Youth-Dew (Estée Lauder)

My first exposure to Youth-Dew occurred during infancy. As I was passed, blanket-swaddled, from one cooing female relative to another, a certain spicy scent lodged in my tiny cerebral cortex, and I said: Mama.

All right, I'm making that up-- my mother never touched the stuff. But someone must have worn Youth-Dew during my formative years, because I feel as though I've been resting my cheek on its big, warm, reassuring shoulder all my life.

Was it this air of ubiquity that made me take Youth-Dew for granted? Until recently, it never occurred to me to actually buy any. There always seemed to be enough of it in the air to satisfy whatever transient longing for it I might experience. But lately, with the rise of the whole sugar-dusted-jelly-donuts-for- childwomen school of perfumery, I confess I've found myself stocking up on the sly.

My first purchase (the foundation stone of my stash, if you will) was a little fluted glass purse sprayer with a monogrammed goldtone cap. Less than an inch of liquid remained inside, as dark and opaque as Modena balsamico. It smelled like extract of Christmas morning, set me back a dollar, and kick-started an idée fixe.

My next acquisition: a half-used 2.25 fluid oz. bottle whose spray nozzle had been snapped clean off by its previous owner. This one cost me three dollars and two hours of full-on MacGyver hijinks aimed at getting the juice out of the bottle. After attempting first to pry the metal seal loose with a heavy-duty pair of pliers, and then to pick the plunger mechanism loose with an awl -- both in vain -- I actually found myself bashing at that adorable nip-waisted glass bottle with a hammer-- until I realized they just don't make glass of that calibre anymore. (It didn't even CHIP.) Finally, I managed to puncture the plunger with a steel engraving tool, then sat there shaking the perfume drop by drop into a Pyrex mixing bowl.  This alone took half an hour.

How did it smell? Worth every single curse word that came out of my mouth.

Vanilla, licorice, patchouli, vetiver, cinnamon, cloves, incense:  Youth-Dew is no lightweight.  Even its color as seen through the clear glass bottle -- dark, impenetrable, like barrel-aged soy sauce or 10W-30 motor oil -- offers fair warning about the nature of the fragrance within.  Yes, it is powerful.  Yes, it is confident.  But if you've only ever heard it called "old-ladyish", you might be taken off guard by how yielding and sensual Youth-Dew is. Oh, you know you want it.  You know.

And you can so easily have it-- at any age, any season, any time.

While laying down some cash for another (!) bottle at a recent community fundraiser, it occurred to me that I may be turning into a hoarder. Granted, you could choose worse things to hoard than Youth-Dew. Judging from how great it smells even when ancient, this stuff will probably survive the Apocalypse. In fact, it may prove to be the only stable form of currency in the far dystopian future-- which puts me well on the path to becoming the Auntie Entity of Central New Jersey.  (All I need is a chain mail dress, an army of punks to guard my underground Youth Dew refinery... and a Thunderdome.)

A more positive way for me to view my insatiable need to acquire more and more Youth Dew is this: I tell myself that I'm really acting as an archivist. When a perfume has been around as long as Youth-Dew has, it takes on the role of a guest registry which people of all generations line up to sign. Whether laudatory or tinged with distaste, the comments recorded there testify to Youth-Dew's assured place in culture. We may not ascribe it the same impact or magnitude that we would a presidency, or a war, or a social revolution; it is just a perfume, after all.   But history has its little votive corners to fill-- too small for big events, but too visible to be allowed to take on dust.  Youth-Dew occupies one such alcove very nicely. Judging by the flood of visitors she continues to receive, she has been curated well.

That's why I continue to carry her torch.  Past, present, and future are alive in her smile.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, orange, spices, peach, bergamot, cinnamon, cassia, orchid, jasmine, cloves, ylang-ylang, rose, balsam tolu, balsam Peru, benzoin, amber, patchouli, musk, vanilla, oakmoss, vetiver, incense