Estee Lauder Sensuous, Sensuous Nude, and Sensuous Noir : Fragrance Reviews

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Everyone in the perfume world bristled at Estée Lauder’s recent claims that Modern Muse was its first major launch since Beyond Paradise. They may want us to forget about Sensuous, but we haven’t! Today, Elisa revisits Sensuous and its two flankers.

noir

Sensuous

3 stars

Rated 4.5 out of 5.0

Sensuous (2008) is one of those rare perfumes that is not (quite) as good as its flankers. It’s almost as though Estée Lauder designed the pillar with the flankers in mind – it’s a stripped down skin scent practically begging to be layered or embellished.

But simple or not, Sensuous is exceedingly comfortable and well done. It doesn’t have a pyramid-style development, just a fairly linear balance between soft white floral notes (jasmine and lily), warm woody notes, and a citrusy white musk. (Note, however, that anything with vanilla smells more vanillic as it dries down.) In classic Estee Lauder style, it radiates good taste – there’s a daytime-appropriate freshness you rarely see in amber fragrances, and the sweetness is restrained, never verging on gourmand.

The effect is distinctly contemporary and synthetic; no one would mistake this for real sandalwood. But if you want something basic and easy to wear, Sensuous makes a great go-to, like the white shirts featured in the advertising campaign: show some skin and accessorize at will.

Sensuous includes notes of lily, magnolia, jasmine, amber, sandalwood, black pepper, mandarin and honey.

Sensuous Nude 

3 stars

Rated 4.5 out of 5.0

I underestimated Sensuous Nude. When I first smelled it on a blotter after its release in 2011, I dismissed it as a Coppertone clone – Coppertone smells good, but why pay perfume prices for a sunscreen scent? However, I came into a bottle when a dear perfume friend moved and pared down her collection. The thing is, a good beachy floral isn’t as easy to find as you’d think, and often the good ones are prohibitively expensive, especially considering that they’re not all-purpose scents.

I’ve come to appreciate Sensuous Nude for a simple reason: it just smells good, like warm skin. Like its predecessor, it’s a simple concoction: jasmine with just enough coconut, vanilla, and musk to give it tropical flavor. It’s not loud or overtly floral, so people really might mistake it for your suntan lotion, but it lasts longer and isn’t sticky.

Sensuous Nude includes notes of bergamot, mandarin, pepper, jasmine, lily of the valley, coconut, honey, musk, sandalwood, vanilla, amber, heliotrope and woody notes.

Sensuous Noir

4 stars

Rated 4.5 out of 5.0

I saved the best for last. Sensuous Noir (2010) could and probably should have been a standalone fragrance. It’s richer, more distinctive, and more complex than the pillar. It starts with roughly the same base, but gussies up the top with a big, boozy plum note that reminds me of Chambord. The rest is like Sensuous, just more and better in every respect: more amber, more patchouli, better spices, better wood notes. The patchouli cuts through with the almost sour quality of very dark bittersweet chocolate. Then as it melds with your skin, it just gets more and more comfortable, like that favorite white shirt loosening up in the wash.

Sensuous Noir smells like a niche scent – this would not be out of place in the Tom Ford Private Blend collection – but available at your local department store for about $50. To boot, it’s long-lasting with plenty of compliment-attracting sillage. This represents everything I love about Estée Lauder.

Sensuous Noir includes notes of purple rose, jasmine, black pepper, pine, guaiac wood, lily, patchouli, benzoin, amber, honey, and vanilla.

All three are available in 30, 50, and 100 ml bottles for $55, $65, and $90 respectively.

A note on ratings: If I could award half stars, I’d give Sensuous and Sensuous Nude 3.5 stars each (quite good), and Sensuous Noir 4.5 stars (almost a classic).

