Estee Lauder Private Collection : Perfume Review

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Today’s guest post is brought to you by Anne-Marie. She is a museum curator and historian living in Canberra, Australia. Her mother wore Yardley’s April Violets for over fifty years, and this is what sparked Anne-Marie’s interest in perfume. You  can also find Anne-Marie’s reviews at Beauty on the Outside.

“Oh, it’s from my private collection.”

Thus would Estée Lauder reply when people asked her about the intriguing perfume was wearing. It could not be bought. At first she shared it only with Princess Grace of Monaco and the Duchess of Windsor (Wallis Simpson). In 1973 Mrs Lauder was finally persuaded to put the fragrance on the market and she kept the name, Private Collection.

Whether or not this is true, Private Collection is a brilliant example of fragrance marketing. Its story makes me think of Givenchy’s L’Interdit, a bespoke fragrance created for Audrey Hepburn and launched commercially in 1957. We are told that Estée Lauder tried to keep Private Collection “to herself”, just like Hepburn, who upon heard the proposal to release her fragrance cried, “But that is my perfume, I forbid it! (Mais c’est mon parfum, je vous l’interdis!)”

Suggestions of the hidden and the forbidden give these perfumes considerable allure. They seem like windows into the private lives of some of the world’s richest and most glamorous women. Certainly that is the image upon which the ad campaigns for Private Collection were based in the 1970s and ‘80s.

Private Collection is a green floral or a green chypre, depending on the note list you read. It was created by perfumer Vincent Marcello who gave us the brooding Caron Yatagan and Halston Z-14. What I discover within Private Collection’s quite formal structure is a surprising amount of warmth. I think of an elegant woman who invites you over for dinner. You don’t know her well. Your husbands are colleagues, but you don’t know much about her except that she is beautiful and accomplished, and you are a bit nervous.

As it happens she is running a bit late on the night, but instead of panicking, she greets you with a smile, leaves your husband in the care of her husband, and laughingly invites you into the kitchen to help with the finishing touches to the canapés. She looks gorgeous in her sheath dress, upswept hair and diamond earrings, but she slings on an apron, and before you know it you are swapping recipes and chatting like old friends. Elegant and poised, this lady is also supremely at ease with herself. It’s this, and not her outer perfection, that makes her the woman she is.

This image of my Private Collection lady was conjured in my mind by the contrast between this perfume and another green floral, Sisley’s Eau du Soir (1990). With apologies to fans of Eau du Soir, when I smell it I am repulsed by its needless, empty formality. This lady tries much too hard. She would have hired a caterer for her dinner party and left nothing to chance.

But Private Collection’s smiling demeanor helps maintain its appeal today. Worn with beautifully tailored jeans, a linen shirt and a vintage necklace it would be a perfect for Sunday brunch or an evening barbeque.

Estée Lauder Private Collection includes notes of citrus, honeysuckle, hyacinth, linden, jasmine, orange blossom, rose, chrysanthemum, reseda, ylang-ylang, coriander, patchouli, sandalwood, heliotrope, amber and musk. It is available at Estée Lauder counters and online.

Image: Karen Graham, a favorite Estée Lauder model from the 1970s, by Richard Avedon. Private Collection ad, via Parfum de Pub.

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47 Comments

  • Anne: Hello, Anne-Marie! I love how you described this perfume. It was my signature perfume for 10 years. After I gave birth to my daughter my sense of smell changed and Private Collection didn’t seem the same. Your review makes me want to find a bottle again.

    Anne (your half-namesake!) September 25, 2012 at 7:28am Reply

    • annemariec: Thanks Anne! Yes give it a try next time you are near a Lauder counter. I guess the formula for Private Collection has been tweaked over the years, as has the formula for just about everything!, but I rarely see people grumble about PC having changed. I hope you still like it! September 25, 2012 at 4:47pm Reply

  • rosarita: What a lovely review of a classic. I have a bit of vintage PC that I cherish. September 25, 2012 at 8:17am Reply

    • annemariec: Lovely! Keep wearing it, don’t let it evaporate away. 🙂 September 25, 2012 at 4:47pm Reply

  • Barbara: Lovely image! I never got Eau de Soir either. Smells musty on it. September 25, 2012 at 9:14am Reply

    • annemariec: (Victoria is responsible for that image of the girl with the amazing eyes!)

