‘Stella by Starlight: A Tale of Two Sisters’ – Youth Dew Old and New…

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Guest post by Nina

 

 

Smelling a contemporary version of Estee Lauder’s Youth Dew in Debenhams one day instantly recalled to me a certain hard-faced, zealous, glamorous, type of middle-aged woman common in my Lancashire youth. A type of woman with a pristine, gleaming abode – chic, elegant and well-scrubbed with the shiny mahogany panelling, orange lighting and white carpets so popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s. A type of woman that wore her curlers like a crown in daytime, and only was seen without them on Saturday night, when she would parade from her front door in some elegant, flowing sorbet number; her long, rounded scarlet nails immaculately-maintained; her tanned slender feet and gnarly toes stuffed into gold, heeled, sandals. A woman whose home was a palace, who stood by her man, and whose kids were kept in order by a habitual snap of ‘mind your manners!’ or ‘wash your mouth out!’ – an action she was not afraid to take upon herself when pushed. In its taut shift between sweet and steely, nice and nasty, contemporary Youth Dew conjures the sort of small, wiry woman, with strength to hold a burly, swearing, teenager over a sink and indeed swill his mouth with a bar of Palmolive should the situation require it. A steadfast, elegant, Tory-voting woman, whose bearing bore the cool, firm, grace of rigorously-observed ballroom dance training, but fierce and fast in fury. Such a woman could be relied upon to take control of every situation – whether that be with a lofty shout to everyone to ‘Move BACK!’ as she poured a kettle of boiling water over a nest of Summer ants from a great, slow height; or with an efficient tea party ‘rescue’ of spilt jam onto a cardigan with urgent display of sponge-cleaning after a scone was dropped. An expert at elevating the mundane to a melodrama, she was at the centre of everything; an engaged and lively type of good neighbour, corrective, mildly outraged but kind in day-to-day interaction. Genuinely happy that someone’s child had passed their 11-plus or made their First Communion, or see others get a brand new car, be decked out in a beautiful wedding dress for the big day, or have a bouncing, bonny, baby – she would be the first to present a compliment, tupperware bowl of cakes, crisp pound note or shower of confetti by way of congratulation! On such occasions, her smile was broad, and her eyes would not so much warm, but vaguely mist like condensation on a marble, in a way that made her quite pretty, and revealed a romantic, girlish delight in the progress of others, and by extension the progress of the community. Essentially, however, she was the sort for whom garden roses were important more for the large thorns and tough stems as they were for the brief flowering of sweet, large, velvet petals each short Summer, and her thin, pinching, fingers gained strength from vigorously pruning those stems as year succeeded year.

There is something essentially materialistic and driven about contemporary Youth Dew. A brief, engaging, whiff of innocuous sweetness romances one into initial attraction, but is swiftly followed by a spicy, intense, clawing, bitter cinnamon that does not so much linger as persist and pursue. Something I have noticed whilst wearing this perfume is that it draws instant attention from others. If I spritz some on in a store, within minutes of walking down the street I find myself the recipient of direct and lingering stares, mainly from men. Women, by contrast, make a beeline and quickly talk to me more than usual in shops or cafes, and in fact, it is a fragrance that seems to encourage frank, communicative exchange. Once it finds its level, it is scent that appears to move steadily between its sweet and bitter notes in even measure, not so much unfolding, as in constant, tense, see-saw of attraction and repulsion. It is inherently a defensive scent, and I have found when wearing it, that it is easy to be quite single-minded with it – perhaps, if the situation required, ruthless! It’s a scent that knows its own mind and is not afraid to speak it, and will ultimately do what it needs for itself. Its see-saw gives way eventually to a thin, metallic endurance and a musky chalky dry-down that fleetingly recalls the dry-down of Magie Noire. But where Magie Noire enfolds one in the delicate but warm embrace of an airing cupboard in its fading, the new Youth Dew cools – its final message finding resonance in a smell that evokes the vigorously-scoured steel of an impeccably clean sink and draining board. And it demands nothing beyond that ultimate satisfaction.

