Suzanne's Perfume Journal

Estée Lauder Private Collection:
Green, Radiant and Original in Every Sense

When the sun finally came out this past weekend, after a couple months of almost solid rain, the lawns and every form of greenery — the cornfields, the golf courses, the leaves of the trees — fairly shimmered under these new blue skies. In celebration, I splurged on a bottle of Estée Lauder Private Collection, a scent as lushly green and feminine as the silk gown pictured above (worn by actress Keira Knightley in a scene from the film Atonement). And like that gown, Private Collection is quite distinctive, in large part because it is quite green, and as such, not the kind of thing worn by the hoi polloi. I don’t mean that unkindly, but apart from the perfume-lovin’ community — which, for me, really only exists online — I generally don’t run across people in my day-to-day life who are wearing scents like Chanel No. 19, Jacomo Silences, or the original Private Collection, all of which might be considered dated, since they came out in the 1970s (although does the “dated” theory really fly, considering that Chanel No. 5 is far “older” than the forementioned scents, and even people who don't know much about perfume are apt to name it as a classic fragrance?). The new and hip Byredo Green is also not something I would come across in this college town, which is far from hipsterville, but more fashionable than many small towns. Elizabeth Arden Green Tea…that’s perhaps the only green-floral fragrance I’ve smelled around these parts, and though certainly it is light and refreshing, it doesn’t strike me as memorably green (or memorable in any regard).

Private Collection, because it is both of these things — a perfume of a strikingly different “color,” if you will; and a scent from yesteryear, with a retro vibe and the benefit of being more or less forgotten (our local Estée Lauder doesn’t even keep a tester of it on the counter, though they have the fragrance in stock) — smells all the more unique. Considering that it was created for Estée Lauder by perfumer Vincent Marcello, the “nose” behind the equally-arresting herbal men's scent, Caron Yatagan, another favorite of mine, probably also accounts for why it is so.

At its start, Private Collection is intensely green and spring-like, thanks to what smells like a heaping amount of galbanum, the sharpness of which is held in check by a sweet and lilting honeysuckle note. (The Estée Lauder website lists honeysuckle, though other websites identify the note as linden, which also has a honeysuckle-like fragrance). Soon a soft amount of jasmine becomes detectable, and the overall effect is dewy verging on heady — a scent so stunningly, tenderly green, it reminds me of Chanel Bel Respiro in a way (and wouldn’t everyone rush to purchase Bel Respiro if that beauty wasn’t so fleeting?). I would love it if this stage went on forever, and it is more lasting than Bel Respiro’s spring lawn, but eventually the honeysuckle note evaporates and the scent deepens into a mossier green. The femininity of the scent is not compromised by this change — the florals at its heart, which are very well-blended and not easy for my nose to differentiate (other than to say that I detect a floral bouquet in which jasmine and rose are present), ensure that the fragrance smells ladylike. And overall the scent stays herbal, but it’s a more reserved kind of green, a bit muted or hushed, a bit more mature with less sunlight bouncing off it. A light spiciness develops, too, over the course of the drydown — not too much, but just enough to add some interest and complexity.

Speaking of which, interest is something I find lacking in a couple of the recent “Private Collection”-labeled fragrances that Estée Lauder’s granddaughter, Aerin Lauder, has added to the company’s fragrance line. I realize I’m in the minority with my opinion on this, but I find Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia, in particular, to be rather wan and simple (not something you expect from a white-floral perfume), and even slightly synthetic-smelling. About the best thing I can say of it is that it is office-friendly. Private Collection Amber Ylang-Ylang is pretty, but rather conventionally so. The very latest offering, Private Collection Jasmine White Moss, which, as a green-floral chypre, would seem to have the most in common with the original Private Collection, is not something I can pass judgment on, as I haven’t smelled it yet — but a review by March of the Perfume Posse suggests that this one, too, probably wouldn’t excite me.

Perhaps I’m expecting too much of these newer releases, considering that Estée Lauder is a mainstream fixture of the American department store with fragrance products that are very reasonably priced. But it seems to me that when you put the words “Private Collection” on a perfume label, that label ought to be reserved for something truly special or dazzling. So far, the only Estée Lauder Private Collection scent that fits the bill (in my opinion) is the original.*

Estée Lauder Private Collection can be purchased at most Estée Lauder counters or from the Lauder company website: $49.50 for 50 ml of the “pure fragrance spray,” which the company describes as being “a rich concentration of the scent, between Parfum and Eau de Parfum.” Below is a list of fragrance notes form (which differs slightly from what is listed at the Lauder website, but seems a more accurate list to me):

Top: green note, orange blossom, linden
Middle: jasmine, reseda, chrysanthemum, rose
Base: sandalwood, heliotrope, musks, amber

*Update: As it turns out, I ended up loving Private Collection Jasmine White Moss.  For my review of it, click here.

Image of actress Keira Knightley in a scene from the 2007 film, Atonement, is from Focus Features.

October 14, 2011:

To read my most recent posts, return to Home Page