Arden, Lauder, Lauren: Red (Door), White (Linen) and (Polo) Blue

It’s July 4th in the US; the day we celebrate our declaration of independence from England in 1776. When it comes to perfume American perfumery didn’t have to declare independence; but it surely had to distinguish itself from the French, English, and Italian brands which founded modern perfumery. I thought I’d spend this Independence Day celebrating three of the foundational brands of American perfumery with one each for the colors of the US flag.

Elizabeth Arden Red Door

Born in Canada but emigrated to the US after dropping out of nursing school. When she got to New York City the young Florence Nightingale Graham created her brand name Elizabeth Arden. She would found her beauty salon called Red Door which had one you entered through. As she expanded her beauty empire through the first half of the 20th century that symbol became synonymous with a sophisticated style of beauty.

Ms. Arden made a moderate attempt at adding fragrance to the brand prior to her death in 1966 but they never caught on. It would be in 1989, under the Revlon acquisition of the name, that Elizabeth Arden would make its mark on perfume with Blue Grass and Red Door.

Perfumer Carlos Benaim created an opulent floral bouquet with a little bit of everything. What made it interesting was the use of honey to coat those florals before finishing on a chypre-ish base. This is a product of its time with a blowsy over-the-top style. In truth, it’s also American in its desire to stuff everything in.

Estee Lauder White Linen

When it comes to American Perfumery it is really all about Estee Lauder. Her introduction of Youth Dew in 1953 would begin the change of American men buying perfume for women to women buying for themselves. Ms. Lauder presided over one of the great fragrance brands. Estee Lauder has become one of the largest sellers of perfume in the world. It could arguably be said that it was the success of the Estee Lauder brand from 1969 until 1978 that set the standard for what was to come. White Linen was the perfume which finished that early run.

White Linen was brilliantly imagined as the smell of fresh-laundered sheets drying on a clothesline on a sun-filled day. Perfumer Sophia Grojsman would harness all of the fresh notes in the perfumer’s array at the time. It would begin the trend of fresh and clean perfumes popularity which still exists forty years later making it a perennial bestseller. All for the memory of a summer day on the grass watching the sheets be hung under the sun; perfectly American.

Ralph Lauren Polo Blue

Ralph Lauren has been one of the leading American fashion designers since he started selling his ties in 1967. One year later he would introduce his first menswear line with the iconic logo of a polo player at full gallop. In 1978 he would put that logo on a green bottle of men’s perfume called Polo. That has become one of the greatest selling men’s fragrances of all time. Which of course led to numerus flankers. The one released in 2002 was called Polo Blue.

Polo Blue was composed by original Polo perfumer Carlos Benaim working with perfumer Christophe Laudamiel. By the time Polo Blue was released the aquatic craze was in full swing and this was the Polo version of it.

What makes Polo Blue stand out is there is a lot of the herbal quality of the original added to the fresh aquatic accords. It made it less generic even though it seemed like a hybrid of two different men’s styles. It is a surprise to me how well it works. Then again Mr. Lauren has always been happy to give American men what they want.

Disclosure: These reviews are based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Estee Lauder White Linen- Blinded by Sophia’s Light

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In all of perfumery there are only a handful of perfumes which can be said to be true game-changers. One of the fun things about writing about these masterpieces decades later is it allows me to see with perfect 20/20 hindsight how influential they are. One of these few is Estee Lauder White Linen from 1978.

estee lauder white linen

As I’ve written about before the 1970’s were when women began to buy perfume for themselves. As they began to enter the workplace they still wanted to smell good but they wanted understated. The perfume companies were all looking to find what these working women wanted. One thing was for sure in 1978 few of the Estee Lauder releases like Youth Dew, Azuree, Alliage or Private Collection were going to be seen as office-ready. Estee Lauder probably saw this market segment slipping away and needed something to entice them back. Somewhere along the line Estee Lauder got the bright idea to combine the new class of synthetic musks together. To achieve this they enlisted perfumer Sophia Grojsman.

Again using that perfect hindsight this was an early opportunity for Mme Grojsman to compose in what will become her trademark of big bold blocks of synthetics. White Linen is full of this style as she strives to capture the smell of crisp clean linen freshly ironed.

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Sophia Grojsman

Mme Grojsman first employs Hedione and its expansive jasmine-like quality as a cloud on which an assortment of aldehydes can also become fuller. Hedione is an ingredient with all the indoles removed from jasmine essential oil and it is a perfect choice to provide a matrix for the aldehydes to insert themselves into. The heart is a whopping boatload of synthetic musks lead by Galaxolide. Galaxolide had only been used in fabric softeners and soaps up until that point. Mme Grojsman’s choice to use it adds that laundry fresh smell by co-opting the molecule responsible for it. The rest of the musks are used to construct that crisp cotton accord. Every time I get to this point of White Linen I am blinded by the bright white olfactory light Mme Grojsman has created. A base of a couple of synthetic woods and we are done.

White Linen has 20-24 hour longevity and average sillage.

White Linen has been a consistent seller for almost forty years. It’s longevity is testament to the enduring desire for many perfume wearers to want to feel like a freshly laundered cotton sheet. That time has allowed it to find its way to the discount bins where 1oz. can be found for around $25. One other interesting fact is because this is composed almost entirely of synthetics it hasn’t been significantly changed. The dreaded reformulation hasn’t changed things. To find a true masterpiece of perfume for this price it should be hard to pass up.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke