Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Estée Lauder Estée

Estée was the second perfume created by Estée Lauder, in 1968. According to the little brochure that came with my collection:

Once, at a party, Estée Lauder noticed the light from two crystal chandeliers shimmering in a glass of champagne and thought how wonderful it would be to capture that image in a fragrance. Seven years in the making, Estée Lauder created a fragrance with a brilliant, sparkling top note which plays against a rich, sensuous background.

I've worn Estée the last couple of days, and I somehow got it lodged in my head that this perfume was launched in 1963. As such, it was coupled in my mind with an image of Natalie Wood in some films from the early 1960s, like Love with The Proper Stranger and Sex and The Single Girl. When I picked up the little brochure and saw 1968, before I'd even read the text I thought, "Then this must have been years in the making."

For me, 1968, the year before my birth, is all about the Summer of Love, hippies and protests against the war, the assassination of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., and the uproarious Democratic convention in Chicago. Everything about this perfume denies that tumultuous time and hearkens back to Camelot, to a country on the brink of the Beatles, to Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique.

The notes listed for Estée at the Estée Lauder site are as follows:
Top: jasmine, rose, muguet
Heart: coriander, ylang-ylang, orris
Base: sandalwood, moss

If Youth Dew was a scent to liberate women to buy perfume for themselves, then Estée was a scent for women not only to buy but to wear on their own terms--which would have been terrific in 1963. Liberated, educated, but still a lady, still a rules girl. 1968 was a year for breaking every rule in the book, the way history has been set down for us, so I wonder if they thought then what I think now: Estée is rather old-fashioned. I don't mean this in the pejorative sense, but rather in a sense that it feels like a fragrance caught at one point in time, reflecting certain social values, a very timely statement about womankind. Youth Dew feels modern to me, as do fragrances like Weil Zibelene or Chanel No. 19. Estée feels caught in a time warp. I can't imagine some woman applying this and then running off to burn her bra. The woman who chose this perfume most likely still wore gloves and a hat every time she left the house.

For me, that's perfectly okay. I still find it wearable, but then I like a perfume with a ladylike edge, if that's not too much of an oxymoron. The floral aspect of this is quite deep, and it dangles just at the edge of a chypre, with slightly detectable aldehydes to keep the wearer from feeling smothered by flowers. The jasmine and muguet make the rose slightly crisp, and the heart is golden with a touch of spice. I keep thinking of a picture I saw once of Natalie Wood from the early 1960's wearing a fur hat, with a coat and matching fur stole. She looks both poised and poised for adventure, ready for excitement and change. How little she knew what would happen next.

A note: I sampled the parfum concentration of this. I haven't tried the Pure Fragrance Spray or the Super Cologne Spray, which appear to be the only concentrations available on the Estée Lauder site.

*image from