Estée Lauder Modern Muse Chic (2014): I am Perfume, Smell Me More {Perfume Review & Musings}


Modern Muse Chic by Estée Lauder opens on a beautiful blooming bouquet of succulent flowers which is dewy and fresh but also heady, in an alluring fashion rather than in an obtrusive one. The star of this armful of flowers seems to be jasmine sambac with its little fruity music playing out its recognizable nuance, with even its gourmand sticky rice facet...

For someone who has been enthralled by sambac jasmine in her childhood like me, thanks to the garlands of flowers weaved by dexterious hands in Thaï markets at dawn, this tonality transports me back to South East Asia immediately. Because it is also the kind of jasmine which is favored in China, the kaleidoscope of images shifts to a different pattern farther to the East still. I am also reminded more intellectually and by association - yet it is able to trigger a salivating reflex decades later - of the mouth-watering sticky rice cakes scented with real jasmine sambac flowers and envelopped in dark green banana leaves that a Cambodian friend would bring to school to share with us. For others still, this delightful, diminutive bloom is also called Arabian jasmine for a reason.

In Modern Muse Chic, to go back to the reality of the perfume, this creates a sensation of exoticism which is genuine yet filtered through the cardinal virtue of cleanliness. The more "sensual" smells contained in it are discreet, perceptible in a subtle trace of cumin and musk. The composition is fairly linear too, which would bespeak of that American predilection for fragrances that are predictable.


The advert for Modern Muse Chic fronted by model Arizona Muse - courtesy picture

With this type of compositions made for majoritarian, taste-wise, America, you get what you see; I remember reading about early 20th remarks on perfume by Americans which faulted some European perfumes for being duplicitous if you will, not upfront about their personalities. In such a cultural context where fragrance complexity is not prized, frankness, directness and reliability are on demand. You don't have the extra time to wait for a perfume to tell you all about its life and neuroses and discover in the end that the demure scent turns out to be embarrassingly carnal.

Likewise, Modern Muse Chic evolves in a way which is whole. It does not play hide and seek with you. It does not unveil a coup de théâtre mid-course, nor towards the end.

Yet, it is not a soliflore. This is a white floral bouquet - the favorite category of perfumes for American women.

The fragrance opens fresh, then evolves like the scent of a bouquet of flowers throughout the day or perhaps even days of its natural life. It moves mostly from fresh and dewy to heady and voluptuous but always wearing a crisp white shirt to complement the radiant bouquet. The musk perspires ever so slightly. It never reaches that point where it feels dirty; it always comes spiced up with a suggestion of freshly showered skin; indeed, you could argue that what turns Americans on is the scent of clean, and so, it behaves to some extent like those hot spices and animalic aphrodisiacs in other countries. Who are really twisted, you might ask? The soap fetish people or the natural musk ones? Well, if you insist on it being one way and not any other way, is where you start wondering why and who decided to build those olfactory walls?

Modern Muse Chic to me feels like a "dame" perfume - a lady who can speak in slang if she chooses to - wearing broad-shouldered pads from the 1940s rather than the 1980s. It's assertive but also very tailored. It's energetic but also quite vaporous. It's not pounding like an 80s perfume.

The other day, I had an opportunity to try Montana 80, an explicitly revivalist Working Girl perfume, and let me tell you, it was bad like wearing the equivalent of a mullet in perfume form. You need both an aspirin and a good detergent to recover from wearing it. So while Modern Muse Chic has power, it is not overpowering.

In a way, this is a modern adaptation of a mid-century gardenia perfume of yore revisited by Estée Lauder to correspond to today's mores and general ideas of femininity. The perfume is less femme fatale than its ancestors, more clear-headed, yet she loves perfume too and counts on it to make an unambiguous statement: "I am perfume, smell me more." It's still of the come-closer ilk rather than of the put-off, armor-like fragrance type.

The composition is choke-full of floral essences, namely jasmine sambac fir absolute, jasmine sambac China absolute, tuberose fir absolute, tuberose fleur fir natural, Madagascar vanilla sfe. Add to that a stargazer lily accord and you get the mental picture of a layered and rich floral opus, which is exactly what you get.

Estée Lauder following their plan for Modern Muse have contrasted the floral part of the scent with a woody one. They anticipate that some women will react more to the florals, and others to the woods. I am in the first category. While I sense the base through its creaminess and light earthy accents - and in the top the jasmine seemed embraced by a subtle sandalwood - I don't linger on it and it seems to me that the floral notes are much more provocative than the woodsy notes. Be it known however that the palette of woods called the "Ebony woods accord" includes Cashmere woods, patchouli and even the new "super wood" (my phrasing), agarwood or oud.

The brand presents this perfume as a "vivid woody floral" but it also has a significant American musk facet smelling of clean sweat. The fleshiness of the scent rests further on the round and rich notes of davana, juicy plum, golden honey and labdanum. This is a women's perfume with an undeniable and unflinching presence. It is especially noteworthy for its tantalizing white floral bouquet for a modern age, full of controlled excess. I personally prefer it over Modern Muse (2013) as I think that it has a more distinctive personality.

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