Birthday Ladies : Estee Lauder Youth Dew and Robert Piguet Fracas

This year two formidable classics celebrate their sixtieth anniversaries. Robert Piguet Fracas (1948) will turn 65, while Estée Lauder Youth Dew (1953) will mark its 60th year. These remarkable fragrances elicit strong emotions and inspire us even today. Youth Dew set the trend for rich orientals, while no tuberose perfume can be spared a comparison with Fracas.

fracasYouth Dew

These perfumes are also notable because they were created by two of the first female perfumers: Germaine Cellier and Josephine Catapano, respectively.  The perfume industry of the 1940s and 50s was a boy’s club. In 1947, Donald William Dresden wrote in his article, The Twenty “Noses” of France“Only a few people have the supersense of smell necessary to become a Nose—for reasons known only to Noses themselves, no woman has ever had it…” Dresden, reporting for the New York Times, simply reiterated what he heard around Grasse, France, the main perfumery hub of those days.

It’s a testament to Cellier’s and Catapano’s talent that they were recognized and admired (sometimes grudgingly so) by their peers. Cellier also created trend-setting fragrances like Robert Piguet Bandit (1944) and Balmain Vent Vert (1947), while Catapano counted gems like Norell (1968) and Guy Laroche Fidji (1966) in her portfolio. She also was responsible for training a young lab technician by the name of Sophia Grojsman, who went on to create some of the best-known fragrances of the 20th century, Lancôme Trésor, Yves Saint Laurent Paris and Calvin Klein Eternity.

Another nice surprise is that these classics are still available to us in good form (not counting the necessary adjustments due to the regulations). I only hope that we can celebrate many more anniversaries like this!

Images: Robert Piguet Fracas and the original 1960 Youth Dew ads.

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65 Comments

  • Jenna: Thanks for an interesting story. I don’t think I know what Youth Dew smells like! February 26, 2013 at 8:34am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s rich, earthy, spicy! A formidable perfume, in other words. :) Worth sampling, just to know what it’s like. February 26, 2013 at 9:31am Reply

  • AnnK: My mother wore Youth Dew and after she passed away my sisters and I discovered 5 unopened bottles in her things. I can’t bring myself to open mine, but I loved reading about it. I may just go sniff it at the counter. February 26, 2013 at 8:51am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for sharing this touching story, Ann. I hope that you can smell Youth Dew soon. It might bring back nice memories of your mother. I find the same comfort in Lancome Climat, which was worn by my great grandmother. Whenever I smell it, it reminds me of her. February 26, 2013 at 9:33am Reply

      • AnnK: Thank you, Victoria. I will smell it when I go to the mall this weekend to look for a prom dress for my daughter. She’s being too impatient to find a dress that will make everyone go ahhhh! February 26, 2013 at 10:19am Reply

        • Victoria: I can just imagine! :) If it’s her first prom, then she’s probably already trying to plan out every single detail. Enjoy the shopping (and hope, Youth Dew too). February 26, 2013 at 10:46am Reply

    • sharon: Oh, Annk,
      My grandmother, mother, aunt and now myself have worn Youth Dew.
      Your post made me cry.
      When my mother passed away my dad had a little bottle of her bath oil (Ydew) by his bedside to remind him of her scent.
      Please open the bottles and feel the joy of her prescence. May 25, 2013 at 4:52pm Reply

  • Ines: Youth Dew is THE BEST. I have Fracas too, but tuberose fragrances are too sweet for me. February 26, 2013 at 9:10am Reply

    • Victoria: I love putting a couple of drops into my bath water. It only take 2-3 drops to perfume the entire bathroom. February 26, 2013 at 9:34am Reply

      • solanace: I love your ideas of perfumed baths! February 26, 2013 at 2:05pm Reply

        • Victoria: I find that few things are more relaxing! February 26, 2013 at 3:42pm Reply

  • Portia: I recently scored some Vintage Fracas Parfum. It is cooler and classier than I expected. Still lavish and heaps of fun but different. Maybe the age of the frag has hurt it?
    Portia xx February 26, 2013 at 9:16am Reply

    • Victoria: Hard to say! Plus, vintage Fracas is a bit tricky. Fracas has suffered through being faked, reformulated, then re-reformulated, etc. The original formula is a big, sweet tuberose with a huge peach note and lots of sandalwood. It’s sweet and bubbly, uber=feminine. There is a slight hint of rich musky notes, but nothing overly animalic. February 26, 2013 at 9:36am Reply

  • Bela: In a couple of months, I will be the same age as Fracas. Pity I can’t wear it. February 26, 2013 at 9:25am Reply

