Stop Hating On My 'Grandma Perfume'

Joan Crawford and Gloria Swanson wore Estee Lauder Youth Dew, and you can't get more glamorous than that.
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Joan Crawford and Gloria Swanson wore Estee Lauder Youth Dew, and you can't get more glamorous than that.

My article about historical perfumes got a few comments about classic fragrances smelling like grandma perfume. I totally get it. After all, when our grams were young, these were the fragrances that were readily available. They didn't have 1000 flankers of Gucci Guilty or whatever to choose from, so they stuck with their favorites and wore them every day.

However, the more I get into perfume, the less I buy the whole "grandma" schtick. It's just that our modern palate has been so whitewashed by generations of clean/light floral/shampoo-style fragrances that anything with balls freaks us out a little. We can blame CK One and its early '90s brethren for that, because they became popular as a reaction to the loud perfumes like Poison and Obsession that dominated the '80s.

I'm obsessed with perfume blogs like Now Smell This and Bois de Jasmin. They're written so beautifully and their contributors are incredibly knowledgable. I have been sniffing my way down their "100 Perfumes Every Perfumista Must Try" and came upon Estee Lauder Youth Dew, which I've mentioned previously.

Back off, haters.

Back off, haters.

Ah, Youth Dew. It's described as a "spicy, sexy oriental/chypre" with notes of bergamot, clove, cinnamon and amber. In the winter, I am all about curling up with a sexy, warm scent since I'm currently not curling up with a sexy, warm dude. So down to Macy's I went.

"Oh, dear, you don't want that!" said the lady behind the counter. "That's too old for you."

Ummm, nah. How about not? 

"I don't really like the whole fresh and light thing, especially not during the winter," I said.

"Have you smelled our new one, Modern Muse?" she asked.

"Yeah, it's OK."

I spritzed myself with Youth Dew and traipsed away. (Just one spritz! This stuff is powerful.) It smelled incredibly familiar, but I couldn't place it. I asked my mom and bingo! It was the signature scent of one of the dearest old ladies of my life, my mom's Aunt Alyce. 

I used to visit her often as a small child and Youth Dew was the scent that permeated their home. I loved it instantly. Alyce died last year and I hadn't seen her since I moved to Minneapolis, but it was a lovely reminder of a woman I had admired.

Yes, Youth Dew is the perfume of grammies everywhere. But who cares? The longer I wore it, the more I enjoyed it. It opens loudly, with a Coca-Cola brightness and a blast of balsam. It’s intense, but stay put! It dries down to a lovely, slightly-woody spicy base and clings to your skin. In short, it feels cozy and warm like a big beige cashmere sweater. 

Joan Crawford and Gloria Swanson wore it; can you get more glamorous than that?

Because I thought Youth Dew might be a bit heavy for daily wear in a retail environment, I went to eBay and purchased a bottle of the now-discontinued Youth Dew Amber Nude. Tom Ford played around with the original a few years ago when he was working with Estée, adding magnolia and carnation and playing up the sandalwood. It's just a bit lighter than its predecessor, which is what big classic fragrance companies do when they want to appeal to a younger nose.

YDAN was all well and good, but I couldn't get the OG out of my head. I had read that many Youth Dew devotees preferred to wear Estée's bath oil in lieu of the perfume, so I went to Nordstrom to check it out. And helloooo, I'm obsessed with soaking my life away in my giant clawfoot tub, so a product that could do double-duty was a product I needed to get my cold little hands on.

"You wear Youth Dew? How old are you?" asked the woman at the counter. I leaned in so she could smell me. "It smells lovely on you!"

"I know!" I said. She handed over the bath oil. "I wear it too," she said. "It just seems a bit mature for you."

"I get bored with all those fruity florals," I said. "I wanted something a bit more… classic."

My new darlings. Photo by Erin Pederson.

My new darlings.

The Youth Dew Bath Oil stays closer to my skin than the spray, which I like. It's quite strong at first, but it mixes with my body heat and becomes a lovely, classic exotic spice as the day goes on. And two drops in the bath are divine! (No more than that or you'll get a headache.) It feel so luxe and fancy to lounge in a bath of hot, perfumed water, and you know I love to get fancy.

I've been stopped a few times and complimented on my perfume. "It's Youth Dew!" I say proudly. "Your mom probably wore it."

Wear a classic fragrance around for a few days and see how it develops. You may fall in love.

Presented by Estee Lauder