Down at my local Nordstrom this week, to my surprise I found the classic Estée Lauders packaged in new bottles among the regular perfume offerings. In the past, if I wanted to sniff Azurée or Estée, for instance, I had to ask at the cosmetics counter and hope there was a tester hidden away somewhere. But now, here they were, lined up like little perfume soldiers in plain sight. I asked for a sample of Spellbound.
I chose Spellbound because a few commenters on my post on Old School Chypres mentioned it. To me, Spellbound isn’t a chypre at all, but a massive warm peach- and orange flower-infused oriental that probably draws boatloads of fans, and leaves as many people holding their noses in disgust.1
Perfumer Sophia Grojsman developed Spellbound, which launched in 1991. Its notes include fruit notes, coriander, pimento, orange blossom, rose wood, rose, carnation, lily of the valley, jasmine, ylang ylang, tuberose, heliotrope, amber, musk, opopanax, civet, cedar and vanilla. Grojsman is known for her skill in creating soft fragrances weaving feminine peach or apricot, classic florals, and especially rose (think Lancôme Trésor, Yves Saint Laurent Paris and Yvresse). Spellbound fits right into her portfolio.
Spellbound kicks off with an assertive dose of pepper. Once I tasted a Beaujolais that was so peppery that I did a double take. The waiter said, “I know, right?” and made like he was grinding a pepper mill. That’s the kind of upfront pepper we’re talking about here. It lasts only seconds, though. On the pepper’s heels is a kick of cinnamon and clove with a tiny bit of green bean snap.
Then Spellbound settles down to business. Sweet peach, rose, and powdery orange flower dusted with pulverized Jordan almonds rise under the cinnamon and clove/carnation. The concoction is as warm and strong as a furnace blast. By now, the pepper is gone, and the spices have started to fade. After half an hour, Spellbound’s edges have smoothed over, and it’s a voluminous pillow of fragrance, flabby and sweet but delicious at the same time, like a powdery floral custard.2
But, like custard, you really don’t want to overdo it. A few bites are plenty. Spellbound could bring down entire villages if worn unchecked. (This leaves me to wonder how many people call it “Smellbound.”) Spellbound keeps its vigorous, yet downy soft, sillage for hours, too — potentially long after you’ve had your fill. I recommend dabbing rather than spraying.
I imagine Spellbound wearing best when it’s cold out, both to tighten its sillage and to counteract the fragrance’s warmth and sweetness. It’s not a particularly youthful fragrance, but I wouldn’t call it “mature.” With its sweet, silky edges, maybe a good label would be “maternal.” But this is one voluptuous, loud-talking mama.
In its newest packaging (above right; old packaging shown at left), Estée Lauder Spellbound Eau de Parfum sells for $65 for a 50 ml bottle. It’s available at many department stores and online.
1. [Ed note: In case anyone was curious, Société Française des Parfumeurs, in their Classification des Parfums et Terminologie, classifies Spellbound as a Floral Spicy Amber, in the same category as Dior Poison and Guerlain L'Heure Bleue. Their system does not have an "oriental" family; they do have a "chypre" family. Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, in Perfumes: The Guide, classify Spellbound as "medicated treacle".]
2. Someone take away my metaphor license! In one paragraph I’ve compared Spellbound to a furnace, a pillow, and a custard. Yikes.