I can’t remember who introduced me to Estee Lauder’s ‘Youth Dew’ but the first time I took one whiff of it, I fell in love with it – and wore it for many years. The fragrance Youth Dew was launched in 1953 as a bath oil…and because of its success, the manufacture of the perfume followed. I started wearing it in my mid teens, delighted to find a scent that didn’t wear off in five minutes. Yes, one of the selling points for me was that it stayed with you, reacting to your skin, your body’s temperature, and went on perfuming the air around you for hours. People knew I was approaching because ‘Youth Dew’ would announce my arrival, long before I even said hello. To my teenage self, trying to budget my pocket money, ‘Youth Dew’ was definitely value for money.
I also loved the presentation: a slender ribbed bottle which, in an understated way, resembled a woman’s body. The gold bow around the middle and matching gold top was a real touch of class – unlike perfumier Jean-Paul Gautier whose more modern and less subtle bottles leave nothing to the imagination.
Estee Lauder’s assessment for this ever-popular fragrance was that “women still like to feel beautiful, pampered and loved. And that is what Youth-Dew is all about.”
Although I can appreciate her words, those were not my reasons. I loved its heavy opulence – spicy, rich, exotic. It didn’t actually go with the dumpy figure I cut in my teens, but it was more a statement of how I wanted to feel about myself rather than the actual facts. Sophisticated, stylish, cosmopolitan – just plain cool.
‘Experts’ say that Youth Dew is one of the “sexiest fragrances ever created, and more than 50 years after it was launched, it continues to entice with its sensual, yet timeless, appeal.”
Michael, my boyfriend when I was 16, was less enamoured of it than I was. Although he never said anything when we were dating, he admitted to me when we met again some thirty years later that he’d hated it. The very characteristic that I loved about Youth Dew, the fact that it stayed with me and on me for hours, was just what turned poor Michael off. He’d come home from one of our dates, run into his house stripping off his shirt and tossing it into the laundry hamper, yelling to his mother, “Please wash this! It reeks!” In hindsight, perhaps Youth Dew’s claim to being “the sexiest fragrance ever” was lost on him because some years after Michael and I had gone our separate ways, he came out of the closet and declared himself to be gay. I have no idea what fragrance his husband, Walter, might prefer but I doubt it’s ‘Youth Dew’.
I continued to wear Youth Dew into my late 20s. By this time I’d moved to England and was working for a publisher in central London. One evening when I stayed late at the office because of an urgent deadline, my concentration was broken as a familiar scent drifted my way. We all know that fragrances on others don’t smell the same as we think they do on ourselves…just as our voices, when we hear a recording, are not as we think we sound. Nonetheless, I instantly recognised the smell. It was without a doubt my beloved Youth Dew. Who was wearing it? Who was sufficiently cultured to have such good taste, just like mine? I got up, walked out of the door into the corridor to find out. There, wielding her vacuum like a weapon, was the company’s cleaner, Ethel. She smiled at me, turned off the machine, and said, “How ya doin’, Luv? Workin’ late, are ya?”
Over the years, I have gone through phases of wearing other perfumes as the fads dictate – Ambush, CK One, Miss Dior, Mitsouko, Opium and in recent times, Thierry Mugler’s Angel (offering great economy for a woman on a pension because the bottle can be refilled at House of Fraser), and Chanel’s Allure (which I use sparingly because the eau de parfum is so expensive).
But I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never used Youth Dew since my fateful encounter with Ethel, the cleaner. I wonder if she still wears it…