Estee Lauder Beautiful : Fragrance Review

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Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.

It would not be an overstatement to say that Estée Lauder changed the face of American perfumery and revolutionized the way women treat fragrance. With Youth Dew, which was cleverly introduced as a bath oil, she managed to break the age-old stereotype of perfume as a gift from a man. With her subsequent fragrances, she enshrined American perfumery as a rival to be noticed. Created in 1985, Beautiful still remains a strong symbol of Lauder’s vision. …

In a way, Beautiful was Estée Lauder’s take on the great French classic, Chanel No 19. If the No 19 woman has a poised demeanor and somewhat aloof beauty, the woman who wears Beautiful is a girl next door type, albeit one who would not shun a dose of glamour. Like No 19, Beautiful oscillates between a green floral and a chypre, combining the elements of both. While the floral heart of No 19 has a delicate subtlety, Beautiful is lush and voluptuous.

Its Amazonian beauty makes Beautiful quite a head turner, but before it manages to grow oppressively strong, the woody chypre accord reigns it in. The richness of the base is augmented by classical oriental notes such as sandalwood, incense, and vanilla. Absent are the animalic hints and the sensual whispers. Beautiful has a wholesome character. It hugs you without an attempt to seduce.

I came to know American perfumery intimately only about 10 years ago, but I cannot but admire Lauder and the fragrances that were created under her direction. There is coherence and unity in the fragrance line. All of the classical Lauder creations answer to Lauder’s logic, rather than to some principles of market research. Indeed, Beautiful is a Lauder to its core—it has a strong sillage, distinctive character, and unmistakable signature. Lauder knew that women wanted a fragrance that lasts and lasts, and tenacity is one of the main attributes of Estée Lauder’s fragrances, even if it is achieved at the expense of subtlety. Even if Beautiful is not quite au courant (it has a distinct 80s flavor), it is an American classic. “Beauty is an attitude,” Lauder was known to say. “There’s no secret. Why are all brides beautiful? Because on their wedding day they care about how they look. There are no ugly women – only women who don’t care or who don’t believe they are attractive.”

Beautiful includes notes of mandarin, lily, marigold, rose, tuberose, carnation, jasmine, lily of the valley, orange blossom, ylang-ylang, clary sage, thyme, iris, myrrh, sandalwood, vetiver, oakmoss, labdanum, frankincense, tonka bean, vanilla. Estée Lauder fragrances are available directly from Estée Lauder as well as at Neiman Marcus, Bergdoft Goodman, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Tomorrow: Beautiful Love, a modern take on Beautiful.

Beautiful advertising from Parfum de Pub.

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25 Comments

  • Madelyn E: Dear Victoria,
    I am so excited to see some acknowledgement of what truly is an American (vs. French )classic and one of my mainstays : Beautiful. ! While I cannot relate t all to Light Blue, Beautiful is a fragrance that I rejected brutally some years ago as a typical department store boring scent. It was only when I really gave it a second look, did I descover its many warm and alluring facets. (The fact is that a special male friend really liked it .) At that moment I got B in a few forms : the classic Eau de Parfumspray, bosy creme, shower gel, perfume pen etc. I really got into ut. Indeed to look at my dresser , one would think I reaaally must love Beautiful – because there are more than a few bottles of it. When I wear it, I always receive compliments- which is always pleasant ! Even my friend – a non- scent wearer ( yes I do talk to women who eschew fragrance..sort of ) commented on Beautiful – how pretty it was. I know for the vintage and niche perfumista, Beautiful may be considered to be mainstream– maybe it is.. but it really is special
    Thank you for giving it your attention. dear V. that is giving it a blessing.
    Madelyn E January 29, 2007 at 12:54am Reply

  • Marina: I like it. I used to have it 8-9 years ago. You make me want to run to eBay and buy it again :-) January 29, 2007 at 8:31am Reply

  • March: Amazonian beauty … what a perfect description!

    How do you feel about the early Ralph Lauren stuff (before RL got busy cultivating the youth market with Hot, etc.) in comparison to Estee? Do you find the same cohesiveness? The original Polo and RL signature scent (in the square red bottle) are, to me, American classics, but as a line I can’t decide whether I’m smelling the man or the marketing ;-) I have you to thank for making me try RL Double Black. January 29, 2007 at 8:43am Reply

  • Karin: It was beautiful on my sister, but not on me.

