Eau de Charlotte by Annick Goutal (1982)

You’ll find I have a particular affection for the Annick Goutal line (see my review of Songes).  It captures my very cartoonish Midwestern sensibility of what it might mean to be “French”, in a sort of poodley champagney storybook way that I realize is probably not particularly accurate.  But Annick Goutal IS French, whatever that may mean.  It also is available only in major metropolitan centers in the US so when I am at an Annick Goutal perfume counter, I am therefore in a city which existentially means something to me, the kid from small town Ohio.  And as long as Bloomies on Michigan Ave keeps the Goutal coming, I live in such a city.

Eau de Charlotte, our scent for today, also piques my sense of false nostalgia as it was born in 1982 and I in 1981.  There is no way I remember 1982 very well, but I have a vague sense of 1984 and 1985 and there is something particularly early 80’s about this perfume.  Plus I’ve seen the pictures.

Our collective remembrance of the 80’s seems hot pink in nature.  Hairspray, shoulder pads and Madonna show up at 80’s themed parties and sitcom episodes.  MY 80’s, the 80’s of my childhood, was much softer with holdovers and hand-me-downs from the 70’s.  Mary Lou Retton hairstyles.  Brooke Shields eyebrows.  Madras plaid.  Sensible brown sandals.  Bible school crafts. Public pools.  Herself the Elf.  Strawberry Shortcake. And a general air of pastel.  Even the photos of my youth have a hazy quality as if they know that life will shortly quicken in pace.  Still, the phone dial was rotary. And you paid extra for the Disney channel.

This is not, of course, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  Reality is far more complex.  I don’t mean to shatter the strawberry-scented warmly hazed image I’ve created but it also was at this time my father owned a red Ford Pinto. The ERA had failed. AIDS was reaching mass proportion. The Challenger exploded.  Men still wore leisure suits.  You could smoke in restaurants.  I don’t believe in the concept of “the good old days.”  Go back far enough, and in the “good old days” I wouldn’t be able to vote. Nor I am weighing those events against each other in depth, despair or significance. I was, as I mentioned, a toddler then so forgive me for not remembering all that.

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A girl (me), her piano, and a place to eat. It was a simpler time.

But this is about perfume after all.  And while Eau de Charlotte is hardly the olfactory rendition of “We Are the World”, I do have affection for my happy childhood. And Eau de Charlotte doesn’t need all this pressure.  We’ll let Dior’s Poison handle the dubious job of representing the 80’s.

I have older cousins who were and are still beautiful and graduated in, respectively, 1987 and 1984 and I remember their makeup, boyfriends, and senior pictures quite well.  Eau de Charlotte is the perfume equivalent of those photos.  She is Mallory Keaton.  Sheltered.  Pretty.  Stylish. And of a particular era.

Eau de Charlotte incarnate

This perfume is well-crafted and a bit surprising.  It manages to have notes of cocoa and vanilla without ever even toying with being a gourmand.  It smells cool and breezy, but not in a Springy way.  This is one of the first cool breezes of an approaching Autumn.   While other reviewers emphasize the lily of the valley, for me it shows up as a brisk iciness that makes it the perfect scent for this time of year.  The cocoa gives it depth, the florals keep it from being moody, and a nicely calm air of green keeps it wise and a bit studious.

After all, Mallory was always smarter than she behaved.

Eau de Charlotte would function well as an “everyday” scent.  Even a signature scent for those who are monogamous (I’ve never been able to commit.)  The term “fruity floral” has become somewhat derogatory over the years as it seems to be the default setting for cheap new launches and cynical flankers.  Eau de Charlotte has both flowers and berries but is never cheap, never dumb, and always the freshly scrubbed optimist. The soapiness is gentle and pleasant.  If I have any talent at all it is my ability to appear as if I have showered.  Eau de Charlotte would add an air of innocently batted eyelashes to my lie.

According to ad copy, Annick Goutal herself created Eau de Charlotte for her young stepdaughter who was a budding gourmet and loved blackcurrant jam. Today, perfumes aimed at young women are generally thoughtless at best, and insulting at worst.  There is some hideous version of informal logic at hand: Women want men to like them.  Men eat cake.  Make women smell like cake. If Eau de Charlotte is how perfumers viewed a young woman in the 80’s, then I guess I do have some nostalgia after all.

 

Vie de Chateau by Parfums di Nicolai (2010)

Vie De Chateau by Parfums di Nicolai

In a little red barn on a farm down in Indiannnaaa….I’m gonna rest my back on a stack of new mown haaaaaaay.

