As promised on Friday, here comes the first instalment of Super Scent, a series in which the Candy Perfume Boy and I will compile lists - independently of each other - of what we consider to be the best perfumes from a certain brand. The focus of this debut edition is that behemoth of American scent creation: Estée Lauder.
Since it launched its first fragrance (in the form of a bath oil) in 1953, the Lauder brand has taken it upon itself to make high-quality olfactory creations available to people - particularly women - who don't have gigantic stashes of disposable income. By and large, it has succeeded. Most of its wares fall within the 'affordable' bracket, yet they hardly ever come across as dumbed down, unlike the output of some of the company's chief competitors.
Despite its vast collection of make-up and cosmetics products, perfume clearly remains a high priority for the brand's controllers: its scent portofolio is constantly being tweaked and reworked. Indeed, the latest development is that some of its best known releases (including Aliage, Intuition and Azurée) have been relaunched in standard bottles and sold under the label 'The House Of Estée Lauder'. It's interesting to place this niche-like move within the framework of the Lauder group's wider activities: as has been extensively reported, the company acquired Frederic Malle and Le Labo last year. The long-term effects of this repackaging remain to be seen.
Choosing my five favourite perfumes from a collection that currently comprises more than twenty, eminently attention-worthy scents hasn't been easy. For one thing, when you're talking about a brand that has been in the business for over 50 years, the issue of context poses a few problems: should each perfume be assessed in relation to the time in which it was released or should it be stripped of historical baggage and judged against the backdrop of this particular juncture of time, right now, in 2015? The other question relates to whether the scents should be rated in terms of their identities within the overall portfolio. In other words, should one oriental be discounted if a better one already exists in the collection, even if the former is a great scent?
My own answers to these questions, and a few others, all come down to the term 'best fit': I've done my utmost to put together a Top 5 which feels right. I've considered matters of context, but I haven't been bound by them. I've viewed the Lauder oeuvre as an entirety, but I've also taken the individual scents on their own merit. Most importantly, I've permitted this first edition of Super Scent to reflect my personal views and tastes, because I continue to believe that, as is the case with film, music and literary criticism, in the world of perfume writing, 'subjectivity' is not a dirty word.
Be sure to check out the Candy Perfume Boy's blog for his Lauder Top 5. I'll certainly be doing that straight away, because, as per the rules of our little Super Scent project, I have no idea what his list is going to like, and he doesn't know a thing about mine. When you've read both lists, feel free to start a debate. Have we included your favourite Lauders? If not, which ones do you think we should have included? And which brands would you like us to feature in future editions of Super Scent? Here we go...
5. Beautiful (1985)
The quintessential Lauder scent, Beautiful is a gigantic halo composed of every gorgeous-smelling flower imaginable, from rose to narcissus, via jasmine, mimosa, carnation and several others. Diffusive, distinctive and tenacious, it possesses all the technical attributes which Mrs Lauder wished to see in her olfactory creations, yet it never feels as though it was created according to a scent-by-numbers marketing imperative. Instead, its heart beats with the vitality of pure, untrammeled inspiration. Although time hasn't been kind to it - its largesse conjures those aspects of the 80s which many folks would prefer to forget - there's no doubt that Beautiful remains one of the most swoon-inducing bouquets ever poured into a perfume bottle.
4. Cinnabar (1978)
Much has been written about the links between Cinnabar and Opium, but hopefully, the discourse hasn't distracted us from the fact that although it may share a good deal of DNA with YSL's once-mighty super oriental, it deserves to be judged on its own terms. A bold, wonderfully funky cauldron of smouldering spices (mainly cinnamon and cloves) with a dash of carnation and dark woods for contrast, it proves that American perfumery can be so exciting when it just loosens up and allows a bit of dirt to get under its manicured fingernails. Final thought: compare it to Michel Roudnitska's Noir Epices for Malle and tell me it isn't worthy of more love than it's received in recent years.
3. White Linen (Sophia Grojsman; 1978)
Some say it's merely an Americanised version of Chanel No. 5, but I'd assert that it's a classic in its own right. Combining the crispness of aldehydes with the tranquility of florals, it creates a bouquet that is the very definition of unblemished verdancy. The mosses and woods in the base are prominent, but the focus is, appropriately enough, on cleanliness, a characteristic the scent manages to convey without every seeming crass or predictable. Optimistic, life-affirming and and as comforting as getting under freshly laundered sheets, White Linen remains one of Grojsman's greatest achievements.
2. Beyond Paradise (Calice Becker; 2003)
I am utterly bemused by the fact that Beyond Paradise's fortunes seem to have turned: it would appear that it no longer enjoys the success it deserves. I remember the first time I tried it (at a branch of Debenham's, of all places) I knew Madame Persolaise absolutely had to have a bottle. Its solar-powered jasmine knocked me out then, and it continues to knock me out to this day. Entirely note-perfect - and making expert use of woods and green facets - it still feels like a teleporter trip to a sci-fi garden somewhere on the other side of the Milky Way. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that its repackaging in the House Of Estée Lauder range will bring it to the attention of a more appreciative audience.
1. Youth Dew (Josephine Catapano; 1953)
The magisterial Youth Dew was Lauder's first ever scent and I'd argue that it has reigned as its most praiseworthy olfactory creation ever since. A powdery oriental par excellence, it exudes everything that is most sensual about balsams, resins and spices. But like all the greatest perfumes, it also leaves room for a bit of oddness: there's a dry, husky note running through it (leather? camphor? terpenes?) which engrosses the wearer and prevents the whole from becoming too easily classifiable. A seductive, irrepressible triumph. And if you've never tried it in bath oil form - which was, of course, its original guise - then you're in for a treat: it is intoxication itself.
Note: As per the rules of our little Super Scent enterprise, the above list was chosen from Estée Lauder's current line-up; discontinued scents weren't considered. In case you're interested, by our reckoning, this is what their current perfume portfolio comprises: Aliage, Amber Mystique, Azurée, Beautiful, Beyond Paradise, Bronze Goddess, Cinnabar, Estée, Intuition, Intuition For Men, Knowing, Lauder For Men, Modern Muse, Modern Muse Chic, Pleasures, Pleasures Bloom, Pleasures Intense, Pleasures For Men, Pure White Linen, Pure White Linen Light Breeze, Sensuous, Sensuous Noir, Sensuous Nude, Spellbound, Tuberose Gardenia, White Linen, Wood Mystique, Youth Dew. The new Modern Muse Le Rouge wasn't released in time for our consideration.