    It’s hard to believe, isn’t it, that at one time women did not buy their own fragrance. I remember my dad buying some for my mother.

    By contrast, I buy all of mine or nearly all… January 29, 2007 at 11:25am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Madelyn, I remember walking down the street one time and noticing this big, rich perfume on a woman just ahead of me. It was fascinating! I have since recognized it as Beautiful, and the memory haunted me ever since. Of course, Estee Lauder was a talented and ambitious woman, and one has to admire this. January 29, 2007 at 12:02pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Marina, I also have samples of Beautiful from different years, and I must say that even the current version is great. Lauder really does not cheapen their fragrances unlike many other fragrance companies. I am not sure if I would wear Beautiful now, but I admire it. January 29, 2007 at 12:03pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: March, I love Lauren and I admire Polo. They are definitely the great American classics. Although then RL ventured into less interesting Tuxedo, Chaps, etc., the first two fragrances were very special. I actually wore Lauren a couple of days ago, and I was marveling to its elegant beauty. Not sure Lauren had anything to do with the fragrances though.

    I am glad that you are enjoying Double Black! It is definitely a well-crafted fragrance. January 29, 2007 at 12:05pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Karin, yes, it is difficult to believe this, although then again, my dad never bought perfume for my mother. She always purchased them herself, as she continues to do right now. We inspire each other to try new things. I introduced her to Serge Lutens, and she discovered Bois Oriental from the range, and now both of us wear it. January 29, 2007 at 12:07pm Reply

  • Robin: V, so true about the coherence & unity in the line. Great article. January 29, 2007 at 12:19pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R, thank you! January 29, 2007 at 12:24pm Reply

  • greeneyes: Victoria, that’s a lovely review. I wore Beautiful from the end of high school through college, when it was my “signature” scent. I don’t wear it anymore but it still has a special place in my heart. January 29, 2007 at 3:26pm Reply

  • amandampc: What fun to read about this Eighties classic! Your article conjures many happy times for me as this was THE scent du jour (and, erm, “relatively” new back then, not that I’m dating myself or anything) for many gals back in my college days. Pretty as it always was, it was also potent enough to cut right through the stale smoke/beer/dirty sock/etc. fumes at even the stenchiest of frat parties. One of my best friends always wore Beautiful, the other Shalimar (and I, Bill Blass – a little iconoclastic for a 19 year old but I was basically clueless about such things then…and probably now, too!) and the thought of both of these scents always gets me just a little misty eyed. Thanks for the memories, Victoria! :) January 29, 2007 at 5:06pm Reply

  • Katie: Alas, I am amongst those who have far too many “don’t care” days, heh. I just… well, whatever. Be beautiful, or be punctual is usually my choice with kids, and I’m a punctual sort of lady. (When I’m late by even minutes for anything at all I begin to panic, hee! I’m ugly, but I’m on time!)

    Beautiful is one of those few fragrances that I can agree with my non-obsessed friends about. They love it, I admire, so it’s some common ground when they ask about some new frilly-forgettable, fruity-floral, pink-whatever release. There’s something about a lot of those shoulder padded 80s fragrances like Beautiful that I hope will come back a little into vogue again. They were at least distinctive, you know? January 29, 2007 at 8:58pm Reply

  • Elle: Objectively, there are quite a few EL scents that I think are truly wonderful and deserve more respect than they get. However, the only one that I can truly consider wearing is Youth Dew, since I have absolutely no associations w/ anyone else I know having worn it. The problem w/ EL scents for me is that they are so ubiquitous and people I’ve known who appear to be fond of the idea of signature scents always seem to choose EL scents. Also, given the sillage, which you mentioned, it’s impossible to not instantly associate the scents w/ these people. I used to adore White Linen until I started going out w/ DH and learned it was the signature scent of his ex, so that essentially meant WL got sent off to early retirement for me. W/ scents from niche lines, even though I smell them on some people from time to time, there is not that overwhelming association w/ any particular person to interfere w/ my objective appreciation of the scent. The scent is free to have its own personality and I can have my own associations w/ it. Beautiful really is a lovely scent, but there are at least six people I can think of immediately who have worn it as their signature scent and I think I’d feel like I was having some sort of mind meld w/ them should I ever try to wear it myself. January 29, 2007 at 10:26pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Greeneyes, I feel this way towards Tresor, and whenever I smell it, it brings back a lot of memories. I do not really wear it now anymore, but I am still very fond of it. January 30, 2007 at 11:42am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Amanda, I love explore Estee Lauder’s line, which is quite outstanding if one comes to think of it. Familiarity might breed contempt though, and whenever I pass by EL counters, I always think that their displays look as if they are frozen in time. Still, the quality of fragrances always remains high. It is very impressive.

