Estée Lauder : Youth Dew

Created by : Josephine Catapano (?)

Date : 1953

Genre : Cola amber

Concentration : Eau de parfum

My friend Roland knows wine.  He elbowed me at the cinema while watching Midnight in Paris to signal out a very prestigious bottle of wine that was at Salvador Dali’s table.  I hadn’t noticed… I was too busy enjoying the Youth Dew that was wafting through the air.  At first I thought I was surrounded by several coke fiends.  The smell of cola was dizzying, as was the heavy butter scent, no doubt from the popcorn.  But it was Youth Dew that was mystical.  It brought me to another time.

When Estée Lauder realized that American women didn’t buy their own perfumes, she tricked them.  She came out with a bath oil which she named Youth Dew.  Apparently, she asked the perfumer to make it gentle enough that it could be put directly on the skin as perfume, if desired.  When the ladies were seduced by its scent, she came out with the eau de parfum.  No one can accuse Estée Lauder of not being a smart businesswoman.  I wish I had one-tenth of her savvy.

I don’t like to list notes that most people won’t get.  Most perfumes can be reduced to 3 or 4 notes and it’s the same with Youth Dew.  It’s a herbal amber (think balsam wood, not vanilla)… but it has a distinctive and predominant cola facet.  When I hold the scent strip up to my nose, I also get a frankincense note.  I like to use Youth Dew in my perfume workshops because it is so distinctive and fun… a little goes a long way and, true to Estée Lauder’s mission to provide women with a little luxury for little cost, this one is extremely reasonable.

Youth Dew is classic top-down architecture.  It starts with a slightly citrus top… moves to a herbal cola centre and ends with a sultry, sexy frankincense finish.  I know of very few perfumes where I look forward to the basenotes… this is one of them.  I had a great time wearing it today.  I was never bored.

In Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen used Parlez-Moi d’Amour as the leitmotif for the past in his movie and although it doesn’t hark back all the way to La Belle Époque as the movie might suggest (it was written in 1930), it’s a lovely song.  Enjoy!

Top image : Photo of Estée Lauder

Guerlain : Shalimar

Created by : Jacques Guerlain

Date : 1925

Genre : Animalic amber

Concentration : Eau de toilette

After a couple of downer posts, I decided to write about something that I love… Guerlain’s Shalimar.  With my novice nose, there are few perfumes I can pick out of a lineup and Shalimar is one of them.  For instance, the last time I recognized Jacques Guerlain’s masterpiece was last week when Ricky asked me to go with him to the Brahms concert simulcast by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The opening piece was the Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra in A Minor, Op. 102, Gustavo Dudamel conducting with classy Renaud Capuçon on violin and his alterego/brother, animalic Gautier Capuçon, on the cello.  It was a concert to remember… so beautiful… and what made it even more perfect was the Shalimar that was wafting from the row in front of us.

Shalimar is one of the most storied fragrances in history… the stories being either fact or fiction or “faction”, as Diana Vreeland would say.  Supposedly, Jacques Guerlain created Shalimar in an instant by simply pouring newly discovered ethyl vanillin  into a bottle of Jicky (1889).  And supposedly, Shalimar was inspired by Coty’s Emeraude (1921) and the fragrance was adopted by American women first and by French women later.  We’ll never know how much all of this is true but what we do know is that Shalimar was officially launched in 1925 at the “Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes” and this was hugely important because it placed perfume firmly in the realm of decorative arts… which is where it belongs.  I, for one, look forward to the day that I visit a decorative arts museum and among the gowns, vases, lamps, furniture pieces and carpets we’ll be able to sniff the perfume of the day!

Shalimar is a beautifully balanced, sensuous vanilla-centric amber with a rich animalic subtext that reminds of a deep basso profundo.  The much talked about animalic notes are nowhere near the skanky notes of Serge Lutens Muscs Koublaï Khän but more like a resinous, smoky note.  Shalimar does smell powdery sometimes but just when you think you’ve defined it… the powder disappears.

I think that Shalimar is perfect for men now that women have vacated the perfume middle-ground and moved uptown to whatever is sweet and ultra-floral.  To test it, I wore Shalimar to the Montreal Grand Prix F1 street festival Friday night and among the hairy-knuckled Guccis, Armanis and Hugo Boss’s… it outdid the competition.  Let’s just hope that Guerlain never plays around with the formula… it’s perfect just as it is.


Top image : The original bottle of Shalimar designed by Raymond Guerlain

Bottom image : Photo of Gautier Capuçon by Erin Baiano for the New York Times

Serge Lutens : Muscs Koublaï Khän

Created by : Christopher Sheldrake

Date : 1998

Genre : Animalic musk

Concentration : Eau de parfum

I didn’t understand Muscs Koublaï Khän by Serge Lutens until I saw my first Wagnerian opera.  To be specific, it was Wagner’s Die Valkyries.  When Siegmund stumbled on stage dressed in animal hides and stinking from being chased and Wotan charged across the stage in knee-high leather boots with big metal straps and a metal vest looking like he hadn’t seen the inside of a shower stall in a couple of months, Muscs Koublaï Khän suddenly made complete sense… the fur skins, the leather, the animal smells… GOT IT!

Muscs Koubläi Khän is a great big animalic musk… on steroids.  Supposedly they used all the animalic notes available to the perfumer : several musks, civet (cat urine), castoreum (beaver marking scent and urine), costus roots (wet dog), ambergris (salty whale vomit), eye of newt (OK… I made that last one up, there is no eye of newt)… but whatever is in there, it smells about as animalic as it gets.  Even armpit Eau d’Hermès seems almost tame compared to it… a cat compared to a lion. 

Muscs Koublaï Khän might not be wearable (and this is debatable) but what’s truly wonderful about it is that Serge Lutens has staked new territory with it.  I can’t imagine it will ever become a best seller but it might bring us somewhere else… far away from fruity florals… to something completely new and wild and delicious.

This one is VERY hard to describe.  I’m up to 6 tags (or notes) and I could have added more.  It’s like pastry… very much a Guerlain in a sense… but not edible.  Think of musk and honey and some rose and animal scents dancing around in there.  It’s as spectacular and as wicked as a Wagnerian opera.

When and where to wear MKK?  I have no idea!  First date?  No way.  In bed?  Too risky.  You might just buy it like I did because in the history of perfume this one stands alone… for the moment… and it’s magnificent.

Now back to our story where Siegmund and Hunding are about to fight while Sieglinde looks on in horror.  Brünnhilde  is about to appear (at right of screen) to help Siegmund against Wotan’s wishes.


Quick Brünnhilde!  Tell Siegmund about the sword!

Siegmund, trust in the sword!  Trust in the sword!!!

Oh no!  It’s Wotan!  THAT BASTARD!

Brünnhilde!  Get Sieglinde out of there!  There’s no time to waste.  Don’t forget the broken sword!  HURRY!  RUN AND HIDE!

Sniffles… sorry, I’m too verklempt to go on.  Have a nice week everyone.


Top image : Publicity still of Bryn Terfel as Wotan by Brigitte Lacombe for the Metropolitan Opera

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