Estee Lauder Modern Muse ~ perfume review

Estée Lauder Modern Muse, advert

I was surprised to learn that the newly released Modern Muse was Estée Lauder's "most comprehensive women’s scent statement since the 2003 launch of Beyond Paradise"  — I would have thought 2008's Sensuous was a pretty comprehensive scent statement?1 Regardless, it is true that the house does not release pillar fragrances at any great rate, and a new one is always welcome. Here's the brand's description of the Modern Muse woman:

A Modern Muse is strong and confident, enhanced by her own intrinsic femininity and individual style. She is the heroine of her own life, always following her own instinct. She is an independent spirit who possesses a natural magnetism that draws people in, inspires them with her smile, and speaks to them without saying a word. She is memorable, a force of creative energy, a true inspiration to others.2

The fragrance is also supposed to have an innovative “dual-impression” structure featuring a Sparkling Jasmine Accord and a Sleek Woods Accord,3 but as so often happens, the innovation was pretty much lost on me. Yes, there are flowers, and yes, the jasmine is the most noticeable, but it's an intensely smoothed over sort of jasmine, and Modern Muse as a whole did not seem to develop in any startlingly different way from any other modern perfume. The jasmine is dewy and diffusive but not particularly sparkling after the first 5 seconds, and jasmine-phobes need not fear, there's nothing even slightly indolic or heady about the floral notes used here (the whole list: mandarin, tuberose, lily, honeysuckle, dewy petals, jasmine, patchouli, vanilla, amber wood and musk); indeed the whole thing is soft enough that while you may notice other flowers (especially the honeysuckle and tuberose) nothing will overwhelm.

Sleek Woods describes the dry down as well as anything else. Like the early stages, it's been smoothed over to within an inch of its life. The patchouli is a vague remembrance of something that might have once been patchouli in the wild — really, all that remains is a touch of darkness — the vanilla is subtle, the woods are polished to a velvety finish. There is plenty of clean musk — I have seen some complaints about the musk, but I did not find it overdone.

Verdict: Modern Muse is pleasant, even extremely pleasant. Like nearly everything from Estée Lauder, it's terrifically well done, and again like nearly everything from Estée Lauder, the lasting power is tremendous, even from 1 spray, which, I might add, was all I needed — Estée Lauder generally gives you your money's worth. It's easy to wear, and it's not stupid or childish. I would wear it anywhere without embarrassment. That said, it is not exactly what I'd choose to express that I was the 'heroine of my own life' — it's more like what I'd choose if I worked in an office where expressing yourself in any big way via fragrance was generally frowned upon, but I still wanted to smell nice.

Many perfumistas thought Sensuous was too sweet, but I know I'm not the only one that bought a small bottle. Modern Muse may sell like gangbusters, but I'm going to be very surprised if it is adopted by any huge number of perfumistas — it's just too tame.

As of today, there are two reviews for Modern Muse on Nordstrom, and they fall neatly into opposite extremes:

It reminds me of old ladies sitting around playing canasta all day.


It's fierce, flirty , and fantastic !!!!!! I feel so sexy and like a real women should.

So, you will have to take my verdict of 'tame' with a grain of salt, as always.

Estee Lauder Modern Muse, three sizes

Estée Lauder Modern Muse was developed by perfumer Harry Frémont. It is available in 30, 50 and 100 ml Eau de Parfum ($58-98), a 30 ml Parfum will be introduced in 2014.

1. Quote via Women's Wear Daily, 5/3/2013.

2. Via press materials.

3. Ibid.

Shop for perfume

Parfums Raffy


Leave a comment, or read more about commenting at Now Smell This. Here's a handy emoticon chart.

  1. jonr951 says:

    I liked it when I quickly tested it the other day. I’ll definitely have to give it another shot, spend more time with it. It reminded me of Narciso Rodriguez and Lovely SJP, but that was really from such a quick sniff. What did you think of the packaging? : )

    • jonr951 says:

      Oh, and Sensuous is such a GREAT scent! Truly one of my all time favorites. I can’t believe they’re kind of throwing it under the bus by not mentioning it, and saying this is their biggest launch since Beyond Paradise! Meanies! Haha! : )

      • Robin says:

        Agree! Way more personality than Modern Muse.