 

 

 

 

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Having essentially made up my mind about Youth Dew from the contemporary version, it was with surprise that I received Neil’s beautiful gift of a vintage bottle of the perfume, to find a marked difference in its composition and effect. Arriving in a mint-green box with yellow gold plate, the bottle sits neatly inside on a smooth velveteen base. The bottle itself is delightful, and softer than the design of the contemporary – which always reminds me uncomfortably of a faceless glass doll with a neatly-cinched waist. Made from misted glass, the stopper on the vintage is a huge flower head – part daisy, part buttercup, part wild rose, and the perfume, unlike the thin, vinegary glint of the contemporary version, is thick, opaque and brooding.

Whereas the contemporary initially lulls you with its sweetness, on wearing the vintage, the nose receives a shock of thick, treacley, acrid substance, forcing an instant recoil and intense attraction in its opening notes. It is a smell not unlike molasses, tar, rotting orange and the fierce, bitter, metallic, whiff of the lid of a pickled onion jar. Where the bitter notes of the contemporary create a cool barrier to connection and invites attention with an ironic melodrama of the moment, the vintage, unwittingly and artlessly drags you into the inherent drama of its own awkwardness as its harsh, cloying, soup settles into your skin. ‘What the hell is this?!’ You do find yourself wondering. And yet it is a scent that is complex and integral, so trusting it, you follow its course. And then as if by magic, something beautiful begins to happen. The acridity gives way to a strong spice, not unlike the smell of hot cross buns, and undeniably warm and comforting. And slowly, a sweet, creamy, buttery fudge emerges and sustains with confidence on the skin for much of the day, supported by a delicate hint of rose, amber and patchoulie (and possibly, though I have not seen it listed, benzoin?) sitting far away in its base structure. Eventually it fades to a musky powder and disappears. This perfume invites a similar impulse to conversation and attraction as the contemporary, but where the newer version is cool and knowing, and essentially cutting, the vintage compels one to speak the truth of a situation without hesitation, almost in spite of oneself, impulsively and with great, but slightly world-weary conviction!

What is the character of this vintage Youth Dew, and how is it related to its contemporary? The vintage and contemporary versions are essentially like sisters cut from the same cloth. Both are driven with a desire to have more from life; both are mildly frustrated, demanding, compelling and expressive. The vintage is a pensive, knowing, sweet, solitary, awkward and compulsive individual where her contemporary sister is driven, smart, outgoing, cool and materialistic. The vintage is more open and drifting, where the contemporary knows its own ends and will demand her life to be the way she wants it. For me, both versions undeniably evoke the young women of the 1950s who later became the middle-aged matrons my generation knew in the 70s and 80s. I have never smelt this on men, but think it would accord well with many men in its distribution of sweetness and musks, and in its composition possibly recalls a number of fragrances worn by Arab men. In both its incarnations, it is essentially a scent for middle-age; the dew of its title not so much evoking fresh-faced Spring mornings with bright young things striding over a lawn, as the dew of evenings where a middle-aged woman might wrap herself up in the dusk, lingering at a kitchen door to watch the silhouettes of bats scud across the sky and to smell the intense urgent luring of night stock. Where the wearer of the contemporary might place a firm bolt on the door, and settle in to watch the evening’s telly, the vintage wearer might stay to breathe that night air a little longer, wait till the stars show their light, and wonder where her life is going.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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40 Comments

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40 responses to “‘Stella by Starlight: A Tale of Two Sisters’ – Youth Dew Old and New…

  1. A beautiful and extraordinarily evocative piece.

    Thankyou.

    • Thanks so much. I really enjoyed writing it, and love the vintage Youth Dew. I’m honoured to be a guest on your wonderful blog xxx

      • I am hoping for many more.