    • Victoria: You’re a Lutens lady in my mind anyway! :) February 26, 2013 at 9:42am Reply

  • Elizabeth: I have funny stories about both of these great perfumes! I first discovered Youth Dew when I was an exchange student in Berlin. Its spicy darkness entranced me, but the sales assistant, a girl of about 20, was horrified by my choice. “Das ist ein Duft fuer Muttis!” she cried: A perfume for moms, not young women like me. I bought it anyway, and loved it. Fracas was one of the few big white florals I actually liked, until I witnessed a horrifying incident at Sephora. A customer picked up the bottle and…..get ready, this might give you nightmares – proceeded to spray herself ten times under each armpit! The sight and the overwhelming smell meant the end of wearing Fracas for me. February 26, 2013 at 9:30am Reply

    • Victoria: Oy, that would be too much even with a subtle perfume like Hermessence, but Fracas… Definitely not the kind of fragrance you want to overapply!

      The other day I went to store to sample Jean Louis Scherrer, and when I asked for a tester, the SA was a bit reluctant and started to give me a long lecture on other more “appropriate” fragrances. JLS turned out to be a fantastic green chypre (even in its reformulated state, it smells great). Not sure what she was talking about. February 26, 2013 at 9:44am Reply

      • OperaFan: How interesting that JLS is still in production. Would love to have you write a comparison between vintage and reformulation.
        I have a tiny 3-4ml of the perfume (which I assume is vintage). It can be a bit much for me so I prefer to wear its 2 (vintage) cousins, Sisley’s Eau Du Soir and Houbigant’s Apercu, which may fit into more of that “appropriate” mode.

        Elizabeth – LoL at your stories! February 26, 2013 at 3:03pm Reply

        • Victoria: Youth Dew keeps really well. I have a bottle from the late 1950s, and it’s in more or less perfect condition. By contrast, I was peeved the other day when I discovered that my Hiris turned. And that bottle was purchased only 2 years ago from the boutique! February 26, 2013 at 3:48pm Reply

        • OperaFan: I should clarify – my little bottle of perfume is the JLS….
          YD I have a small vintage cologne, and I think that should be a lifetime supply! :) February 27, 2013 at 11:41am Reply

      • Astrid: It’s nice to know Scherrer – my personal desert island fragrance – is still being produced! I bought a ton of backups when sightings began to dwindle and haven’t seen it in the States except by mail order from discount sites. No major department stores carry it here. I don’t understand why the owner, Designer Parfums, Ltd, won’t advertise it more. Really, when it comes to deep green, nothing compares to Scherrer. I have the old EDP, EDT and Parfum and the new EDP and actually kind of prefer the new. It has less moss (though still plenty) and a little more narcissus and hyacinth in the middle. But still very green and citrus all the way through. The main thing with Scherrer and other old school fragrances like Youth Dew, as you noted earlier, is the presence of a fully thought out, lasting drydown. February 27, 2013 at 6:43am Reply

        • Victoria: So happy to meet more Scherrer fans! It’s still available more or less widely in Europe, but I haven’t seen it anywhere in the US. February 27, 2013 at 9:03am Reply

          • OperaFan: V – I would love to know how Scherrer is able to continue to create such a generously mossy fragrance and still be able to sell it in Europe. I would assume it’s not all oakmoss, but still… Do they know something that other perfumers don’t? February 27, 2013 at 11:45am Reply

            • Victoria: It’s still possible to use some mossy notes, and along with mossy synthetics, and you can at least approximate a chypre. But this style is completely out of fashion (especially in the US), so these brands don’t do well there. For instance, here you will see Aromatics Elixir and Magie Noire recommended in beauty magazines as “parfums sexy,” so I suppose that the love for cotton candy gourmands notwithstanding, there is an audience for these bold mossy perfumes. February 28, 2013 at 6:51am Reply

      • Eva S: I just recently bought a bottle of JLS online (almost a blind-buy…) and it’s truly lovely!
        Review please! :-) February 27, 2013 at 3:49pm Reply

    • Daisy: Ewww! That truly is a horrifying story, Elizabeth. People are so weird! February 26, 2013 at 2:06pm Reply

  • Susan: With Fracas being a heady statement, less is more. Although I apply it sparingly, the sillage goes forever. February 26, 2013 at 9:47am Reply

    • Victoria: I usually dab it, because even one spray feels overwhelming to me. Plus, when you apply it lightly, you can enjoy the creamy peach nuances of the perfume even more. February 26, 2013 at 10:47am Reply