        • C.H. says:

          Oh gosh yes, the two almost don’t compare!

      • garamascara says:

        I have not sniffed Muse yet but I must agree with you on Sensuous. Sensuous and Sensuous Noir are some of my favorites, I prefer even to Beyond Paradise.

    • Robin says:

      I can see the resemblance to Lovely, but this is lighter I think, fresher? Maybe it’s the modern version of Lovely, with the patchouli even more tamped down. No comment on the NR since I am unable to smell NR.

      The bottle is ok — very “classic EL” looking. Better than the Sensuous bottle, which I didn’t much care for.

      • C.H. says:

        Interesting, sounds like the musk element may vary by nose/skin, as I find Lovely to bloom pretty big on my skin but Modern Muse did not at all. Whispered really. (As for the mildly sweet floral quality, I do see the resemblance to Lovely. But for me Lovely is such a musk-dominated scent that I’m hard-pressed to think of it in comparison to anything as mild as Modern Muse, at least as it wore on me!)

        • Robin says:

          Yes — would agree, MM is lighter and fresher, less musky for sure. Lovely has more presence, although actually I found Lovely a pretty subtle scent too. But I would call them both basically floral musks.

          • C.H. says:

            Oh, so interested to hear you say that about Lovely; always fascinating to hear variation in how something wears. More than once when I’ve worn it, I’ve wound up having to roll down car windows! Which I don’t mean as a complaint, I’m still wearing it–just that I wouldn’t have named subtlety as one of its virtues! Must be a matter of skin chemistry.

          • Robin says:

            Well, and also a matter of the various problems with smelling musk, and olfactory fatigue!

  2. Lucy says:

    I have to respectfully disagree. I was disappointed when I tried it last week. It provided an hour or two of bland floral musk, then I forgot it was on. I didn’t even get the five minutes of dewiness. It felt generic, and that’s not what I expect from E.L. Their classics and newer releases have all been unique or interesting. I haven’t cared for a new release since Pleasures, but I could always sense the “it factor” each fragrance had and appreciate them.
    I will try this again when I go to the mall. Maybe my nose was off that day. It has been suggested that I am anosmic

    • Robin says:

      Oh, you are always welcome to disagree! And we do agree a bit — I think it’s well done, but would not call it unique or interesting either.

    • Omega says:

      I tried MM too, I have to agree, a blah release from EL, imo.
      Now Sensuous..I do own a bottle of that, as of a couple weeks ago, always get compliments too! My fave of EL(and I own this one too:)..Tuscany Per Donna..generally I am an EL fan, not so much this time around with MM. I was hoping for something more complex I suppose.

    • Omega says:

      Oh ya, I don’t like the bottle either, equally as blah..borderline ugly of a bottle. Just wanted something more interesting from EL, maybe next time!!

    • LaMaroc says:

      I was just going to ask if you were anosmic, because I can barely smell this fragrance at all! It must be the musks. :/

  3. Lucy says:

    …to musk.

    (Sorry, accidentally posted while trying to figure out if I spelled anosmic right. Still don’t know if I did. The iPad insists I am agnostic.)

    • Robin says:

      Anosmic is correct!

    • Joanne says:

      Oh, Lucy, thanks for the laugh! “Agnostic” v. “Anosmic!” Too funny!

      • C.H. says:

        Hahaha yes that is a good one!

    • Merlin says:

      Well, if you are anosmic you certainly have no reason to like or to dislike and so it makes sense to have no belief at all on the matter. Therefore, you are agnostic too!

  4. littlecooling says:

    Didn’t Estee Lauder released “Very Estee” last year or something? Isn
    t that count as a big release or was it just here in Europe?

    Thanks for the review. I haven’t tried this one yet, but it doesn’t really sound like something for me. But you never know. I do like the bottle. But the name is a bit tacky and the way you describe it, seems a bit too tame for me :) My to go to scent, that is office friendly is the new version of Balmain Ivoire. Very soft like a cashmere sweater, but not something, that will knock your skirt of or anything :P I would love to read a review and thoughts on that one :)

    • Robin says:

      I never did see Very Estee, no idea what it was — Europe only? Travel retail?