      • ninakane1

        I was just reading that the nose behind it was Josephine Catapano who invented the original Zen for Shiseido! There’s definitely a similarity there between cool and nurturing, and smooth, clean-cut and materially-focused but with a heart that wanders to the garden and the sky. I would love to smell a vintage Zen. I bought Dante the current version when I left Tokyo (after you suggested I bought him a perfume), and he wore it for about a year and a half! Traces of it still drift from his room when I pass it. He left the bottle of it in his room when he went to university, as he says he wants to have a completely new smell for the new era (I totally get that!!), and every so often I wander into his room and sniff the bottle (I feel not unlike Tilda Swinton poking around her daughter’s photographs in I Am Love! haha). He’s said I can have it and add it to my stash, but I’m not quite ready to add it to my box just yet. It suits the clean-cut black and white of his room, with its North light, its cool green views and the half-empty, dusty shelves.

  2. Katy

    This was wonderful! I love Youth Dew. I have newer iteration, cute little opaque blue bottle. This fragrance reminds me of Opium and Cinnebar, both fragrances my Mother wore.

    • Yes, my mum wore Opium and Youth Dew too, although I do remember that cinch-waisted Estee Lauder bottle so vividly lingering on her dressing table for years so she can’t have worn it that much.

      Definitely for special occasions, though. Very much the going out, dressed up perfume for my mum.

      Of the three, I like Opium best by far ( I did a side by side review of that and Cinnabar on here, actually), but in a way Youth Dew is the softest and most comforting.

      Nina nails the perfume here; the tenderness, and that definite hardness. I love this review.

      • ninakane1

        I never realised your mum wore it. It’s definitely an evening one. I’ve been trying to remember who wore it back then. It instantly placed in 70s/early 80s Lancaster. I have a feeling my grandparents’ next-door neighbour wore it, also possibly my grandad’s sister.

        It’s been lovely having an opportunity to immerse in this perfume – both versions – and to think about this. xxxxx

    • ninakane1

      Thank you Katy! I haven’t tried the blue bottle version. Is it different from the other? I will check it out!

      • I would say, N, that if I had to choose a perfume that I remember most vividly from my childhood, it would be this, seriously.

        I can see my mum, the age I am now, perm, brunette, beautiful, really made up; fur coat. It DOES smell so impossibly glamorous, somehow, this one.

        Have you ready the Dandy’s review of this one? That was amazing as well.

      • ninakane1

        Really? I never knew that! It really is a complex and beautiful perfume! It is definitely Saturday night out with fur coat. I love remembering that whole era. I hadn’t read the Dandy’s but have just gone and checked it out, and it’s great! He’s seeing similar things in the perfume’s character. So distinctive. It’s great fun thinking about this. Youth Dew is so special to me now. xx

      • Katy

        It is the version Tania Sanchez reviews in the much maligned Perfumes the A-Z Guide, so I am guessing circa 2009. I love this book, I think most people would not have trouble with it if the read the entire thing. Luca and Tania beg you to not stop wearing a perfume just because they do not care for it, it is a personal and highly subjective thing. She describes this version as a lighter Tabu, more floral in the middle, with a sweet nutmeg charm. I find it easy to wear, I even layer it with Youth Dew lotion! Look! I am Dewier than thou……

      • ninakane1

        Ha ha! Well that sounds a delightful combination; especially with the nutmeg element! Thanks for the tip on that. I’ll enjoy trying it and will dip into the book also!

  3. Great review and I love the description of the 70s Woman with the immaculate home. I remember the 70s of my childhood well- how I longed for a coloured bathroom suite and a dralon headboard!

    I love Youth Dew and think that for its price, it’s fantastic value. You can currently buy 15ml for less than 20GBP. Since it is, as you say, best used sparingly, a small bottle could last a long time.

    I was interested to hear about the vintage versions. I particularly love the “buttery fudge” description.

    Marvellous.