      Eau du Soir’s chypre-ish quality may be what smells musty to you. A lot of people do find chypres musty. I love chypres but I do get that musty/dirty smell sometimes, especially from Parfum d’Empire’s Azemour les Oranges. That is very cold ashtray for me, sadly. September 25, 2012 at 4:52pm Reply

      • Barbara: I meant the image you’ve painted with your words, but I love the photo too. Victoria is great when it comes to visuals.
        Your review made me buy a small mini of PC on Ebay. 🙂 September 26, 2012 at 7:37am Reply

        • annemariec: Victoria is an all round genius, yes! I hope you love that PC. Isn’t Karen Graham’s hair amazing in that photo?! September 26, 2012 at 6:23pm Reply

          • Victoria: Gosh, ladies, you’re way too kind to me! 🙂 Thank you for your nice words. September 27, 2012 at 4:52am Reply

  • OperaFan: Hello Anne-Marie!
    I’m a huge fan of Eau du Soir, but I don’t mind your comment at all. I think of EdS strictly as a glamour scent, more fitting for the opera or theatre than an intimate soiree, so you’re on the money. In such a setting, it (EdS) Would seem over the top.
    Private Collection, on the other hand has an understated elegance to it and is Very approachable. I was lucky to have found a mini bottle of the perfume at an antique store a couple of years back and enjoy it very much. Although a different perfume entirely, I would place this in the same category as the far more costly Antonia (by Puredistance).
    Thanks for your lovely review. September 25, 2012 at 9:46am Reply

    • annemariec: Thanks OperaFan, I knew there would be EdS fans out there. The fragrance has been around for many years. It’s great to have a glamour scent in the collection. Those little bottles of Private Collection are terrific. You can pick them up cheaply and get to know PC quite well without having to commit to a FB. A dear perfume penpal sent me a sample of Antonia and I treasure it. I agree with you that it is a similar style. I’ve toyed with the idea of saving up for Antonia, but lord! She’s expensive! September 25, 2012 at 4:58pm Reply

  • AnneD: I remember buying Private Collection as soon as it was available. I was very young (20 maybe) and I lost interest in it. I eventually gave away my bottle and of course missed the fragrance after that! I’m kinda like that, always wanting what I don’t have-ha! Recent estate sales have revealed many of these little mini perfumes and I cherish every one! PC is still lovely, but not like it used to be. Well, neither am I! I really enjoyed this review. Thank you. September 25, 2012 at 10:10am Reply

    • annemariec: Thanks Anne. The great thing about perfume is that you can go back to something you tried and rejected years ago and by some magic, it may work for you. Of course, the reverse is often true as well – something you have worn for years suddenly seems ghastly! I have had that happen too. September 25, 2012 at 5:00pm Reply

  • MB: Great review! Fun to read! September 25, 2012 at 11:37am Reply

    • annemariec: Thanks MB 🙂 September 25, 2012 at 5:01pm Reply

  • yomi: Hi Anne Marie, lovely review of a great classic. I didn’t quite understand this fragrance at first – it smelled odd at first , very plant like.
    But later I do not know whether a re formulation took place- it was all of a sudden, brilliant, luminous, sophisticated and very elegant. A very original fragrance. A masterpiece. September 25, 2012 at 11:40am Reply

    • annemariec: Oh great description. Luminous. Yes, it is that quality that lifts PC out of the ordinary, and yet, as OperaFan says above, it doesn’t demand to be treated as a glamour scent. A masterpiece, as you say. September 25, 2012 at 5:05pm Reply

  • Domestic Goblin: After reading this post I am in a dilemma… shall I buy Estee Lauders Private Colllection; Guerlains Chamade; or Chanels No 5 Eau Premiere as my next perfume?
    Decisions decisions! September 25, 2012 at 11:42am Reply

    • Carla: I would get Private Collection AND Eau Premiere. PC hardly costs anything. Chamade is somewhat similar to PC in the way it conjures green florals, and they both last forever and a day. I wear PC quite a lot and just love it’s soap and green. It’s my preferred version of a fresh clean smell, far more interesting than the clean musk florals of today, with it’s chypre/patchouli heart. September 25, 2012 at 2:13pm Reply

      • Carla: My possessive its got auto corrected twice! September 25, 2012 at 2:14pm Reply

      • annemariec: I agree – I’d go for PC first, especially as you can pick up a mini on eBay for not much money. I don’t think the same is true for Chamade, which I also own. I find Chamade harder to wear because of that slightly heavy, oily quality it has. Sometimes that bothers me a little. However, both Chamade and PC have hyacinth as a note, so if you love that you must buy both!

