Estee Lauder Private Collection ~ perfume review

Estee Lauder Private Collection fragrance

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.

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40 Comments

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I recently re-discovered Private Collection when a kind friend sent me a parfum mini. When I wore this back in the day, I didn't have the vocabulary to describe it. Now I can say I that this is the most stunning green chypre. The pine note gives it a strange mystical quality, like being in an enchanted forest. So different from current day fragrances.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I agree! To me, the pine is definitely what sets Private Collection apart from other green scents and what takes it from predictable to interesting. It gives it a strange, almost vibrating quality when it kicks in.

  3. Anonymous says:

    No. Way. From the creator of my beloved Yatagan? Wow, can you pick two fragrances more worlds apart? (Private Collection and anything Paris Hilton, actually.)
    I smelled this in my nascent perfumage and found the galbanum overwhelming. I need to go back and re-smell it, I bet I'd love it now. Is it true the scary ladies at EL keep a bottle behind the counter? I never see it. My mind just seizes up and goes blank whenever I'm near the dept. store beauty kiosks…

  4. Anonymous says:

    Compared to Vent Vert, PC is a baby in the galbanum department. I'd love to know what you think of it now.

    Isn't it weird that Yatagan and PC sprang from the same brain? I can imagine the PC woman being strongly attracted to Mr. Yatagan, though, with his wild, skanky ways.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Have to go back and try this. When I first tried it when I was younger, I was overwhelmed with it. I was into sweeter fragrances then. I have to laugh at the evolution of LLBean. As a life-long New Englander now transfered to the South, LL Bean was a reliable, inexpensive place to get timeless preppy clothing. A sort of Preppy Target before it's time. They were the first to defy New England's Blue Laws, keeping their store open every day of the week. I still wear their clothing, but now I'm chic! And SO not a WASP. Maybe with Private Collection, I can pass.

  6. Anonymous says:

    “Preppy Target”–that's good. When I was testing Private Collection, I kept closing my eyes and trying to picture someone other than a young C.Z. Guest wearing it. Joan Jett? So not. My neighbor the dancer who keeps hens? Nuh uh. I just kept coming back to WASP. It's a nice scent, though, and deserves to be associated with bohemians, truck drivers, you name it.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Lovely review of a great perfume that I just can't seem to like enough to wear. I am excited about the upcoming Tuberose Gardenia though!. I don't have the first clue what a WASP is!! We've got WAG's, but I don't think they are the Private Collection wearing kind!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Have worn PC recently (yes men enjoy this scent too) but rarely out of my house…it is along with White Linen and the new Azuree Soleil my fav Lauder scents.

    The 'new' Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia is amazing – in a 'Carnal Flower'-esque way. Please sniff when its released (I think in Sept).

  9. Anonymous says:

    WASP stands for White Anglo Saxon Protestant. Appealing, no? What is a WAG?

    I'm really interested to try the new Private Collection when it comes out. I hope they keep the feel of the original–crisp and grass–even with the white flowers.

  10. Anonymous says:

    How did you get a sniff of the new Private Collection? Lucky guy. If it's anything like Carnal Flower it will sell like hotcakes!

  11. Anonymous says:

    I can't wait to smell it! I have to go down to London to see it because it will be out there in September, but not in the rest of the UK until Spring 2008. So I've been told, anyway!

  12. Anonymous says:

    Well I'm Catholic so that counts me out! WAG stands for 'Wives and Girlfriends' and it is a phrase coined by the ever classy British tabloid press to describe anyone married to or going out with a footballer. Football is massive here and at the top end players earn a fortune, so their partners are always in the papers wearimg the latest high end expensive fashion, think Victoria Beckam, she is the original WAG! It's just young girls famous for having footballer partners. It is a really big deal here!

  13. Anonymous says:

    Oh boy, you're right–Private Collection probably wouldn't be a WAG's first choice! If the WAG hasn't already marketed her own scent, she's probably wearing Juicy Couture.

  14. Anonymous says:

    It is so funny you said that because they did have a Juicy Couture phase a year or so ago! One was photographed in a bright yellow ensemble, she looked like Ali G!! Footballers earn sooooooooooo much money. With the possible exception of Posh, WAG's aren't renowned for their style. Unless you are a wannabe WAG and copy them, but I won't get started on those!………

  15. Anonymous says:

    “Looked like Ali G!” All I can say is, yikes!

