According to the Estée Lauder website, “When on a holiday trip in the south of France, Evelyn Lauder was intrigued with a floral scent that wafted through the garden below her balcony. She searched for the source and found that it was the pittosporum flower, which she immediately knew could be the floral center of a wonderful fragrance.” That fragrance was Estée Lauder Knowing.
Perfume enthusiasts recognize Knowing as one of the few department store fragrances that earned five stars in Perfumes: The Guide. And it’s not the perfume’s pittosporum (one family of pittosporum is romantically named “cheesewood,” by the way) that draws admiration, it’s Knowing’s elegant and complex treatment of rose and moss.
Knowing was developed in 1988 by Elie Roger, also the nose behind Clinique Wrappings. Knowing’s notes include rose, tuberose, mimosa, plum, pittosporum, jasmine, patchouli, orange flower, oakmoss, vetiver, sandalwood and amber. The website classifies it as a “floral woody,” but the general consensus among reviewers is that Knowing is a rose chypre.
Knowing kicks off with a cloud of soapy-fruity aldehydes before settling into a rose boosted by the soprano hum of jasmine but given weight by plum, tuberose and a hint of coriander. Knowing’s oakmoss reminds me of the earthy, wet-stone moss in Estée Lauder Azurée or Molyneux Quartz rather than the fusty-woolly moss of some chypres. Orange blossom keeps the fragrance clean, but it’s too easy to call Knowing “a nice clean mossy rose,” because a whole symphony of notes comes together to create something a lot more complex — and exuberant.
And that’s Knowing’s genius. The fragrance strikes a canny balance between restraint and bawdiness with minerally oakmoss as its spine. On the surface, Knowing is Grace Kelly prim with rose, aldehydes, powder and orange blossom. Dig a little deeper, and you get the perfume’s flesh of fruit and honey with a definite animalic growl. (Come to think of it, wasn’t Grace Kelly known as fast?) This is a fragrance I’d love to smell in Extrait.
Although Knowing may have been focus-grouped within an inch of its life — I have no idea — it doesn’t smell like it. It assumes its wearer is sophisticated enough to appreciate it. I’d say Knowing is a well mannered take on vintage Schiaparelli Shocking, or it’s Agent Provocateur with topnotch tailoring and no itchy corset. I’ve read reviews warning to apply Knowing in dabs, but I’ve been wearing two and three spritzes from a sample vial in ninety degree weather, and I don’t feel overwhelmed. It lasts all afternoon on my skin.
Knowing didn’t make the cut to join the House of Estée line (as one sales associate I talked to called the newly packaged classic fragrances). I talked to Estée Lauder sales associates in two department stores about Knowing, and both were stymied as to what the bottle even looked like. In one store, the tester was missing, to the surprise of all three people who looked for it. It might have been missing for months. In the other store, the sales associate cheerfully let me make a sample from her tester. “Take as much as you want. It’s not like we sell a lot,” she said.
I’ve long admired Estée Lauder for hanging on to its great old fragrances and selling them at a good price, and I hope they keep Knowing in their line up. Modern Muse Chics are a dime a dozen, but Knowings are hard to come by. Knowing isn’t trendy or easy or shocking or innovative, but neither is the classic black pump. Or, in this case, rose satin d’Orsay heels.
Estée Lauder Knowing Eau de Parfum is $58 for 30 ml and $82 for 75 ml. It's available in department stores that carry Estée Lauder cosmetics (although it may not be on display, and you might have to ask for it).