The Secret of Eternal Youth – in a Bottle!

Celebrating 60 years since it’s launch, Youth Dew perfume still remains one of the most popular perfumes available from Estee Lauder – if you know the perfume then you will know that the scent is indeed iconic and very easily recognised. But how did it all come about? I know, I’ve been wondering that too! In honour it’s 60th birthday I thought I would make it my business to research into it and then share my findings with you…

The allure of Youth Dew is a pure dream in sheer marketing terms, let alone as a beauty icon and fragrance classic for the past six decades. In the post-war era of the 50s – an era full of optimism, yet with financial constraints in the aftermath of the war – women focussed on being the “home-maker”, on creating a more idealistic, perfect world, while being less extravagant or indulgent on themselves, to suit the economic times. Perfume, still seen as the playground of the French, was deemed an extravagance and few were created as this time, whereas bath oil was a luxurious necessity.

So a young and wise Mrs Estee Lauder created not a perfume, but a deeply seductive bath oil, playing to the all-American, deeply feminine, bath taking girl next door. She made Youth Dew more affordable than perfume so that a woman could buy it for herself, without feeling guilty and without waiting for her husband to buy it for her as a gift.

“I decided that I wouldn’t call it perfume,” Estee Lauder once said, “I would call it Youth Dew: a bath oil that doubled as a skin perfume.”

In the early 50’s, floral fragrances such as Miss Dior and Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps were everything to the senses. Estee Lauder, meanwhile, opted for a deeper, more meaningful, classic Oriental aroma of vanilla and peach, based around ylang ylang, rose, amber and patchouli as her first foray into fragrance. Youth Dew began with a scent that Mrs Lauder’s mother kept in their home for years – it had been created by her Uncle John, a biochemist, for a Russian princess, at a time when only male scientists developed perfume.

Estee Lauder purchased essences to rework the fragrance until it matched her vision. After months of experimenting, she was not only thrilled with the outcome, but also discovered that Youth Dew’s sweet, warm, diffusive scent easily intermingled with flesh and water, making it the first American bath oil to double as a skin perfume.

The rest, as they say, is history. Fragrance legend has it that, unlike French perfume stoppers of the time were sealed, Youth Dew was the first scent to have a screw top, with the idea being that when a woman touched it in store, the fragrance would linger on her fingertips and so she would end up wearing it for the day, luring her in under its spell to buy it. Clever!

Likewise in store, Estee Lauder quickly mastered the art of knowing exactly where to be seen. Working to place her then-new Youth Dew fragrance in the best department stores, it was sometimes challenging to get the space and location she wanted. So she decided to let her perfume speak for itself and ‘accidentally on purpose’ dropped a bottle on the selling floor to the effect that women from all over the floor asked the name of the scent and where they could buy it. By the end of the afternoon, Mrs Lauder had her prime Youth Dew space and location. Genius!!

To my 21st century nose, Youth Dew smells like a sibling to Tabu. The funny thing is that many of those who wore Youth Dew used to scoff at the reckless Tabu wearers. Tabu is more sensual and extra animalic, but that mix of heavy and heady, rich flowers and spice, fur coat and silk stockings – it’s all here in Youth Dew, making it a gorgeous and very fun perfume to wear. If you dare.
The current Youth Dew you can find at the counters is an eau de parfum and smells a bit sharper at the top before it starts its sensual journey. There’s no doubt it has been tweaked over the years, yet as a whole and in the dry-down, the stuff I occasionally spray ends up smelling pretty much like my very vintage oil version. The bath oil is also available from most department stores, just don’t expect to find the range openly displays.

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