      • Susan: You are right that dabbing is the way to go with Fracas, Victoria. I put just one dab of pure perfume on my upper wrist this morning, and it is still going strong. I liked your insight about the peach nuances – definitely there – a southern belle. Maybe this should have been Vivien Leigh`s signature fragrance as Charlotte in Gone with the Wind:) February 26, 2013 at 2:11pm Reply

        • Susan: er, sorry I mean`t Scarlett February 26, 2013 at 2:19pm Reply

        • Victoria: Your southern belle description is so perfect! :) February 26, 2013 at 3:43pm Reply

          • Susan: Looking forward to that JLS review, Victoria. I have been wearing Scherrer for some time now, and although I love the first green shot, and the ethereal powdery dry down, there is something in the middle that I can`t identify. One of those things that makes a fragrance so intriguing is the complexity, so sadly missing in many of the current crop of popular fragrances. February 26, 2013 at 4:13pm Reply

            • Victoria: The drydown is gorgeous, isn’t it! I know what you mean about this fragrance being so different from any of the newer launches. There is nothing wrong with gourmands and fruity florals, of course, but when every single release is nearly identical, it can get very old. February 27, 2013 at 5:46am Reply

  • civava: It is nice to hear something like that in these times. And just hope we will celebrate more similar anniversiaries. It happens I like them both. They are my kind of perfumes. February 26, 2013 at 11:23am Reply

    • Victoria: I love these kind of perfume anniversaries too, especially when we can still glimpse (more or less) what the original perfume must have smelled like. Of course, people who have worn Youth Dew for years might find it very different today. February 26, 2013 at 1:26pm Reply

  • moi: When I was a teenager in the late 1970s, Youth Dew was very popular among my peer group. Can you imagine teen girls today spritzing Youth Dew? I still love it and wear it regularly. There is simply nothing quite like its herbal/amber/cola fizz, and it never fails to make me feel happy when I smell it. Although I discovered Fracas many years later as an adult and so don’t experience the same warm fuzzy trips down memory lane when I wear it, I adore it for similar reasons: superbly crafted and unafraid to be bold. February 26, 2013 at 11:53am Reply

    • Victoria: I can’t imagine that today at all! But when I was learning about Youth Dew during my apprenticeship and wearing it almost daily, I’ve received many compliments on it (and one negative comment too, but it must have been because I overapplied). My favorite way to use it is in the bath. It’s so relaxing. February 26, 2013 at 1:31pm Reply

  • Vishishta: My mother wore Youth Dew in her advanced age, and I teased her about being a victim of wishful labeling! After she died, I inherited a small bottle of her perfume and was amazed at how wonderful it was! Completely different on me than on her, a mark of a good perfume–and yet still reminding me of her. Thanks for this history. February 26, 2013 at 12:53pm Reply

    • Victoria: For the longest time I thought that I knew what Youth Dew smelled like–earthy, dark, heavy, cloying, but imagine my surprise when I smelled it one day and found that it was rich, woody, with lots of spicy notes. Of course, it’s still a love or hate perfume, but the best ones tend to be. February 26, 2013 at 1:36pm Reply

  • Eric: I had no idea that Josephine Catapano trained Grojsman. What a lady! February 26, 2013 at 1:49pm Reply

    • Victoria: Josephine was also responsible for pushing IFF to give Sophia a chance to be trained as a perfume in the first place! February 26, 2013 at 3:34pm Reply

  • fleurdelys: Youth Dew has been a favorite of mine for years. I notice a lemony note running through it that keeps it from getting too heavy or cloying. Once when I was wearing it, my aunt told me I smelled “fresh”! February 26, 2013 at 3:01pm Reply

    • moi: That citrus is one of my favorite things about Youth Dew–I think a lot of folks overlook it, but it’s what makes it so interesting, that tug of war between the heavy spices and that fresh burst. February 26, 2013 at 3:40pm Reply

      • Victoria: As in life, the opposites attract and make for a good chemistry. :) February 26, 2013 at 3:51pm Reply

    • Victoria: I didn’t think about the citrusy note until I first dissolved some Youth Dew in my bathroom. My husband commented that he smelled oranges! February 26, 2013 at 3:47pm Reply

  • OperaFan: You know – I’ve never had the opportunity to try Fracas – in any form.
    I did recently manage to find a 1oz bottle of YD cologne (bottle marked “France”) in an antique store. The fragrance keeps very well, it would seem, and in small quantities is quite lovely. February 26, 2013 at 3:06pm Reply

    • Victoria: Fracas is definitely a must-try, but I don’t promise that you would love it. It’s such a polarizing fragrance. On the other hand, it’s a reference tuberose perfume. February 26, 2013 at 3:48pm Reply

  • allgirlmafia: I’ve read many passionate reviews of Youth Dew. Not all of them favorable. I am secretly hoping it becomes my next grand love. I have a curiosity about ‘difficult’ fragrances. I bought Aromatics Elixir and Climat. AE was not instant love for me, but one day we clicked and it was beautiful! I prefer the substance and character of the classics to the new offerings available today. February 26, 2013 at 4:41pm Reply

    • Victoria: AE also wasn’t an instant love for me, but the more I smell it, the more I fall under its spell. It has a beautiful sillage too and unlike some of the fragrances from the era, it doesn’t smell at all dated (especially if worn with a light hand).

