August 19, 2012
“I have never worked a day in my life without selling. If I believe in something, I sell it, and I sell it hard.”-
Perfume is always about the story, and the true legends transcend time and trends. Long after the smell of sugar fades, we will have Chanel no. 5, Shalimar, and Youth Dew. Youth Dew isn’t as well known among the younger set, but it is addictive to those who love it. It is a fragrance that is a bit fierce, an Oriental that has notes of pine among the cinnamon. Any fruit in it is used to soften, not to be “fruity”. It comes on strong, but wears down to a warm beautiful cloud of spice. It is not for shrinking violets, and that has always been Youth Dew’s appeal. In 1953, it was a very independent fragrance personality among the sweet, ladylike florals such as White Shoulders. It was a glamour scent, worn by the woman whose psyche was more exotic.
If our perfume is a representation of our inner self, Youth Dew wasn’t so much bad girl as adventuring. It was a scent chosen by women, for women, not their husbands. That was a huge part of the scent’s success. In a sense, it was very representative of Estee Lauder herself, the woman who, in the 1950s, created her own creams and started out with one product and who managed to leverage one product into being one of the biggest moguls of the 20th century. In perfume, marketing is perfume’s lifeblood. A fragrance not only needs to resonate, it needs people to know about it. Estee’s hands on approach to giving samples to everyone from Princess Grace on down was deeply effective. Every woman received a sample for her handbag. She made sure that was part of her mission. My grandfather was the gentleman who helped design, package and market it.
© Estate of Peter Fink / Art Resource, NY
My grandfather, Gene Moore, was a glamorous character, a real-life Don Draper, a man who kept a tuxedo hanging in his office on the 96th floor of the Empire State Building in case he need to go to an event. He cofounded a company named Richford Corp after WWII, with a German entrepreneur named Paul Roehrich . It specialized in the marketing and packaging of perfumes, and clients include Coty, Estee Lauder, Nina Ricci, Avon, Revlon, Helena Rubenstein, Caron, and many others. At one point, they had over 60% of the enclosure business in the world, as well as patents for perfume sprays.
Youth Dew was introduced in 1953
Estee Lauder and my grandfather knew each other quite well. One of my father’s favorite memories is Christmas, when my grandfather took around bottles of perfume to every lady they knew, a Santa of goodies. He knew the biggest names in the perfume business. Many of his company’s designs are still in use, and every time I see a bottle of Jean Nate After-Bath Splash, I smile. He did Nina Ricci, Coty, Elizabeth Arden, Chanel. I always have a bottle of Jean Nate and my mother’s favorite perfume, L’Air du Temps. L’Air du Temps brings my mother to me with every spritz. She wore it at least partly out of adoration for him, Nina Ricci was his client and he gave her the first bottle.
Model Suzy Parker, Elle 1953
But for me, as a child, I didn’t know any of this. I just knew that my grandmother had a corner, very neatly placed, with boxes of Youth Dew. Boxes and boxes, as high as me. It was her favorite scent, and she wore it every time I saw her, although there were other bottles. It had a soft but sharp bite, and to this day, I love Oriental fragrances. It was a mark of independence to wear Youth Dew, a sign of a strong mindedness. As I research perfumes, especially vintage houses, I become more and more interested in the enigmatic nature of my grandparents marriage. Why do people fall in love? In my case, I couldn’t see any passion in my grandmother, any sense of romance, of adventure. It wasn’t until I started thinking of the kind of woman who wears Youth Dew, and wears it year in and year out. Perfume, after all, doesn’t just create a shadow persona, it’s a powerful way of keeping memories around you. Think of the waft of your first boyfriend’s cologne after years of not seeing him. It’s a shocking perfume, not trendy, and its appeal was discovered by women at first, not the marketers. It stood alone. In her case, it’s only partially because Estee Lauder sent it-after all, they had many perfumes as time went on.
I never met my grandfather. He died shockingly young. All I have are the stories, the tidbits I glean from my father and his brothers and sisters. But his story tells me so much. My grandfather was scrappy. He had to be. He was Irish with 14 brothers and sisters. When he was 9, he was put out of the house to make room for his siblings. The situation was not unusual for Irish during the Depression, but heartbreaking to me. He ran booze for the mob in Brooklyn, and was eventually taken in by a doctor’s family. When he was fourteen, he met my grandmother, Dorothy, at an Erasmus High football game. He worked for himself at various jobs that included driving a milk cart and being a football player for the New York Titans. My grandparents dated secretly for years. She was the Vice President of Equitable Life Insurance’s daughter,privileged, and a street kid was definitely not in the cards. But she became his family. Eventually, they married, and had six children. Learning all this, I realized how much loss my grandmother experienced losing him. To me, the wearing of the perfume was a source of comfort to my grandmother, a reminder of the love she had lost. She was a very intelligent woman, one who volunteered for good causes, who snuck out to meet her beau, and dance at jazz clubs. That’s the spirit of the scent, the glamour and rebellion and class. It was her secret, her hidden persona. The shadow identity so many women strive for when choosing a signature scent. She achieved it. Her Mona Lisa smile was belied by her fragrance, and her age. As an older woman, she never lost her self- possession, her storage of self. But her Youth Dew was in honor of her lost love. And it’s my reminder of my legacy.
–Jessa Moore, Guest Poster
Jessa Moore is an actress and writer living in NYC, where she happily immerses herself in perfume. The movie "Scent of a Woman" is the movie that inspired her to become an actress. In the movie, Caron Fleurs de Rocaille had a starring moment; Jessa's grandfather designed bottles for Caron in the 50s
Editor's Note: This summer boxes of photographs that have been in Jessa's family for years were destroyed in a flood.