        No 5 EP is a different scent, not green, but gorgeous. I adore that lemony opening! September 25, 2012 at 5:10pm Reply

  • Reese: Hello Anne Marie,

    What a lovely description of this fragrance you have written! I’ve never been a big Estee Lauder fan, but I may have to give this one a try. Your essay was extremely persuasive, and the great vintage photo of Karen Graham was the cherry on the cake. She was such a star in my childhood; you have made me feel very nostalgic this afternoon! September 25, 2012 at 12:45pm Reply

    • annemariec: Nostalgic in a good way I hope Reese! Karen Graham is gorgeous. You have to hand it to Lauder – they have a genius for picking classically beautiful models. The model in the PC ad is Pauline Porizkova, who has the most amazing cheekbones. She is the model I most remember for my early years, but I think she lacks Karen’s warmth. Karen is quintessentially Lauder, in my mind. September 25, 2012 at 5:15pm Reply

  • patuxxa: This scent is a permanent part of my childhood and the epitome of elegance to me. My Mom was a Lauder rep and that’s how she discovered PC (it was never in wide distribution in our country; today sales personnel say it’s discontinued and I smile quietly at them, then bring my Mom new bottles everytime I travel abroad). When I was a child, PC was Mom’s scent; when she was away I would play with empty minis and breathe in the barely there whiffs of scent they still held. One time she was actually approached on the street by a complete stranger, a woman who just had to know what that marvelous perfume was. They just don’t make scents like this any more. September 25, 2012 at 1:13pm Reply

    • annemariec: No, indeed they don’t. I’m sometimes surprised that Lauder still sells it, but Lauder is such a gigantic corporation that I guess it can afford to keep PC in the catalogue, for the sake of brand loyalty, even if it does not make much them money. Of course niche perfumers have never given up on PC.

      How fabulous to have a mum who was a Lauser rep! You friends must have envied you? September 25, 2012 at 6:25pm Reply

  • Undina: Anne-Marie, nice to see you here.

    I have to confess (and I hope you won’t stop talking to me): I haven’t tried yet this perfume. What’s even worse, I think I have a sample of it somewhere. I planned to try it, I read the story about it but until today I just wasn’t in a mood. But the way you review it makes me anxious to test it. I promise I’ll give it a try tomorrow. September 25, 2012 at 1:45pm Reply

    • annemariec: Oh yes, of course we are still talking! There are so many fragrances out there to try; there are dozens of obvious ones that I have never got to. Actually, that reminds me of a remark that maybe Tania Sanchez made about a fragrance – White Linen perhaps? – that it is like the sunglasses on your head: quite obvious, but you have forgotten they are there. I hope can dig out your sample of PC, and that you enjoy it. September 26, 2012 at 12:05am Reply

  • Rina: Haven’t experience this PC, but I do wear the PC T/G..HOWEVER – I did wear Halston Z-14 for many years. Thanks for that memory. Must try to find it and see if it smells like I remember. September 25, 2012 at 1:47pm Reply

    • annemariec: There, now I have never tried Halston Z-14, or any Halston fragrance, possibly because the brand has never been big in Australia. So thanks for the reminder. I’ll put it on the ‘to try’ list. PCTG I’ve steered away from b/c here it is quite expensive. Still, a little squirt from a tester won’t hurt … September 26, 2012 at 12:07am Reply

  • breathesgelatin: I love this perfume. It’s not something I am always in the mood for – I need to be feeling glamourous and strong – but it’s absolutely the perfume of a powerful, confident woman. Thanks for your lovely review! September 25, 2012 at 4:10pm Reply

    • annemariec: Thanks, yes, I agree, it is not a perfume for every day, at least not for me. It’s not a ‘set and forget’ perfume. However, I did wear it today for work because I had to meet some Important People (fairly unusual in my job) and PC helped get me into the zone. Actually, now I think of it, when I have important dealings at work I reach for the classic Lauders (esp. PC, Beuatiful and Pleasures) because they last all day and tend to be clean and confident. September 26, 2012 at 12:12am Reply

  • Dionne: I love the image you painted of a Private Collection woman, Anne-Marie. Very nicely done. And like Undina, I’m hoping you’ll still talk to me, but in my case it’s because Private Collection smells absolutely horrid on me. I don’t think it’s so much a chypre issue as much as the fact that many greens do not work for my skin. September 25, 2012 at 6:10pm Reply

