Initially marketed as a perfumed bath oil, Estee Lauder's first fragrance Youth Dew belongs to the category I'd like to call Difficult Smelling Perfumes. I know it's a beautifully composed fragrance, and I can even appreciate its beauty in a technical, cerebral way. But its sweet, amber/vanillic heaviness and mossy/spicy/bitter herbaceousness combines two great tastes that for me, anyway, don't taste great together. (The dry down, hours into it, though, is fantastic — soft, a little funky, and amber/vanilla warm.)
Top notes: Orange, spice note, bergamot, peach, aldehydes
Heart notes: Clove, rose, ylang-ylang, cinnamon, cassie, jasmine, orchid
Base notes: amber, tolu, patchouli, olibanum, oakmoss, peru balsam, benzoin, vanilla
(Perfumer: Josephine Catapano with Ernest Shiftan)
The closest I can get to explaining Youth Dew's difficulty is via the world of alcohol. Youth Dew smells to me the way the Italian digestif Fernet-Branca tastes (if you added a little vanilla). This after dinner drink, which is definitely an acquired taste, is practically a drinkable perfume. Dark-caramel colored like Youth Dew, it's aged in oak barrels and contains over 27 barks, herbs, roots, spices and flowers such as saffron, Gentian root (the primary ingredient in Angosturo bitters), Zedaoria (an Indonesian root that smells like mango and tastes like bitter ginger), chamomile and even myrrh. The taste? Medicinal, but strangely compelling. Like Youth Dew.
My H&R guide says "spice note" in the top notes (that's the breakdown I've listed above), but perfume writer Michael
Edwards has a quote in Perfume Legends about Tabu that mentions its similarity to Youth
Dew's in-your-face combination of patchouli and carnation (the "spice note" maybe?).
There's a mulling spices quality to Youth Dew that recalls Christmas and holidays, with its orange, cinammon, and clove notes. These connotations lock me into a mood and a time that doesn't really allow me to wear Youth Dew and develop associations. It gloms onto me, unfolds its story, and there's not much I can do to add to it. It's like those read-only CDs that, once you copy something onto them, you can't change.
A commenter named Anne in my post on White Linen said about Youth Dew that it was oddly named: it was neither youthful nor dewy. I couldn't agree more! It is mature and "balsamic" in a way that, for me, is too herby to be beautiful or sexy. (Balsamic is the fragrance impression that is described as sweet, soft and warm, and characterizes perfumes in the Oriental category.) Youth Dew is the kind of fragrance you could almost imagine people anointed on one another during Biblical times during religious ceremonies.
Interesting, but I couldn't wear this Saturday night. Or Sunday, or Monday, or...
Photo: from a current eBay auction for vintage Youth Dew bath oil.