  4. secretkamakura

    I know those women very well. I only have to look back at the last couple of generations of my own family. (My mother is a lover of patchouli powerhouse perfumes like Opium and Magie Noire. I don’t think she ever wore Youth Dew, mind.)

    • ninakane1

      I know. Likewise. Particularly on my dad’s side. So distinctive and strong. I wish I could place who wore Youth Dew and Magie Noire amongst my lot. I know some of the women I knew must have done for the smells to evoke such a strong evocation of the time. I think my nana and my gran’s sister wore Magie Noire for a while xx

  5. Lilybelle

    What a wonderful review, Nina! Yes, you are smelling benzoin in Youth Dew. I totally get that scrubbed quality you mention, despite the opulence. The middle aged woman I associate with Youth Dew in the 1970s was a Steel Magnolia (deep south USA), strong and no nonsense, but also kind and generous at heart. Have you tried the bath oil? I had a bottle of that but I gave it away. It’s a lovely way to wear the fragrance (sparingly!). I can’t wear YD because it overpowers me, but I love catching a whiff of it on someone passing by. Sometimes I have a dab out of a small decant bottle for nostalgia’s sake.

    • ninakane1

      Thanks so much Lilybelle. Ah! I’m glad you could answer that! I was sure it did have benzoin in but couldn’t see it mentioned anywhere! Steel Magnolia women is spot-on! I can imagine that! I’ve never tried the bath oil, but I’ll give it a go.

  6. Nina, what a lovely piece of writing! And you make me realize that Youth Dew was one of the defining perfumes for the generation of women just before my own generation, and yet I managed to miss it completely, have never smelled it in any form, which must be remedied soon. It’s interesting to consider that those older powerhouses were the scents of women who had to battle hard for their place in the professional world, and they are all strong and communicative scents. Now that women can move so much more easily into professional roles, their perfumes seem to say “I’m just soft tasty fruit in a bowl” or “I’m a cupcake, eat me up!” To this day, when I have a difficult week coming up at work, I wear gorgeous opulent vintage Opium on the weekend. I feel sexy, yes, but I also feel like an Amazon unafraid to announce that I can take my place shoulder to shoulder with my companions and make good things happen, the fiery spicy carnation flying like a flag over our heads. The only one of those ’80s frags that seems uncommunicative to me is Georgio. Or rather, what it has always seemed to me to communicate is “I am going to take over your space and occupy it, so just step back.” I didn’t care for it then and don’t care for it now.

    • ninakane1

      Thanks FeralJasmine. You really must try Youth Dew. I think you’ll find it quite different from the others you describe. It’s essentially a 1950s perfume in many of its balances, and whilst its newer formulations reflect a perfume that has got steelier with age and experience it still retains an essential integrity and sweetness in its openness to others. If I had to choose an astrological sign for Youth Dew, I’d say it was a Gemini, but a Gemini with a Cancer moon – steely, chatty, gregarious, driven, materialistic, glamorous, cool but with a soft heart and an unselfish devotion to and ambition for others sitting underneath the shell. From a communications perspective it is fascinating. The newer formulation does not suffer fools, and the older formulation compels one to say what one thinks openly. Definitely one to try at work if you need to get things done, and stay on track with your goals.

  7. emmawoolf

    just wonderful, Nina. Thank you!

  8. Rafael

    Great post! Back in the 70’s we went from “don’t smoke pot” to “please don’t smoke pot in the house.” My Mom used to get this as presents (not her scent) and so I’d nick it and spray it after we had had a good smoke in my room. I LOVE this stuff as a room spray and sachet for the wardrobes! My Mom wouldn’t come into my room (because really, it was over-the-top in Patchouli which is what I pick up on with Youth Dew.) Whenever I smell it these days it’s so thin and not consuming. Rather like picking up a sailor and then finding he hasn’t any muscle. Ahhh…better times and better men! (I wore Azuree today as a change of season scent. At the office I could tell everyone liked it and were alarmed as well. Not one person commented. Corporate America. There was a guy though who I coould swear was popping in just to have another sniff. Like a cat the moment before they start purring.)

