Monday, April 29, 2013

Youth Dew Gets A(nother) Face Lift

Recently, I've been exchanging emails with Elena over at Perfume Shrine about a series of mysteries revolving around Youth Dew and its somewhat unknown related iterations, all of which were released during a little blip on the Lauder screen in the mid seventies. It's been fun playing detectives - the fragrances have come and gone, so it's all harmless mystery. Things get a little more serious, I learned, when a more established fragrance is forced into what is considered by its die hard fans a weird sort of early retirement. I'm speaking of the latest Youth Dew reformulation, but I'll get to that.

In 1977, Estee Lauder released Soft Youth Dew, a flanker to her flagship fragrance. At least, I think she did. Pick a day, any day, and run a search on Ebay for Soft Youth Dew. All you're ever likely to find are half ounce gift with purchase bottles. It's almost as if the fragrance was put on a giveaway trial run and quickly considered ill-advised, without ever actually being put on sale. Stranger still, when I did find something other than a half ounce bottle of Soft Youth Dew, it was a vintage tester bottle. The juice in that tester bottle smells very little like the Soft Youth Dew contained in the half ounce bottles, several of which I've smelled. It's much closer to Youth Dew proper, with a hand extending firmly toward Cinnabar.

Cinnabar was released a year after Soft Youth Dew, and the bottle it comes in hasn't changed much over the years. What has changed is the cap, and the name. Soon after the appearance of Soft Youth Dew, Cinnabar was introduced under the title "Cinnabar, Soft Youth Dew Fragrance". The cap for the earliest spray bottles of Cinnabar is identical, except in color, to the cap on my Soft Youth Dew tester bottle. Viewing these together was the first time I'd thought about a direct, explicit connection between Youth Dew and Cinnabar. When you remove Cinnabar's cap, you see that the bottle looks very much like the original bath oil and cologne flacons for Youth Dew. Many people have commented on a connection between the fragrances, but that has always been a perceived connection, based on ingredients and standards of classification. Those earliest bottles for Soft Youth Dew and Cinnabar, as well as the commingling of their names, makes their intrinsic connection crystal clear.

Also clear: Lauder had no apparent problem with a connection being made. Either way, she would succeed: Cinnabar might, on the one hand, trade on the success and lineage of Youth Dew; on the other, it might break new ground as something quite different, for those who didn't really fancy Youth Dew much. Soft Youth Dew disappeared. Youth Dew and Cinnabar prevailed, the latter presenting some formidable competition for Opium, a similar oriental released the year before.

Elena pointed out to me the possibility or probability that Lauder and Yves Saint Laurent might have been in competition over the choice of Opium's inro style tasseled bottle. Had Lauder won, the strategy for Cinnabar's marketing might have been different. Opium, of course, won, but Lauder clearly next bested Yves, choosing a name for her oriental which embodied inro without having to shape itself as one. There was a bit of been there done that to Lauder's decision in packaging Cinnabar anyway. For years she'd been presenting solids of her fragrances in decorative compartments one could attach to a dangling chain. Essentially, as Elena pointed out, the inro-themed idea was first hers. Besides which: While Opium was a provocative name, Cinnabar was a richly evocative one, whose associations reverberated in the consumer's imagination, as opposed perhaps to simply scandalizing or titillating it.

Soft Youth Dew and Cinnabar/Soft Youth Dew Fragrance weren't the first times an Estee Lauder fragrance appeared and disappeared in short order. Soft Youth Dew competed with Lauder's own trio of fragrances: Pavilion, Celadon, and White Linen, one of which will sound very familiar to you, two of which you've possibly never heard. It wasn't the last time the Youth Dew franchise was openly toyed around with, either: years later, Youth Dew Amber Nude was there, then not.

In between all these up front conceptual tinkerings have been behind closed doors tweaks and adjustments - and not just of Youth Dew but of all the Lauder scents. Almost everyone realizes that Youth Dew has changed at least a little over the years. The animalics it originally contained had long since been removed a year ago or less (or more), when the fragrance changed more than ever before. Until this latest change, Youth Dew die hards remained content(-ish). The juice remained that nice dark balsamic brown. Its oils pooled luxuriantly on the skin. Its smell contained a thousand childhoods, and motherhoods, a menagerie of memories and remembered moods.

Want to see a shit-storm? Visit the Lauder page and peruse the customer reviews for Youth Dew. Notice that around this time last year, the objections began. They haven't stopped since. "This is not my Youth Dew," wrote YouthDewGirl, age 55-64, El Cajon, California. "I do not know what Estee Lauder has done to this fragrance but it is terrible now... Bring the old Youth Dew back again!"

