Estee Lauder Knowing : Fragrance Review

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Estée Lauder Knowing blends roses and moss, one of Elisa’s favorite perfume pairings. She revisits this glamorous and plush fragrance today.

There’s just nothing like a rose chypre. Though the perfume world has given me no shortage of beautiful options in this moss inflected category, there’s something about it that feels endlessly variable to me, and if I ever had the money and good fortune to commission a bespoke fragrance from a great perfumer, the perfect rose chypre is what I would chase.

knowing

As luck would have it, this category hasn’t yet been ruined by time or perfume regulations (unlike, say, lily of the valley). The classical chypre accord, traditionally a harmony between bergamot, oakmoss, and labdanum, is harder to achieve since oakmoss was identified as an allergen in 2001. But perhaps because rose plays so nicely with earthy materials like patchouli and vetiver, only a touch of the now restricted oakmoss is needed to create a dramatic effect. So, for example, Francis Kurkdjian’s Lumiere Noire Pour Femme (2009) is almost as beautiful as L’Arte di Gucci (1991).

Estée Lauder Knowing, originally released in 1988 and created by Elie Roger (the same perfumer who signed Clinique Wrappings), builds on a tradition of mossy roses going back to Jean Couturier Coriandre, Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, and Clinique Aromatics Elixir. Right away, it’s dark, complex, and spicy-sour with cardamom and coriander. A hit of galbanum gives it the feel of forest green velvet, but it’s brilliantly blended, not announcing itself the way galbanum so often does.

Initially, there’s something in the combination of bitter green notes and fruit that always reminds me of cherry-flavored cough drops. This impression fades quickly, but that medicinal edge hangs around through most of the development; despite the presence of rose, mimosa, and white florals that would normally lean sweet, the heart smells almost hoppy, like an India Pale Ale.

For hours, it remains slightly mean – lacking the honey note that often softens other dark, mossy roses, such as Ungaro Diva. But like Mary Poppins, Knowing has a hidden soft side, and by the far drydown she’s kicked off her heels. The patchouli and moss segue into a slightly animalic amber – still not sweet, but more relaxed.

Unfortunately, the base in the current version doesn’t have quite the same balsamic richness I loved in earlier batches, but it’s still excellent and, like White Linen, a true American classic.

Estée Lauder Knowing includes notes of aldehydes, green notes, coriander, mimosa, plum, melon, rose, tuberose, cardamom, bay leaf, orris, orange blossom, patchouli, jasmine, lily of the valley, cedar, sandalwood, amber, musk, civet, oakmoss, and vetiver. It’s available at department stores for $58/1 oz or $80 for 2.5 oz.

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59 Comments

  • SophieC: This really makes me want to try Knowing again – I have a partially used bottle from a few years ago and while it never felt completely me it certainly worked for work and made me feel more grown up at the time. I will try it again and see if it ‘fits’ now.

    Interestingly Fracas which I bought around the same time never felt quite me now ‘sits’ better – and I am rather surprised to have reached for it today and to find it provdes a beautful cocoon which seems to allow me to think in my tired state today! June 18, 2014 at 10:44am Reply

    • Elisa: Knowing makes me feel very grown up! It’s interesting how you can grow into fragrances. I’m able to wear big, old-fashioned scents much more easily now than a few years ago, like Le Troisiemme Homme for example. June 18, 2014 at 1:37pm Reply

    • Anais: Re: Fracas – I too didn’t take to it at first, but recently I’ve been finding it really comforting. June 21, 2014 at 9:00pm Reply

  • Jillie: At the eye hospital the other day, the consultant leant towards me and the delicious smell of Knowing wafted over me! I used to think that it “wasn’t me”, but now I am not so sure. You’ve described it beautifully, and I do love my chypres so I will have to try it. Have you tried Cabaret by Gres? That’s very much a rose chypre, but is not as complex and warm as Knowing. June 18, 2014 at 10:53am Reply

    • Elisa: Yes, I like Cabaret! Haven’t tried it in years but always think it would be nice to have a bottle. I recently bought a mini of Ungaro Diva, and it’s great as well. June 18, 2014 at 1:38pm Reply

  • Anita Monroe: There’s a bottle of Knowing sitting in the back of my fragrance cabinet. There are many people for whom it’s a favorite fragrance, but I have
    preferred Patou’s 1000, which is somewhat similar. After reading your review, I’ll pull out Knowing and try it again. June 18, 2014 at 11:09am Reply

    • Elisa: Let us know what you think! I think it would be especially good for fall, which is when I like to wear the similar Agent Provocateur. June 18, 2014 at 1:40pm Reply

