Estee Lauder White Linen : Fragrance Review

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In 1978, Estée Lauder launched White Linen as a part of a trio called “New Romantics.”  The New Romantics also included Celadon (a green floral) and Pavilion (a white floral).  The three New Romantics scents were pioneers in the concept of fragrance layering.  The ad copy promised “three incredibly pretty fragrances designed to interact with each other.  Wear one.  Wear two.  Wear all three together.”

Celadon and Pavilion have been mostly lost to time, but Sophia Grojsman’s White Linen was an immediate blockbuster that is still in the Lauder line-up three decades later.  To me White Linen smelled like nothing else out there while bearing a stylistic resemblance to Chanel No 22 (immense use of aldehydes over abstract white floral heart).  It smelled nothing like the big Orientals that had just taken hold, and if it were meant to be worn concurrently with Celadon and Pavilion the result would have been explosive (think about combining Pleasures and Beautiful). On its own, White Linen had a massive and imaginative signature.  To combine it with another scent of equal power would be unthinkable—in today’s terms.  In the late 1970s, perfume was still constructed and worn boldly.

White Linen stood out from its two sister scents and quickly eclipsed them in sales. True to its name, it is more a texture than it is a scent, and it may well be the pioneer of the “laundry musk” category.  White Linen smells crisp as a sheet drying on a breeze, its floral notes ducking beneath the starchy aldehydes so that none is recognizable for what it is:  You will not smell lily of the valley, ylang-ylang, lilac, iris, jasmine, and rose.  Instead, you will be enveloped in a sharp olfactory harmony where you must take on good faith that these notes exist in this perfume.  White Linen will refuse any prying into its compositional secrets.

This is why, at a loss for words, only vague descriptors other than “sharp” and “clean” are offered.  White Linen dazzles with aldehydes, notes that give lift and sparkle; it’s like staring into the sun.  Look away and the scent is all stiff crease and starch as the name states. One doesn’t wear wilted linen.  The same applies to the namesake fragrance:  White Linen has formidable staying power in its clean and sculptured lines.  It also smelled, at its release, “modern.”  Although its formula was reputed to contain civet, there was no “cat in a bottle” smell that marked early 20th-century perfumery.

The clean aspect of White Linen was perfectly suited to the end of the 1970s, an era marked by heavy-lidded Orientals and the emergence of women in the workplace. Nearly sterile in comparison to something like Youth Dew, White Linen was a tailored scent one could wear in a business setting.  It spoke of impeccable grooming more than it did of the advertised romance.  It smells efficient.  It doesn’t fade.

In its 34th year, White Linen is ageless.  As unbelievable as it may seem, in its day it was understated. It wasn’t meant to overpower but to be softly romantic, on its own or in conjunction with the other two in the set. Sophia Grojsman broke tremendous ground; her White Linen had far-reaching consequences for the fragrance industry:  Who knew in 1978 that fragrance-wears of the New Millennium would turn so happily to the clean, freshly laundered smell that White Linen so accurately prefigured?

Estée Lauder White Linen includes notes of aldehydes, citrus, peach, rose, jasmine, lilac, iris, lily of the valley, ylang-ylang, cedarwood, amber, honey, civet, sandalwood, and tonka beans. There is also a modern variation called Pure White Linen. Both White Linen and Pure White Linen are available from all Estée Lauder counters at various major retailers.

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48 Comments

  • Austenfan: I am not a huge fan of Lauder, although I admire quite a few. I adore White Linen though, once the aldehydes have done their bit it becomes quite soft and easy to wear. Plus it contains some beautiful rose. November 20, 2012 at 8:57am Reply

    • Suzanna: I’m with you on this, Austenfan. I also like the White Linen flankers well enough.

