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.