    Oh, you were indeed quite an iconoclast for a 19 year old, but I would not expect anything less from you. :) January 30, 2007 at 11:45am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Katie, I cannot agree more–they were very distinctive, and this is what sets them apart from all of the pallid, vapid current releases. January 30, 2007 at 11:46am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Elle, I can completely understand this. For me, this is how I feel about Lancome fragrances. They were quite ubiquitous in the Soviet Union of the 80s, and many women wore Climat and Magie Noire. However, now that I am feeling more nostalgic, I wear these fragrances myself. Estee Lauder fragrances are quite exotic to me, in a sense, because I did not grow up with them. As I learn more and more about Lauder herself and what she has done for the American perfumery, I cannot help but admire the fragrance line. January 30, 2007 at 11:48am Reply

  • Cara: I used to think I couldn’t wear florals but then I discovered Beautiful EDP. On me it starts out floral then drys down to warm roses and woods. While not something I’d wear every day I find I like to use it on days when I feel tired, or down because it reminds me of my Grandmother who wore it often, almost an SS with her, and of happy memories in my father’s rose garden in summer when I was a child. I keep a miniture of the EDT in my travel cosmetic bag for days when I leave the train feeling grungy and grumpy from being jostled by too many people and being in an enclosed space for too long. A spritz of Beautiful and I am rich, refreshed, comforted and Beautiful. Brava Estee! January 30, 2007 at 2:42pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Cara, it is wonderful to be able to discover something that suits us perfectly. Sounds like you found yourself in Beautiful. January 31, 2007 at 12:27pm Reply

  • Gaia, the non-blonde: I grew up on the same Lauderesque concept of beauty- A woman must take care of herself: Never leave the house with chipped nail polish, always wear mascara and never be caught not wearing a perfume. This explains a thing or two about me (writing a beauty blog, fo one).

    I agree about Beautiful and its 80s air. In my mind it’s right there next to Giorgio. January 31, 2007 at 7:28pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Gaia, sounds like a very familiar Eastern European upbringing I had. :) January 31, 2007 at 7:32pm Reply

  • ken: i remember loving the perfume as my teacher used to intoxicate us with this stunner (back in 1986). when i revisited the perfume a couple of years ago, i can’t shake off this synthetic note in the drydown. something wasn’t quite right. anyway, i managed to track down a flat squarish bottle (vintage). oh my god…. all the memories came rushing back… it was… BEAUTIFUL. May 28, 2012 at 2:59am Reply

  • Annette Reynolds: This will sound odd (in more ways than one, probably), but I’m only just now trying Estee Lauder’s “Beautiful” for the first time because of all the wonderful things people have said about it.

    I ordered a very small (new) bottle of the Eau de Parfum.

    I sprayed it on my hand.

    And all I could smell was something that can only be described as Celery Seed mixed with something floral. (Not sure which of the notes this is, but it’s definitely herbal.) It is horrible to my nose.

    Then, much later (at least half an hour, maybe more), the final dry down was a beautiful powdery scent.

    But I couldn’t get past that initial blast of celery.

    I must be the only person who smells this in “Beautiful,” which makes it very UNbeautiful to me until it gets to that final stage.

    Is it possible there’s something very different about the newer formulation?

    As I’ve said before: my nose just isn’t that sophisticated, but I don’t get ANY of the other notes in this fragrance.

    So, my (probaby rhetorical) question is: where do I find a perfume that takes me right to that beautiful powdery scent at the end of “Beautiful?” :-( October 30, 2014 at 4:17pm Reply

    • Victoria: Your nose is plenty sophisticated! And the celery nuances are not uncommon in certain jasmine materials, so maybe that’s what you’re getting. I need to think about a perfume that dries down to the same softness as Beautiful… October 31, 2014 at 11:25am Reply

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