Clinique Aromatics Elixir : Perfume 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 is my firm belief that all great fragrances are polarizing, eliciting a strong response. Whether you love Clinique Aromatics Elixir or find it detestable, it cannot leave you indifferent. Among the legends of American perfumery, it is a fragrance that deserves a chapter of its own. It is bold and confident, with an unusual combination of sultry darkness and austere elegance that marks the best of American chypres such as Estée Lauder Azurée, Private Collection and Knowing. Some fragrances should be smelled simply to know that they exist, and Aromatics Elixir is one of them.

The creator of Aromatics Elixir, the renowned perfumer Bernard Chant, must have been inspired by Christian Dior Diorella, because he used a similar hot-cold accord of patchouli and hedione to weave the structure of this perfume. The end result is very different in character though, with Aromatics Elixir possessing a languid, voluptuous darkness contrasting with the honeyed sweetness of rose and ylang ylang. It opens up on a bitter herbal note laced with lemon, which immediately evokes both Chinese medicinal concoctions and Indian beauty preparations.

After this exotic prelude, the fragrance begins to take on an elegant, dry character with amber, patchouli and vetiver becoming more prominent. The floral layers lend a radiant quality to the orchestration, lightening its heft and smoothing out the rough edges. The sweetness is very minimal in Aromatics Elixir, which functions well as a masculine fragrance. Chant went on to explore a similar idea in Aramis 900, and those men who like this leathery chypre might find Aromatics Elixir equally interesting. It is also related to Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum and Jean Couturier Coriandre, the dark, femme fatale compositions.

Aromatics Elixir was not an immediate love for me. My favorite chypres are lush and velvety a la Guerlain Mitsouko, rather than dark and medicinal. I could appreciate the beauty of the composition, but it seemed like some kind of gorgeous garment that simply did not suit me. As time goes on, I find myself falling more and more under the spell of Aromatics Elixir. Instead of spraying, I dab it on my skin, an application that allows me to enjoy it at a softer volume. Next to the bland florals and sugary gourmands that crowd the Sephora shelves today, it stands out as something otherworldly. While Clinique may not have the cache of some impossible-to-find French niche label, the quality of Aromatics Elixir is such that it can rival most of them.

Those who have been wearing Aromatics Elixir faithfully for years will, no doubt, notice changes in the composition which have become more dramatic over the past few years due to various restrictions on the use of oakmoss, eugenol, Lilial and other important materials. Nevertheless, I find that Aromatics Elixir has weathered all of these changes beautifully, and while it is not identical to the original formula (and to be honest, few fragrances are these days!) it is still splendid.

Clinique Aromatics Elixir includes notes of rose, chamomile, oakmoss, jasmine, lily of the valley, ylang ylang, patchouli, musk, amber, and sandalwood. Available widely from various retailers and online.

Sample: my own acquisition

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53 Comments

  • Nancy C.: Thanks for reviewing one of my favorite fragrances. I find cold dry weather like we’re having right now to be the perfect foil for this scent. November 16, 2011 at 6:20am Reply

  • rosarita: Goodness, why haven’t I tried this? Sounds like something I could love. Thanks for a great review. November 16, 2011 at 7:33am Reply

  • Victoria: It is a perfect time to bring it out. I even got a compliment on it yesterday. November 16, 2011 at 7:38am Reply

  • Victoria: It is one of those must smell fragrances! An American classic and a fantastic dark chypre. Clinique and Estee Lauder seem so ubiquitous, but the quality of their fragrances is anything but common. November 16, 2011 at 7:41am Reply

  • nstephens@beachcroft.com: I think Bernard Chant has composed some of my favourites – this, Cabochard and Azuree – though that sounds as if I wear them lots and I don’t because they are quite strong! I used to wear Aromatics Elixir in the body cream and had many compliments on it. Lovely review of this classic, thank you.
    Nicola November 16, 2011 at 8:39am Reply

  • Suzanna: I wore this for a while when I was far too young to attempt to pull it off, and then because it had the cachet of being nearly a secret. I only stumbled across it because at the time Clinique was branding itself as a specialty, almost cult line, and I had some skin problems the line promised to solve.

