Private Collection is one of my favorite fragrances, yet I've resisted reviewing it until now. Like Estee, I guess I've wanted to keep it a secret. I'm not sure why I've been hesitant to talk about it, unless I just want it to stay in some magical, imaginative domain, some fantasy realm where only I know about it, as if it were made expressly for me. It's as if Private Collection and I are dating: I'm the geek, and Private Collection is very popular, and if I bring our relationship out in the open, no one will believe me, and it will be clear that it was all in my head: Private Collection belongs not to silly insignificant me but to much more important people in the world.
High school analogies are inevitable when it comes to this one, because I have such strong memories of my teenage sister wearing it. Remarkably, I've maintained a pretty fierce devotion to many if not all the fragrances she wore when we were growing up. I remember Coco, Bill Blass, Lauren, Albert Nipon, Anais Anais. As far as I can recall, my sister wore one at a time. We didn't have a lot of money--we were quintessentially lower middle income, Middle America--and when I look back I can't picture more than one bottle out on her dresser. She didn't have a collection. She emptied each bottle before moving on to the next, which probably went a long way toward building my own attachment to them.
For months she would smell exclusively, and strongly, of a single charismatic fragrance. Like a song you hear over and over, each fragrance became a sort of soundtrack to our childhood. I smell them now and, while I can't construct a chronological time line, I move directly back into the heightened emotional landscape of that period. Impressions flood back in. I remember the way the light came through my sister's bedroom curtains. I remember the feeling I got from that. I remember the painted treatment of her dresser; the way her room looked behind me as I viewed myself in her mirror, wondering what it was like to be her, or, at the very least, not to be me. I remember the feel of the textured green carpet in the hall outside our rooms, the way it rubbed on my feet. It was comforting, like being in your pajamas.
My sister wore a lot of Estee Lauder, so the soundtrack is pretty heavy on that specific, instantly recognizable instrumentation. Estee Lauder connected mother to daughter. It reinforced a cohesion in the home. Recently, an almost satirically snotty commenter referred to me as being "geographically marginalized," because, I suppose, as a blogger, when I want to contact a perfumer, whether to interview him or befriend him or, say, sleep with him, I must negotiate it all online, as if, by not living in France, I am out of some essential loop. It's a joke, of course, because at this point, no one is geographically marginalized. Ask Facebook. There's probably a perfumer or two waiting in your suggested friends box. There is no center. The world is full of centers. There is no "there" there anymore, as another saying goes.
Back when I was a kid, to be American was truly to be stuck in your own skin, in your own pocket of experience. A term like "geographically marginalized" would have meant something then. Corporations understand this as well. Estee Lauder achieved something back then that very few companies can any more. She was ubiquitous. It was a name and a brand that signified very specific things. Very American things. America was a conglomerate of remote, far flung outposts. You were alone in your experience and the world was way, way out there, somewhere past the shag carpeting of your suburban hallway--but others, way, way out there, were using Estee Lauder too. The name was everywhere. It was on TV, at the store, in magazines, on your mother's lips. Estee Lauder was a kind of American mother figure herself, and her brand reinforced an idea that all these geographically marginalized satellite points were connected, even if you couldn't prove it yourself or see exactly how. You trusted her on that.
You saw the Lauder name in your mother's medicine cabinet. In the family bathroom. In the make-up bags your sisters and mothers used. It was a reassurance of some kind. I wasn't attracted to women sexually but I was fascinated by them. They seemed connected in ways guys weren't. They seemed to understand those distances separating everyone and every thing. There was a combustible bond there between women which I thought must be unique to the gender. Estee Lauder seemed in on this conspiracy of connection. It was a secret code, a part of that language. You'd go to the mall and women were clustered around the Lauder counter. It was always the hub. It was hard to believe they were just talking about foundation and lipstick. The way they were huddled, their excited speech, indicated some sort of strategizing must be taking place, as if, across the country, they were all plotting their escape. I wanted them to take me with them.
My mother tells a story about me which makes a lot of sense when I consider it in this context. Apparently, I roamed away from her at the mall once. I couldn't have been older than five. She looked all over for me. She had security searching too. Finally, the sound of female giggling and chatter. As it turns out, I'd crawled into a glass-fronted display counter. They found me because a crowd of women had gathered around to watch. I was wearing a bra as a hat. I was putting on some kind of show. Maybe I wanted to be at the counter because that's where they all seemed to want to be. Obviously, I wanted to be part of that conversation. Now that I'm older, I understand that what they were talking about was less important than the basic fact that they were talking, which is kind of why I talk too, probably.
My mother or grandmothers wore Youth Dew and Estee. My sister went through Beautiful, White Linen, Cinnabar, Knowing, Tuscany, and, most memorably, Private Collection. I don't remember picking up most of her bottles. But I can say that, picking up my own bottle of Private Collection several years ago, I had an amazing sense of deja vu when I felt the thing in my hand. The glass has a specific feel to it. Your fingers make a unique sound whistling along the glass, a hushed but emphatic kind of thing. Of all the perfumes my sister wore, Private Collection had the most gravitas. It was formal in an outdoorsy way. It felt a little like Christmas, with its evergreen aroma and the kind of emotional intensity one finds centered a lot around the holidays.
My sister was popular but intense. I still don't know what was going through her head during those years. I still wonder. She was very pretty, gorgeous really. She was feminine, but like many of the women in my family she was also very headstrong in a way which indicated deeper reserves of masculinity. Private Collection shares a certain feeling of athleticism with another favorite my sister wore, Clinique Wrappings. It's that flushed sensation of someone coming in after a brisk run in the cold. There are florals in the mix (specifically, orange blossom, linden, jasmine, chrysanthemum, rose) but I never really notice them until I force myself to. Private Collection feels like a cold air fragrance to me. It feels like the outdoors brought indoors, like frost on the windowpanes. There's a brilliance to it, a sun on snow kind of quality. Its slightly powdery feel only adds to the wintry impression.
I don't know when it was created. It was released in 1973. Company legend has it that Mama Estee reserved it for her own use, before being convinced to pass it onto her daughters out in the world. I think another reason I've resisted sharing Private Collection publicly is the fact that so many react in visceral contempt for the brand and its fragrances, almost the way we grumble at the suggestion we've grown up to resemble our own mothers. We want to enforce a sense of separation there, maybe. How many times have you seen a mother protest when her daughter doesn't apply lipstick before a photograph? How many times does the daughter rebel? Maybe it's something like that. Estee is mom and mom tells you what to do. To love her is to mind her, and maybe it's impossible to appreciate our mothers objectively. Whatever the reason, I've chosen to avoid soliciting unfavorable scrutiny about Private Collection particularly. I want to protect it from that rejection, I guess.
I have a bottle to give away--but I should be clear: this is Eau de Private Collection. I'm not sure what the difference is. It's lighter, to be sure. It lacks some of the powder. And I believe it lacks oakmoss and some of the heavier players which make the base of Private Collection proper so durable and persuasive. However, it's very similar; i.e. wonderful. The bottle is 1.7 ounces. To be eligible, you must have commented on this site before. Drawing will be conducted Monday. Conducting these giveaways, I realize, is a way for me to get back into the glass fronted counter. See you there.