      White Linen does have a lovely rose note, one past those aldehydes. November 20, 2012 at 9:15am Reply

      • Austenfan: It’s funny because I do love two scents that are not strictly speaking Lauders but created for companies owned by Lauder; Calyx and Aromatics Elixir.
        Pure White Linen is nice enough, but to me it smells not nearly as good as it’s parent. I don’t find WL overly clean but PWL smells too clean to me. It’s funny how smells translate differently to every individual. November 20, 2012 at 10:05am Reply

  • Heather: I’m not a fan of the fragrance myself, but this is an absolutely fascinating history lesson. Thank you! November 20, 2012 at 9:29am Reply

    • Suzanna: You’re welcome! Glad you enjoyed it! November 20, 2012 at 9:40am Reply

  • Elisa: This is the first perfume that really spoke to me, when I was a child. My grandmother sometimes wore it. It’s still my favorite aldehydic floral. November 20, 2012 at 9:32am Reply

    • Suzanna: It’s nice to know that WL has fans, still. I don’t smell it around much anymore. November 20, 2012 at 9:41am Reply

  • Nikki: White Linen is a great fragrance, I don’t wear it myself but like to smell it on others. Estee Lauder has some really good fragrances for a mid-priced collection, Beautiful and Spellbound are special, also designed by Mme Grojsman. Azzuree and Alliage are very good as well.

    I had no idea there were flankers for White Linen, thank you for the interesting history. I would have liked to smell those…I don’t like the clean smell too much, it is like laundry detergent. November 20, 2012 at 9:37am Reply

    • Suzanna: Nikki, WL is not like the modern “clean” smells. It just, to my nose. anticipates those. Also, it is one of the great pairings of name and scent; it is exactly as the name suggests. November 20, 2012 at 9:42am Reply

  • yomi: Lovely article, suzanna. This is one of my favorite estee lauder perfumes of all time. it is really a pioner . osmoz the perfume blog by firminech describes it as having capturing the american dream of beauty as Scarlet O’hara of gone in the wind – beauty and nature combined together. A true classic any day. November 20, 2012 at 10:26am Reply

    • Suzanna: I’ve never heard that bit about Scarlett O’Hara, yomi, so thanks for including it!

      WL, to me, didn’t seem to fit with the trio in which it was introduced. It seemed a real standalone and it certainly stood out as the clear winner of the set. November 20, 2012 at 11:09pm Reply

  • AnneD: I just found one of these minis at an estate sale. I was going to pass it on, but I think I will keep it. You always make me want to explore the fragrances you review. Especially the ones you rate with five stars! Thanks! November 20, 2012 at 10:32am Reply

    • Suzanna: White Linen is something that grows on you, as has also been the case for me with the equally top-loaded No. 22 (immense aldehydes in each). You should absolutely keep that mini for purposes of perfume appreciation! November 20, 2012 at 11:10pm Reply

  • rosarita: Frederic Malle mentioned White Linen in a piece he wrote for Allure magazine (9/12) that started me thinking about it. I wore Pleasures in the 90s and I still appreciate it though I no longer wear it; I decided I wanted to take a spin with White Linen next spring, for something different and classic. Now I really want to try it after your review! I’ll check it out next time I’m at the mall. November 20, 2012 at 12:25pm Reply

    • Suzanna: rosarita, WL is perfect for spring. It has such a wonderful crispness and light green tones to it. I think you will enjoy it very much–wait for the drydown. November 20, 2012 at 11:12pm Reply

  • Elizabeth: White Linen was originally meant to be layered? With three other Lauder perfumes? I can only imagine the mushroom cloud of sillage that would create!

    I am rather sad that I never had the opportunity to try Pavilion. I just googled it and it looks rather intriguing. Orange blossom, violet, and jasmine! November 20, 2012 at 12:55pm Reply

    • Suzanna: Yes, it’s true! The trio was meant to be layered, and to go from day to night. But times were different then. Fragrances were explosive; people wore Opium, heavily applied, to the office.

