This past Sunday’s New York Times has a review of A Privileged Life: Celebrating WASP Style by Susanna Salk. The review mentions some of the touchstones of WASP style: boat sneakers, Truman Capote, gin, L.L. Bean, and dachshunds. The review drew forth the world of chicken salad luncheons overlooking stretches of perfectly manicured lawn. Add wafts of Estée Lauder Private Collection, and the vision is complete.
When I grew up, Estée Lauder was the height of elegance. The worlds of Crème de la Mer and wildly expensive, physician-certified skin care didn’t exist yet. My mother’s mother treasured her tiny bottle of Youth Dew bath oil (“It’s Estée Lauder,” she said meaningfully), and I was well into college before I felt worthy of approaching an Estée Lauder cosmetics counter with its efficient, uniformed saleswomen and rows of lipsticks in ridged gold tubes. In my hometown, the best women wore Estée Lauder makeup and perfume. The best of the best had a bottle of Private Collection on their dressers.
Private Collection is a grassy green fragrance that starts with rich galbanum and hyacinth, giving the impression of a freshly mown lawn of bright green grass, the kind that is sweet when you taste it. After fifteen minutes or so, a little bit of a pine note rises, creating a slight vibration, a pleasurable dissonance, with the galbanum. At this point, it reminds me of the older, more sensible sister of Niki de Saint Phalle. The fragrance sweetens, too, and amber just barely warms the cool, green scent. Private Collection is confident, always appropriate, and a refreshing change from the scores of fruity, overtly sexual, messy scents on the market these days.
Vincent Marcello, the nose behind Caron Yatagan, created Private Collection for Estée Lauder’s personal use. Friends and strangers badgered Ms. Lauder for the name of her perfume, and she answered, “It’s from my private collection.” At last, in 1973 she released the scent for sale, and Grace Kelly, among others, adopted it right away. (Wallace Simpson purportedly wore it, too, but other sources peg her as more of a Youth Dew girl.) Initially, Private Collection was the most expensive of the Estée Lauder fragrances, and the only scent to come in a “pure fragrance spray” concentration.
The Estée Lauder website lists Private Collection as having top notes of honeysuckle, jasmine, and citrus; a heart of orange flower, ylang-ylang, and coriander; and a base of sandalwood and patchouli. Jan Moran and Osmoz offer different reads on Private Collection, citing hyacinth, pine, reseda, heliotrope, musk, amber, and sandalwood, among other notes, as part of its composition.
Private Collection is an ideal scent for Grace Kelly, and I can imagine it on C.Z. Guest, too. But I don’t want to categorize it strictly as a scent for ladies in Greenwich, Connecticut, because I think it would suit a woman who relates to Gwyneth Paltrow’s character in The Royal Tenenbaums, the morose but wickedly chic sister who wore Lacoste dresses and classic Fendi furs and who sat smoking cigarettes and reading novels in the empty bathtub. I love smelling Private Collection, but except for the part concerning gin, I don’t relate too much to the world of Ivy League colleges and tennis lessons. Sadly, the WASPs-gone-wrong of Grey Gardens are probably closer to my style, so I’ll stick to Niki de Saint Phalle, Yves Saint Laurent Y, and Balmain Vent Vert for my green fixes. Still, I keep lifting my wrist to my nose for another sniff…
Private Collection is available at the Estée Lauder website or at its makeup counters for $45 for 50 ml pure fragrance spray, the concentration I reviewed. Private Collection also comes in 15 ml spray cologne for $28.
Note: image via Parfum de Pub.