      • Anita Monroe: It’s slowly morphing on my skin, and I’m enjoying it. You know how people say that perfume is different on different people? That is so true with this one. I have several friends who wear it, and it’s not the same on either of them, and certainly not the same on me. That’s one thing that makes it interesting. June 18, 2014 at 4:25pm Reply

        • Elisa: I’m not surprised — it’s so complex. It also changes quite a bit during the development, so it smells different depending on where you catch them in the day! June 18, 2014 at 4:54pm Reply

  • Nikki: I remember encountering Knowing many years ago and asking what it was! Such a great perfume, really exceptional for the right occasion, woman, mood. Thank you for your lovely review! Knowing, Ysatis and Tresor are perfumes I love on others. June 18, 2014 at 11:43am Reply

    • Elisa: A waitress at a diner last year told me it’s always been her favorite perfume. I think it was very popular in the early/mid 90s. June 18, 2014 at 1:42pm Reply

  • irem: Hi Elisa, reading your review makes me want to run to our local Macy’s and try Knowing. I am sure I have tried it at some point, but I do not remember. Sometimes I find older fragrances (esp. 80s stuff) tiring. They smell old and I tend to tell myself why bother find something temporary. But then most of the temporary fragrances are boring, predictable, not worth the sniff.
    BTW, I love the ad you have chosen. I love the aesthetic, the definition and contrast. So refreshing to see some structure in her clothes as opposed to the rags that masquerade as clothing. I also love that the model has well defined lips, so tired of seeing pictures of women with their lips erased (with concealer?). The woman in the photo radiates individual beauty, confidence and apparently a wonderful perfume 🙂 She looks like she really “knows” something!
    Between your review and the ad I have to smell Knowing. June 18, 2014 at 11:55am Reply

    • Katy McReynolds: That is Paulina Porizkova, whose fierce intelligence radiates from nearly every photograph ever taken of her. June 18, 2014 at 12:48pm Reply

      • Elisa: Isn’t she gorgeous? Victoria chose the picture, and I’m so glad she did. June 18, 2014 at 1:43pm Reply

        • Canadianpetite: Paulina lends her face to Avon and she still looks amazing. June 18, 2014 at 10:50pm Reply

        • Montréalaise: Paulina was the “face” of Estee Lauder in the 80’s, so she appeared in every EL ad during that decade. October 6, 2014 at 5:40pm Reply

  • Patricia: Knowing is one EL fragrance that has never been on my radar. Your review, however, makes me want to try it. A rose chypre with a hint of galbunum sounds right up my street! June 18, 2014 at 12:36pm Reply

    • Elisa: Give it a try! The use of galbanum is so subtle and so nice. June 18, 2014 at 1:44pm Reply

  • Katy McReynolds: I agree! With all my Chypre loving heart! There is something so satisfying about a bitter, medicinal and herby fragrance, for me anyway. As a young woman, about age 14, I loved Coriandre, which I found at my local drugstore, circa 1976. I am not familiar with this particular Lauder but wear others, Cinnebar, Aromatics Elixir, regular and Perfumer’s Reserve, and Beautiful. I think Mr. Tauer’s Une Rose Chypre, which I am sure I spelled incorrectly, is quite old-fashioned and lovely, and a fragrance worth trying if you like this kind of perfume. June 18, 2014 at 12:42pm Reply

    • Theresa: I’m wearing Tauer’s Rose Chypre today – it is just right for the chilly damp weather today in the Pacific Northwest! June 18, 2014 at 1:27pm Reply

      • Katy McReynolds: You smell fabulous, I am certain! June 18, 2014 at 1:33pm Reply

    • Elisa: Katy, URC is one of my favorite fragrances. I gave it a 5-star review a while back. 🙂

      Coriandre layered with Tea Rose is amazing. June 18, 2014 at 1:45pm Reply

  • solanace: Recently Robin, in a reply to a comment i made, described my beloved black Armani as a rose chypre, which afterwards I could totally see. Now that there is a crimsom rose shinning in the middle of all those dark arabesques, I am enjoying it a 1000 times more! Thanks to your review I´ll absolutely have to try Knowing. I wore Beautiful in my twenties and liked it very much. So curvy, happy and completely different from the mellony, ´fresh´stuff everybody around me was sporting back then. June 18, 2014 at 2:46pm Reply

    • Elisa: Solance, I know just how you feel! I never smelled the rose in White Linen until I tried it next to VCA First, now the rosy note is one of my favorite parts.

      I’d sure love to get my hands on older bottles of Knowing and Beautiful. June 18, 2014 at 2:52pm Reply

      • Solanace: These discoveries are so much fun, and I feel super lucky to be able to talk about them!

