Social historians of the future who are studying images of femininity in our times could find ample material in the naming and marketing of perfumes, especially those with names like ‘Beautiful’, ‘Lovely’, ‘Pretty’ and so on. Today I want to have a look at Lauder’s Beautiful, for what it says about women and femininity in the late twentieth century.
Composed by Sophia Grojsman, Beautiful was released in 1985 and has what we now recognise as a great big 1980s vibe. It’s a complex, romantic floral anchored by green, woody and chypre facets.
The perfume has been modelled by a string of undeniably beautiful women, including (among others) Willow Bay, Pauline Porizkova, Elizaeth Hurley and, most recently, Constance Jablonski. Beautiful is marketed as a wedding fragrance. Estée Lauder apparently once remarked: ‘Why are all brides beautiful? Because on their wedding day they care about how they look.’ Porizkova, I remember, looked stunning in a huge puffy wedding dress of classic Princess Diana type.
Weddings aside, Beautiful is bound to be one of those fragrances constantly given to women as a gift on many occasions. This is reversal from the earlier time when Lauder signalled to women that with Youth Dew in the form of as a bath oil they could buy perfume for themselves rather than wait for their men to pick up the hints.
Beautiful’s obvious message – ‘you are beautiful’ – must make it a safe choice for men buying gifts. It conforms to the image most men surely would like to have of their womenfolk. It is a warm-hearted, generous fragrance, confident and sexy, but clean, never dirty or carnal. Few fathers or sons like to imagine their daughters or mothers as sex-bombs, do they?
However, Beautiful tends to offer a feminine ideal that few women can attain in their every day lives. Other Lauder classics do this too. Remember those glamorous women (Karen Graham, and others) dressed for evening and wearing Private Collection or Cinnabar, or sitting languidly on the terrace in White Linen waiting for tea to be served? Few of us live that kind of life, or ever did. Perhaps the more casual style of the ads for Sensuous are an attempt to meet us where we actually are.
These days Beautiful is one of those fragrances tiresomely labelled ‘for old ladies’ by unthinking young persons subconsciously living in fear of their own old age. Beautiful actually has legions of loyal fans and is still a top seller in the US. Oddly enough (or not), while it is respected by perfume bloggers, it is rarely reviewed. For an exception, see Victoria’s review on Bois de Jasmin.
I didn’t care for Beautiful when it came out – too many flowers in the vase for me – but I have come to like it very much recently. To my surprise I have found that it suits me – me, the one who normally enjoys a more austere aesthetic. It goes to show that it is worth trying (and re-trying) something you think doesn’t suit you, because you just never know.
As for waiting for someone to give it to me, pooh to that. When I saw it in a discount chemist in Darlinghurst in inner-Sydney the other night, as I was walking back to my hotel after a lovely dinner (by myself) in a Spanish restaurant, I strode right in and bought it. Yay me!