  16. Anonymous says:

    Angela: now I'm picturing you as the Little Edie of Portland! K

  17. Anonymous says:

    Well, she did have a certain charm! But I have to note that I wear my clothes on their expected body parts (no shirts on head, etc.), and my housekeeping is just slightly better.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Hee! I must clean my apartment – it is veering into Grey Gardens territory at the moment. Fortunately I don't have cats.

    I've never heard of Private Collection, and had no idea such a scent existed. I will have to see if any of the SA's at the EL counter have it squirreled away somewhere. (My guess is that they will look at me blankly if I request it).

    They certainly did come up with some lovely green chypres in the early 70's didn't they?

  19. Anonymous says:

    The early 1970s do seem like a golden era of perfume. Didn't Diorella come out then, too? Chamade? If you get the chance to try Private Collection, I'd love to know what you think of it. I don't get much oakmoss from it like I would from most chypres, which makes me wonder if it isn't quite a chypre, but a more sensitive nose could tell you better.

    As for the Grey Gardens territory, I do have cats, and man how they are shedding these days. At least I manage to keep the racoons out of the house.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Thank you to Angela and Robin for this lovely post! And to the Lauder company, if you are reading this, please bring back the Private Collection dusting powder! Fragrant and shimmery, it was beautiful in every way! I'm a huge fan of Lauder fragrances, even though I could not be further from the WASP type!

  21. Anonymous says:

    I love Private Collection. One of the most beautiful of the green scents there is. I was rather taken aback that T.Ford played around with it in the newer version yet to be released here in the U.S. (if it's released here I don't know where yet?). Just like the other older E.Lauders like Azuree, Alliage, Cinnabar, Youth Dew…”Why mess with a masterpiece?” I'm just old school here. I appreciate the beauty of these older E.Lauder classics. They have more character and bang for your buck than the likes of their latest offerings like Intuition, Pleasures, Pleasures for Men…you get the picture. Just like the Aramis line of E.Lauder scents as well, the original Aramis still smells good (got some off Ebay recently, vintage form), J.H.L (Lauder's gift to me for wanting to smell like Cinnabar too), Devin (Alliage's younger brother), Aramis 900 (Aromatics Elixir's twin brother), Havana (discontinued, WHY?!!!!), I could go on.
    I smelled Azuree Soleil E.Lauder and many folks love this new offering. It's okay. If you want to smell like the beach. But I'd rather pick a Comptoir Sud Pacifique for this sort of thing, smelling like the beach personally like Aqua Motu (my personal fave). I have to admit liking Youth Dew Amber Nude, it's rather well done. But still love the original.
    Back to PC, it's all what you wrote about here, very classy/elegant and from another world/place/time. I like to think that it still is even though the times they are a changing….
    P.S.
    Men do love PC too, I agree. I have worn it on occasion out to work. Just lightly since it's so powerhouse, LOL

  22. Anonymous says:

    You're welcome! I hope the forces at Estee Lauder gratn your wish and reissue the Private Collection dusting powder.

  23. Anonymous says:

    I'm pretty old school, too, and if given the choice to sniff either a vintage scent or a brand new niche scent, I'll go for the vintage every time. The SA at the Estee Lauder counter told me that EL never discontinues fragrances except for the odd flanker, but it sounds like she's wrong! I love the sound of Havana.

  24. Anonymous says:

    I have to confess that the Waspiness of this scent probably is what has kept me from trying it. I never could stomach the EL perfume ads, but am trying to get over that prejudice as I've recently discovered I like several of the scents (Azuree, White Linen, Aliage). Can't believe that PC (what an oddly appropriate acronym for the advertising mood of the scent) was created by the same man who created my beloved Yatagan. I also adore green chypres, so this sounds almost perfect for me.

  25. Anonymous says:

    If you like Aliage, you'll probably like Private Collection better than Aliage. PC is a little more complex with a little more character, in my opinion, while Aliage is more light and peachy. I know what you mean about getting past the image, though. Am I really the type pictured in the ad above? Not a chance. It's a nice scent, though.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Yup, I believe Chamade came out then, and of course, the lovely Chanel No. 19!