"The new generation will never know what they have missed," according to Mother01, age 55-64, Elkton. "They will try the new version and move on, because it is nothing special now. The original scent was used by four generations of women in my family."

You get the picture. So do they. This litany of objections, as several note in the "reviews", demonstrates how savvy the loyal consumer is. The Lauder lady at the counter will tell them nothing has changed, just as I was told yesterday at the mall, but the longtime Lauder buyer smells rat. In a sense, Elena and I have been, in the last few weeks, enacting our own version of this online commiseration, comparing our impressions and theories about Soft Youth Dew and Cinnabar and their relationship to Youth Dew original, testing personal perceptions against those of a peer.

For us, it's innocent sleuthing. To the Youth Dew Loyalist, changes to the formula are a far less entertaining affair. For the Lauder brand, this breach of contract with the consumer is serious business indeed, and if the reviewers honor their word, the company will realize they only thought they knew what a slump in sales truly meant. Reading these reviews I thought, don't mess with loyalty. Then too, I thought that anyone who's ever gotten into an argument with a woman of a certain age should know better than to try to pull the rug out from under one. Tell her you're selling insurance out of Cambodia and need to dip into her pension, maybe, but messing with her fragrance is folly.

Still, I thought, how bad could it be? So I went and smelled it.

I don't think it is bad. In fact, I like it. It's a fine fragrance, better than most, on its own terms. The problem is that Youth Dew can't be separated from its own terms: that's a lesson Lauder might have learned herself with early Cinnabar and Soft Youth Dew, and it's a lesson Tom Ford must have surely learned the hard way with Amber Nude. As the Lauder sales associate told me yesterday, the biggest obstacle for Amber Nude was the fact that no one seemed to be able to figure out it wasn't meant to REPLACE Youth Dew. Thus the constant refrain: What happened to my Youth Dew? Hard to sell a flanker when it sits between the original and its loyalist.

The feelings for and against Youth Dew are strong enough that no side really wants to see something slightly different. Take it or leave it, yes. Six or half a dozen, not so much. "Everything that made Estee Lauder's original fragrance so unforgettable is still here," read the ads for Soft Youth Dew. "It's all just a little s-o-f-t-e-r." Apparently, not soft enough, or too soft altogether when it comes to lovers and haters of the original.

The newest Youth Dew is more leathery to me. It still comes in the Body Satinee, the cream, the dusting powder, the bath oil, the deodorant (head scratcher, that one). All are arguably just as penetrating as Youth Dew's ever been, in any concentration. The oil won't be pooling, but the fragrance sticks around. No more cola colored contents. No more deep, dark, recesses of the earth balsamic structure. It can hardly be said that this Youth Dew is younger, or hipper, less stately than Youth Dews past, so it's hard to believe the changes have been an effort to win new consumers. It's a woody oriental, with less floral decadence than it once, even recently, had. Stealth woody orientals aren't selling like hotcakes, last time I checked.

This version, in fact, reminds me more of an exercise like Amber Nude and Soft Youth Dew than it does a reformulation. In effect, in all but name, a flanker. In some ways it reminds me of the reformulated Magie Noire's relationship to its original. It remains, however dark and oriental, surface bound somehow, lacking that weird vintage resonance. Still, for me, if not for the Lauder website reviewer, it's unmistakably Youth Dew - and latest Youth Dew's version of surface is still far deeper than the majority of contemporary fragrances.

It's interesting to consider what Lauder, still living, might have made of all this - let alone to ponder whether she would have allowed it in the first place. I like to think she learned some kind of lesson with Soft Youth Dew and Cinnabar, though I don't know just what that would be. In truth, her handling of those two related fragrances, however superficially confusing, was done intelligently enough that no existing fragrance was compromised, no established name muddled. It's hard to imagine Estee, who spent so many years building her empire, woman by woman, relationship by relationship, countenancing this kind of maneuver, which amounts to betrayal in the eyes of many of those women. Better to have let Youth Dew die, she might have thought.

Which is exactly what the ladies on Lauder's website are saying.

(Pictured: the changing face of Youth Dew - from Youth Dew to Cinnabar and everywhere in between. Top photo: Cinnabar, Soft Youth Dew Fragrance. Second down: Tester bottle for Soft Youth Dew. Third down: Early bottle for Cinnabar. Fourth down: Early Youth Dew cologne bottle. Fifth down: Magazine ad for Soft Youth Dew. Sixth down: A hybrid Cinnabar/Youth Dew/Soft Youth Dew bottle, with Youth Dew's silhouette, Soft Youth Dew's name, and Cinnabar's branding.)