      Pavilion and Celadon were quite lovely, although WL was the most distinctive. I’d love to see the other two brought back, even if LE. November 20, 2012 at 11:13pm Reply

  • minette: and i STILL can’t wear it! i always wonder what other people see in this one, and keep trying to like it, but it has yet to work.

    and it’s not as though i don’t like aldehydes! i’m very much into them.

    ah, well. can’t love them all. November 20, 2012 at 2:49pm Reply

    • Suzanna: Minette, I can’t wear a lot of Lauder scents, so don’t feel that you are out there alone! I can’t do Knowing especially, and look how popular that one is! November 20, 2012 at 11:14pm Reply

      • minette: and knowing is one i DO love! it’s heady, but i love the dark rose i find in it.

        nice that they make something for most everyone! November 21, 2012 at 3:39pm Reply

  • OperaFan: White Linen has always had its admirers and detractors. In the late ’80s, my (then) boyfriend gave me a bottle. It was regarded (along with other EL fragrances) as a “status” scent in those days, but he picked it because he liked it best among all the ones he sniffed. I wore it dutifully until it was near empty and I became sick of it, LoL! It really WAS beautiful, but in the end I guess it just wasn’t “me.” November 20, 2012 at 2:59pm Reply

    • Suzanna: It wasn’t “me” either, but, like Aromatics Elixir, it enjoyed a wave of popularity and I wore it to be au courant. I have since learned not to try to keep up with others, scent-wise. November 20, 2012 at 11:17pm Reply

  • silverdust: Oh, for current-day perfumers to be as bold as those who put out the Linen trio when “clean and crisp” was considered foreign to the done-to-death Orientals of the ’70s.

    I have a sister who wears WL, though I never cared for it. I will definitely have to grab a spritz next time I’m at her house to re-evaluate! November 20, 2012 at 3:00pm Reply

    • Suzanna: I think the whole set of New Romantics was quite opposed to those heavy and often oily Orientals. It was a bold move, even in one’s own domain (Cinnabar was a huge release).

      Even if you don’t like WL, I am sure you can appreciate it. A different thing, but necessary for educational purposes. November 20, 2012 at 11:18pm Reply

  • Lynn Morgan: Wow! Blast from the past! I dimly remember my Mom wearing White Linen some distant Summer- I recall it was acqueous and rosy, Pretty, but not my thing. It was certainly a departure from the big, brassy scents of the era- Giorgio, Obsession, Poison (ugh!) and Opium (swoon). It was softer and more girlsih, but still sharpe- it didn’t have a powedry softness that I associate with light florals. November 20, 2012 at 6:13pm Reply

    • Suzanna: Lynn, all those aldehydes were quite sharp, weren’t they? I learned with this and with No. 22 to wait for drydown. November 20, 2012 at 11:19pm Reply

  • Cyndi: My sister, who passed away six years ago, wore this, and it always smelled beautiful on her. Brings back a lot of memories. I love the crisp, clean scent WL has. Very lovely.

    Also, it’s ironic you mentioned Chanel 22, which I wore years ago. I just bought a bottle from ebay (my first time with ebay) and that brings back a lot of memories, too. November 20, 2012 at 6:13pm Reply

    • Suzanna: I’m glad that WL brings back memories for you. Scent and memory are inextricably linked.

      Enjoy the No. 22! November 20, 2012 at 11:26pm Reply

  • Bela: I’ve never worn it – I find it a bit too shrill, but I layered the body lotion with Wrappings for several years: they went together so well. November 20, 2012 at 6:36pm Reply

    • Suzanna: I have to confess that I have never tried Wrappings, due to my dislike for Aromatics Elixir. Foolish, I know. I like your layering idea and I bet many of us would like to try it! November 20, 2012 at 11:27pm Reply

      • Bela: I absolutely detest Aromatics Elixir. Wrappings couldn’t be more different. If you like green perfumes, you have to try it. The drydown is to die for. November 21, 2012 at 4:56pm Reply

        • Victoria: It is! You know, I’ve tried Wrappings thanks to you. You’ve always described it in such a tempting way, and what a gorgeous perfume. You’re right, it’s quite different from Aromatics Elixir, and the green notes are exhilarating and calming at once. November 21, 2012 at 5:21pm Reply

        • Suzanna: Thanks, I will try to find some this holiday season! November 21, 2012 at 8:29pm Reply

