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Calyx - Wildly original - July 24, 2015

Image - Wikipedia - Guava fruit, Sept. 4, 2007 by Penny Greb

I’m always up for new smells. For example, my daughter brought home a box of small guava fruits a couple of days ago that she’d come across in a little specialty food store. “Sniff these” she said, sticking the basket under my nose.  So I did. They smelled exotic and tropical and aromatic, like they’d been soaked in a bath of green earthy sweet juices. “Mmm, let’s eat some”, I replied.

So we stood in the kitchen and bit into the lime-coloured globes, their shape and texture reminding me almost of green figs, and I was mightily surprised by their flavour. Not nearly as sweet as they smelled, they were soft and slightly juicy, tasting of green velvety skin and creamy pulp with a citrusy tartness, delicious and delicate, although I could do without the hard little seeds in the centre. They were obviously not yet at their peak. “Maybe they need a little ripening” my daughter decided, so she put them aside in their little box at the end of the kitchen counter.

The next morning, the kitchen was filled with the deliciously sweet aromatic scent of ripe guava, and I immediately thought of Calyx, the Estée Lauder fragrance I wore in the late 1980’s. The strong waft in the kitchen seemed to be the same note that my nose would zero in on whenever I wore this fruity floral. It had an almost synthetic but decidedly decadent quality to it that I found relentlessly fascinating.

Calyx is fruity with a difference, and it has little connection with today’s descriptive of the fruity note, which conjures red fruits, candy-floss and the worst aspects of patchouli. Calyx was the debut fragrance from Estée Lauder’s skincare and color cosmetics line, Prescriptives, created by perfumer Sophia Grojsman and launched in 1986. Described on its clean white box with the lime-green leaf as an  “Exhilarating fragrance”, Calyx has an impressive list of notes: Top: apricot, passionfruit, mint, mandarin orange, cassia, peach, mango, bergamot, grapefruit, papaya and guava; middle notes: cyclamen, lily, melon, freesia, orris root, jasmine, neroli, marigold, lily-of-the-valley and rose; base notes: musk, oakmoss, cedar, sandalwood and vetiver. Don’t let this list put you off, you’re not expected to detect every note because they don’t all make an appearance.

I think Calyx is really a green floral chypre, with fruity notes. Sophia Grojsman described Calyx in a September 9, 1992 article in Women’s Wear Daily*:

"It was very crazy, very wild and it opened a whole new category of fragrances," she said. "The company requested something sparkling, exhilarating and new...Calyx is my most expressive fragrance," she said. "It showed another side of me. Sometimes when I feel lousy I spray it on and I perk up immediately."

To achieve that exhilarating new feeling, Grojsman used a brand new fruity compound from IFF, which created an accord of ripeness that just teeters on the border of boozy when mixed with the yellow citrus, the green, and the orange tropical notes she included in the opening. This lush accord is almost sharp with a metallic edge at the beginning but mostly it’s tart and citrusy, green, sweet and juicy – and definitely tropical. I can smell the humidity.

Calyx softens as it dries down and merges with a floral bouquet - powdery rose, saturated headiness of white flowers, earthy iris and marigold. The fruit accord remains throughout the dry-down but becomes fainter, and finally settles comfortably among the grasses, woods, moss and musk, the bittersweet notes of the classic chypre base.

Calyx is very special. A lot of years have passed since 1986 and there is still nothing else quite like it. Now sold under the Clinique label, it’s been re-formulated to be slightly greener and less sweet than the original Prescriptives version that I own. Does it really smell like guava? Not really. It represents an artist's idea about tropical fruits, created like an abstract painting or a modern jazz piece. On the right person, in the right place and time, it has the power to connect with the psyche and create a feeling of pure bliss.

As I say, I’m always up for new smells, even when they turn out to be, well, not new, but wildly original, smartly sophisticated, and timeless. Calyx smells grassy green, exotically fruity, ripe and boozy sweet, earthy, woody, mossy, and musky, and is just wonderful.


Prescriptives Calyx is listed in our Decant Store. Decants are $5.00 for 1 ml.


*Women's Wear Daily quote from