Mals86 said...

You might remember that I hate Youth Dew with the fires of a billion burning suns.

But when I picked up a YD tester last fall, just reestablishing my boundaries, you understand... I did not fall immediately to the floor clutching my throat and gagging, as I would have in years previous. It is, as you say, much softer. I still wouldn't WEAR the stuff, but it doesn't kill me now. That may be the surest sign that it has been Messed With, to the point of blurring its identity.

I look forward, in a few years, to not getting regularly choked to death at church, or the grocery store (it's always the canned goods aisle, too), or bank lobbies (there are some bank transactions I still can't do online), as people exhaust their stashes of unsoftened Youth Dew. But I admit it sucks for you, and I'm sorry.

Brian said...

I almost mentioned you in the body of the post, Mals. I read a comment you'd posted somewhere about all the ladies at the local grocery store drowning themselves in it. Just don't go on the Lauder site verbalizing your distaste for the original - you might get eaten alive.

I've always been glad there's so much dissension about Youth Dew. I'm not sure I'd feel as strongly about it otherwise. It's a mainstay, but also a bit of an underdog.

I don't know why this reformulation doesn't make me angry the way, say, the Opium reformulation did. It's definitely arguable that Youth Dew has been gutted, and in retrospect the reformulation of Opium was a roadmap of what to expect in the event of a changed Youth Dew.

Maybe I'm used to it by now?

Susan said...

I'm not a huge Youth Dew fan, but I am a Lauder fan, so I find this post really intriguing from that perspective. The online Lauder reviews are even more intriguing as I get the sense Lauder regularly prunes those reviews... at least, they often seem too glowingly positive to NOT be edited by Lauder from time to time. Now, Pavillon and Celadon... those sound divine.

Mals86 said...

(Now Celadon, I'm dying to smell that. Still. Even though it's a Lauder.)pplyCZ1

FruitDiet said...

However many reformulations of Youth Dew there have been, none have bothered me. They all smell like Youth Dew and, realistically, it's never totally consistent. I've smelled probably 15 different bottles and vintages in addition to having had all the body products at some point. I bought my mom a bottle last year and it was significantly lighter in color and density but still smelled, I dunno, like Youth Dew. I bought myself a new bottle a year and a half ago and it smelled different from her bottle, like they'd overdosed on the synthetic animalics or something. Also, this fragrance is so strange that it's kind of impossible to tell what's "off" about it and what's just intentionally weird. I mean, it always has a loamy, rotting dirt smell about it. The biggest difference I notice between recent vs. old is just that the patchouli was much, much stronger in the old stuff. The new one's fine. I just...don't care. Aromatics underwent a big change from the first bottle I purchased (2008?) to the second (2010?). Now it's more rose and patchouli since the oakmoss is greatly reduced. My first reaction was that it was a problem, then I realized it was possibly better, since sometimes it is oakmoss that makes people think things smell like "baby powder." I just quit caring.

Magie Noire, in all its formulations, is inconsistent in a similar manner to Youth Dew. I have owned, I think, six bottles of it from various periods and no two smelled alike. Some might be turned or off and I really wouldn't know cause the fragrance is so intentionally weird.

Brian said...

I don't know, Susan. You think they do..."manage" the reviews? I guess it's naive to think they wouldn't. Seems risky though. If they do damage-control manage it, I'm shocked they've let these super negative reviews remain. Those ladies are pissed.

Brian said...

Hey fruit. I seem to have I guess a bottle of youth dew from each generation since it's been released, if my identification techniques aren't faulty. I like all of them, and even when I compare the latest to the earliest I don't feel any vast leap into unrecognizability. The one I smelled the other day was pretty emphatically different for me, but I loved it--enough to buy it. I have way too much youth dew. I'm youth dew fixated.

I really like the refi emulated Magie Noire. I feel like its a lot more similar to the original than I first thought. It's definitely...tamer? Woodier? Who knows.

Susan said...

Brian, I browse the Lauder site quite a bit - probably weekly, at least - too look at mostly lipsticks and skincare, and to a lesser extent fragrances. I see so few negative reviews in the other categories I look at, I assumed there was damage-control going on, but maybe all Lauder's products really are just that stinking awesome (I kind of believe it).

I am really happy the pissed-off Youth Dew lovers are letting them have it!

annemariec said...

