Monday, 13 July 2015

Super Scent - The Very Best Of Estée Lauder

As promised on Friday, here comes the first instalment of Super Scent, a series in which the Candy Perfume Boy and I will compile lists - independently of each other - of what we consider to be the best perfumes from a certain brand. The focus of this debut edition is that behemoth of American scent creation: Estée Lauder.

Since it launched its first fragrance (in the form of a bath oil) in 1953, the Lauder brand has taken it upon itself to make high-quality olfactory creations available to people - particularly women - who don't have gigantic stashes of disposable income. By and large, it has succeeded. Most of its wares fall within the 'affordable' bracket, yet they hardly ever come across as dumbed down, unlike the output of some of the company's chief competitors.

Despite its vast collection of make-up and cosmetics products, perfume clearly remains a high priority for the brand's controllers: its scent portofolio is constantly being tweaked and reworked. Indeed, the latest development is that some of its best known releases (including Aliage, Intuition and Azurée) have been relaunched in standard bottles and sold under the label 'The House Of Estée Lauder'. It's interesting to place this niche-like move within the framework of the Lauder group's wider activities: as has been extensively reported, the company acquired Frederic Malle and Le Labo last year. The long-term effects of this repackaging remain to be seen.

Choosing my five favourite perfumes from a collection that currently comprises more than twenty, eminently attention-worthy scents hasn't been easy. For one thing, when you're talking about a brand that has been in the business for over 50 years, the issue of context poses a few problems: should each perfume be assessed in relation to the time in which it was released or should it be stripped of historical baggage and judged against the backdrop of this particular juncture of time, right now, in 2015? The other question relates to whether the scents should be rated in terms of their identities within the overall portfolio. In other words, should one oriental be discounted if a better one already exists in the collection, even if the former is a great scent?

My own answers to these questions, and a few others, all come down to the term 'best fit': I've done my utmost to put together a Top 5 which feels right. I've considered matters of context, but I haven't been bound by them. I've viewed the Lauder oeuvre as an entirety, but I've also taken the individual scents on their own merit. Most importantly, I've permitted this first edition of Super Scent to reflect my personal views and tastes, because I continue to believe that, as is the case with film, music and literary criticism, in the world of perfume writing, 'subjectivity' is not a dirty word.

Be sure to check out the Candy Perfume Boy's blog for his Lauder Top 5. I'll certainly be doing that straight away, because, as per the rules of our little Super Scent project, I have no idea what his list is going to like, and he doesn't know a thing about mine. When you've read both lists, feel free to start a debate. Have we included your favourite Lauders? If not, which ones do you think we should have included? And which brands would you like us to feature in future editions of Super Scent? Here we go...

5. Beautiful (1985)
The quintessential Lauder scent, Beautiful is a gigantic halo composed of every gorgeous-smelling flower imaginable, from rose to narcissus, via jasmine, mimosa, carnation and several others. Diffusive, distinctive and tenacious, it possesses all the technical attributes which Mrs Lauder wished to see in her olfactory creations, yet it never feels as though it was created according to a scent-by-numbers marketing imperative. Instead, its heart beats with the vitality of pure, untrammeled inspiration. Although time hasn't been kind to it - its largesse conjures those aspects of the 80s which many folks would prefer to forget - there's no doubt that Beautiful remains one of the most swoon-inducing bouquets ever poured into a perfume bottle.

4. Cinnabar (1978)
Much has been written about the links between Cinnabar and Opium, but hopefully, the discourse hasn't distracted us from the fact that although it may share a good deal of DNA with YSL's once-mighty super oriental, it deserves to be judged on its own terms. A bold, wonderfully funky cauldron of smouldering spices (mainly cinnamon and cloves) with a dash of carnation and dark woods for contrast, it proves that American perfumery can be so exciting when it just loosens up and allows a bit of dirt to get under its manicured fingernails. Final thought: compare it to Michel Roudnitska's Noir Epices for Malle and tell me it isn't worthy of more love than it's received in recent years.

3. White Linen (Sophia Grojsman; 1978)
Some say it's merely an Americanised version of Chanel No. 5, but I'd assert that it's a classic in its own right. Combining the crispness of aldehydes with the tranquility of florals, it creates a bouquet that is the very definition of unblemished verdancy. The mosses and woods in the base are prominent, but the focus is, appropriately enough, on cleanliness, a characteristic the scent manages to convey without every seeming crass or predictable. Optimistic, life-affirming and and as comforting as getting under freshly laundered sheets, White Linen remains one of Grojsman's greatest achievements.

