservative composition in the sense that it believes in the past and in incremental, soft and measured progress. It is also contemporary in the sense that it aims to espouse today's sensibilities. What it is not, is avant-garde or innovativein a big way. But it is, mind you, modern. If all goes well, women will remain faithful to it. As a designer fragrance, it wants to be easy to wear in everyday life as the category is usually more oriented towards lifestyle than art.  

The first thought that came to my mind apart from the sense of knowing the fragrance - I even felt like I had smelt it on someone the same morning - is that it is a cosmopolitan composition.

The perfume is labeled as a "fresh floral woody" by Estée Lauder cos. and it is indeed very fresh but has also enough body to make it more versatile. It is quite intense and designed to make an impact, which is quite American. At the same time, the floral nuances are discreetly exotic. In fact, what I thought was that it felt like the company was nurturing its Asian-market love coefficient by proposing a perfume that offers the kind of nuances that might be appreciated in, say, China. Perfumer Harry Fremont created the perfume using as one of its ingredients a novel sambac jasmine absolute from China which makes its appearance for the first time in a commercial perfume, according to the press materials. More to the point perhaps is how you can smell a note of fresh lily, done in the manner that we have smelled in the past in Chinese soaps. It is both fresh and succulent with a fruitier nuance than in Euro-American white floral perfumes. 

If the structure of Narciso Rodriguez for Her is recognizable in Modern Muse so are the new twists. It is like both a fresher and more intense version of it. The addition of tuberose pulls the fragrance in the direction of more intensity and lushness. The two kinds of sambac jasmine and the fruits create a succulent, more than a juicy effect. We're still licking the plant rather than the glass. The woody signature is modern. I initially compared it to B by Boucheron which has osmanthus and woods, of which it was a bit reminiscent but have to acknowlegde that the woodsy signature in the latter is more classic. 

Karyn Khoury, Senior Vice President, Corporate Fragrance Development Worldwide, The Estée Lauder Companies, said,

We built Modern Muse by carefully selecting every ingredient to reflect the personality, style and distinctive femininity of today’s woman,” 'The “dual-impression' creative approach offers each woman the opportunity to connect with the fragrance in her own way. Some will focus on the sparkling floral elements of the fragrance, while others will view the warm, rich woodiness as the defining facet.”

"The Sparkling Jasmine Accord: This facet of the fragrance captures the creative energy and magnetic femininity of a modern woman. Exotic Mandarin and tempting Honeysuckle Nectar send a spark of energy through a youthful sensation of Dewy Petals. Two extractions of Jasmine Sambac, including one new to the perfumery palette, Jasmine Sambac China Absolute, bring luminous texture to the feminine bouquet of rich Tuberose Fleur and Fresh Lily.  

Sleek Woods Accord: Her sleek style, strength and sensuality are expressed through this innovative blend of two Patchouli essences wrapped in the creaminess of Madagascar Vanilla, rich Amber Wood and soft Musk – all of which craft an undeniably sensual finish." 

Modern Muse is a feminine, both fresh and intense, floral perfume which will help you feel put together. It introduces an acceptable level of olfactory diversion in the life of a busy woman, who you imagine is mostly on the go. While a floral, Modern Muse is not romantic but rather energetic yet 100% feminine due to its well-calculated musky-woody-floral intensity. It smells like an American fragrance thanks to this level of olfactory dynamism and straightforward boldness. So, while we cannot tell how long it will continue perfuming you as it depends essentially on the people's vote, somehow, it conveys well the sense that the woman who wears it is oriented towards the future, facing it fully and taking everything in stride with the help of familiar booster notes making her feel rooted in the past and in time. By wearing this fragrance you do express the idea that you are of the present. Fragrances are, in a way, sensual versions of time, memory and community in support of good-will individuals -- yes, it takes good-will to wear perfume and be a woman. 

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