Aromatics in White by Clinique is the most recent - and in some markets, upcoming - flanker to Aromatics Elixir (1975). The bottle intriguingly colored white and opaque seems to promise a new, drastic departure from the classic scent...
The eau de parfum takes on the chypre structure of the original Aromatics Elixir but completely highjacks it to turn it into a white, slightly milky, and finally powdery incarnation of its forebear created by the legendary perfumer Bernard Chant. The golden, shimmery accents of the original are now veiled in misty veils the color of almond milk.
If a suggestion of condensed milk exists, there is very little sugar to sweeten it. The milkiness veers slowly towards musky powderiness. As a familiar chord rings in my mind, I now know what it is although it's a bit far fetched to say the least.
The ambergris note which floats more and more clearly on the calm surface of the milk bath that the composition is taking is reminiscent the most to me of the lactonic ambergris treatment in Zibeline by Weil (1928). This brings a subdued antiquarian feel to the fragrance for those who have this type of reference in their minds as a result of having experienced a number of vintage fragrances. A hint of spiciness - Sichuan pepper bark is very subdued here - perhaps carnation even, accentuates this effect. But most of all the fragrance feels uncannily olden and turn-of-the-20th century even.
The composition by perfumer Nicolas Beaulieu of IFF is understatedly complex. My first impression was that this was another nod in the direction of the ubiquitous Orientalist rose-oud accord which has become a mainstay of contemporary perfumery both niche and mainstream as of 2014. But it proves to be only one aspect of the perfume.
The two parallel rosewater-oud and ambergris-white musk accords work together. The first one adds a sense of being of the present counterbalancing that other sensation of coming from a remote past. At the same time, when I inhale the scent deeply, the perfume tells me more and more that it could be from an era inhabited by the likes of Paul Poiret, the Callot sisters, Madeleine Vionnet, and of course the Weill brothers. Only, it's a subtle, comforting sensation like the serenity which can emanate from a sepia photography of a life once lived and captured, if not pulsating with the same intensity anymore.
Minute nuances of immortelle and licorice seem to warm up the scent. The retro ambergris effect somehow gives the main tone to the perfume.
Other nuances will strike your nose, softly that is. The rose is perceptible and subtle. The rosy impression at once distinct enough and restrained is due to the use of a rosewater essence rather than that of the full, luscious bloom.
Aromatics in White is a perfume which creeps on you contrary to Aromatics Elixir which is much more in your face and obvious, even sonorous. It does not shout. It's not omnipresent. But what it does is that it slowly but surely makes an impression on you to the point where you cannot ignore it even though it is in other ways a quiet scent.
Wearing it, I was struck by a green note which seemed to emerge from the perfume like an added touch of silent and unseen complexity. But I wasn't absolutely sure of its presence since no mention of a green note appears in the official list of notes, well, except for the violet leaves - but it smelled different. I was glad therefore to be able to find an explicit reference to greenness in the French text for the fragrance on the fragrance outer packaging. The English version cuts it out for some reason. So that on the one hand, we get "serene woods" in English and "the serenity of green wood" in French. That green touch is indeed there adding to the sense of muted complexity.
As the perfume evolves, the milky facet becomes more aqueous but without veering into frankly dripping water territory. It's rather that the fragrance plays with the ambiguity of both milk and water at the same time - the distilled rosewater theme again.
The musky powderiness of Aromatics in White is never overstated and laundry-like. My original summary of the perfume which was that this was in the main like a cross between an Orientalist rose-oud perfume and a nostalgic powdery Heliotrope soliflore, is verified to some extent. The white musk evokes for me the contrasted sensation found in Narciso Rodriguez Essence (2009) by Alberto Morillas which manages to make the white musks less harsh and a bit sticky and darker thanks to soft balms like benzoin, as in here.
The brand pegs this composition as a "musky chypre", so the musks are not just a final flourish, they define the perfume.
All in all, I see this new opus as a bit of a contrarian composition. It was made to a great extent in opposition to the original while using the chypre structure as a skeleton. Where Aromatics Elixir is about sillage, here it is about skin. Where the Elixir is an extrovert, Aromatics in White is an introvert. Where the Elixir is brilliant and golden, the In White is opaque and white - with even a sense of muffled sound due to the snowing.
What I retain most of all from this experience is the recaptured sensation of an old-school perfume made with ambergris. This sepia, vintage frame has been inserted into a more modern perfume which holds its own next to the classic making it feel more dated rather than timeless. If you apply a lot of the perfume, then you can capture a very complex floral sillage which projects better and which is very original. There is not much point in comparing them in the end. They are related but aiming for nearly polar opposite sensations. For the devotees of Aromatics Elixir this might be too radically different a flanker.
Fragrance notes: violet leaves, rose, and spicy Sichuan pepper bark. The heart features orange blossom, petaly rose, and patchouli coeur. The base is classically sensual with musk, benzoin, amber and vanilla.