I'm No Longer Afraid of This Classic Perfume

Clinique's Aromatics Elixir has eluded me for years, but I'm conquering it.
Publish date:
February 16, 2016
retro, clinique, perfume, signature scent

If you've been reading my stuff for a long time, so you know that I’m 100% obsessed with perfume. It is one of my “Top 10 Things I Think about Regularly,” if we’re being honest. (The others include Cadbury eggs, Kim Kardashian, and poetry.) I’ve been into perfume since I was really small and used to sneak into my mom’s room to play with her many bottles, and I’ll never forget the first time I smelled Clinique Happy at Bloomingdale’s in the early ‘90s. I thought it was so chic, though now it kind of makes me want to die.

I’m not afraid to take chances with my perfumes, either. I like them to challenge me; I have no time for simple, shampoo-y, fruity florals or pale, watery scents that have been tested to death in order to sell. I think that’s boring as hell. I’d rather wear something with roots, something that makes an impact, something that your grandma might be wearing right this second. I don’t care if people think my perfume tastes are old-fashioned. I do what I want!

One fragrance has always eluded me, though. I’ve never been able to conquer Clinique’s now-legendary Aromatics Elixir, that retro bombshell of strong, intense herb notes that deems itself unforgettable on first spray. It’s not for the faint of heart, which is why I was like, I NEED this. I NEED to make this fragrance work for me.

I didn’t have a lot of experience with Aromatics Elixir, though I’d seen its frosty retro bottle on shelves all my life. My friend Nora’s mother, Madge, wears it, and I basically want to be Madge, so I asked her why she loves it.

"We've had such a long love affair. I've played around with other fragrances but nothing even comes close. You might think that it's boring to have a tried and oh-so-true scent, but no way. I'm a creature of habit, and my man and our children love it, too. Aromatics floating on the air equals 'MOM'S HOME!' What could be sweeter than that."

I wanted in, so I called up my friends at Clinique and requested a bottle. I would conquer this fragrance. I would make Aromatics Elixir part of me, or at least become passively friendly with it.

Aromatics Elixir was released nearly 50 years ago and it continues to be a bestseller for Clinique, though it doesn’t get as much attention as Happy and its many flankers. It doesn’t really fit in with Clinique’s peppy, pristine and colorful aesthetic, does it? Aromatics Elixir is dark, challenging, a blend of patchouli, moss, sandalwood, ylang-ylang and amber. Those are pretty hardheaded notes to mix up together, but it works. You just need to be patient.

That's not to say that it's an easy scent to wear. Aromatics Elixir is loud. As in, probably-don't-spray-it-more-than-twice loud. Clinique calls it a "nonconformist fragrance," and I have to agree with that. At first spritz, Aromatics is harshly herbal, nearly balsamic in its first few seconds, but don't let it freak you out. Give it some time to develop, and soon you'll get it.

It doesn't soften as much as it relaxes, giving the powerhouse notes time to settle and stretch out on your skin. A little bit of rose lifts the scent up, while patchouli and sandalwood do what they're best at: keeping the fragrance's feet on the ground.

Aromatics Elixir feels deeply earthy but still elegant, like a woman in a black dress that fits her perfectly even though you know she was out digging in the dirt earlier that day. Ylang-ylang, a complicated and challenging scent in itself, gives it a little sex appeal and the aforementioned rose rounds out the harsh edges, so Aromatics Elixir chills out into something and unforgettable. (I know you've smelled it on the street a thousand times.) It's not an easy fragrance to get to know, especially if you're used to our clean, soapy modern palate, but nothing good is ever easy, right?

Aromatics Elixir won't be my daily go-to scent (patchouli isn't my favorite scent on earth), but I know I'm not afraid of it anymore. We're friends, and now I'm ready for my next fragrance challenge. What will it be?

  • Do you have a personal history with Aromatics?
  • Which fragrances challenge you?
  • Have you conquered a scent you didn't think you could wear?

Photos by my BFF Amy Gee.