        Just tried Roses by Chloe, because of your review. Sprayed myself quite liberally at the local perfumery – which made the SA give me an evil eye :). At first, I thought, ‘Wow, this is just like Rose Splendide!’ But then, instead of simply fading as these roses usually do, it turned to a mess. Didn’t agree at all with the Shalimar remnants on my skin! Now I’ve got to try Marni… June 19, 2014 at 6:58am Reply

        • Elisa: Whoops! Sorry the drydown didn’t agree with you.

          Smell Bent makes a rose called Bollywood or Bust that is very similar in effect to Marni, and some days I think I like it even better. June 19, 2014 at 8:49am Reply

          • solanace: Oh, no whoops, it was nice to have something sold here in Perfume Mordor I was willing to try! June 19, 2014 at 10:34am Reply

      • Michaela: Me, too. I got the roses of White Linen the same way, following an advice on this blog, and a whole new world opened. Maybe I’m wrong, but I felt them blooming especially under the hot summer sun. June 20, 2014 at 3:51am Reply

        • Elisa: I love that! June 20, 2014 at 9:21am Reply

  • Jennifer C: Your review makes me want to try Knowing again. I like Aromatics Elixir and vintage Coriandre, but when I sampled Knowing, I just couldn’t do it. Maybe I’m hypernosmic to the musk or something because it just went all laundry detergent on me. I gave away that sample, so I might need to sniff it again next time I’m by an Estee Lauder counter. June 18, 2014 at 6:07pm Reply

    • Elisa: Jennifer, I suspect it depends on the vintage — I’ve tried 3 or 4 different batches and they were all slightly different in the base.

      Aromatics Elixir is one I haven’t mastered yet. Need to spend more time with it! June 18, 2014 at 6:35pm Reply

  • annemariec: Count me in with the crowd who will give Knowing another sniff. I’ve spritzed from a tester once or twice and not really liked it, but rose fragrances are not my thing, generally. I do love Dioressence, which is perhaps similar though fruitier, and with less emphasis on the rose.

    And Dioressence is a bit more bohemian too. Beautiful though she is, Paulina Porizkova would be too well groomed, and she cares too much how she looks, to model for Dioressence. June 18, 2014 at 7:14pm Reply

    • Elisa: I think Knowing needs some time on skin to get comfortable — the top notes are quite bitter and, as I mentioned, rather medicinal. But it has a lot of retro appeal for me. June 18, 2014 at 7:27pm Reply

  • Canadianpetite: I wore Beautiful and Knowing right after high school as soon as I could afford a bottle. I didn’t know myself then but I clearly had a powerful yet quiet self. Reading this makes me want to pull out my “vintage” bottles of both fumes. Mmmm…. June 18, 2014 at 10:54pm Reply

    • Elisa: Ah, I wish I’d been wearing something so classic in high school … instead I was wearing L’Eau d’Issey! June 19, 2014 at 8:44am Reply

  • Geebee: I am a Knowing fan yet i agree that the current formula lacks the bones with current restrictions. I do believer however that Jean Kerleo was the creator of Knowing. Thanks for highlighting this underrated gem. June 19, 2014 at 1:23am Reply

    • Victoria: I’ve added that perfumer information to Elisa’s article, so I can explain. Elie Roger was the perfumer responsible for Knowing, and while his output is not as large as that of some other creators, he was a talented creator and deserves to be properly recognized for his exceptional work. Hence, my note.
      As for Kerleo, he could not have created Knowing, for the simple reason that it was created by Firmenich and in 1988 Kerleo was an in-house perfumer at Jean Patou. He only worked on brands in the same family at the time and never on Lauder’s projects. June 19, 2014 at 7:26am Reply

      • Elisa: Thanks for explaining, V! Until you mentioned this I had no idea Knowing and Wrappings were by the same hand/nose. June 19, 2014 at 8:44am Reply

  • Lynley: I can’t remember what this smells like at all! Will have to head back to the EL counter… Maybe it’s because my mum was such an orientals fan, or that I was a 70’s baby, I’ve never had a history of chypres, and am finding them the hardest to learn to love. I’ve developed a passion for big white florals, iris, and other genres I hated, but traditional chypres are still not my friends. Galbanum sticks in my throat. But I shall persevere and one day there WILL BE enlightenment! 🙂 June 19, 2014 at 7:07am Reply

    • Elisa: When I first started getting into perfumes, chypres were one of the hardest categories for me to swallow. They just smelled like old perfume to me, and bitter. I appreciate the nuances much more now. Glad I didn’t get rid of my bottle of Paloma Picasso! June 19, 2014 at 8:48am Reply

