digging into vintage: Estée Lauder Knowing, 1988

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Perfumer Elie Roger

Knowing lands squarely in the heart of the rose chypre genre, a fragrance family with an enormous range of tones. The rose chypre is the Difference Engine of classical perfumery. It takes all the attributes of the chypre and multiplies them by all the facets of rose. Depending on how they’re fashioned rose chypres can be dark or dayglo, powdery or leathery, floral or animalic, sumptuous or thorny. The rose can seem a bit hackneyed when used as symbol of passion. Lauder went a different route and gave their rose chypre a name that digs into the knowledge/evil meme.

Knowing has all the heft of the big-guns of the genre like Parfum de Peau and  Paco Rabanne La Nuit, but compared to some other rose chypres of the time Knowing is woodier and far less sweet. Ungaro’s Diva honey and Paloma’s sweet balsams are syrup compared to the dark woods that give Knowing a chic, late-night sophistication. The key is the specificity of both the chypre accord and the rose. The chypre facet is more woody than resinous and gives the perfume a concise shape. For a huge, ’80s style floral perfume, Knowing is remarkably concise and unornamented. As for the rose, it’s neither a dewy garden bloom nor a flaming  flower dressed out in a traje de luces. This dark rose is thorny and a touch bitter without tipping over into dramatic, play-goth territory.

This is the fragrance I’d recommend when people ask for a rose that a man could wear, which is funny because I’d wear anything I like whether targeted to men or women. Knowing might look like many of the rose chypres of the ’70s-80s, but it carries itself like an ’80s men’s power fragrance. It is huge, woody, has preternatural sillage and a half-life of days. My god, this might as well be Antaeus.

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