Top 20 Bestselling Women’s Fragrances of 2011 in the US, part I of the mini-reviews

I went malling this week! Here’s the first installment of mini-reviews for the Top 20 Bestselling Women’s Fragrances in the US for 2011.  (Thanks again for the push, Ari.)  All images are from Fragrantica.

Chanel No. 5 – I have a long history of familiarity with No. 5, and reviewed the parfum here.  I have been wont to grab a spritz or two from the tester when I breeze through the mall (it’s not often, but that’s a whole ‘nother story). I tried the EdP last summer and was surprised that I did not like it much; there’s an odd plasticky sort of accord in the drydown that seems out of place and just plain wrong. In Perfumes: The Guide, Luca Turin says that the EdP composition contains Polysantol, described as “the oily and prodigiously durable sandalwood drydown of Samsara.” (I didn’t mind Samsara so much, but I do admit that it smelled cheap to me, which I declare to be unforgivable in a Guerlain.) My store doesn’t have a parfum tester, so I make do with the EdT, which is still lovely and instantly identifiable as No. 5. I begin to wonder whether so many people continue to buy it because it is a) Chanel, the epitome of “classy” to so many Americans, b) despite reformulation, still smells mostly like itself, thus c) recognizable. No. 5 still has its furious whirlwind of soapy-whooshy aldehydes, and its golden-glow floral heart of rose, jasmine and ylang. It’s still worth wearing.

Coco Mademoiselle – this, as regular readers might remember, is the other fragrance, besides Dune, that my younger sister has forever banned me from wearing because she’s claimed it as hers. What she hadn’t realized is that her Coco Mlle is safe from me: I don’t like it. I smell it on a lot of women our age (30s and 40s) in this area, and I don’t like it on them, and I sure don’t like it on me. It’s a patchouli bomb on me, with a sharp screechiness to the topnotes and a muddy indistinctness to the floral notes. I wore it every day for about two weeks in 2011, connecting with a character I was writing whose signature scent it was. (Would it surprise you to find that I took an intense dislike to the character and stalled out on writing her story?) CM smells quite different on my sister: its florals are soft, and the woody structure comes to the front. On her, it smells something like the beautiful drydown of vintage Arpege, a tailored woody-vetiver-patchouli rendered less austere by a lovely rose-and-ylang heart. I can only hope that CM smells like that on people other than myself. I suspect, however, that CM is getting bought by women who want a Chanel fragrance, but who consider themselves too young for their mothers’ No. 5 and Coco, and too old for the Chance flankers.

Dior J’Adore – I described my reaction to J’Adore when I reviewed J’Adore L’Absolu. I’ll recap: I wanted to like J’Adore. I liked the “get real” message in that glitzy Charlize Theron ad, and I made a point to go to the mall to smell it. (This is such a big deal for me, I can’t emphasize it enough that I simply do not drive 20 miles and half an hour to the mall unless there is something there I need and can’t get somewhere else, preferably closer to home, or better yet, online. Lately, I need to go smell perfume.) I was hoping for a beautiful floral, something I can’t resist. However, I was disappointed in J’Adore: it smells vaguely floral, but mostly it is screechy and chemical, lab-created, a tinny-voiced, porn-perfect airbrushed idea of a real woman. I don’t think it started out that way, but Dior seems bent on screwing up every single good fragrance they’ve ever produced.

(Dune’s probably next, y’all. Go buy some before they screw it up, too.)

