Aromatics Elixir Perfumer’s Reserve: the Portrait of a Lady

Aromatics Elixir Perfumer's Reserve

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

Aromatics Elixir Perfumer's Reserve notes

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.


About Christos

Scientifically minded but obsessed with the subjective aspect of things. Photos copyright of MemoryOfScent, with special thanks to Pantelis Makkas You are welcome to link to my blog but you are definitely not allowed to copy text or use the photos without my permission. All text and main photos are originals and property of MemoryOfScent All perfumes are from my collection unless stated otherwise.


  1. Wow! What a great review. I just LOVE the way you describe Perfumer’s Reserve. Wouldn’t we all love to be that reclusive woman in the woods, by a river! And, I learned a lot about the original Aromatics Elixir. It’s just a pleasure to wear.

    • Aromatics Elixir Perfumer’s Reserve is an amazingly beautiful and balanced perfume. Aromatics Elixir is simply a masterpiece! The incredibly rich and natural nuances of its ingredients are daring to this day and many niche perfumes seem mundane in comparison. I wish all perfumistas, especially men, get past the “my aunt used to wear this” and give it the honours it deserves.

  2. I use Aromatics Elixir to explain to Advanced Cataloguing Students in University Library Schools the complexities of perfume classification. We start with easy things like Yardley’s Lily of the Valley… then we move on to Pour un Homme de Caron and then we finish with Aromatics Elixir. A chypre? A leather? A woody floral as Luca Turin suggests? Yes… all that.

    I shouldn’t buy it.. but, what the heck! I’ve already blown my perfume budget for February!

    • Yes, budget is an issue with Perfumer’s Reserve. In Greece it retails for a little over €100 and a little will not go such a long way… This is very discrete, quite the opposite of the eau de parfum, but this also makes an even easier perfume to wear. In my book it is easier to wear than Aramis 900!

  3. Christos, as usual, this was fabulous! I especially loved the way you concluded it (and for some reason, the conclusion reminded me a bit of Sigrun’s style, and I was thinking the two of you should get together and do a joint blog project because I think you’re both so talented at anthropomorphising a perfume).

    I’m quite familiar with Aromatics Elixir because my mother adopted it as her signature fragrance for a number of years, and she still favors it, though she has branched out a bit now that I have started sending her things. As for me, you’d think AE would be right up my alley, but every time I try it, the beginning is great and then it goes on to bludgeon me after that. I have a feeling that I would get on far better with this new version, but probably won’t seek it out, as I am quite happy with L’Arte di Gucci, which is in that same playing field.

    Btw, your post made me realize how many other perfumes of Bernard Chant’s I love or admire.

    • What an excellent idea! I am always looking out for collaborations because, let’s admit this, writing can be so claustrophobic at times. Perhaps Sigrun and I should talk.

      There is no way a perfumista can reach a certain age and not have some sort of personal association with Aromatics Elixir but what surprised me is that the eau de parfum smells so herbal on my skin. My memories of it were so much floral. I think I have to compare the eau de toilette version as well.

      Bernard Chant is one of my favorite perfumers. It seems that he spent his life perfecting that chypre accord and in doing so he created some of the best commercial fragrances ever.

  4. Aldehydes? Myrrh? I wonder where does this lead to…? I should check with in the local Clinique boutique, though they lag a bit with the novelties…Oh, AE, my Love and Firestarter! I am afraid of discontinuation…
    Thanks for the marvellous reminder post to spray one of my favourite frags more often! Some are really left behind due to the constant hunger to try new releases or explore niche brands.
    Does the Perfumer’s Reserve make a voluptious aroma cloud around you? I read you don’t sense the jasmine, but do you consider it to be a bit sweeter due to the peach-rose combo?
    And what about the dab bottle? If it is to dab then it should be at least the strength of Habanita pure perfume, right?

    • I think what you should keep in mind to get an idea of what Perfumer’s Reserve is to the eau de parfum is that it is a reinterpretation for the 21st century. The voluptuous cloud of the original is not politically correct for the 21st century! Extrait concentration does not always mean stronger as I have come to know and in this case it means suppler, more resilient but a lot closer to the skin as well. I do not get the peach at all and it is not sweeter but it is creamier.

  5. A glorious and gorgeous review. I so loved the ending. You plucked some nostalgic heartstrings with this one!

  6. jtd

    Thanks for the review, Christos. You capture both the original and the revision perfectly. I’ve been thinking about AE and planning to bring it out for Spring use. It’s more ‘Rite of Spring’ in its weight and drama than simple Spring innocence, but I Always crave it in Spring.