Wonderful post, thanks, and wonderful sleuthing!

So what happened to Amber Nude? Was it a total flop? The first time I tried it I disliked it, but later, thinking I had dismissed it too quickly, I went back for another sniff, but it had gone. It was everywhere, then it was nowhere. You can still get it online, but I'm not going to almost-blind buy.

Anyway, it all goes to support an emphatic suggestion from Tania Sanchez (paraphrasing): If you love something, buy it. Otherwise you will find yourself bidding for it against other poor fools didn't buy it when they could.

Katie Puckrik said...

Thoroughly enjoyed your YD sleuthing, Brian, as well as all the forensic evidence in all the photos and ads. A wonderful topic - forget Shalimar, I think YD was the REAL bad girl perfume of the mid-century.

And FruitDiet, I cracked up at - and appreciated - your "I don't care" stance re all the perfume fiddlings. It's hard to maintain a righteous level of rage at reformulations when there's nothing we can do. I'm okay with the new Aromatics Elixir, too. Maybe it's as you say - cutting back on the oakmoss allows the rose to shine.

And your "intentionally weird" concept is one that gives me much pause myself as I try to parse a perfume. E.g. "Is this thing TRYING to smell like nail polish?"

Brian said...

Hey Annemarie, I don't remember ever seeing Youth Dew Amber Nude on the shelves. I wasn't spending as much time at the Lauder counter back then. But as recently as three years ago or so I picked a bottle up at an airport Duty Free shop. I wonder if it's still being sold in Europe? Don't know. I do really like Amber Nude and wear it often.

Brian said...

Hey Katie, you know, last Thursday Lauder was running a special. Bring in an empty bottle of perfume and get a ten dollar discount off a new bottle. I was in the weekend before, which is when I paid and smelled the tester, but could only officially "purchase" (ie pick it up) on Thursday. When I got the bottle home, it smelled like good old Youth Dew to me, and I thought maybe I'd just imagined the whole thing.

But I think the tester was different, even if the stock was older, and I feel like that's one of the things that erodes the rage. It's not just that there's nothing - and then some - you can do. You can't even be sure what you've smelled any more.

Still, I wonder if there is a tiny little contingent of women from the mid seventies out there who resisted ever being convinced that their Soft Youth Dew in the rust capped bottle didn't actually go away but lived on in Cinnabar.

One of the Lauder sales associates told me a few years ago that there's a constant stream of septuagenarians at the counter, insisting something's changed in the fragrances. And the Lauder reps are firmly instructed to deny it. I think of my grandmother in that situation, someone screwing with her already slightly compromised memory, and it seems pretty dastardly.

At least they have the internet to affirm they're not imagining things - if only someone can show them how to navigate it.

Anonymous said...

Ouch! I'm not a huge fan of Youth Dew, but I know quite a few women over 50 (60 and 70+) who seem to manage the internet (their iPods, Smart Phones, and positions as CEOs) just fine. And if I am really good, work hard, and stay healthy, I might just live to be one myself... albeit in Iris Nobile or Timbuktu...

I enjoyed your article very much...

annemariec said...

I feel very sad for your grandmother. Scent and memory are so closely linked. I would feel quite panicky in that situation. My mother wrote to Yardley many years ago to complain that her signature scent, April Violets, had been messed with. This was feisty behavior for her - she was not an assertive woman. But she was so MAD. Well of course Yardley wrote back politely but they denied it. At the time (1980s) Yardley was replacing dab-on bottles with sprays (Mum was mad about that too) and I suggested to her that the perfume might have smelled differently because it was being atomised. She did not believe me and she was probably right. She'd worn it for about 30 years by then. How could she not know what it smelled like? Dastardly is the word.

Brian said...

Using my grandmother, now deceased, as an example, anonymous, I have to go back a ways - and I suppose I'm thinking of her peers - but she was a Lauder user and that's my experience.

I'm 44. My grandmother died well over fifteen years ago. I barely understood the internet then. I don't know many in his/her fifties and sixties who can't send an email now - but even now, I do know quite a few women in their mid to late 70's (my aunt and a close friend among them) who have trouble with the internet, several email accounts, ipads, iphones, and the distinctions between pinterest, tumblr, twitter, et al. If at 44, I need a word file to keep track of all my infinite passwords and screen names - and I can BARELY keep track now, mind you - it doesn't seem insulting to me to think that in my seventies this will logically be even more difficult - when I'll need three times as many and things will have changed three hundred times over.