    There was and is nothing like it in the American market. That it stands apart today as much as it did 25 years ago says something–it’s an icon and a deserving one. Unfortunately on me it never settles, or else I am overly aware of it the same way I am of Paloma Picasso. On those it suits, however, it is a stunner! November 16, 2011 at 8:44am Reply

  • Nikki: I agree if it suits you, wear it…I had a Brazilian teacher once who wore this and it was absolutely stunning on her and she said she always got compliments wearing it. I tried it a couple of times but couldn’t really enjoy it. I also think Knowing by Estee Lauder is an amazing perfume and I always ask what is this when I smell it on somebody else. I used to wear Jean Couturier’s Coriandre which was perfect for humid Chicago summers. November 16, 2011 at 9:32am Reply

  • dleep: I have loved Aromatics Elixer since the early ’80s. Right now I have it in the solid version and it is perfect and gets many compliments. I also just purchased the newest version and love that one also. It is definitely a love or hate fragrance. November 16, 2011 at 11:58am Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you, Nicola. Another friend of mine swears by the body products in AE range. I also liked the sheer version of the original fragrance that came out a couple of years ago as a seasonal edition. November 16, 2011 at 12:10pm Reply

  • Victoria: Oh, and I went to try Chanel Rouge Allure Matte lipsticks and walked away with La Fascinante (38.) Loved the colors! That red is exactly what I've been looking for. November 16, 2011 at 12:13pm Reply

  • Dante’s Bra: I agree about the body cream– it’s a little lighter way to use AE, and it’s great for layering with other fragrances… November 16, 2011 at 12:17pm Reply

  • Raluca: I’ll have to give this fragrance another try. It has happened to me that I did not like a fragrane at first but started to like it later.
    Thanks for the review. 🙂 November 16, 2011 at 12:38pm Reply

  • Dionne: Aromatics Elixir is the signature fragrance of my son’s aide, and she smells absolutely divine in it. Unfortunately, it smells horrible on me. Darn that skin chemistry! November 16, 2011 at 12:57pm Reply

  • Victoria: How does the solid compared to the alcohol based version? I've never seen it, but sometimes they have these extra products behind the counter. November 16, 2011 at 1:08pm Reply

  • Victoria: It is good to revisit, especially classics. They are so complex that sometimes they need a longer courtship. 🙂 Plus, it is enjoyable to discover other facets in them. November 16, 2011 at 1:08pm Reply

  • Victoria: I miss the kind of fragrances that make a statement and have a great sillage. AE's sillage is fantastic! November 16, 2011 at 1:12pm Reply

  • Victoria: Coriandre is something I love, but do not wear anymore. It just doesn't smell right now. November 16, 2011 at 1:12pm Reply

  • Victoria: It is a demanding fragrance, and I'm not sure if it suits me completely. Still, I love having a bottle around, if only as a potion to counter the bland perfumes flooding the market today. November 16, 2011 at 1:13pm Reply

  • Nancy: The mention of Aromatics Elixir brings back a rush of memories — a good blast from the past, perhaps. My fondness for chypres continues and I enjoyed the review!

    Nancy November 16, 2011 at 1:19pm Reply

  • Victoria: I'm so glad! I love to write about classical fragrances, because it is interesting to read comments of those who wore them for a period of time and sometimes even have stories associated with these perfumes. And I myself have many associations with AE, because it is such a memorable fragrance. November 16, 2011 at 1:24pm Reply

  • silverdust: “Back in the day” when I was all of 16 and working afterschool jobs, AE and Azuree were the first things I purchased when paydays came! I smelled Azuree on a customer when I worked as a checker and ran out to buy it ASAP. Alas, it didn’t smell nearly as glorious on me.

    These days, SA’s never have samples out and normally have just one or two bottles in the display case. They say they aren’t allowed to open one for use as a tester either. What a shame. They are doing a disservice to a great product.

    I ran out of AE eons ago, but remembered how strong it was and never repurchased. The body products route is an excellent suggestion. November 16, 2011 at 2:40pm Reply

  • Musette: I agree. I cannot wear it (migraine-inducing) but I acknowledge its weird beauty and respect the craft that went into creating it. EL and Clinique do get short shrift – and it’s a shame. They do great work!

    xo November 16, 2011 at 2:50pm Reply

  • Janine Yasovant MPA.: Aromatics Elixir is my passion almost 20 years , strong scent with Aroma (cinnamon ??)but out of Allergic! more than 5 times I went back to buy..

    and also can buy in ChiangMai Thailand.. November 16, 2011 at 5:00pm Reply

  • Austenfan: Thank you for this wonderful review of one of my favourite fragrances. It was Perfumes the Guide that first drew my attention to it. I happened upon a full bottle of the limited edition that was done a couple of years ago, and got it for a song on ebay. The initial blast is strong but after that it wears quite smoothly, and lasts for hours, days even, on clothes. It’s funny; I know that AE is American, yet it feels very French to me.

    I don’t like many of the Lauders although I am sure they are admirable fragrances. White Linen is an exception as is Calyx. ( Prescriptives was owned by Lauder I think). I like the opening of Private Collection, but not the dry down. I think I tried Knowing once, and did not like it. But testers in shops rarely show perfumes of to their advantage.