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53 Comments

  • The Perfumed Veil: I too enjoyed the Sensuous trio though I am not a big fan of Lauder fragrances. I am surprised to hear they want to forget this launch: I thought they were popular and well-done fragrances. My favorite is also the Noir. I feel it is a dark and wearable perfume bordering on niche. It reminded me of other perfumes, so it did not quite live up to the niche status, but for those excellent prices, it is a super buy. I agree with your review wholeheartedly. April 30, 2014 at 9:25am Reply

    • Elisa: I also thought the Sensuous line was popular!

      I have many bottles of perfume, but the level in Sensuous Noir keeps going down… April 30, 2014 at 10:01am Reply

  • DP: This is why I love reading reviews on BdJ – descriptive, polite, intelligent opinions with no bitter aftertaste! Disclaimer – I have most EL fragrances, except the ones that I can’t get in the US. And to me, Beyond Paradise was the forgetable one! It and it’s blue/pink carnival glass flanker cousins look nice on the shelf, but I don’t think I will ever wear them again. The Sensuous Sisters pose in jewel-toned perfect posture, with each bottle color accurately reflecting the mood of its fragrance. The docents of the crowd, Azuree, Alliage and Private Collection, will always have the stature and depth to govern the whole EL community shelf. Every time I receive another as a gift, it gets categorized by personality, because every other “filing” system has failed! Thank you for revisiting these. April 30, 2014 at 10:30am Reply

    • Elisa: Thank you, DP! I also found Beyond Paradise pretty forgettable, I admit — though I have meant to revisit it. I usually adore Calice Becker’s work. April 30, 2014 at 10:49am Reply

  • Lynne Marie: Wonderful review! I have problems with a lot of Estee Lauders – the legacy of a bitter mother-in-law who drenched herself in Youth Dew 😉 . But I love Sensuous Noir and Sensuous Nude. I almost didn’t try them, after finding Sensuous merely “OK”- so glad I took a chance. I completely agree with your assessment of Noir being “more” of the best aspects of Sensuous, I’ve never thought of it that way before but you are spot on! April 30, 2014 at 11:07am Reply

    • Elisa: Thanks, Lynne Marie! Isn’t it interesting when the flankers are actually more appealing than the original? I often feel this way about flankers in the Mugler line-up as well. April 30, 2014 at 11:15am Reply

  • Anita Monroe: There are two of the Sensuous line on my shelf and I wear them both. Beyond Paradise is nice if not applied too liberally. Modern Muse sits there too, but I can’t seem to get attached to it as yet. April 30, 2014 at 11:07am Reply

    • Elisa: I actually only own bottles of the two flankers, but I think they’re all distinct and very wearable. April 30, 2014 at 11:16am Reply

  • Christine: I don’t agree with this. I think Sensuous Nude is a 5 star. It’s so ethereal and deep at the same time, with the Baie Rose. OMG
    when I tried it I loved it. Ditto with Noir
    The first Sensuous is not as good as the other 2, but it’s still really really nice.
    Weird how the other 2 are not advertised as much. April 30, 2014 at 12:16pm Reply

    • Elisa: Fair enough! I still prefer Bronze Goddess as my ultimate beachy scent, but I think Sensuous Nude is different enough to justify owning and wearing both. April 30, 2014 at 12:22pm Reply

      • Truehollywood: I mix BG and SN together. It’s almost like Azuree Soliel which I loved? Thank you for the review. May 1, 2014 at 7:33pm Reply

        • Elisa: Oooh! I’m going to try that this weekend! It’s supposed to be hot here in Denver. May 1, 2014 at 7:35pm Reply

  • Bastet: Thank you for this thoughtful review. I own and enjoy the original as an everyday (or bedtime) comfort scent, but you have now inspired me to test out the flankers! I agree the EL fragrances are in general amazing value for the price. April 30, 2014 at 1:23pm Reply

    • Elisa: They really are! It’s like Guerlain for middle-class Americans. 🙂 April 30, 2014 at 1:25pm Reply

      • Truehollywood: Yes!!! May 1, 2014 at 7:34pm Reply

  • Caroline: Just picked up samples of Sensuous, Sensuous Nude & PC Gardenia Tuberose at Nordstrom. Am somewhat dismayed by my store’s decision to do away with the make-your-own sample system. One now has to hunt down an SA & have her make you samples. Oh well–it’s still free! April 30, 2014 at 3:49pm Reply

