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

Here’s the third installment of mini-reviews of the most popular women’s fragrances in the US last year.  For Part I, click here, for Part II, click here, and for the description of the original project, click here.

Clinique Aromatics Elixir – my mall does not have a tester for Aromatics Elixir! In fact, when I asked about it the Clinique SA gave me a hunted, defensive look. “We don’t have a tester,” she said. “I’m not sure we have any of that in stock, either.” I found this strange for a scent that is popular enough to warrant inclusion in the Top 20 list. Perhaps it doesn’t sell well locally – though I know I’ve seen a tester at Macy’s, at the bigger mall located 55 miles away. Or perhaps they really were out of stock. Or perhaps the Belk’s buyer just hates AE. Or maybe the SA hates it and didn’t want to have to smell it in the air after I’d sprayed and left… in any case, I don’t have a sample of it at all. What I remember about it is that it is a real room-clearer, bitter with greens and resins, with a bit of rose running underneath, a sort of Incredible Hulk version of L’Arte di Gucci. I’ll revisit AE if I get hold of a sample, or manage to drive to Roanoke.

Clinique Happy – Elisa sent me a sample (thanks, Elisa!) and I had the opportunity to wear it several times, which is always helpful. I see why people like this, it’s very… innocuous, and is unlikely to offend anyone at PTA meetings. Happy opens up with this tropical-fruit mango/papaya almost-rotting thingy that I just hate. (But then, I always hate this sort of thing. I hated it in Calyx, hated it in Nuit de Tubereuse. Bleargh.) After that goes away, there’s a pretty lily-of-the-valley note and some vague, clean florals, and under the florals is a combination of white musks and a vaguely rubbery-vanilla accord that reminds me of Bvlgari Black. The waft is nice, but close to the skin it’s quite chemical and reminiscent of swimming pools. I let Bookworm sniff without telling her anything about what she was smelling, and she came up first with this: “Ew, what is that? It smells like the trash can in summer.” And then later, with this: “If I smell you from this distance [three feet], you smell really nice, kind of like clean laundry. But if I sniff you up close, you smell like rubber. Like pencil erasers, you know?”

Mind you, I spent enough time on competition swim teams when I was younger that the smell of chlorine is pleasant to me. It’s just that I don’t think that I should smell like the pool. Also, I’m not sure Happy smells happy. Maybe they should have called it “Apathetic.” Or “Vaguely Present.”

Donna Karan Cashmere Mist – I first smelled Cashmere Mist sometime last year, after Nava at Perfume Posse mentioned that she loved it.  I looked at the name and the off-white/silver packaging and thought, Aha, clean musk and Cashmeran.

And then I tried it on skin. I recoiled. It smelled so chemical and astringent that I nearly scraped it off with my fingernails, along with whatever skin was tainted by it. GAH. A second trial was less enervating. I gritted my teeth through the chemical bits, and eventually Cashmere Mist settled into a pleasantly soapy, woody, musky thing with no discernible florals. It was still noticeably synthetic, but not the hideous nails-on-blackboard screechiness of the opening. It lasted forrreevvvvveeerrrrrrrrrrr, too (10 hours on me! 10!), when I just wanted it to go away.

At a distance, it is much more bearable. Pleasant, even. Reminiscent of J. Lo’s competent but boring Glow, with a slightly more woody emphasis, Cashmere Mist would probably not bother me on an elevator unless the wearer had recently bathed in it and stood immediately next to me. It’s still my least favorite of the four fragrances reviewed today. Almost makes me wish the Lauders didn’t bother me – at least they smell like something.

Justin Bieber Someday – remember my rant to Taylor Swift about her frooty-vanilla-musk Wonderstruck? Well, this is Wonderstruck, Take 2. I’m less annoyed this time, because there’s more vanilla and less boring white musk in Someday, and even the froot is not quite as sweet. (Okay, it’s still sweet, it’s just not as sweet.) Also, I admire Taylor’s personal style and don’t care a fig about the Biebs himself, so I’m not nearly as annoyed at his so OBVIOUSLY, IN BIG FOUR-FOOT-TALL LETTERS, having his fragrance tailored to the current tastes of girls in the 10-16-year-old demographic. I just think that Taylor should have set a good example instead of letting some marketing dork insist, “Oh, the girls like fruity vanilla these days, so that’s what it’ll smell like. That’s what’ll sell.” I expect that sort of thing from Justin.

So now that I’ve let my personal prejudices have their way with this review, I’ll try to set all that aside and say that I think Someday is a slightly better scent than Wonderstruck. It lasts a bit longer, the froot is less artificially sweet, the musk is less oppressive, and I can even catch a little hint of (synthetic) jasmine in the mix. I still don’t like it, but if you held a gun to my head and told me I had to pick between Someday and Wonderstruck or die, I’d go for Someday. 

Concerning that bottle: to someone fairly familiar with Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings of vulvoid flowers, it’s right on the verge of appalling. It’s made for little girls, for heaven’s sake! 

