(image, Elizabeth Taylor)
Perfumer Josephone Catapano
Youth Dew is one of the world’s most famous perfumes, not only for its quality and ubiquity, but for the way it shifted the American perfume market. The story goes that Estée Lauder was the first innovative entrepreneur to put women at the center of the plot and sell perfume directly to them. Prior to this, perfume had most often been sold to women through the men in their lives. I’m sure there’s a whole lotta’ baggage to unload from that scenario, but I want to focus on this particular perfume. Lauder could easily have chosen a more innocuous perfume to launch her new sales method. A softer oriental, a floral aldehyde, a mixed bouquet.
The fact that Lauder chose a dense, spicy, narcotic oriental was brilliant. She gave women a perfume that fused defiance and desire in one swipe and Youth Dew, particularly the bath oil, had an audacious air of self-pleasure. This stuff must have been a spectacular accessory in the good-girl/bad-girl, loud-subtext barbarity of the mid 20th century.
I assume the cutesy name was chosen with a wink-and-a-nod. Youth Dew could just as credibly have been called Bruiser or Mack-the-Perfume. The powder-puff name masked the message inherent in the perfume itself: ‘Be careful wearing a perfume made almost entirely of basenotes. A little bergamot can hardly be heard behind the spiced amber stage curtain. Likewise, a bit of aldehyde can’t lift the 800 pound gorilla.’
Dense and proud, sister Youth Dew.