    • Elisa: I love PCTG! Such a lovely white floral — I wore it to a wedding this weekend! April 30, 2014 at 3:52pm Reply

  • Merlin: I got a small bottle of the original when I found it at a very good price, and was surprised at how often I used it. It seemed to be a no-brainer scent: worked always, all the time and no need to over-think it. Then it somehow began to strike me as somehow coarse and synthetic. Only, I have no objection to synthetics, per se, so I’m not quite sure what the offending quality actually was… Clearly, I need to retest. Sensuous Nude was a definite no for me. There was something carnal in the musk that just put me off. Noir was wonderful, but I think it came out as a limited edition? I very seldom see testers of it – but now I will probably search one out:) I do, however, think that its heavier oriental character would make it a little less versatile than the original Sensuous. April 30, 2014 at 4:21pm Reply

    • Elisa: I’ve heard rumors from time to time that Sensuous Noir was a limited edition or was discontinued, but it is still available on the Estee Lauder website and at Macy’s! Maybe it’s just hidden behind the counter. FWIW, I wear it in both hot and cold weather, though maybe I’m not the most tasteful of perfume-wearers…(bring on the carnal musk) April 30, 2014 at 4:39pm Reply

      • Merlin: I know what you mean: unless its unbearably hot, I am happy to wear orientals; and compared to some that I wear, Sensuous Noir is not very heavy at all. Still, I think Sensuous, ironically is a little less sensual, and good for a slightly cooler more distanced effect. (Perhaps more business-like in mood?)

        I’m still seeing Noir around, so maybe its no longer limited: hopefully it was popular and is now a permanent? If it ever was limited, that is…

        I’m not sure what the note is that I found off-putting in the Nude. I am, after all, happy in Bal a Versailles. And I even find Tabu just fine! May 1, 2014 at 9:34am Reply

        • Elisa: Ha! Well it’s certainly not skankier than BaV. Maybe it’s the way the musk blends with the vanilla and/or coconut?

          I agree, Sensuous itself it not as sensuous as the noir version. May 1, 2014 at 9:55am Reply

          • Merlin: I had a similar reaction to Modern Muse, which I’v just tried again. I like Modern Muse better but it still has this slight overtone to me. I need to compare them side by side to try isolate what it is! Perhaps something about the way white floral mixes with the musk? Modern Muse has a slightly saline facet to me – and probably Sensuous Nude has it as well (if its a kind of beach scent). But then I think Terre d’Hermes also has a slight saltiness to it, and I enjoy that – so who knows! May 1, 2014 at 10:36am Reply

            • Elisa: Ah, perhaps it is just some synthetic material you are sensitive to then. A woody amber perhaps — some of those drive me nuts. You’re not missing much with Modern Muse, though. 🙂 I recommend Narciso Rodriguez instead! May 1, 2014 at 10:42am Reply

    • annemariec: Merlin, I had the same experience with Sensuous (the original). I tested it carefully for ages before eventually picking up a 30ml bottle cheap on eBay. Only then did the perfume start to seem a bit coarse. It starts off well but has a phase where it falls apart, like cracks appearing on a polished wooden surface. I wore it for the first time in ages last night, just a spritz down the back of my neck under my clothes. I was only getting the sillage, and that seemed to work quite well. I still do regret purchasing a FB, but we’ll see how we go. April 30, 2014 at 7:32pm Reply

      • Elisa: I agree with what you’re both saying. To me it’s like there’s some kind of hole in the structure of the original, so it doesn’t hold up on skin well over time. I think they solved this problem in the flankers, but it would have been great if Sensuous Noir just WAS Sensuous! April 30, 2014 at 7:38pm Reply

