Waxing Nostalgic – Charlie

Charlie ad, 1976

I’m waxing nostalgic this winter when it comes to fragrances. That’s because I’m in a bit of a rut, perfume-wise. I spent this past Christmas season trolling Sephora and the department stores in search of a new signature scent. I tried several of the new perfumes that are out there, only to come home from the mall reeking so badly of overpowering, derivative perfumes that I wished I had never spritzed myself with them in the first place. So I decided to look to the past, to the fragrances I grew up with in the Seventies and Eighties.

In my previous post, I reminisced about my love of Revlon’s Jontue, which I wore all through high school. When I bought my new bottle of Jontue, I also bought a bottle of Revlon’s Charlie. I still can recall those groundbreaking commercials for Charlie (“Kinda young, kinda now, Charlie! Kinda free, kinda wow, Charlie!”). Revlon first introduced it in 1973 to represent the independent Seventies woman – the woman who had a job and a family. The Charlie Woman could do it all, but she didn’t hit you over the head with it like the later Enjoli Woman (who could bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan…) did. Charlie was sassy yet classy, free-spirited yet sophisticated. Too sophisticated, in fact, for me way back then. I didn’t wear Charlie when I was younger (apart from the short-lived and much-missed Charlie Naturals Forest Herbal in 1987), but my mother did. As a kid, I would go to into my parent’s bedroom when my mother wasn’t there and head for the perfume tray on her dresser. I loved to play with her perfumes, sniffing the various fragrances and even spritzing myself with them once in a while. I never got caught, but I’m sure she noticed when I would come downstairs for dinner smelling like Chanel No. 5, Anais Anais, or Charlie. So when I saw the special holiday boxes and gift sets of Charlie at Walgreens and CVS this Christmas, I immediately snatched them up. Like Jontue, Charlie isn’t as widely available as it used to be. I gave Charlie as stocking stuffers this Christmas to all the women in my family. Of course, I kept a couple of boxes for myself. As an adult, I can now appreciate Charlie’s subtle sophistication as it reminds me of my childhood.

It’s the 21st century now, and a lot has changed since Charlie was first introduced. Women have been CEOs, entrepreneurs, members of governing bodies, and even heads of state. Charlie has been around long enough to be considered a classic. Its limited availability gives it a certain sense of exclusivity – and makes it a strong contender for that elusive signature fragrance. I can walk down the street in New York or Boston and instantly tell when a woman I pass is wearing “Angel” by Thierry Muglier. But when I went to work last week wearing Charlie, a co-worker asked me “What are you wearing?” And not in a bad way. The fact that Charlie can still turn heads 37 years later attests to its enduring appeal. Would that we all could still turn heads at 37.

Charlie commercial, 1973. It was the first fragrance commercial to feature a woman wearing trousers.

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