    • “Rite of Spring” is I believe the perfect musical analogy for Aromatics Elixir edp! An exemplary coexistence of spirituality and carnality, in a very natural context. To my nose however the perfume’s tonalities are much closer to the colours and humidity of Autumn

  7. Have you ever acknowledged the artistic value of a perfume and at the same time can’t bear smelling it on your skin? Well this is how I feel about AE. I rarely can avoid spraying it even on a paper strip (especially when the bottle is unattended from the -most of the times- annoying Clinique stuff) but I always end up with the same verdict. This is magnificently TOO MUCH for my nose. Blame it on the heavy top citrus-floral accord or most likely to the oakmoss part that is pumped up to the max, but this scent is confusing. Edgy for a feminine today (I d wanted it creamier, velvety or just more subtle), slightly better on a man, needs time to settle but still hard to pin down (maybe lightly sprayed or diluted). I haven’t yet smelled Perf.Reserve. I need to.

    • How Clinique decided to use this composition as their first perfume is still beyond me. Wearing it can be difficult but catching whiffs of it here and there is so beautiful. You have to try the Perfumer’s Reserve!

  8. I bought a bottle at the original $45 price and had since swapped away perhaps 10mLs. I still have not garnered the courage to try it for fear that I may not be able to scrub it off if I happen to dislike it with a passion!

    • No nead to be afraid 🙂
      Just spray a little (ONE spray will go a long way) and live the experience. It is amazing how mainstream perfumes used to smell back in the 70’s

  9. “If you are looking for freshness, sportiness, lightness, look the other way.” 😉

    Excellent review, Christos–thanks.

    I so covet this bottle! I have the regular and the frosted glass version with the embossed flowers, but this black model… swoon!

    • The bottle is breathtaking and up close is even better than in photos. The old fashioned dab top is beautiful. But the perfume is also very different. It is very difficult for me to wear the eau de parfum in public but this is so streamlined and easy to wear that it made sense for me to own it,

  10. I love Aromatics Elixir too. I first discovered a .5 oz bottle in my mother’s jewelry box when I was about 13. She’d gotten it free from a friend who worked for Clinique. I loved it: thought it was sultry and adult.

    13 years later I still think the same. I can articulate the notes now (hay, rose, lots of animalic notes, dryness). I wouldn’t have recognized the chamomile if you hadn’t mentioned it. Aromatics Elixir is one of the most distinctive perfumes I can think of.

    • All Bernard Chant’s creations share the same distinctiveness to the point that I feel I have to own them all to fully unlock the mystery of this timeless accord. It is really interesting that his feminine creations, Alliage, Aromatics Elixir, today feel much more appropriate for men than they used to be. Maybe it is the maturity they exude that has been extinct from most recent feminine releases.

  11. This one sounds interesting. I might have to grab a sample from somewhere.I’m a fan of galbanum, jasmine, and patchouli. However I don’t like aldehydes that much. To me they have a soapy, raw dryer sheet scent/quality to them that is weird. This is the reason I dislike Chanel No5 edt. However, Im learning how to appreciate aldehydes more and more. Great review Christos! Do they still sell this at the Clinique counters or has it been discontinued?

  12. Deborah Lane McGuire

    Your description is so compelling that I have to try. Beautiful.

  13. They’re all out in Montreal. I checked. If you find it, buy it!

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  15. Julie

    Thank you for this tribute to my own “signature” fragrance! I received a sample in a bonus kit about 30 years ago, and knew instantly I had found “my” scent. When it works for you, it works for life! It is embedded in my wardrobe after all these years, and once, several years ago, my young son helped find one of my lost scarves by taking a small sniff of it and recognizing it as mine. So yes, *I* am now that aunt who wear Elixir…but subtly and carefully, I like to think…

    • Julie, I wish I had the balls to wear Aromatics Elixir in its original glory but I am haunted by the how forceful its feminine character is. I have found my sexual identity compromise in the personality of Aromatics Elixir Perfumer’s Reserve which is subtler but equally beautiful. I still have a miniature of the original and wear it from time to time when I know that I will not be making people (and me) nervous

  16. Lexi J

    What a lovely review and discussion of a scent that, on certain people, is the most indescribably beautiful smell EVER!!! My problem has always been that there is the “perfect” amount, and the “perfect”distance from which, to spray so that you can achieve that glorious amalgam of notes- and sometimes I can achieve that and other times I spend an entire day with burning nasal cavities and a throbbing headache, hiding away from other people so that I don’t overwhelm them, too!! AE could possibly become one of my HG scents, if I could only get it to smell the same way on me more than once!! Although I guess you could look at it this way, too- the perfumer most certainly had to work hard in creating this scent, so I guess it’s only fair that we might have to work a bit in order to wear it well! 🙂
    P.S.- I just love the name of your blog, so evocative!

    • Thank you for reading and commenting Lexi. I can relate to your troubles with the AE sprayer. I have tried to master the art of AE application but instead I have managed to suffocate people wearing Aramis 900 Herbal Cologne, which is nothing more than a more floral, more metallic attempt at a masculine version.. The fact that Clinique continues to produce and evolve this scent is so reassuring.

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