        • annemarie: Thanks, I will revisit both the flankers. I still do have a sample of SNude and it’s humming away happily on my skin right now. As I think you are pointing out, good, simple fragrances aren’t as easy to come by as we may think. Like a perfect omlette , roast chicken, or hot chips! May 1, 2014 at 5:16am Reply

          • Elisa: So true, and I can never manage to get a perfect omelette! They’re always too fluffy and overcooked. May 1, 2014 at 9:52am Reply

      • Merlin: Annemarie, I test things for ages before I buy them too – and then I still make mistakes, lol!
        Luckily, I had used quite a lot of my 30ml bottle before I began to have misgivings. I was actually surprised how much of it I used, given that it was never a firm favorite. I’m going to try your technique too – perhaps with just the sillage I will enjoy it more! May 1, 2014 at 9:38am Reply

    • Brainfodder: Hi Merlin/Elisa

      There is something synthetic in the formula that makes the original and the nude screechy and headache inducing, almost to the point of nausea. Such a shame – I feel otherwise that I would like them a lot.

      Bronze Goddess touches on the same sensation, but I find it just bearable and therefore wearable… I spritz just on my body. Have you tried the BG oil? I wondered if it may be more wearable still?

      Sensuous Noir sounds very appealing and at such a good price point – hoping the screech is missing from that one!

      Thanks for the review xx May 1, 2014 at 11:00am Reply

      • Elisa: I have Bronze Goddess in the oil format — it’s lovely, subtle, not screechy! (I imagine there is some difference in the formula from year to year though.) May 1, 2014 at 11:25am Reply

        • Brainfodder: Sounds very promising – I’ll investigate before the oil stocks dry up…

          Thanks for your thoughts! May 1, 2014 at 12:35pm Reply

  • Amer: A friend of mine wears sensuous noir and it is a head turner! It is such a pleasure to revel in her milky aura, I too could not believe this is a mainstream release. Very few fragrances on that price point are so satisfying to my nose. I compare its impact to that of my beloved Elixir only this is a bit simpler in comparison, but it makes up for it with that pheromonal scent of synthetic sandal (is it javanol?). I indeed find good sandalwood bases to have so much in common with the scent of warm human skin, that scent that you can detect on yourself when sunbathing after a good swim in the sea (and it doesn’t come from a product). I agree 100% with 4,5 stars.
    I have a suspicion I haven’t verified yet… I think the dry down could be excellent on a man too as I can’t detect any elements in it that are strictly feminine. April 30, 2014 at 4:59pm Reply

    • Elisa: Thank you Amer! I think Sensuous Noir would be incredible on a man! It’s not very floral; it’s almost like a Lutens-style oriental. April 30, 2014 at 5:05pm Reply

      • Amer: my thoughts exactly. And since the mainstream market lacks solid balmy men fragrances this could fill the spot nicely. I squeezed my mind and still couldn’t find a strong sandalwood-y designer fragrance marketed for men. Isn’t that strange? All the ambers that currently flood the market are too abstract or leaning towards patchouli at best. I thought that these brands would have “studied” Lutens by now. May 2, 2014 at 5:46am Reply

        • Elisa: Good point! The old Egoiste is the best mainstream(ish) sandalwood, I think. May 2, 2014 at 10:02am Reply

  • Cybele: Hi Elisa, I am so with you ranking Sensous Noir highest, it is the only one I really enjoy of this line! Thanks for bringing it back to my attention, I should finally go and buy a bottle.
    Love the violet glass too. April 30, 2014 at 5:19pm Reply

    • Elisa: It’s so nice to be seeing some consensus in the comments on Noir! Such a great, and really underrated/undermentioned scent. April 30, 2014 at 6:42pm Reply

  • Patricia: I’ve only tried Sensuous Nude, but your article makes me want to give Sensuous Noir a go! April 30, 2014 at 6:32pm Reply

    • Elisa: I hope you do! I don’t want it to get DC’ed!! April 30, 2014 at 6:41pm Reply