  • Rednails: I just found a vintage bottle of WL at a thrift store for the grand sum of $5. I don’t see it so much as a precursor of clean smells as green smells, like Ivoire, which also plays on the idea of “whiteness.” WL is a bit straitlaced for contemporary tastes, but you’re right in emphasizing its place in the “emancipated” female work-scent pantheon, like Revlon’s Charlie or Avon’s earlier Charisma. In the end, whether White Linen suits you or not, it’s just beautifully composed. November 20, 2012 at 7:38pm Reply

    • annemariec: Ivoire – yes, great point about the whiteness. Came out just a year after WL. November 20, 2012 at 9:43pm Reply

    • Suzanna: I always found it clean, but then again, that era was so dominated by thick Orientals that most anything else smelled clean. While green, it was as you say like Ivoire (to my nose a soapy green) and not the green of, for example, Chanel No. 19 or even Celadon from the same trio. November 20, 2012 at 11:29pm Reply

  • annemariec: I’m so glad you mentioned how hard it is to pick out individual notes in WL. I have thought that for years but thought it was just me. If WL refuses any prying into its compositional secrets, I’m happy with that. I love it as a ‘sunny Saturday morning’ scent.

    I find Pure White Linen very pleasant, but nothing like as innovative as the original. And then there is Pure White Linen Breeze, and Pure White Linen Pink Coral. Whatever. I have a bit of a rule with Estee Lauder: I don’t bother with flankers (and certainly not flankers to flankers). Makes life simpler! November 20, 2012 at 9:40pm Reply

    • Suzanna: I don’t bother with flankers for the most part, but someone sent me some decants of the flankers and I was pleasantly surprised, even if there is a certain “white noise” aspect to them. November 20, 2012 at 11:31pm Reply

  • Mel: I used to love White Linen too, quite a few years ago. It was such a grown-up and elegant scent, even though I found it a bit strong in the beginning.

    However I have now moved onto Chanel no22 as I find that one a little bit softer and warmer. November 21, 2012 at 8:55am Reply

    • Suzanna: Me, too! I have to grit my teeth, though, through the opening. November 21, 2012 at 9:35pm Reply

  • fleurdelys: Back in the 70s, when I first smelled White Linen, I couldn’t stand it. The aldehydes were overwhelming, but this was many years before my dive down the rabbit hole of perfume obsession. About a year ago I smelled it again and – love! I bought a full bottle. Of course, now I like aldehydes and fragrances in which they are prominent, like Chanel No. 5, No. 22, Champagne, Champs-Elysees. In White Linen, every once in a while I detect a holographic white rose floating around in the mid notes – it plays hide-and-seek to entertain me. White Linen is the only fragrance in the “clean/fresh” category that I like; happily it contains civet rather than obnoxious laundry musks. BTW, I never knew WL had two “sister” fragrances! November 21, 2012 at 11:09am Reply

    • Suzanna: What a great testimonial to White Linen, and more reason for it to be discovered or rediscovered in today’s terms. November 21, 2012 at 9:32pm Reply

  • Astrid: I remember asking for this for my 9th grade graduation in 1982 and being told “I don’t think you’re ready for that….” Needless to say I did not remain with that person for long! How dare they… :-) November 22, 2012 at 5:34pm Reply

    • Suzanna: I presume long since gone, what with such audacity. November 22, 2012 at 5:39pm Reply

  • Sandra Levine: That powerful slug of aldehydes is, to my nose, the “sweat note.” Sweat in a good way, of course. November 23, 2012 at 1:57pm Reply

    • Suzanna: What an interesting observation, Sandra! I will look for it next time. November 23, 2012 at 5:42pm Reply

  • Maya: My grandmother, may she rest in peace, wore this all the time, and I remember getting it on my trip to London and trying it on one day, and I actually saw my dads eyes tear up because of the memories this smell provoked. I am not a huge fan of the scent itself, it just smells too “sharp” (to put in your words) and kind of soapish on me. November 23, 2012 at 9:26pm Reply

    • Suzanna: Wow, what a great comment about perfume and memory, even if you don’t particularly care for the fragrance (for yourself). Thanks for sharing that! November 24, 2012 at 7:39am Reply

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