One Thousand Scents

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Garden Variety: Estee Lauder White Linen


A little while ago I said that Samsara, whatever its actual ingredients, smelled of three things, and this is an interesting aspect of perfumery: an artistic perfumer can make a fragrance smell more or less complex that it actually is. A single element of the scent might be extremely complex, with many overtones — tobacco, say, or sandalwood, or tuberose — and seem to have many facets depending on how it is employed: such a scent can be more than the sum of its parts. But the opposite is also true: a complex scent might be engineered to seem very simple, to have many of its components balanced and arrayed so that they don't have a strong character of their own, but complement and enhance the scent's main focus.

Estee Lauder's White Linen, created in 1978 by the genius Sophia Grojsman as part of her quest to execute every possible variation on the theme of the rose, like Samsara consists of three elements. At the top is a mighty tempest of aldehydes, big, clean and soapy-fresh, like the opening chords of Wrappings (also a Lauder scent under the Clinique brand) and Guerlain's Vega and of course the emperor of aldehydes Chanel No. 5. It isn't that noxious, ozonic-aquatic freshness that everything seems to have these days, either, or at least my little bottle isn't (it may have been reformulated since to make it even fresher, which would not surprise me): it's just breezy, freshly washed laundry hanging on the line. Just underneath that is a big rosy rose. And underneath that is a big bright spike of vetiver. There are certainly other things in there — a grating of citrus peel, a few petals of jasmine, a shaving of sandalwood — but they don't matter, not a whit: White Linen is all about aldehydes roses vetiver, and every element is put into the service of a single idea, that of sitting in a sunny garden with the smell of good clean laundry soap hovering about you. Like so:

Quite a while ago I wrote that while I could imagine a man wearing White Linen, I was not that man, but I was being unnecessarily evasive: I did in fact wear White Linen quite a lot, back in the late eighties when I was discovering and wearing everything I could get my hands on. I wouldn't wear it now: it no longer suits me, though I still don't see why a man mightn't wear it.

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