    And I wish I had smelled Cabochard in it’s heyday. November 16, 2011 at 5:42pm Reply

  • Victoria: I can relate! Coco is a migraine recipe for me. Frustrating, because I really enjoy it. November 16, 2011 at 7:12pm Reply

  • Victoria: I’ve encountered this with Lauder too. They never have their classics on display and even if they have bottles for sales, they often do not have testers. I am not even going to comment on the samples situation. Asking for those you get a look as if you are asking SA for her first born. November 16, 2011 at 7:14pm Reply

  • Victoria: Sounds like a true, long lasting love affair! 🙂 November 16, 2011 at 7:14pm Reply

  • Victoria: Private Collection is something I wear often. I love its verdant green top contrasted with that rich chypre base. I used to wear Calyx at one point when it first came out, and I still enjoy it. You are right, Prescriptives was owned by Lauder, until they decided to shut it down (it is sold online only.) November 16, 2011 at 7:19pm Reply

  • donna: Hi, I’m such a fan of your blog, i have learned so much about fragrance thanks to your wonderful writing. I hadn’t had one fragrance in my life for years and years, this was the first one I purchased on my fragrance journey over the past year. I had read it was the favorite of arielle dombasle, whom I adore madly, and when I first got it I loathed it. But now that I’ve figured out to dab it on my legs and enjoy it after it has traveled though the air, I absolutely love and respect it. Thank you for reviewing it. November 16, 2011 at 7:22pm Reply

  • Paeonia9: When I 13 or 14, my grandmother gave me a Clinique gift set that included a small bottle of AE. At the time, I was a Sand & Sable girl, so it was quite beyond my realm of experience. I found it quite “nose wrinkling”, but for some reason I kept that little bottle for ages. I’d spray the tiniest bit on my pillow at night. It smelled so dark and mysterious; almost ancient. I’d just read The Good Earth and thought it’s what the character Lotus would’ve smelled like…I think it’s time to get another little bottle! November 16, 2011 at 7:30pm Reply

  • Victoria: It is one of those must smell fragrances! An American classic and a fantastic dark chypre. Clinique and Estee Lauder seem so ubiquitous, but the quality of their fragrances is anything but common. November 16, 2011 at 9:33pm Reply

  • bulldoggirl: Another compelling review! Maybe this is going too far out on a limb, but I consider Lauder as a brand to be the American equivalent of Chanel. Consistent in quality, innovative in design and composition, and exceptionally wearable while still retaining a very specifically American aura of luxury. Certainly, the company has produced some of the world’s all time great perfumes, as witness Aromatics Elixir. November 16, 2011 at 9:50pm Reply

  • Mikeperez23: Have you smelled the newest Aromatics Elixir Perfumer’s Reserve – it’s in a splash only bottle, says ‘Parfum’ on the box and has to be asked for as it’s not on display? It’s very good and, like you suggested, it wears much nicer than spraying.

    I have tried to wear AE for many years and every time I do it ultimately doesn’t work for me, but the parfum I mentioned above might be FBW for me.

    A woman I worked with used to have it as her signature scent & gosh it smelled FAN-tastic on her. Just brilliant. I remember reading Chandler Burr say the same thing in one of his NYT reviews…smelled on someone else to get him interested in it.

    I love the advertising Clinique/Lauder has done for it too. November 16, 2011 at 10:07pm Reply

  • Lindaloo: So glad you reviewed this. In the 70’s and 80’s Aromatics Elixir and Diorella were the scents I wore most frequently.
    I was, however, always conscious of and nervous about the intensity of AE and so sprayed lightly. The consequence is that I got mostly the austere aspects (the herbal and woody notes) and little of the florals twining through that smelled so lovely on others I recognized it on, unless I sprayed it on fabric.
    Suprisingly, it never occurred to me to transfer some to another container and dab it on as you have suggested. I tried it this evening — what a revelation! I’ll be a dabber from now on. One problem still exists for me: I have to resist the urge to sniff frequently (whether sprayed or dabbed) as I become anosmic to AE quite quickly if I keep sniffing at it. For me it’s best caught in unexpected wafts.
    I also will have to check out the Perfumer’s Reserve, as Mikeperez23 suggests, since it comes in a splash bottle. And a beautiful bottle at that. It’s my recollection that AE was originally introduced in a dark amber glass bottle (in the same shape as the existing frosted bottle) — so much more suited to the name and advertising. (Perhaps I’m just dreaming?) November 17, 2011 at 12:06am Reply

  • Lindaloo: Perhaps White Linen and Calyx share some DNA having both been conceived by perfumer Sophia Grojsman? November 17, 2011 at 12:10am Reply

  • Madelyn E: I have been wearing and Loving AE since it’s launch in 1971. It is so enchanting and magical for me . You can imagine how many wonderful memories were lived in while wearing this classic. I favor It’s use in thé cols weather. For some reason Aromatics holds on true to itself during the dead of the snow and ice.
    I have dabbled in the body lotion – but the elixir has enough oomph on its own .
    I also adored with a capital A , Paloma Picasso , Coriandre and Aramis. Guess Bernard Chant is my kind of man ~ November 17, 2011 at 1:19am Reply