  • Lynley: My mum loves orientals, but lost her sense of smell about 5 years ago. For her birthday last year I bought her a bottle of Sensuous Noir, trying to describe to her how it smelt. I wanted something her style, interesting, but still easily wearable for someone who wants to smell nice but doesn’t knock people out by not knowing how much is too much any more. She wears it often and gets compliments so I think it was a pretty good choice 🙂
    Still considering buying myself one too.. May 1, 2014 at 6:37am Reply

    • Elisa: Oh, that’s so nice! I definitely get compliments on SN when I wear it out and about. May 1, 2014 at 9:53am Reply

  • Karen: Elisa, You mention layering/embellishing Sensuous. How would You do that? and would you do it in different ways for different effects? I’ve never tried it but it intrigues me! May 1, 2014 at 10:28pm Reply

    • Elisa: Karen, since Sensuous is a pretty basic woody-oriental structure, I think it can layer well with florals (to make a floral-oriental) or fruity fragrances (to make more of a fruity gourmand). So for example you might make Sensuous more floral by layering it with a jasmine soliflore. If you’re squeamish about layering I recommend spraying two perfumes on two separate paper strips and then smelling them together. 🙂 May 1, 2014 at 10:34pm Reply

      • Elisa: Oh! I also think it can layer well with citrus or musk! May 1, 2014 at 10:35pm Reply

      • Karen: I’m going to try that with the strips! I’ve always been so careful not to try so many that they get blended – keeping them strictly apart so that I get the “true” scent. I believe that’s been a mistake. I love this site, clearly need the education! Thank you! May 1, 2014 at 11:06pm Reply

        • Elisa: Some people are purists about layering but I like to experiment. When two scents have something in common, it often works. May 2, 2014 at 10:04am Reply

  • Mals86: I’m with several others who detected a synthetic overtone to Sensuous and S Nude (I didn’t bother testing S Noir). I don’t remember having my usual Lauder reaction to them (sneak-attack nausea, two hours after application), but there was this… buzzy? thing that bothered me with them. Almost vibrating, as if there were strings you couldn’t quite get in tune. It worked my nerves.

    Modern Muse I really, really liked on paper, although it does rather smell like a bunch of other department store woody florals. On my skin, it was considerably less nice, and even more uninteresting. May 2, 2014 at 10:17am Reply

    • Elisa: Hi Mals! They’re definitely very synthetic. It’s always a crapshoot how you’re going to react to synthetic musks and woody materials. They can be stabby.

      Yeah, I thought Modern Muse got boring *quite* fast. May 2, 2014 at 10:21am Reply

  • scentfromabove: After reading this article, I went and ordered a bottle of Sensuous Noir online. I was sad when you could no longer get it at an EL counter. Needless to say, it is one of the best fragrances in my opinion that they created. Thanks for revisiting this fragrance that should become a classic! May 4, 2014 at 5:19pm Reply

    • Elisa: So glad to find another Sensuous Noir lover! May 6, 2014 at 8:17pm Reply

  • Michaela Kristal: As a person who finds Estee Lauder mostly working against my chesmistry, I found Sensuous to be their best release (for me and my skin). I love it and I just can’t get enough of it. I’ll surely repurchase it once it’s gone, because it is one of the rare modern perfumes that never grows boring on me. Sensuous Nude and Noir, not so much, I have tested them multiple times and I can’t say I like them. Noir is too discordant for my taste, a bit masculine and, well, on me it smells like pine… I prefer smoother, rounder and more feminine perfumes ( that’s why the regular fits the bill).

    Nude is too beachy and I’m not a fan of coconut notes. Not classy enough.

    But Sensuous, oh my, pure bliss! Honey, lily and sandalwood done in a polite way. I find it exquisite and it is, certainly, the perfume that reconciliates me with Lauder! I am glad you wrote about it! May 6, 2014 at 5:55am Reply

    • Elisa: Ah, I like things a bit masculine. 🙂 But glad to hear you love the original! May 6, 2014 at 8:18pm Reply

  • Katie Vandersluys: Sensuous nude hands down!!! May 19, 2015 at 9:00pm Reply

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