Nobody forgets the first time they smell Aromatics Elixir. The perfume released in 1971 was a marketing breakthrough for a company specialising in minimal, antiseptic, utilitarian cosmetics. It approached perfume from a completely different direction than one would have expected from the company. Instead of a clean, ethereal scent it was a dark, potent difficult to classify potion. Consensus seems to categorize it as a floral chypre but others’ idea of it seems to lean towards a woody-floral classification. In fact Aromatics Elixir EdP is all that, it’s a chameleon.
Looking at the Clinique line-up since Aromatics Elixir, one has to be thankful that this one came at a time when Bernard Chant was responsible for all Estée Lauder perfumes (as well as for Cabochard and Antonia’s Flowers eponymous perfume). Bernard Chant was an obsessive perfumer. Most of the perfumes he created for Estée Lauder, Aramis, Aromatics Elixir included, are intricate variations on an incredible, classic, dense theme. A curious nose will not find it difficult to detect the greenness of Alliage being amped to create Devin, the leather from Cabochard excited to produce Aramis, the sweetness of Cinnabar cut down to create JHL and the strength of Aromatics Elixir tamed to produce Aramis 900 and all perfumes celebrate the pursuit of perfection in the mind of a perfumer. To my nose what they all have in common is an emphasis on the drydown with notes of leather, labdanum, patchouli and galbanum. If you are looking for freshness, sportiness, lightness, look the other way. These are all serious perfumes that wear like a garment. First put them on and then find clothes to match the attitude.
My first encounter with Aromatics Elixir dates back in my early 20’s when a friend at the university used to wear this. It has been etched in my memory ever since and I have been able to recognize on anyone wearing, albeit less frequently as years have gone by. Back in the 80’s it was everywhere and most of us can remember an aunt who was wearing this at the time. Now, with a sample of the Eau de Parfum version at hand I have to admit that some things have changed. Maybe my friend had been wearing the Eau de Toilette version, maybe some things have changed in the composition but what I smell on my skin today is darker and less floral than my memory recalls. What I smell today is chamomile, hay and a bit of rose, just to keep it from being completely masculine. In fact that wonderful chamomile note was the first thing I had identified this perfume with even back in my 20’s when I could never imagine I would be dissecting perfume notes 20 years later. It was so obvious to my untrained nose that I couldn’t overlook it. I suppose the key chypre notes are there, bergamot, patchouli and oakmoss, are there but somehow my nose seems more able to detect differences than similarities in perfume. As the opening of Aromatics Elixir Eau de Parfum leads me to the heart, the herbal components are toned down and the rose unfolds in a dark, goth way. This rose is not realistic at all. It is more a part of a Flemish still life. It is not dry but it it is definitely not fresh. More auburn than red, with layers of sepia varnish and time on its petals. Dusty orris and decadent patchouli mix with vetiver and oakmoss to produce a magical drydown that to this day remains very close to perfection for me. Revisiting Aromatics Elixir today made me realise that Tom Ford White Patchouli consists of practically the exact same patchouli note. A dirty, herbal, tobacco-ish patchouli that has a strong sensuality and a deeply carnal quality. Many complain that White Patchouli has no patchouli but this is only because this particular interpretation of patchouli lacks the chocolate and headshop connotations but is rather sweet and amebrish.
More than 40 years after its original release Aromatics Elixir Eau de Parfum remains a devastatingly beautiful perfume. Like all Bernard Chant’s creations it inhabits a tiny crevice between masculine and feminine, not because it strives to remain ambivalent but because it embraces and boasts a sexuality that is not about gender but about the raw power of sex itself. If one can speak of a spiritual sexuality then this is exactly what this Dionysian potion is. Big sillage, dark presence, herbal decadence.
Notes from Parfumo: Bergamot, Verbena, Geranium, Chamomile, Coriander, Clary sage, Rosewood, Orris root, Jasmine, Orange blossom, Rose, Tuberose, Ylang-ylang, Oakmoss, Musk, Patchouli, Sandalwood, Vetiver, Frankincense
Notes from my nose: chamomile, hay, rose, patchouli, vetiver, orris, oakmoss
To celebrate Aromatics Elixir’s 40th anniversary Clinique was faced with a dilemma: botox and photshop it or call the best portrait painter and ask him to interpret her beauty? The decision was taken with the utmost respect to Bernard Chant’s work and Lauren Le Guernec was commissioned to draw the portrait from memory. The end result is Aromatics Elixir Perfumer’s Reserve. Lauren Le Guernec decided to hide the wrinkles of the model in a mist of cool aldehydes that greet the nose in the opening. Their presence is characteristic but delicate. They capture the humidity of the chamomile opening of the original but render it in a more appropriate manner for a 40 year old lady. Bitter galbanum ensures that the outline of the composition is true to the model’s beauty. A humid rose adorns the classic presence in a reserved way. Doughy iris forms the backbone of this modern classic with a delicate vetiver and an even more demure patchouli. In comparison to the model the portrait is true to the metallic, goth rose but everything wears much closer to the skin and is more accurately balanced. The herbal notes are not there but everything else is. Aromatics Elixir Perfumer’s Reserve is far more reserved, elegant and polite, can be worn by men a lot more easily but I will still need to add the Eau de Parfum in my collection for the days when I will want to stay in and be amused for hours with all the quirky, herbal notes.
Aromatics Elixir Perfumer’s Reserve is the portrait of a lady. This lady used to be fierce and uncompromising. She was rebellious and opinionated. She enjoyed the pleasures of the flesh as much as anyone but approached them always with a free spirituality, reminiscent of a flower child or a Maenad, one of Dionysus’s enraged followers . The lady is still alive and well but she is now a recluse in a house lost in the forest, by a river. She realised that the 21st century is not for her and that by the time she would have explained her point of view to her new acquaintances she would have already been bored of them. So she moved to the country where her loyal friends can always find her. Her family was slightly relieved by this decision: they wouldn’t have to explain her idiosyncrasies to their business associates and their social entourage. They organised a huge farewell reception in her honour and, as anticipated, much to everyone’s delight she didn’t even bother make an excuse for not showing up. Instead the family had placed a monumental portrait of her in the entrance of the house. And everyone could not help but admire her beauty and declare how much they already missed her.
Notes from Parfumo: Jasmine, Myrrh, Orange blossom, Patchouli, Peach, Rose
Notes from my nose: aldehydes, galbanum, rose, orris, vetiver, patchouli
Aromatics Elixir Perfumer’s Reserve is a limited edition extait de parfum. This means that it will probably not be around for ever. It sells in an exquisitely designed 25ml dab bottle.