Perhaps a love of fragrance is probably as much nurture as it is nature; my passion for smellies is probably learned to a certain extent. But interestingly, the perfumes that my mother loved most when I was young, meaning before I started wearing perfume myself, are not perfumes I particularly liked then, nor are they ones that I especially like now. Although there are a few fragrances that we both like, for the most part, we like different things.
One thing that I can say, however, is that my mom does have good taste, be it different to my own. The top fragrance that I most associate with my mom is Youth Dew. She wore a lot when I was a kid. Obviously, because I’m no spring chicken myself, this now qualifies as vintage. As an 80s kid, that’s irksome to me, nothing that came after the 70s should be called vintage to my mind. Outdated, OK, but not vintage. Actually, this perfume first came out in the 50s, I have since found out, so it was already over 20 years old when my mom got into it. Or maybe she was into it well before I was born? I’ll have to ask her that.
Esté Lauder’s Youth Dew is a spicy fragrance that launched in 1953, catapulted during an oriental fragrance boom. The nose behind it is Josephine Catapano, and it contains a whole cacophony of spicy ingredients. It’s an over-the-top, complex, vintage-y, viscous hodgepodge of boozy, resinous, amber-y and spicy… chaos in this twee bottle. Here are the notes, and there are a lot of them:
- spices, aldehydes, narcissus, lavender, orange, peach, bergamot
- spicy notes, cloves, cinnamon, rose, ylang-ylang, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, cassia, orchid
- incense, Tolu balsam, Peru balsam, patchouli, oakmoss, amber, vetiver, vanilla, musk
Even in the opening, there is some good old-fashioned, animalic skank to this scent. It could be one of the unspecified spices – maybe cumin. Perhaps there is some real civet in there, or it could be that the jasmine is on the indolic side – who knows? This perfume has always been divisive, but I’m not convinced that its naughty side is the reason why. For me this scent is simply in a more traditional style that I’ve come to respect, but sadly still don’t appreciate. Or it could simply be the aldehydes, of which I have never been a fan.
The fragrance came out at a time when massive Orientals like Jean Desprez’s Bal á Versailles and Guerlain’s Shalimar were on the market, and Esté Lauder apparently wanted to bring out something luxe but more affordable. At first, Youth Dew was sold as a bath oil, in fact. The opulent oriental wave of fragrances died down for a couple of decades, and then back in the 70s, YSL launched the much-better-than-now version of YSL’s Opium, which spurred on an oriental revival. I remember from this time fragrances like Cinnabar, Lancôme’s Magie Noire… I’m extremely grateful for the spice rival and revival because Orientals are my favorite genre, and it was probably around this time that my dear mom got into Youth Dew. I must have been 8 to 10 years old at the time.
Youth Dew is an oriental that chooses not to home in on the amber, as a lot of Orientals fragrances do. The stars of the show in this scent are the resins – the Tolu and Peru balsam. I would say it’s these ingredients that give the perfume its dark brown colour, its viscosity, and its richness in the final product.
Much of my memory of this perfume is in the context of hanging around my mother as she got ready for a night out. While I was bummed that she and dad would be leaving us for the evening, I also looked forward to the prospect of more TV coupled with a good torturing session of the babysitter. The initial perfume-y blast of this scent – all that oak moss, compounded by my mother’s overuse of hairspray – no doubt a remnant of the 60s – would make me cough and snarl and make unpleasant noises. But I also have memories of the perfume a little while later, when she’d hug me goodbye, and much later, after she’d come back to kiss me goodnight. Those later smells were cosy, warm, and inviting.
So yes, much as I like resins, the start of this fragrance is all a bit too much for me. I start to appreciate this fragrance as it starts to dry down, which doesn’t take too long, but it can stay overwhelming for a while. However, as it dries down, all of the notes start to melt and blend into each other, forming one united dark and powdery, sweet, soft and creamy but robust ball of classic goodness. And several hours in, it’ll be all the more powdery and fluffy. It is luxurious. It’s very classic. It is Youth Dew.
I’m sure this fragrance has been reformulated multiple times over the years. There can no longer be any real musk in it. Pricier or illegal ingredients have likely been replaced but laboratory alternatives. Nonetheless, this stuff still packs one heck of a punch. You’ll get 6 to 8 hours out of it. And if you’re a fan of this heavy, intense, classic style of fragrance, the value is definitely there. It can be indeed had for a very good price. No, it’s definitely not for me; I’m not into all the aldehydes and prefer more contemporary compositions. But I would not think poorly of your taste if it is for you. The scent has been around for 70 years, and they’re still making it. Has to be a quality concoction to last through all those perfume periods, right?