Dolce et Gabbana Light Blue – This is the other popular fragrance I smell on other people in the area, and it seems to cover a lot of demographics, from retirees to college students. I had a coworker that wore it, and some days she smelled wonderful in it. Other days, it was recognizably Light Blue, but a horrid chemical accident. My theory is that overapplication made a difference, or possibly getting it on clothes prolonged the rubbing-alcohol topnotes to the point of discomfort. I have spent a lot of time making fun of Light Blue, because when I smelled it on purpose, it was on a smelling strip, and it was truly awful. I was surprised when I actually put it on my skin for the first time: it was nice. There’s a lemon-green apple astringency that does stick around for a long time, and it bears a significant resemblance to shampoo, but there’s a nice quiet woody-musk in there that became more and more prominent on my skin. It actually settled in and got comfortable after awhile.  It smells relentlessly clean, in a lemon-cedar-laundry sort of way, actually.  I still wouldn’t buy this, but I understand the appeal now. Actually, Light Blue began reminding me of Marc Jacobs Daisy after awhile, and I still like Daisy a lot, for an undemanding wallpaper scent.

Estee Lauder Beautiful – You know I have difficulties with Lauder scents. I’ll repeat why: it’s not the idea that Lauder is downmarket and not worth my consideration. I grew up wearing drugstore stuff, and Lauder was definitely upscale for my family. It’s not that I think they’re stupid or cheesy or haphazardly thrown together. My aunts all wear Estee Lauder fragrances (Aunt Doris wears Beyond Paradise, Aunt Becky wears Pleasures, Aunt Cindy wears Knowing), and they smell great. All the time. It’s not even that Estee Lauder makes my Most Hated Fragrance of All Time: Youth Dew. (Gah. Hurl City. No, I won’t go on complaining about it.) It’s that every single time I try one of these scents, I love them for an hour or two, and then I want to cut my arms off. It’s not so much something I smell down in the base, as it is something that just makes me queasy. First I feel irritable for no reason, and then I get nauseated. I Just Can’t Do It.

I didn’t like Beautiful when it came out in the 80s. I was in high school and college at the time, and I’d smelled Beautiful in scent strips in magazines, and I was taken by the idea of smelling beautiful, so I’d occasionally drop by the mall with my housemates and hit the fragrance counter. I’d pick up the Beautiful tester and put a weensy spritz on my arm, and my nose would crinkle up with displeasure, because it didn’t smell anything like my idea of how a beautiful fragrance should smell. It was so dense and heavy and complicated – and remember, at that time I was still wearing Karl Lagerfeld Chloe, which was a big ol’ white floral bomb with aldehydes and some ripe fruit notes, resting on a kitchen-sinky drydown of woods and musk and moss and civet and vetiver and younameit, it’sinthere, so I was used to dense-heavy-complicated florals.

But I’d promised myself that I’d give the Lauder fragrances on the bestselling list some real consideration this time, beyond just saying to myself, “Oh, those never work on me.” So this go-round, I sprayed two hefty spritzes of Beautiful on my scarf. And the way it smells on my scarf is likely the way it is supposed to smell! It starts off with a hit of old-fashioned perfumey aldehydes, under which is a bit of citrus and an also-old-fashioned smoky vetiver-tobacco-geranium-rose thing. I still don’t like that part much, but it smells very 80s, all dense and complicated and grand, Dynasty-evening-gown sequins and shoulder pads. Gradually, Beautiful slides into a panorama of rich florals: I can pick out marigold and jasmine and that slightly screechy geranium-rose Tea Rose thing, as well as some ylang, but the carnation seems dominant after several hours, and I like it very much. There may be some heliotrope in there too. Eventually, there’s a soft woody base underneath the florals, with perhaps some amber or vanilla; the floral sweetness stays for a long, long time.

On my scarf, it never pulled up what I think of as The Evil Lauder base, and although I kept sniffing and resniffing my scarf over a period of several hours, I didn’t get nauseated or irritable at all. Beautiful is actually very lovely, if very much of its time, and if it smells like this on people I’m not surprised it’s still selling well. It’s very much a “signature scent” sort of thing, I would think.

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23 Responses to Top 20 Bestselling Women’s Fragrances of 2011 in the US, part I of the mini-reviews

  1. Elisa says:

    Revelation about the scarf! I wonder if other Lauder scents could work for you that way?

