Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Eye on Scent Culture: Aliage by Estée Lauder

Leaves take all kinds of strange shapes, as if to invite us to examine them. Star-shaped, heart-shaped, spear-shaped, arrow-shaped, fretted, fringed, cleft, furrowed, serrated, sinuated; in whorls, in tufts, in spires, in wreaths endlessly expressive, deceptive, fantastic, never the same from footstalk to blossom; they seem perpetually to tempt our watchfulness, and take delight in outstripping our wonder.—John Ruskin

The universe is very clever at orchestrating wonder when we least expect it. For Estée Lauder, one of those moments occurred during her travels. “I’d picked up a green leaf in Palm Beach one day, deeply inhaled its scent with wonder, and knew I had to recreate that scent.” The resulting fragrance was Aliage, a timeless green chypre released in 1972 that continues to inspire.

Estée Lauder
Estée Lauder was driven by the desire to create a sporty scent that was sophisticated without being overwhelming; a fragrance befitting the tennis court and the gym. The concept was clear, but the execution was decidedly complex, resulting in a formula that included over 300 ingredients. The fragrance pyramid for Aliage varies slightly, depending on the source. In Fabulous Fragrances II author Jan Moran provides these key notes: Greens, Peach and Citrus in the top, Jasmine, Rosewood, Pine and Thyme in the heart, and Oakmoss, Musk, Vetiver and Myrrh in the base.

Karyn Khoury of Estée Lauder
Shortly after Aliage was released two women fell in love with the same fragrance. It has led each of them on an enduring path. Aliage was the first fragrance of  Karyn Khoury, who cherished the scent in body lotion form. Khoury later studied fragrance creation under the tutelage of Estée Lauder and is Senior Vice President, Corporate Fragrance Development Worldwide for The Estée Lauder Companies. Jane Shanky Taylor, a teenager living in Queens, New York, was searching for a fragrance to suit her lifestyle and was compelled by Aliage. The fragrance was not foisted on her at-counter; instead Jane chose to follow in the footsteps of her mother, an Aliage aficionado. (This influence is sometimes ignored by marketers as it doesn’t smack of teenage rebellion). Decades later Aliage is still Jane’s perfume of choice. “People always ask me what I’m wearing and I’m always amazed. Aliage doesn’t feel like a fragrance to me; it feels like a part of me, a part of my life.”

Aliage: A sporty fragrance for women
Estée Lauder created Aliage to meet the needs of modern, independent women who bought their own fragrance, women who, “…were tired of the standard perfumes of their mother’s generation, the tired familiar names of fragrances made for a generation of women who blue-rinsed their gray hair and had croquignole waves etched into their scalps.” The fact that Jane embraced the scent her mother wore says a lot about the cultural shift sensed by Mrs. Lauder, who transformed the 1970's archetype of the "liberated woman" and actualized it in a perfume. It also says a lot about the way people respond to their sense of smell. Chypres can be highly animalic and resinous despite the presence of fruits and florals in the formula. The addition of fresh green notes infuses Aliage with a timeless quality that tempers its classic pedigree and  lends buoyancy.

Jane Shanky Taylor
Aliage is a niche player in The Estée Lauder Companies' portfolio of fragrances. It's not always displayed at counter, but a simple request will allow one to procure this timeless treasure. “The fact that someone has to get it for me makes the purchase feel special,” says Jane “but it also makes me nervous about whether or not it will be at counter the next time I'm there. I hope they never stop making it.”


Lauder, Estée. Estée: A Success Story. New York: Random House, 1985, p.90.

Leaves in Myth, Magic and Medicine was published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang in 1997. Author Alice Thoms Vitale, a librarian, completed the book when she was in her nineties and describes it as an "historical herbal". Its pages are filled with Ms. Vitale's delicate autoprints of leaves as well as interesting folklore. If you possess Estée Lauder's affinity for nature you will find inspiration in its pages. The book is out of print, but worth seeking from reputable dealers.