    • annemariec: Hi Dionne, yes, I can imagine PC being quite horrid. It is one of the greenest of greens. I find it a fairly dry green too, herbaceous rather than juicy. But you love Bel Respiro, I recall? That is a lovely one. September 26, 2012 at 12:15am Reply

  • Ariadne: Isn’t Karen Graham the ex model who turned to fly fishing and then did a EL shoot, posed literally mid stream in waders? If not PC would work well with that image! September 25, 2012 at 6:33pm Reply

    • annemariec: Goodness, I had not heard that! But I can imagine PC being a fragrance you could carry into any challenging situation, including fly fishing. I’ve just had a look at KG’s Wikipedia entry and it does indeed discuss her passion for fly fishing. Well, well. September 26, 2012 at 12:19am Reply

  • vinery: Hello Anne Marie, good to see you here! I have one of those little PC minis, and really enjoy this fragrance, though for some reason I rarely wear any of my green chypres. However, now that spring is in the air, green chypres seem just right. September 25, 2012 at 9:28pm Reply

  • annemariec: Yes indeed, and it sounds like you live south of the equator if you are enjoying the spring. Private Collection is great at this time of year. I have been buying hyacinths to remind myself of their natural scent. I love it, though some people might find it a very heavy, bitter green. Those PC minis are fantastic. A niche quality fragrance for little more than the price of a sandwich and a cup of coffee. September 26, 2012 at 12:24am Reply

  • Astrid: I have a newer PC vintage & the top notes are gorgeous green perfection, but they only last a couple of minutes. The drydown turns to a more “golden” incense. It’s nice all the way through, but I wish EL would bottle that top phase alone & make it last longer. My version is very similar to Ivoire without the icky raspberry note that ruins the latter. September 26, 2012 at 9:59am Reply

    • annemariec: I don’t recall an ‘icky’ raspberry note in Ivoire (thank goodness! I’m very cautious about raspberry) but I don’t like it nearly as much as Private Collection. It doesn’t seem to ‘sing’ the way PC does, for me at least. You are right about the green notes in PC easing off after a while. Still, there are lots of green perfumes out there to love. 🙂 I’ve been enjoying the juicy green in Diorissimo a lot this spring. September 26, 2012 at 6:19pm Reply

  • Yulya: Anne-Marie, thank you for the review. It is lovely! I do own a vintage mini-bottle and wear this fragrance on rare occasions. After reading this review I feel that I would like to wear it more! September 26, 2012 at 2:41pm Reply

    • annemariec: Thanks Yulya! Yep, get it out for an airing! September 26, 2012 at 6:19pm Reply

  • Ariadne: annemariec, KG was my father’s field guide on a fishing trip on the Au Sable River in the Adirondacks. He didn’t mention her perfume but he talked about her a lot afterwards. ;+) September 26, 2012 at 7:03pm Reply

    • annemariec: I’ll bet! How fabulous! What a great memory to have. And I love that KG had such a great career after modeling. September 28, 2012 at 7:49am Reply

  • Moi: Great review!

    Last year I discovered a small vintage bottle of PC at a junk shop. Lifted the cap, sniffed, and thought, “Huh. Might be worth forking over five bucks for.” Boy, was it ever. I’m an EL fan to begin with, but this I think is the brand’s best, with one of the best dry downs I’ve ever experienced. September 26, 2012 at 8:51pm Reply

    • annemariec: Now you mention it, I agree: I think it is the best, or at least the best of those I have smelled. I would give a very honourable mention to White Linen though. Thanks for your comment. September 28, 2012 at 8:12am Reply

  • lesley: first smelt PC in 1978 as my godmother rushed out of the door going to a party. Must admit searched the bedroom for the lovely perfume and purchased a bottle for my mum.
    I myself have wore it over the years but my eighteenyear old daughter adores it says it reminds her of her nan and when her nan comes in the house wearing it it brightens her day. lovely fragrance one which I always search airports for to have a spray before boarding the plane as does my daughter. Hope it goes on forever February 18, 2013 at 10:28am Reply

  • Evan Raz: I stumbled on your blog quite by chance. Your description of the original PC is, like most other eloquent reviews of sublime perfumes, romanticised and mythical. Which is perfect! PC is a firm favourite of mine. My dad wore it and I used to steal secret spritzes when he wasn’t looking. Years later I started buying my own, in various forms, and I’ve used much, including a quarter ounce of the precious extrait, which I treasure dearly. September 29, 2013 at 1:55pm Reply

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