      Totally agree about the name, really bad name IMHO.

      • littlecooling says:
        • Robin says:

          Oh I know I did — I meant I never saw it in person!

          • Robin says:

            And meant also to say that most of these little one-offs have eventually appeared in the US, but so far as I know, not Very Estee.

          • littlecooling says:

            Oh sorry :) My mistake, Robin :)

            I have smelled “Very Estee”’s pretty and won’t hurt any. I kinda like it..but it was also a big MEH for me. The thing about Estee Lauder perfumes is, that I really love the style and most stories about the perfumes, but they are never really challeching, which bothers me, because the brand has a great long story and Estee, herself made some pretty amazing scents. And now it’s only pretty-almost-shampoo like scents :( I really admire “Pleasures” and wore if for years. But it turned cold on me, in my late twenties. (Sorry for the miss-spellings, I am from Denmark, so English is only my second language ;)

          • Robin says:

            It is true, they are not known for challenging scents. But, for a mainstream brand, I do think they put WAY more care into development than most companies, and I do respect that.

            And your English is great!

          • littlecooling says:

            I agree. They do put way more care into their perfumes than what other mainstream labels does. Thank God for Knowing, Estee, Youth Dew, Azurée and all the old classics ;)

  5. Janice says:

    Disappointing to hear this is so tame, but I will still try it when I have a chance. Some of the older Estee Lauders were the first perfumes I regularly wore (White Linen for much of the ’80s, a brief flirtation with Spellbound, a few years of Knowing), so I still like to see what they’re putting out there.

    • Robin says:

      Hey, you might love it, who knows? Always worth a shot.

    • theluscioushellcat says:

      Anyone else besides me remember the bold and iconoclastic Aliage?
      Amazingly unique by today’s standards. Unapologetically green. Never been replicated or even imitated as far as I know.

  6. galbanumgal says:

    Will try this, but I prefer a less clean jasmine! Saw on Fragrantica that Aerin Lauder’s coming out with more scents, but not labeled “Private Collection”. Wonder if they’ll be any less mainstream.

  7. Nile Goddess says:

    Alas, it won’t reach Prague until next year … or so the Estee Lauder boutiques claim.

    My hope lays with the internet shops.

  8. Emily says:

    Perhaps the bottle is better in person, but the photos automatically made me think of Princess Leia’s hairdo (those two rounded thingies on either side of the “head” . . . )

    I’ll certainly try this the next time I’m at a Lauder counter. Probably won’t feel the need to buy, especially since I’m eyeing a bottle of Tuberose Gardenia, but I doubt I’ll regret having sniffed it.

    • Robin says:

      Ha! I do get what they were trying to do: a no-cap bottle that looks like it has a cap.

      If you love Tuberose Gardenia, does seem quite likely you’ll find this too tame.

  9. Dawnkana says:

    I was disappointed with this one as well. Boring and light and clean on my skin.

    • Robin says:

      So far, my “too tame for perfumistas” conclusion is holding up :-)

  10. Merlin says:

    Doesn’t sound like this particular muse is going to inspire any great works of wonder, lol!

    • Robin says:

      Probably not :-)

    • C.H. says:

      Yes I had a very similar reaction–this is a lot more “modern” (at least in the sense of appealing to contemporary commercial tastes) than “muse”!

  11. 2046 says:

    i have never adored any estee lauder fragrance, but i was given a handful of EL minis recently and have been putting them to use. sensuous gets a lot of compliments.

    this one sounds beyond bland, but i guess i will give it a try if i pass the EL counter.

    • Robin says:

      I hope Sensuous sold well, but I wonder…maybe it was a disappointment and that’s why now it’s not getting counted as a “comprehensive scent statement”.