2. Beyond Paradise (Calice Becker; 2003)
I am utterly bemused by the fact that Beyond Paradise's fortunes seem to have turned: it would appear that it no longer enjoys the success it deserves. I remember the first time I tried it (at a branch of Debenham's, of all places) I knew Madame Persolaise absolutely had to have a bottle. Its solar-powered jasmine knocked me out then, and it continues to knock me out to this day. Entirely note-perfect - and making expert use of woods and green facets - it still feels like a teleporter trip to a sci-fi garden somewhere on the other side of the Milky Way. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that its repackaging in the House Of Estée Lauder range will bring it to the attention of a more appreciative audience.

1. Youth Dew (Josephine Catapano; 1953)
The magisterial Youth Dew was Lauder's first ever scent and I'd argue that it has reigned as its most praiseworthy olfactory creation ever since. A powdery oriental par excellence, it exudes everything that is most sensual about balsams, resins and spices. But like all the greatest perfumes, it also leaves room for a bit of oddness: there's a dry, husky note running through it (leather? camphor? terpenes?) which engrosses the wearer and prevents the whole from becoming too easily classifiable. A seductive, irrepressible triumph. And if you've never tried it in bath oil form - which was, of course, its original guise - then you're in for a treat: it is intoxication itself.


Note: As per the rules of our little Super Scent enterprise, the above list was chosen from Estée Lauder's current line-up; discontinued scents weren't considered. In case you're interested, by our reckoning, this is what their current perfume portfolio comprises: Aliage, Amber Mystique, Azurée, Beautiful, Beyond Paradise, Bronze Goddess, Cinnabar, Estée, Intuition, Intuition For Men, Knowing, Lauder For Men, Modern Muse, Modern Muse Chic, Pleasures, Pleasures Bloom, Pleasures Intense, Pleasures For Men, Pure White Linen, Pure White Linen Light Breeze, Sensuous, Sensuous Noir, Sensuous Nude, Spellbound, Tuberose Gardenia, White Linen, Wood Mystique, Youth Dew. The new Modern Muse Le Rouge wasn't released in time for our consideration.


  1. Loving this. No discontinued ones to consider explains the missing Private Collection. Ah well, though I saw it yesterday in Boots.

    My favourite is Pleasures but for very personal reasons. A weird choice as I'm rarely after 'fresh floral' type scents but my history with it makes it very special for me.

    1. Danaki, THIS is why I love my readers :-D I am so pleased you spotted the absence of Private Collection. I can't quite ascertain whether it has or hasn't been discontinued, but most of the evidence seems to suggest that it has, so we didn't consider it. Of course, that doesn't change the fact that it's a classic with TONS of fans.

      I think Pleasures has an equally large number of admirers. If it carries a special meaning for you, then you just keep wearing it and enjoying it!

    2. It's great to see Youth Dew get the appreciation it deserves.

      On the subject of Private Collection, I don't know if it's discontinued in the UK, but it's definitely available in the US. I've seen it in shops (though rarely) and it's also available on the official website. It has always been my favourite Lauder :)

    3. Minaeve, I'm glad you're a Youth Dew fan too.

      Private Collection is a bit of a strange case, because it seems to be available only in a few markets. I wonder if our lists would have looked different if we'd considered it... bearing in mind that I haven't tried the current formulation.

      Do you still enjoy it in its current state?

  2. We definitely seem to be in sync here! I do need to spend a bit more time with Cinnabar. Because of the Opium connection, I've never really given it the attention it deserves.

    Also, as nice as the new bottles are, I am very disappointed to see BP's rainbow bottle go.

    1. Yes, I think we've come to what I would call a very healthy level of consensus. Mind you, even if we'd disagreed completely, I would still have found the exercise interesting.

      As for the new Beyond Paradise bottle... yes, crying shame! The new bottles definitely feel cheaper, but if that's what has to be done for the juice to be preserved, then so be it.

  3. leathermountain13 July 2015 at 13:43

    I enjoy this format and this specimen. Thanks for sharing! I don't know all the Lauder scents, so I just have a few questions for you, out of curiosity: Why not Azurée? How would you compare White Linen with Estée? What's your take on Lauder For Men?

    1. Leathermountain, thanks very much for stopping by. As for your questions... I'm not sure where to start, because they raise all sorts of issues... but I'll try to be succinct.