    • Hahaha, that’s a beautiful story Rafael! Thanks! Reckon Youth Dew would accord well with the whiff of pot, and the older version would definitely mask it with its treacley sweetness! I agree that the newer versions are much thinner, and lack that warm chunky whammy. I must try Azuree! I like the name. Sounds very elegant and alluring.

  9. Rafael

    “Bernard Chant was the creator of Clinique Aromatics Elixir, Estee Lauder Azuree, Parfums Gres Cabochard, Ralph Lauren Lauren, Aramis, and many other perfume classics.”

    • ninakane1

      Thanks. It’s fascinating knowing who the ‘nose’ is behind a perfume, isn’t it? Such a lot of history there, and it helps see the perfumes in a different way I think. I don’t know many of these – will peruse.

  10. Dearest Nina (and Ginza, bien sur)
    A simply exquisite piece.
    You capture a certain kind of woman at a certain period in time perfectly and in so doing have brilliantly articulated one of the qualities of this scent… it’s robust, insistent, all conquering, forced and proud jollity.
    I do so hope to read more…
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • ninakane1

      Weirdly been thinking about Youth Dew all weekend and was planning to wear some today! Bought a new bottle of vintage off ebay on Friday as nearly out of the one you sent. Thinking about the review yesterday too. Can it really be a year since I wrote this? Though it is!! Really nice to reread it and the comments. Thanks for reposting xx

  11. What a wonderful and beautifully written post!

  12. Dear Nina and Neil, I enjoyed this the second time ’round as much as the first and was inspired by Nina to seek out my own vintage bottle of Youth Dew on E-Bay. I am happy to report that I see signs of the vintage perfume bubble bursting. I am very sorry for people who thought they might retire on their return on a vintage bottle of Shalimar, that they got a garage sale for $5.00, but very happy for all of us who just want to wear the stuff! I bid on a set, used, but who cares, of vintage Youth Dew perfume, cologne and bath oil, for well under $20.00. Also scored a box of Balenciaga Le Dix, vintage, sealed, never opened for $29.00 plus free shipping! So thanks again for the beautiful writing that led to satisfying my own curiosity! Now let me see if I can score a bottle of Shalimar Eau de Cologne……

    • ninakane1

      Thanks very much Katy. I’m glad the post inspired you to seek out some vintage Youth Dew. It really is quite different form the newer version. Been wearing it today and am enjoying the sweet, buttery, dry-down as I type. How do you find it? You’re right about vintage prices falling and it is indeed good news for we perfume-lovers!You got some serious bargains there – well done!! I’ve been looking for another vintage Youth Dew (the one in the flower bottle) for some time now, as as sod’s law would have it, a couple of days after Neil posted this review last year I knocked my bottle of it over leaving my perfume box smelling divine but alas only a smidgen to wear! I was utterly mortified and as such haven’t worn it much, allowing myself an indulgent dab every now and again (it took me three days of thinking about it to decide to wear some today – the coincidence of Neil reblogging this post was strange but timely…!). I managed to buy a replacement from Ebay for £9 on Friday which is wonderful (also a bottle of vintage Femme by Rochas for £25 which I’m looking forward to trying). It’s such a strange thing to explain to people actually. I’m in the UK where we have charity shops (not sure if you have them in the States which is where I’m assuming you are..?) but they tend to throw out any perfumes that are used (and frequently ones that are still full!). I’ve been trying to persuade some of my local charity shops to put some by for me recently, but get met by odd looks and staring refusals! People find it hard to understand why an old half-empty bottle of scent from the 1980s might provoke massive excitement for someone – but I wince to think of the number of gems that must get chucked each week! So far only one has agreed to put some by for me… will have to see what comes in! Anyway. Enjoy your haul, and thanks again for the kind words on the piece.

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