    I have a little sample of Beautiful from JoanElaine of Redolent of Spices, and I’m not sure of its vintage, but I get a ton of galbanum from it. It smells like a green floral rather than a rose. Surprising, because the last time I’d smelled it on paper it was an intensely sweet rose.

    • mals86 says:

      I was surprised to go to Fragrantica after writing this and find that there are no aldehydes listed, because I was sure they were there, and that there’s galbanum in the notes – because I didn’t smell any, either from the tester or on my scarf. And you know me, I LIKE galbanum. Not everyone does. (I popped the top on my bottle of Silences the other day, and poor Bookworm shuddered and left the room before I even sprayed any.)

      There is a huge floral sweetness to Beautiful that I’d never smelled before, and I was surprised to find that lovely carnation in there.

      I am now convinced that there is some evil interaction between my skin and the Lauders. If I didn’t have anything ELSE to wear, I’d be whooping with joy at the possibility of wearing Knowing on my scarf without All The Evil raising its ugly head… as it is, though, I’m pretty stocked with stuff. It is interesting to know that if I want to smell the Lauders truly, as they’re meant to smell, I have to put them on fabric instead of on me. Wonder if I’d like White Linen on fabric? On me, it’s truly hideous. Should have been called Wet Mildewed Laundry.

  2. Patty says:

    I always crack up at your description of Youth Dew, as it is consistently one of my favorites, and has been for many years. Then again, I like spice- and patchouli-fests, whereas florals bore me after a while. We must be Evil Scent Twins! (LOL). I’ve worn several frags in the Lauder line: Aliage and Beautiful were both signature scents for me at different times, YD’s the old favorite, White Linen is the new favorite. I seem to be going off them a bit now, as I’ve just swapped away partially-used bottles of Azuree and Wrappings (technically Clinique). Chypres, which I thought I liked, are turning on me. I have a sample bottle of Aliage, and can still see what I liked about that one; maybe there’s a full bottle in my future.

    • mals86 says:

      Oh, I know… I feel guilty for hating Youth Dew. But there it is, I hate Youth Dew. (And Opium. And Coco.) And I do sort of, um, “need” my florals to make me feel grounded.

      So: Hi there, Evil Scent Twin! I think ESTs can be about as valuable as STs, in that if your EST hates something, it might be a good bet for you to try. My perfume-blogger ESTs are Gaia at The Non-Blonde (most of the time, anyway, though she often likes some of the same really-vintage old scents I do) and Tom at PST/PP. The bloggers I have at least a couple of overlapping interests with: Musette at PP, Abigail at ISTIA, and Donna/Flora at PST.

      Wrappings I have never managed to try. Though I’d like to – the aldehydes and the “cold, crisp air” aspect that people talk about draw me.

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  4. Sharon C. says:

    Which version of Coco Mlle did you try? I have (and wear) both, but generally reach for the EdT because it’s fresher and lighter somehow. I have to be in the right mood to wear the EdP–in fact, that was the first version I tried, and for years thought I didn’t like Coco Mlle.

    Think I’ll give Chanel No 5 EdT another try at my next opportunity. My older EdP spray has not been very satisfying lately, and I don’t know if it’s my changing tastes, changing body chemistry, or something changing/degrading in my bottle of the EdP itself.

    • mals86 says:

      I’ve tried both, actually, Sharon. Since my sister wears it I bought her several sample sprays in both edt and edp, and kept one of each for my writing experiment. She prefers the edp, and I dislike them equally. I think I read that Victoria at BdJ likes the parfum, which I’ve never even seen.

      I really do not care for No. 5 edp.

  5. Kym says:

    Mals – it takes me a least 20 minutes to get to the mall, and it’s only a few miles away! I think I’d prefer a non-traffic 20 minutes:)

    • mals86 says:

      Good point about the traffic – when I lived with my parents, it took me 15 minutes to drive to the mall. Well, 20 minutes from door to door, we’ll say. Where I live now, the trip is mostly at 55 mph, but also mostly on two-lane highway with no passing. Grr. I hate that.