  12. maggiecat says:

    A quick spritz at first didn’t impress me much, but the dry down on the card did (I love musk) and it did remind me a bit of SJP Lovely. I went back to Nordstrom to get a sample and spritzed again. I thought it was quite nice ,but my husband said it reminded him of bug spray. So it’s not on my FB list…good thing I didn’t “love” it. :-)

  13. RoseRed says:

    I tried it today, it’s okay but not groundbreaking. As Robin said, all the flowers are so tame it’s hard to tell what is what, it’s jasmine I’m smelling, I hardly notice it, which is fine because I’m not a huge fan of jasmine. Muse smells very much like the reformulated Pleasures, which is a shame because I liked the original and find the post-2004 era boring. I can’t smell the musk but that’s okay because I don’t like musk on me, something about my skin always makes it go Off. So….to sum up, understated and pretty but nothing about it is compelling me to go buy a bottle. If they ever give away a free sample as a Gift I’d keep it but I’m not going to rush out to buy it any time soon. Those who like the current formulation of Pleasures will probably like it, as it has more staying power and it’s like her quieter sister, while Pleasures disappears after an hour now, I’ve noticed.

    • Robin says:

      It’s been years since I’ve tried Pleasures…did not realize they had changed it so much.

  14. kindcrow says:

    The lid reminds me of a Cyberman (not sure which era; they have changed over time).

  15. olenska says:

    Because it’s Estee, I’ll probably try it… but my god, I’m heartily tired of being sales-pitched a personality to go with my perfume. I just want something that smells good… not a whole aspirational identity to memorize.

    • Robin says:

      I know what you mean, but in the sea of new releases, I think they have to do something to differentiate…

      • olenska says:

        But it’s <>, is the problem. So many perfume launches involve the same laundry list of “Perfect Woman” traits. Prix Eau Facsimile!

        • olenska says:

          “UNdifferentiated” is the missing word.

        • Robin says:

          Oh, totally agree! I think the “back stories” generally fall short of the mark, or they’re generic, or they’re dumb, or they’re offensive. Just meant I do think they have to try, or at least, I understand the compulsion to try.

  16. annina says:

    Just sniffed this week. To me, it smelled a lot like Narciso Rodriguez for her, with a lilac note in the opening.

    • Robin says:

      I can’t smell NR, so will take your word for it :-)

  17. eminere says:

    I am assuming by “comprehensive scent statement” they mean the $$$ in their marketing budget for Modern Muse.

    • Robin says:

      Oh, I assume that’s a big part — but they appeared to spend a fortune on Sensuous.

  18. OVincze says:

    I have not tried this new scent yet but the name already made me think blah. I have to say I am a huge EL fan and find that their products are very high quality and very good value for the money. Their skincare line is probably the best simply because it works and I find their perfumes real high quality and very good even if one is not my taste. I have owned many over the years, I still got Sensuous and last year I bought Youth Dew, I love it now, very comforting and it does stay on for days, I wake up the next morning and I feel comforted by the scent. The same stood true for Pleasures Delight which I also loved at one point. I did like Sensuous very much but not loved it, I like Sensuous Noir better but it was not complex enough for me. Anyhow, as we have discussed it here I have found that to my nose in general there is such a think as an EL base, something that makes me recognize their fumes. There was one, Pleasures, that while well constructed made me sick not sure why. I thought that it was time now for them to mess it up and come up with something bland to fight the image that many say their fumes are old-lady, of course totally untrue but they are not generic so here they will make something generic. I already found Sensuous Nude blah, too sweet, never owned it or wanted to own it. Have to try this one maybe with my next order of skincare from them.

    • Robin says:

      The name is blah to me too…hopefully you’ll find the scent better than the name!

  19. jbordeau says:

    Respectfully disagree, guys. I sample a lot of wild niche perfume myself, even buy the occasional bottle, but clearly many of us are suffering from hedonic conditioning: you’re so used to everything being innovative and fabulous all the time that the simple wonder of a solid, terrific fragrance is lost on you. Sometimes I sleep on the floor to recalibrate my back to just how great it is to sleep in a bed every night. Similarly, you need distance sometimes to put things into context. This new offering from Lauder is terrific. Besides being interesting and (praise be!) non-vanillic, it can be detected for hours after applying (just try and apply this standard to over 90% of the niche perfume out there). I think Modern Muse, despite the name, will find its audience, and they are solidly between late 20s and late 40s, beautiful women who deserve to smell like sexy adults. I can’t wait for this to happen….

    • Robin says:

      You are always welcome to respectfully disagree!

Leave a reply