      Hope that you can try Youth Dew. I also predict that it might require a longer courtship like AE. February 27, 2013 at 5:42am Reply

  • annemariec: Sounds like we should be giving props to Estee Lauder and Robert Piguet for trusting women perfumers in an era where few other people would. I must try Fidji, I never have. Is it much deformed by reformulation, do you know Victoria?

    I too save Youth Dew for the bath, and only in winter. Oh how I love that explosion of scent as the oil hits the running water. It’s the best stress buster I know. And it has always amused me that that innocent baby blue packaging conceals something so dark and sexy inside! February 26, 2013 at 5:14pm Reply

    • Victoria: I haven’t tried Fidji recently, and I’m a little bit reluctant to. It was one of my mom’s favorite perfumes at one point, and I associate the scent with her so strongly. It would make me very sad if it’s completely changed. But I will have to try it, and since Fidji is sold at all of the small perfumeries here, it should be an easy task. February 27, 2013 at 5:40am Reply

      • Susan: Further to your comments about Fidgi and the memories of your mother that it evokes, I just want to rant about rampant reformulation that goes on in the perfume industry. Why does this constantly happen, since perfumes develop such loyal followings. Is is a cost or availability thing. Perhaps you could shed some light on this, Victoria. February 27, 2013 at 8:41am Reply

  • Cyndi: So ironic your post is about Fracas, as that’s what I’m wearing today! And I also love Youth Dew…in fact, for a long time that was my late sister’s signature fragrance, andI also have a bottle as it is one of my fave Orientals. February 26, 2013 at 6:02pm Reply

    • Victoria: What a fun coincidence! I was planning to take a Youth Dew bath last night, but I got home too late. So, it will be saved for tonight. February 27, 2013 at 5:38am Reply

  • ojaddicte: I love Youth Dew. The incense and woodiness are what drew me to it, and it has been in heavy rotation this winter. I find it as cosy as a cashmere blanket in sub-zero weather, particularly when I am all bundled up in a soft sweater, an enveloping scarf, my parka and a great touque. February 26, 2013 at 9:31pm Reply

    • Victoria: This image is just perfect! A hint of Youth Dew that escapes from under the layers makes a cold winter day seem warmer. :) February 27, 2013 at 5:38am Reply

    • Susan: I’m definitely going to try YD for the bath. I will also try the dusting powder!

      BTW Victoria. I love the vintage ads at the top of the article, in particular the one for YD. How lovely to see the beautiful sillhouette of a ‘real’ female figure, instead of anorexic looking models used in many of today`s advertisements. This ad reminded me of a Grecian goddess statue, or a Degas nude – so beautiful and classical. February 27, 2013 at 8:31am Reply

      • Victoria: I do too! That image is so beautiful and conveys right away the feeling of the perfume–something to use for one’s own pleasure, to pamper oneself. February 27, 2013 at 9:04am Reply

  • Joan: Great story! I’d call Fracas my #1 favorite perfume. February 27, 2013 at 1:49am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s such a statement fragrance, very memorable! February 27, 2013 at 5:37am Reply

  • Astrid: One thing I noticed about current Youth Dew formulations is that the version in the opaque blue bottle seems to be the classic one. The version in the tall glass bottle has been altered and is thinner and more chemical-smelling. I bought several blue bottles as back up some time ago. February 27, 2013 at 6:34am Reply

    • Victoria: I think that the one in blue bottle is the parfum, richer concentration. I also like it better. February 27, 2013 at 9:01am Reply

  • Amy V: When I was a young teenager in the early 90s, a relative gave me a small bottle of Youth Dew – I think they must have chosen it based on the name. I had a tiny Miss Dior too, probably from the same relative. I must see if Mum still has them in a cupboard somewhere, because I can’t actually remember what they smelled like! February 27, 2013 at 6:40am Reply

    • Victoria: I hope that you still have them! If so, those are the perfume gems to cherish. :) February 27, 2013 at 9:02am Reply

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