  6. annemariec says:

    I love all your reviews, and was brave of you to give Beautiful a fair sniffing, as I know how you feel about the Lauders. I have not noticed carnation in it before so I will be thinking ‘carnation?’ when next I smell it (which will be tomorrow if my Parfum d’Empier samples ahve not arrived in the mail this afternoon). I too find the opening of Beautiful a bit … much … but after half an hour to an hour, as everything settles it is gorgeous: warm, feminine, but, with the persistent green notes, always intelligent, if you see what I mean.

    I own the EDP of No 5 as well as the EDT and I do get that synthetic note from the EDP that so many other people mention. But it also has a lovely vanilla note in it too, which on some days is just perfect.

    J’Adore and CM: screechy and nasty. I was nodding continuously as I read your reviews. Light Blue: I have never tried it and was mentally resolving to give it a go until I saw ‘relentlessly clean’. I have EL’s Pleasures for that, thanks all the same!

    • annemariec says:

      Adding: ‘a tinny-voiced, porn-perfect airbrushed idea of a real woman’. Hell, that is so well put, and so true. It is unbelievably depressing that such a fragrance could be a top seller. I wish I could smell the pre-reformulated version, but I’m not going to chase it. Too many other fish to fry.

      • mals86 says:

        Victoria at BdJ was apparently very fond of the original version of J’Adore – and I say that the L’Absolu edition was really quite, quite nice. Very pretty. But since the packaging for standard J’Adore hasn’t changed, I can NOT imagine trying to track it down!

    • mals86 says:

      Oh, do tell me if you find the carnation in Beautiful! I love carnation. It went a long way toward redeeming Beautiful for me.

      I’m not sure why I don’t like No. 5 edp – could be because it took me so long to come around to it in the first place (your mother’s fragrance is so often forbidden territory, isn’t it?), and having been spoiled by The Stupendous Vintage Parfum Bottle, I’m just picky.

      Oh, skip Light Blue. There’s so much stuff that’s more interesting to smell. That’s the one I smell most frequently on people around me, and I’m surprised that you haven’t had it up to your ears in Australia. (I’m maybe a little bit jealous, too.)

      • annemariec says:

        I don’t think I get carnation out of Beautiful unless is a certain dry spiciness in there that balances the sweeter notes. Carnation is one of the listed notes.

        The tester of Light Blue was empty. I take that as a sign.

        • mals86 says:

          I’ll bet that “dry spiciness” is what I’m calling “carnation.” I think perfumers often build carnation out of clove and rose notes.

  7. Vanessa says:

    I enjoyed your reviews very much, not least because I am familiar with all the scents you have chosen to cover. Beautiful is a bit fuzzy in my mind and deserves a retrial, having read a couple of recent posts about it – on BoTO blog and CPB, I think. I didn’t really care for it, but it was ages ago (in the relatively short lifespan of my hobby, that is!)

    This is an excellent idea for a collaboration, for “scent appreciation starts in the mall”, or did for most of us.

    • mals86 says:

      Thanks, V – and it was Ari’s idea to go get (re)acquainted with those popular fragrances. People have to be buying them for one reason or another, and it’s interesting to try to find out what buyers find attractive about them. Oh, and you’re right – most of us start our hobbies in the mall.

      Beautiful does deserve a sniff. It may be too dense for your personal tastes, but it is a really nice rich floral.

  8. Stefanie says:

    I totally agree with your thoughts on Coco Mademoiselle! I find the ‘muddled’ aspect to be quite frustrating, it smells almost messy to me. Not sure why it’s so popular.

    On the other end of the Chanel spectrum, I always thought I disliked No.5 because I’d only ever tried the edp and I don’t care for it much. Then I got a small bottle of the parfum as a gift and can’t believe how much I adore it. This one certainly does deserve it’s fame!

    • mals86 says:

      I’m not sure why it’s popular, either. It does smell fantastic on my sister, but not on most of the other people who wear it.

      No. 5 parfum is really gorgeous!

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