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.
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.