      In a nutshell, the main response to your question is that, obviously, several scents had to be left off the list because Candy Perfume Boy and I decided we'd limit ourselves to five. So, a perfume's absence on our list doesn't indicate that we think it isn't worthy of praise.

      To pick up on some of your specific points:

      Azurée - I think it's an extremely well-constructed leather scent, but unlike several other critics, I don't find it especially elegant. I always think there's something a touch harsh and crude about it, at odds with its name/concept. It's very, very good indeed. But not good enough to make it into my Top 5.

      White Linen vs Estée - I'd say the latter hasn't aged very well, whereas White Linen has managed to become a classic.

      Lauder For Men - I'm afraid I'm not an admirer of heavy-handed fougeres.

      But more importantly: what are YOUR favourite Lauders?

  4. I'm glad you have Beyond Paradise on your list. It's so beautiful, pure escapism in a bottle. Just went to one of the perfume websites and looked it up and was shocked at the horrible reviews....according to most of these reviewers it was bland, it was an ugly (colorful) bottle, it was suburban, it was old lady. I don't think anyone smelled it. And I for one am sick to death of the whole "old lady" attribute to perfumes. It smells good or it doesn't. No need to act like the worst--and smelliest-- thing a woman can do is not die young! But off topic. Thanks for your care in making your list. It's a good one. I love everything on your list except Youth Dew, and I love it in theory. :)

    1. Celeste, I know exactly what you mean about the 'old lady' tag. It does seem like a rather silly way to describe a perfume.

      And as for Beyond Paradise, I still think it's one of the best Lauders ever made, and until recently, I actually thought it had been a massive success for the brand.

    2. Oh, and Celeste, I'm tickled by your idea of loving a perfume "in theory" :-)

  5. I used to LOVE this brand in the eighties! I used up several bottles of White Linen and Estee, I owned Knowing and Pleasures and my mother wore Private Collection. Unfortunately I did not follow up the development of the new perfumes and flankers so I am not competent to comment on your choices. Youth Dew certainly deserves a special place although it is not my cup of tea.
    Once again: I like the idea of Super Scent very much!

    1. Neva, thanks very much for your comment.

      It's funny you say you loved the brand in the 80s, because there is actually something very 80s about it, as a whole, isn't there? Maybe that's something to do with the fact that their perfumery work came into its own during that decade.

      Yet another vote for Private Collection. It's a shame that it isn't available in the UK.

  6. leathermountain14 July 2015 at 21:38

    Persolaise, it's always a pleasure to stop by. :)

    My favorite Lauders are Azuree and Youth Dew. If Azuree is harsh or crude, then that is working for me. I'll contemplate that a bit the next time I wear it. I dislike Youth Dew perfume spray, but the bath oil is delightful. Any idea why they seem so completely different?

    I don't know White Linen, but the old bottle I've got of Estee seems so similar to what I read. It's also a floral aldehyde that's not really so floral, easy on the nose, and it's got the clean thing as well. There might be a hint of dirt under the clean; I can't be sure and I like that about it. For some reason I want to say that Estee also smells classic and smells Lauder, although I can't say exactly what those things mean.

    I notice that Beautiful made both of your lists, but I haven't liked it the few times I've tried it. It seemed sharp and sour and synthetic, usually traits that don't play well with me.

    It would be great if you and TCPB also included your bottom five from each house in the Super Scent series. I would find that just as interesting and informative, maybe more so!

    1. Leathermountain, it's always great to see you here.

      Why is the Youth Dew bath oil so different? Hmm... good question... maybe it uses a higher proportion of base notes.

      You should check out White Linen and let me know what you make of it.

      Your idea of including the bottom five is intriguing. I'm not sure how that would work, but we'll certainly give it some thought.

  7. Thank you, I absolutely LOVE Youth Dew, Cinnabar & Beautiful. I have YouthDew EDP in its current formulation, made in Switzerland and still has oakmoss in it....
    Its unbelievable, its my yoga perfume, 1 small spritz and the air is filled with reverence, the incense, the spice and the headiness.....its like walking into an temple filled with smoke from the incense.
    I adore it....
    Beautiful is my happy scent, one I wear to work on a bad hair day...
    Cinnabar, my Opium, I find it sensuous....

    1. Jacqueline, thanks so much for sharing this. I love the idea of a yoga perfume! Excellent!


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