Private Collection by Estée Lauder was launched in 1973 after having been part of Estée Lauder's own very private collection of fragrances - at least this is how the story goes - only shared at one point with a few friends, in particular Grace Kelly to whom she offered it as a gift in the years preceding its official launch. It is reported to have been a favorite of the Duchess of Windsor as well.
Finally, pressured by multiple admirers of the fragrance, Lauder gave in and decided to market it. As the advertising copy read "All you need is one beautiful drop to know why Estée Lauder was keeping Private Collection perfume to herself."
The scent of privilege that Private Collection exudes has resisted this movement of democratization and despite the fact that it is now available easily through the Estée Lauder website at a most amicable price, it might still select its wearers through its olfactory branding of money, luxury, and class. This branding becomes even more apparent when one looks at the succession of advertisements throughout the years that have pointed to the ideal Private Collection woman: she is ever the incarnation of chic and her natural environment is the living room or reception space in which she welcomes her guests as she is emblematically pictured as the most suave of hostesses. The fragrance has consistently been marketed as a formal perfume although its green notes lend it an active, day-time character too which makes it versatile enough.
My perception of the popularity of the perfume today is that it is one of the less mainstream Estée Lauder perfumes, comparable in that respect to Estée, Spellbound, Azurée, and Alliage, but that amongst those who know it and carry it off well, it is very much appreciated......
The perfume was composed by nose Vincent/Vincente Marcello who is also the author of Yatagan by Caron, which in its own way is also an assertive scent with a very distinctive personality and a tremendous potential for seductive power.
The notes, as described by the Estée Lauder website, are honeysuckle, jasmine, and citrus in the head notes; orange flower, ylang-ylang and coriander in the heart notes; sandalwood and patchouli in the base notes.
This description varies markedly from that of Jan Moran who herself lists greens, hyacinth, citrus in the top notes; jasmine, narcissus, rose, pine, reseda in the heart notes; oakmoss, cedarwood, amber, and musk in the base notes.
Osmoz offers a third variation: top notes are green notes, orange blossom, linden; heart notes are jasmine, reseda, chrysantheum, rose; base notes are sandalwood, heliotrope, musks.
Each of these could be partial descriptions of the scent whose smooth blending lets on a few notes without showcasing them separately. In this manner, there is no nuanced mosaic of impressions but rather a bold and elegant statement about power, money, and self-assured femininity. It also conveys a certain sense of classicism as it tends to trigger, in me at least, a feeling of recognition rather than surprise. I could not quite put my finger on it, but as its sillage meandered about, I felt it calling towards me like a siren call and it felt like a signature perfume although I had never worn it in the past.
The perfume (pure fragrance version) starts as a vivacious explosion of citrus underneath which a bed of deeper animalic notes is already perceptible. The green notes, the third important group of notes here, is present, but it is not clear to me at what level of the perfume they were added because I mainly sense them near the bottle and a little further down the road in the development. It smells akin to the recent Le Labo Tubéreuse, I found out. When one does perceive the green notes in a distinct manner, they come through as very sappy, making you think of cut grass, stems, and balsamic woods. This rendition of the greens may appear surprisingly frank and to the point; indeed it smells very much like a popular shampoo from the 1970s called Herbal Essence Shampoo by Clairol.
It must be added that when Private Collection was released, it came after Shiseido Inoui, Chanel no 19 which was issued in 1971, Estée Lauder Alliage in 1972, and just before Amazone in 1974. There was then a vogue of the green floral, a trendy wave on which Private Collection rode.
Its green notes can smell almost metallic, although this coolness is offset by a powdery-soft background. The scent seems to have the diffusion and luminosity of a chypre although it also feels more like an oriental thanks to its warm woody base. There is a solar arcature of tangy citrus over this warmth which is traversed by the fishy metallic undertone of ambergris and refreshed by the crisp green notes. The sillage, on me at least, behaves more like that of an oriental, feeling closer to the skin, hushed, deep, and offering a vintage feel.
The composition of Private Collection, I find, is efficient rather than poetic. It is like a business card, if you will, that signals your presence, a beautifully well-presented one and even an interesting one. I cannot abstract completely from the impression that despite its richness, even lushness, it smells relatively simple to the nose. Three main accords operate: citrus - greens - animalic notes and there is very little ambiguity or complexity in the message delivered by the perfume as it seems that these three ensembles cooperate between themselves and reveal a beautiful team-work effort rather than leave pockets of unanswered questions and space for self-introspection. Despite this trait, Private Collection feels like a very special fragrance, as glaringly and obviously special as a solid bar of gold.
The "pure fragrance" retails for $45, the cologne for $26 on the Estée Lauder website.
Sources: Jan Moran, Fabulous Fragrances of the World II, www.thehistoryof.net
Pictures are from Images de Parfums and Okadi.