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Repulsed upon first encounter, I have nevertheless maintained a strange flirtation with Youth Dew over the years that has finally morphed into something resembling fascination and respect. Sometimes my feelings border on like, certainly not love, but at least no longer utter revulsion. I remember sniffing the bottle at an Estee Lauder counter very early on in my first experimentations with fragrance. It hit me wrong in every way imaginable – the old-fashioned design of the bottle, the weird and borderline offensive name, the dank darkness of the juice and the far-too-complex –for- a- teenager’s- appreciation odor were just too much. As a young girl I simply thought the vile juice was marketed to little old ladies who actually must want to smell like little old ladies. I lacked the imagination or the grace to conjure up a time in history when this must have smelled new & exciting, possibly even *sexy*? Then, (and still now to varying degrees), the complete package of impressions fills me with an unexplainable sadness, the way that vintage trinkets in an antique store or old lace stained brown by the passage of time makes me sad. Ghosts of another time. Upon my first several encounters I personified Youth Dew as Miss Havisham - with her dead flowers and mouldering cake and tattered wedding dress - desperately clinging to something long gone that will never be again. A tragic spinster of a perfume.
And yet. . . and yet I can’t seem to leave well enough alone. I revisit and retry. I followed every board’s recommendation and got the bath oil and it indeed has a unique beauty all its own. It has grown on me, needled at me. I am nearly addicted to the cola-like notes and sometimes greedily inhale from my bottle, but I am rarely able to wear it and enjoy it without a hefty dose of self-consciousness and a modicum of regret. This smells anachronistic on me in a way that other, far older classics don’t strike me such as Shalimar, Mitsouko, or Habanita. It feels at odds with my personality & sense of self. This strikes me as far older than something introduced in the 1950s, closer in feel to ancient ceremonial spices. Despite my ambivalence however, I somehow find myself with a large collection of YD products including the EDP, bath oil, dusting powder and soap. Something about it intrigues me. As mentioned, the bath oil is the way to go – you can dab in nice discrete amounts – the sillage is soft but goes on forever. If you love this fragrance you are lucky indeed as it’s one of the best bargains around.
I can’t deny the comparisons to Opium & the similarities, however in my mind they are yin and yang to one another – Opium is smoldering heat and YD is coolly chaste. The “sex” in Opium is hot and passionate - tantric. In YD, it’s more like sexuality that has been suppressed, denied. Like unsullied, sad-eyed convent dwellers covering up their natural, female smells with the more “innocent” scents of powder and soap. Something about it unnerves me – a primal dark sensuality lurking below an artificial virtuousness.
This is not to say I don’t like it as a perfume, it just that it seems to invoke a melancholy that while sometimes can be solemnly lovely, is more often a mood killer. Somehow the vibrancy and animalic heat in Opium make it feel more contemporary, easier to spend the day with. I do hope my relationship with YD continues to evolve & predict that the bath oil will always be a part of my collection. Though I don’t enjoy wearing it often, I concede that it is an extraordinary scent, and sometimes a guilty pleasure I wear for myself when I’m by myself and don’t have to worry about the statement it makes.
21st December, 2010