|The beginning of the end... "Youth Dew" by Estée Lauder. Launched 1953.|
The coming of Youth Dew in 1953 put paid to perfume as we knew it. It was the end of subtlety, the death-knell of artistry and discretion. It was cheap, loud and vulgar and it blazed the trail for every cheap, loud and vulgar “fragrance” that churned through the open flood-gates for the next 30 years.
Van Ameringen, President of Ameringen-Haebler, later merged with International Flavours and Fragrances (I.F.F.) gave the formula to Estée as a present. He had been allowing her almost unlimited credit with the company, knowing she had not the money to buy for some time, and felt she needed a helping hand.
Van Ameringen kept Estée company for a while during her separation from her husband, Joe, but when Van wouldn’t leave his wife, and she subsequently re-married Joe, they remained friends.
Youth Dew was said to have been developed at I.F.F. by Ernest Shiftan known as “Mr Nose USA”, and by presenting her with this fragrance, Van Ameringen ensured Esther from Brooklyn’s future multi-million dollar empire, and the decline of subsequent modern perfumery into mediocrity.
Youth Dew, surely the most ‘icky’ name ever to be bestowed upon a fragrance (although I don’t know, White Shoulders, and Baby Soft take a bit of beating...) began life as a bath oil, and some might argue that is where it stayed, heavy, cloying, clinging to the bath and whoever was in it. That it was oil-based was significant.
The cognoscenti of the trade called it “vulgar, brassy, cloying and nauseating”. “I hate it, it’s vulgar: I wish I had a piece of it” commented Harry Doyle of Revson Inc.
No combination of carnation and patchouli has ever been known to fail, but Youth Dew went further; it removed the top and middle notes and went straight to the base. What you smelled first off was all you ever smelled. There was no ‘development’.
Just fine if it passed you by; God help you if it stopped to chat.
Americans are known for wanting everything “yesterday”, not the most patient of nations, why wait for a base to emerge? Let’s have it right off.
So it was with Youth Dew.
And Mrs Joe Public loved it.
There was a fly-spray available at the time that smelled exactly the same and which cost 7½ pence a can. Nevertheless, there was no point in wearing your ‘best French’ to a party if someone was wearing Youth Dew – you’d be sunk without trace.
Today, whole streets can smell of Opium, and Giorgio can be banned in restaurants, but in the ‘50’s it was Youth Dew.
Youth Dew which blazed the trail and hammered the last nail in the coffin.
Soft Youth Dew was practically on the stands when Yves St Laurent launched Opium. No-one could prevail against his choice of name, the Chinese in particular were deeply offended. YSL could not be budged. Opium it was, and Opium it remained, and as Opium it took off like a forest fire (inevitable – it was another carnation/patchouli combo).
Estée Lauder had 40 fits: “It’s Youth Dew with a tassel!” She yelped and renamed Soft Youth Dew so fast that some actually made the stands with the name unchanged. Most however were renamed Cinnabar and put out with a tassel.
Cinnabar was originally intended as a make-up range, a colour concept for an overall look, and the department stores were kept waiting while a frantic rejig took place.
However, at less than half the price of Opium, Cinnabar more than broke even on the stands.
The actual ingredients of Opium cost pennies rather than pounds, it is always the hard-sell publicity that bumps up the price and the launch cost so much that it is still spoken of in the trade in hushed tones.
Maja by Spanish firm Myrurgia, the prototype for both Youth Dew and Opium still comes in at a fraction of the price.
But at some time over the past 30 years, someone tumbled to the fact that a certain section of society buys perfume not for how it smells, but for what it costs.
Soon, I feel we will be back to the Romans who sold perfume for its equivalent weight in gold. And nobody can deny we’re going backwards with scents flecked with gold-dust and diamonds suspended in bottles so your money shows.