For a woman to wear a fragrance called Beautiful…but what if she’s not beautiful?

– Ira Levy, Sr. vice president of corporate marketing at Estee Lauder, 1986.

In 1986, Beautiful was everywhere: in stores, on televisions, in magazines and hope chests.  Formulated by a cabal of perfumers, everything about Beautiful was big – the launch events (including a mock wedding), the ingredients (the essence of 2000 flowers), the sillage (see below)…

My first Beautiful experience was with the parfum – amber sweet, made from orchard fruit, but not the juice – the peels. It’s lovely, but only comes in one size: Gypsy Traveller Wedding Gown.

In Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, Luca Turin describes Beautiful as a “rich, tobacco tinged rose”. Sounds gorgeous, doesn’t it?

When I first smelled the eau de parfum, all I got was sweet and soapy aldehydes. It smelled nice, but it didn’t smell much like a perfume. I tried it a couple of times and the results were the same. Still nice. Still not a perfume.

Months later, I decided to give it another try. This time I sprayed the perfume on paper. Beautiful quickly filled the room and came alive! Here’s a little play-by-play:

Whooo-eeee! This here perfume’s packing BIG sillage!

Ah ha!- there’s the tobacco! Oooh, is that tuberose? Peach? 

I still couldn’t smell any rose, but I shrugged it off. I had something else to smell in mind. I’m not sure what triggered the idea. It might have been the tobacco…. It might have been a hormonal surge…It might have been in spite of those tired wedding ads…I wanted to smell Beautiful on a man.


My darling husband volunteered his neck for testing purposes. I sprayed the eau de parfum on him while he was shaving. He would soon be in the shower – if it smelled terrible on him, he wouldn’t have to deal with it for long.

Beautiful smelled great on him, better than it did on me. He couldn’t smell the rose either – if he did, he would have screamed as if I sprayed him with acid (not a fan of rose perfumes, obviously).

I could still smell it after his shower, but most of the sweetness had been washed away. I buried my nose in his neck to try to get a better whiff, and there it was…rose.

So, how do you solve a problem like Beautiful? Easy – spray it on a man.

As Gorgeous as it Gets by Kennedy Fraser, The New Yorker, Sept.15, 1986
Brand New: How Entrepreneurs Earned Consumers’ Trust, from Wedgewood to Dell by Nancy Fowler Koehn
Image of Freddie Mercury, one of the most beautiful men ever: Humus