Frankly, I still have trouble with the internet. And when it comes to anything beyond superficial use I'm right up there with them.

My aunt asked me over a year ago to help her figure out facebook. Facebook had just changed its interface - again - and I was no help. My grandmothers both were incredibly smart women - smarter than the men in their lives by far. And they were often, like many women of that generation, told they were imagining things. So it makes me feel good that at this point they could have gotten online and outside their immediate circles, and found corroboration.

But yes, as smart and fierce as they were, they would have had trouble figuring out the internet. Just as perfume formulas change, the technological landscape does. I don't know a ton of septuagenarians running companies in my parts. They've been working their entire lives and though still active would like to know, I imagine, that when they go to grab their damn signature perfume it won't have been messed with by some twerp half their age in NYC.

Brian said...

Annemarie, my grandmother wore Azuree, Youth Dew, and Estee. Her bottles were pretty old by the time she died so I don't think she went through that - but I imagine her going through it and being pissed off, and even more pissed at being misled.

I think Katie's right. As perfume lovers, it's such a standard thing now, reformulation, that you can only kind of accept it and move on. But man, I think of someone like my grandmother, who had not a thousand fragrances but three or four, four she'd been loyal to, and one of them changing. That's a bummer. I'd be royally peeved too.

Anonymous said...

AAARRGGHHH! I just let 4 bottles including a Bath Oil go on eBay. I didn't know they'd messed with Youth Dew so badly. What a bummer!
Thanks for doing the research, I love a spy story,
Portia xx

Brian said...

I feel your pain. While I did bid on, and won, a full, still boxed, mid fifties box of I think 4 oz cologne, I have lost twice to rare Pavilion, which quickly escalates at the last minute right out of my budget. The bidding gets fierce and low down on that one.

Anonymous said...

I bought 1 a collectors edition with powder and 2.2 oz vintage youth dew for my mom shes saif she like she is 56 so im just guessing this is the perfume shes telling I will give it on her for xmas XD il warn her do not over spray hehe

Anonymous said...

Hi Brian......Mother01 from Elkton here. Thanks for mentioning me in your post. Any word on whether EL will bring back the ORIGINAL Youth dew powder and perfume? For the first time in 50 years my dresser does not have an EL box sitting on it. I finally dumped a full box of the new formula in the trash yesterday after it sat there for two years. I honestly gave it numerous tries but always ended up showering it off because it made me sick to my stomach! My dresser looks off just like the new formula smells! I actually said, "Goodbye Estée my old friend", when I dumped it wrapped in plastic. Sad but I wrapped it in plastic so the trash can didn't smell like it! );

Unknown said...

My Mother, now deceased, wore Youth Dew exclusively for many decades. As a result of Mom's fan-dom, her Sister has been a dedicated YD wearer for years as well. I'm relieved to know Mom will not be exposed to a reformulated YD. She would have never accepted a change in her 'signature' fragrance. Truthfully, I believe it would have been devastating, causing a boycott of the Lauder brand entirely.
Interestingly, I noticed the mention of Shalimar in the comments. Shalimar was the only fragrance my Mother ever complimented and admitted wearing before YD.
I'm now looking forward to speaking with my Aunt, who also wears YD, as to whether or not she's detected a change. If she has, the conversation should be quite interesting.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I love Youtth Dew. I dont have mother or nana thoughts with it as many do. I first smelled Youth Dew what in 1975 was termed a divorcee. A friend of my Aunts who wore exotic silk caftans , had short hair , large dark sunglasses , smoked 100mm cigs and drove a HUGE Chrysler NewYorker. She always had a cloud of YD around her and it suited her to a T!!! The great thing is many bottles were given as gifts and can be had for a song. Must go put sone on now! Thanks again

Unknown said...

Ok. Help. I'm totally confused. I love the vintage Cinnabar. I wear it to conserve my vintage Opium. I try to buy the parfum when I can - dry skin. So I just ordered Cinnabar Soft Youth Dew. What will it smell like? Some freakish love child. Time will tell. Thanks for clearing up the timeline. Elena's great isn't she? We're running a little gardenia perfume experiment.

Unknown said...

eBay! Mother01, always a coin to be had on eBay! No more trash! ��

Anonymous said...

I have to speak up for Youth Dew by Estee Lauder. I fell in love with this fragrance when I was 17 years old (I am now 68 and still wear it)! I have had comments made over the years about how pleasant a fragrance it is and my youngest granddaughter fell in love with it too. Long live Youth Dew fragrance by Estee Lauder!