american classics: 2 posts

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.

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Coming of Age : An American Perfume Story

It is a few weeks before Christmas of 1978 and my grandmother and I are standing in front of an Elizabeth Arden counter in Bonwit Teller as she purchases a face powder.  My grandmother, a tiny woman in a doll-sized mink hat, likes to chat and to take her time making purchases. While she and the sales assistant debate the merits of a rosy powder over a beige one, I wander off to another counter.  I am too young to care about face powder but I am not too young to investigate the contents of the bottles of perfume that each counter has displayed in a prominent place.

There is a good chance I will get lost in this enormous space that smells of flowers, grass, leather, lipstick, vanilla, and powder. I pick up a bottle of Blue Grass, not knowing that this scent is homage to the state of Kentucky, where Elizabeth Arden (nee Florence Nightingale Graham, a Canadian) has a very successful horse-racing stable. Elizabeth Arden is one of three big American cosmetics brands that dominate the department stores. Arden, Helena Rubinstein, and Estée Lauder revolutionize and shape this industry and become American institutions, even if only Lauder was born in America.

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