Ralph Lauren Romance – This one is supposed to be a meadow full of flowers, Ralph Lauren style: heroines with ash blonde hair wearing white eyelet sundresses, handsome swains in polo shirts, closed-mouth kissing. On horseback, yet!  It is of course hideously dull. It is a “fresh” floral with peony, lily-of-the-valley, and hedione, maybe a hint of violet. Please note, of course, that none of those floral notes are natural: they’re ALL synthetics. There are some citrus notes up top, a hint of rose, and it dries down to a woody-musky scent with a touch of clean patchouli. I’ve smelled worse.  This one might be the least worst of Part III’s bad lot.

All images except Georgia O’Keefe painting (from are from Fragrantica.


15 thoughts on “Top 20 Bestselling Women’s Fragrances of 2011 in the US: part III of the mini-reviews”

  1. I really enjoyed this round up – let me know if you would like me to send you a sample of AE – I have a purse spray of it!

    Cashmere Mist was the second FB acquisition of my hobby, after Lovely, and the focus of my first ever perfume swap. I find it too synthetic now as well, but there was a time when I loved it (when admittedly I knew almost nothing else except Intuition and DKNY Delicious Night – I had bought a twin pack of samples on Ebay!) that I would like to recapture, not least because I have a full bottle of the stuff.

    1. Thanks for the offer, V! I think another friend might be sending me one, but if that falls through I’m going to be grabby and ask you…

      I liked Cashmere Mist better when it was further from my nose – I know that I am much more sensitive to those white musks than I used to be. Sigh.

        1. News flash! Went by the mall this evening, and – lo and behold, an Aromatics Elixir tester! I had to ask for it, but it was there. Methinks the SA I spoke with a few weeks ago was just trying to avoid having anybody actually spray it.

  2. Aromatics Elixir is the only one of this lot that I know. I always have it pegged in my mind along with Azuree as two of the best buys on the market: niche quality and niche character, but dirt cheap. (Although I’ve noticed prices on Azuree going up, in recent years.) Chandler Burr calls it a masterpiece. Unfortunately I can’t wear either of them. AE, in particular, is impossible to wear with any subtlety. People say the body lotion is the way to go. Maybe. I’d like to try the ‘Perfumer’s Reserve’ flanker, but I never see it.

    1. Well, it sure ain’t subtle. Masterpiece maybe – at least it SMELLS like something, unlike more of the other mall fare – but I cannot imagine actually wearing it. Srsly, it would be like walking around carrying the Incredible Hulk on your shoulders.

  3. Ok, I sought out the Aromatics Elixir tester last night at the local mall. I’m glad it was the last thing I did on the way out of the building. It was Godzilla, Mothra and Ghidora all in one tiny spritz. I’ve never wanted to scrub something so quickly. Deepest apologies to those who love this scent, but it was ginormous and chemical smelling with no discernible notes. Perhaps the tester was off, I don’t know. If I’m ever brave enough to try it again, I’ll spray it on a cotton ball, and dab it on from there. It certainly was not fruity or candy sweet, so I will give it credit there, but not for me.

    Lest I draw fire from Elixir’s ardent admirers, let me admit I own the AE perfumer’s reserve, and enjoy it! It was my scent for Christmas Eve last year. I like the balsamic herbs and its dry yet rich quality. Most scents that are thick and dense turn very sweet, and I love the way the parfum is opulent without heading into vanilla or amber territory. I always think of it as a dark tapestry. It’s still available online, and maybe it’s my modernized AE with training wheels, but it feels like a fragrance people centuries ago would wear. I love it for that. Maybe one day I’ll grow into the regular AE. I’ll stop by and try it again. I’ll wait a while, though, until that shocking sprayed moment fades in memory. Hope you have great adventures, spraying new fragrances–good or bad, it’s such great fun. Be well.

    1. (I don’t remember Ghidora. Hmmm.) You know, I don’t know if your tester was off! I did finally smell it from a tester a few days ago, and it is NOT all sweetness-and-light. I did get discernible notes, but I’d swear there’s gasoline in there. And – but I’m getting ahead of myself! Will do a mini review this week, so I’ll stop talking about it now.

      I have not smelled the perfumer’s reserve and I doubt it would be my sort of thing either, though if I come across it of course I’ll give it a sniff. I had thought it was just a slightly-changed parfum limited-edition version, but reading a review over at Katie Puckrik Smells, I see that it really is quite different.

  4. Happy really does have a weird rubbery plastic note — up close it smells a lot like a Balloon. Which I guess some people associate with happiness? I have a feeling it used to be better…

    1. Balloon! Yep, could be balloon. Interesting that Bookworm noticed it (she makes fun of me noticing off notes).

  5. Azuree and Aromatics Elixir are pretty similar in my opinion. I think Azuree is a thing of glory, and Aromatics Elixir is great too.

    I’m glad they finally got to you!

    1. They are definitely not my thing, but at least they smell like something other than faint floral swill. My disgust with the average department store offerings is growing.

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