Knowing (Estée Lauder)

Housebound on a holiday, staycationing here at home, I'm glad someone got to go to the south of France. That's where Estée Lauder saw (and smelled) her first pittosporum shrub and was inspired to build a perfume around it.  You go, girlfriend!

Estée might not have been so impressed if she'd known the pittosporum by its other name -- cheesewood, after T. F. Cheeseman, the eminent botanist who collected the first P. dallii specimens in what is now Kahurangi National Park on New Zealand's South Island. Its broad, glossy leaves make it a worldwide hit among landscapers; the languid scent of its fleshy white flowers are apparently tailor-made for perfume. Not that I would know.  I wouldn't recognize a pittosporum if I accidentally backed my car over one, and as to what they smell like, I may never find out.  Finances being what they are, the south of France has never seemed more far away.

Knowing doesn't do much to shorten the distance.  Like many luxury items, it trades on borrowed riches, employing the idea of an exclusive ingredient to make itself seem more rare.  The whole pittosporum shtick is all very impressive, but I smell a regulation chypre with a swizzle of rose-- basically Beautiful with its proportions reversed and its volume boosted by a dose of white flowers.  Of course, this scent is instantly familiar as the one trailed by every middle-class woman alive back in 1989.  It went well with big chintzy floral-print garden-party dresses, white pantyhose, and the all-important cultured pearl twist choker, and it gave off a sillage that put lesser beings firmly in their place.  (Let them eat pittosporum!)

I know that Knowing was relevant once and may be again.  But in the present moment, it somehow feels more anachronistic than many fragrances that are decades older-- and what's more, it feels wrong.  Wearing it makes me feel deeply inauthentic, as if I am dressed in clothes too fancy for my actual station.  The values it espouses --  indolence, affluence, complacency -- are not ones I admire. And however pretty this perfume is, I half hope it never comes back into vogue.

Evolution must go forward, and people of the new millenium need luxuries that are actually within reach.

Scent Elements: Rose, tuberose, mimosa, plum, pittosporum, jasmine, patchouli, orange blossom, rose, oakmoss, vetiver, sandalwood, amber