  • Michaela: Beautiful review, and I’m happy you find this perfume so interesting! I only tried it once, but I remember I liked it very much, it’s worth at least sampling. I really enjoyed some EL perfumes, but I went for Private Collection in the end. June 19, 2014 at 7:55am Reply

    • Elisa: Private Collection is so rich and complex too! June 19, 2014 at 8:48am Reply

      • Michaela: I owe it to Anne-Marie’s review on this blog, and I’m really grateful!
        I’d sample some perfumes mentioned here: Coriandre (EDT), Paloma Picasso (EDP or EDT), Diva (EDP). Are their current formulations still worth sampling, or should I stick to Agent Provocateur for getting a bit closer to the original idea? June 20, 2014 at 3:43am Reply

        • Elisa: I think they are different enough to be worth sampling — Agent Provocateur has a lot of saffron and patchouli and manages to convey the chypre idea very well, but it is not as mossy as Paloma Picasso — if you can find any of the other EDP, it is really wonderful. Diva is noticably sweeter, with a more honeyed rose.

          Coriandre, I must admit, is a little heavy on the celery to my nose. June 20, 2014 at 9:20am Reply

          • Michaela: Thank you so much! I’m updating my to-try list (with Knowing on top) 🙂 June 20, 2014 at 9:31am Reply

  • Mihaela Ro: Beautiful name and bottle and questionable juice to my nose. Obviously, we are not made for each other. It smells of moldy basements or of Miss Havisham’s closet… at least on me that’s what it smells like (and I am a patchouli lover….). This one, First and Magie Noire are the three perfumes that give me a hard time when we meet. I can understand many people love them but I cannot understand why…. June 19, 2014 at 10:44am Reply

    • Elisa: I hate Magie Noire too, for what that’s worth!

      First, I think is lovely, but I swapped away my bottle since when I want big aldehydes, I almost always prefer White Linen. June 19, 2014 at 11:31am Reply

  • Austenfan: This is a fragrance that I ought to love but don’t. Mind you the testers that I’ve used to try it can’t have been in very good shape. I will keep on trying though as your review has piqued my interest again! June 20, 2014 at 5:27am Reply

    • Elisa: You know, I don’t think this one ages well if not stored properly. I ordered a small, used purse spray from eBay once that turned out to be damaged. June 20, 2014 at 9:21am Reply

  • Natalie: This is the category of perfume I most associate with you, and I’ve never smelled Knowing (I don’t think). Must check it out! June 24, 2014 at 3:35am Reply

    • Elisa: Ah, that makes me feel very sophisticated!! June 24, 2014 at 9:59am Reply

  • Aisha: Knowing has got to be one of the few EL fragrances I have never tried — not because I’ve never wanted to try it, but because I already have so many EL fragrances that I enjoy. Now I’m really curious about this one, especially since you describe it as a rose chypre. Roses are my favorite of the florals, and I enjoy different takes on it. June 29, 2014 at 9:58am Reply

    • Elisa: Roses are my favorite too. The rose in Knowing is on the subtle side, the mossy woods are what you notice first. June 29, 2014 at 1:38pm Reply

      • Aisha: I didn’t notice the rose in L’eau de Chloe until I applied it on the back of my neck. I’m now borderline obsessed with that fragrance and actually wore it everyday for a month this past spring. Before I changed how I applied it, the rose was lost on me and the scent smelled too much like an expensive hairspray. I’ll have to give Knowing a try both ways. June 29, 2014 at 2:35pm Reply

        • Elisa: That’s so interesting! Now I want to try spraying stuff on the back of my neck to see how it changes! Maybe it’s more like smelling the perfume on someone else. June 29, 2014 at 5:31pm Reply

          • Aisha: It was actually something Victoria had mentioned in one of her posts a while back. I decided to give it shot. 🙂 June 29, 2014 at 5:54pm Reply

  • Angelina: I have loved and worn Knowing for years but my last bottle is somewhat different. Less mossy, havy vetiver, sharp, masculine… I believe Knowing is crippled by the new restrictions. June 30, 2014 at 4:59am Reply

  • Pam frederick: I have worn knowing for many,many years. I don’t like the new formula. What can I do? November 6, 2014 at 5:00pm Reply

    • Victoria: Unfortunately, finding something else in the chypre family would be your best bet. You won’t find anything exactly like Knowing though, because all fragrances of its type have been reformulated. Something in the se ballpark would be the next best thing. If you click on the “chypre” tag, you will find some ideas on where to start. November 6, 2014 at 5:06pm Reply

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