  • Austenfan: Most certainly; my all time favourite, Paris YSL is hers as well! November 17, 2011 at 7:32am Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you for your kind words, Donna! Arielle Dombasle was so beautiful in Pauline at the Beach and Blue Villa. I need to watch them again.
    I like your way of wearing AE, it would certainly soften its presence and the way you experience it around you. November 17, 2011 at 10:01am Reply

  • Victoria: Ancient is a great way to describe it! I also liked the ad Clinique ran at one time with bottles and plates of various incenses and potions. It matched AE’s character perfectly for me. November 17, 2011 at 10:02am Reply

  • Victoria: I agree, it can certainly match Chanel in quality. Even the new launches, while not necessarily avant-garde, are very well-made and distinctive. November 17, 2011 at 10:04am Reply

  • Victoria: I first smelled it a while ago, but then Clinique postponed the launch, and I forgot about it. I will definitely revisit it. I love it, it was a bit softer than the original, but still excellent and memorable. November 17, 2011 at 10:05am Reply

  • Victoria: I do the same thing! When I am in the mood for AE, I find it so addictive that I keep smelling my wrist nonstop. I do love when the whiffs of it appear all of a sudden.
    I already have a fantasy of wearing it on a cold snowy day, dabbing some on my coat collar to get the most of its sillage. November 17, 2011 at 10:08am Reply

  • Victoria: He was very talented. Lauren by Ralph Lauren is another one of his fragrances. I love the original. November 17, 2011 at 10:09am Reply

  • Debbie: This is an interesting one for me as I love the smell of it when I wear it myself but I cannot bear it on anyone else. Usually it would be the opposite; love a perfume on others but can’t wear it myself. As a result I never wear it incase it offends. November 17, 2011 at 3:46pm Reply

  • Victoria: Yes, it is usually the other way around for me. If you like it, definitely wear it. I personally love its sillage on others. I bet that it smells beautiful on you. November 17, 2011 at 8:08pm Reply

  • Lindaloo: My kind of man too. And I never knew the original Lauren was one of his. No wonder I love it. November 17, 2011 at 9:13pm Reply

  • Angelika: Thanks for reviewing AE – I owned it for the first time 20 years ago and now that I (re)discovered my love for perfume and am constantly on the search for “the” perfect scent, I have found only two: Shalimar and Aromatics Elixir. I love its softness and depth – both things I miss in modern compositions. And I definitely have to try the Paloma Picasso! November 22, 2011 at 6:15am Reply

  • Susan: I have loved and worn Aromatics Elixir since its debut many, many years ago. My most recent bottle smells nothing like the years gone by and I am so disappointed. I used to get compliment after compliment. Now on me, it is almost benign…nothing to talk about. After obvious changes, it for me is not worth the $67 price for something that no longer makes me feel good just spraying it on. I am not clear on why the formula had to change. I really am sad to be saying goodbye to something that has been a part of my daily life for years. October 21, 2012 at 9:39am Reply

  • Becky: In the mid-nineties, when I was 21, I worked with a girl who was maybe a year or two younger than me and she smelled amazing. She had this clean, sexy, feminine, un-frilly, earthy aura that sort of wafted around her when you got up close. It was the way I wanted to smell. I was so surprised when she told me it was Aromatics Elixir. I sampled it and was so sad that on me it smelled musty, old and awful. It’s one of those fragrances that if it blends magically with your skin, you are in for such a treat and if it doesn’t, you just have to except reality and step away. Nearly 20 years later and I’m still searching for a scent that will make me smell as amazing as that girl did. January 27, 2013 at 9:04pm Reply

  • Iman: This has been my signature scent for over 15 years. I always get complimented for it. Generally, I tend to spray perfume on my clothes (the larger dose) and a little on my neck and wrists (a tiny bit) and I find the scent stays truer for longer. I do love the Elixir lotion and I sometimes (and don’t shoot me) layer it with Michael Kors’, Michael body cream. Di-vine. July 15, 2013 at 3:44pm Reply

  • Pat Culleton: Recently I purchased aromatics which I love but, it does not smell the same. I am so disappointed. Why have you changed the smell. August 19, 2014 at 5:14pm Reply

    • Victoria: I would recommend that you write directly to Clinique or Estee Lauder, the parent company of Clinique, and voice your dissatisfaction. Contacting them is the only way to make the company aware of these issues. In some cases, if they receive enough complaints, they will take actions. August 20, 2014 at 5:40am Reply

  • Jo: My recent purchase of Aromatics is not the same scent as before. I have used it since the 1980’s and loved wearing it and getting compliments on my fragrance. It smells more like paint thinner than an expensive cologne. It was not worth the 57.00 I paid for it. December 27, 2014 at 1:55pm Reply

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