Monday, January 07, 2008

Estée Lauder Youth Dew

I've said this before, but Youth Dew is a fragrance I've long associated with grandmothers, particularly my own. Practically every Christmas included some form of fragrance gift set of bath oil and scented powder. Youth Dew was so prevalent throughout my childhood, I couldn't tell you how it smelled, for the notes of that perfume were inextricable from the other smells surrounding it. In some form or fashion, it must have been Grandma's House (the other scent that calls this to mind is Fracas, although more likely back then it was Jungle Gardenia I was actually sniffing), caught up with the smell of Aqua Net, cookies baking, ham roasting, and the ubiquitous cigarette smoke.

As the legend goes, Estée Lauder released Youth Dew Bath Oil in 1953, aware that women were reluctant to buy perfume for themselves or to apply it on a regular basis, as we do now. This story is well and widely known by perfume fans everywhere, so much so that I wonder if we ever really stop to think about it. Perfume has been a part of my daily routine as long as I can remember, and I've never hesitated to buy a bottle of something I want (well, not entirely true--now I hesitate on a regular basis!). On the one hand, it seems a bit sad to think of so many women denied the daily pleasure of perfume. But on the other hand, I see the romance in owning one special bottle, especially if it was a gift.

This morning when I pulled out the tiny bottle of parfum that came with my collection and applied the dark juice, the first thing that struck me was how modern it is, and how youthful. Nowadays everyone under the age of...well, everyone seems to be striving for youth. Women in their forties sport tiny t-shirts and low-rise jeans, the same as their daughters, and many of them have also gone the way, perfume-wise, of the candied, sticky fruit concoctions their daughters wear as well. I can remember walking through the main hall of my high school and looking at the pictures of the graduating classes that went before mine (1987, thanks). My favorite pictures were the girls from the 1950s and early 1960s. They looked so poised, so adult. They were already women, not girls, or so I thought back then. But age gives much perspective, and now I think of one of those senior girls getting ready for a date, possibly slipping a few drops of her mother's Youth Dew into the bath, and dreaming about her future. This is a fragrance that can be worn daily, but also holds the special promises of evening, and nothing is more intoxicating to youth than those long hours that stretch endlessly into the next day.

The notes in Youth Dew are as follows:
Top: rose, jonquil, lavendar
Heart: jasmine, muguet, spices
Base: moss, vetiver, patchouli

Youth Dew doesn't develop on the skin as much as it stews there, a rich, heady brew of flowers and spices. The moss and patchouli do indeed give this perfume a chypre-like kick, but it's softer, less angular than a chypre. It's spicy and quite sexy, and I'm surprised to say I find it more sophisticated than the 1970's ur-Oriental, Opium. After a few hours, Youth Dew becomes drier, less sweet, and there it reminds me a bit of a more modern incense. I'm so pleased and amazed. I thought I would like this for sentimental reasons, but it turns out this is a fragrance I could easily adopt as my own.

*image from