    It seems like fragrances can be assigned to certain historical eras in addition to fashion apparel. The 70's were definitely the era of green scents! Now we are trapped in the era of fruity kool-aid florals.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Oh, take me back to the green scents! I wonder what will be next? This fruity thing can't last forever.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Oh, another of my favorite old Lauders! I do love the attention you've been giving these seemingly forgotten gems. I agree that classic Estee Lauder fragrances have to me always conjured up old-school American glamour, and yes, a sort of WASP-y aesthetic, but in the most elegant way. I have recently noticed that Aerin Lauder seems to have encouraged a new appreciation of these classic scents. Last year, Private Collection pure parfum was reintroduced- (I think just at Nordstrom, but hey, better than nothing.) And I just noticed on the Neiman's website (or was it Saks? I'll have to check again) that a new White Linen “Heritage Collection” has come out, which includes parfum, a box of perfumed soaps, and a candle, all in specially created packaging which Aerin said was “inspired by a favorite print of her grandmother Estee's”. It makes me happy to see these kinds of nods to tradition, and they seem done truly out of respect and love for her legacy, since I can't see them being big money-makers. Thanks again for the review!

  29. Anonymous says:

    Aerin Lauder really is the perfect exemplar for some of the classic ELs–elegant, simple, and with her own sort of throw-back chic. The old ELs have personality about them that the new scents, popular as they are, just don't seem to have.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Dear Angela! Thanks for a beutiful review, my mother wore this for parties in the 80´s when I was just a child. I can remember that it made me feel heady and lively. It was so strong that one had to keep out of the bathroom for a while after she had put it on.

    Could I ask for an advise? or is that improper? I am new to this blog…

    I am on the search for a green, lemony and mossy spring scent. My love of all times is Paloma Picasso, also like scents like Agent Provocateur, Sisley sour de lune, Narciso Rodriguez. But they all smell slightly alike, do you think that EL private collection or maybe Azureé would suit my taste in scent? Havent been able to sample either of them thats why I´m asking for your advise.

    Maybe Bandit is the way to go…

    Thanks again for a lovely escape from work!

  31. Anonymous says:

    J, I'm glad you have such wonderful memories of Private Collection. It's definitely green and mossy and worth a try, and Azuree is mossy, too, but less green. Other green chypres I like are Niki de Saint Phalle, YSL Y, Givenchy III, Sabi, and Vent Vert. Bandit starts off with a green blast, but then turns to leather.

    I'd say, try lots of them and see what you like! Good luck.

  32. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for your great advise Angela!

    I will defenently try to find them and give them all a try since I havent come across any of them. What a great challenge!

  33. Anonymous says:

    A long time ago, a family friend gave me a collection of minis and samples, and, not being into perfume then, I left them in a drawer at my parent's house. Recently, I dipped into it and found interesting stuff, including a full-size bottle of vintage Madame Rochas. Anyway, I thought I'd plundered the whole thing but today I discovered a lovely little frosted glass mini bottle floating around in there, and to my delight it was Private Collection! I do love Alliage but I agree this is richer. The honeysuckle in the top note really leapt out at me. It's a smell I associate with my childhood and I love… This is one I don't intend to swap!

  34. Anonymous says:

    It's fabulous. I don't know why I don't have a bottle already. The next time I'm at a department store, I'll have to remedy that.

  35. SensualistGeek says:

    Aah, my mom wore Private Collection while she was expecting me. Always quite dear to me and her for that reason.

    • Angela says:

      If Baby Mozart makes smart children, Private Collection must make discerning, elegant children! Good thinking on your mom’s part.

  36. aleta says:

    My Estee counter manager said she was told to send all the bottles of this, Jasmine White Moss, and Amber Ylang back to the company. Sounds like a reformulation is on the move : C

    • Angela says:

      Uh oh. That sounds strange. But if they were reformulating it, why not just sell out the old bottles? Unless they’re changing the bottles and packaging or something.

  37. katerina says:

    I am sorry to say that Private Collection brings me headache. I have the same symptoms with Diorissimo and Grand Amour! Is there any hidden hyacinth?

    • Angela says:

      I would not be surprised at all if there’s hyacinth in Private Collection. It sounds like that’s a note that doesn’t agree well with you.

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