Vie de Chateau* may translate to “Castle Life” but as I am immediately transported to the farm of my childhood, I am reminded that the French and Midwesterners have far more in common than either side wants to admit.

There is a burst of sunshine in the opening of Vie de Chateau.  Not to get too nostalgic or pie-eyed but there is a moment on a farm morning (and I would assume on a Chateau as well…but I cannot confirm) when the sunshine hits the dew on fresh cut grass and everything smells fresh and new, yet with an underpinning of rich loamy soil. This is the first moment of Vie de Chateau.

Vie de Chateau is typically classified as a masculine and I get the briskness that implies, but there is no gender to a summer morning and thus I wear this comfortably, if not a little mournfully, at my desk wishing I was out experiencing that very thing rather than just approximating it on my wrist.

As we move into the heart, I believe a fresh saddle has just appeared on our farmy morning, warmed with the sun.

I mentioned Cristalle as having an air of Carpe Diem, and so does Vie de Chateau.  In Cristalle, we are accomplishing much in the realm of career.  In Chateau, it’s a day of active leisure.

Vetiver shows up a little after the warm leather.  It’s really nicely composed as I seem to be generally a little sensitive to vetiver’s raspiness.  This one is smooth. Woven.  I suspect it’s because it is blended with the warmth of tobacco which sweetens it and calms it’s respiratory flyways.

So we seem to have a freshly shaven farmer, sitting atop a saddle with an unlit pipe, ready to head off to Sunday services.  So it may not inspire sexy thoughts, but nonetheless it is comforting while never ever sliding into the world of gourmand.

This is what I call a church morning perfume (as is Nicolai’s gorgeous Odalisque).  I don’t mean to imply it’s conservative or staid.  It’s just it would smell great with coffee, toast, shaving cream, and wouldn’t fight with other similar scents amongst the freshly scrubbed pews.  (IE I could see letting my Dad try this one on.)

Hay is one of my favorite perfume notes.  It is sweet, green, herbal and happy if something can smell happy and I feel it can.

A true barnyard perfume would have a bit of indolic heft to it, and this is not it.  While I admit I have a bit of affection for greener, ah, manure.  (I guess there’s no getting around it, but the fact is rabbit and horse poop ain’t that bad.)  This is not a present element in Vie de Chateau.  As I said, this isn’t a farmer on duty.  This is a farmer heading out for awhile.  It’s a day full of possibility and camaraderie, not routine.

There are a couple bottles in my home that find themselves variably on either my dresser’s or my husbands.  I sneak Aqua di Parma.  He grabs Lush Dirty.  (I suspect Eau de Navigateur will find it’s way to my side of the room as he has tired of it.) I could see Vie de Chateau having two homes as well.

I would recommend this perfume, in particular, to people who appreciate classic colognes but do not enjoy orange blossom or heavy citrus (if citrus can be heavy).

Ther is a hot second in the top notes where a rasp caught my breath.  I think it was just that first flash of vetiver that settles down quickly into the basket weave I mentioned above. The drydown is a very clean musk that manages to avoid hissing.  It maintains just a hint of that cut grass quality.  I’m getting sheets drying in the breeze.

If you need the perfume equivalent, be it French or Midwestern, of a country morning transitioning to a nappy afternoon, well friend, Vie de Chateau is the perfume for you.  Castle Life.  I agree.  For what is more luxurious that an outdoorsy nap on a summer day?

Ultimately, Vie de Chateau smells good.  Very very good.

*Whistling “In a Little Red Barn” as I meander away down a country road.*

4 Stars.

*My sample is older and so I cannot speak to the new “Intense”  version although judging by my research it is very similar.

Stella by Stella McCartney (2006)

Stella by Stella McCartney

There seems to be a bit of derision amongst the perfume critic set regarding Stella.  It’s as if there was some expectation, as she is an innovative fashion designer, that the fragrance would be as well.  I fell victim to this with Lady Gaga’s Fame.  WE WERE PROMISED BLOOD!  I really thought Fame was going to be some sort of reworking of Secretions Magnifique but wearable.  No dice.  It was a shitty fruity floral with a disappearing ink gimick juice.  I was heartbroken.  In a seemingly dismal era of mainstream perfume, even the woman who wore a meat dress wouldn’t take a risk.  But then again, maybe THAT’S the joke.  Fame is an illusion.  Don’t set your heart on it.

Whatever.  I’m still miffed.

So I empathize.  Sort of.  The thing is, unlike Fame, Stella isn’t bad.  In fact, I have a lot of affection for it.  Perfume critic, Katie Puckrik, called it a “beginner’s rose.” And I second that emotion.  For me, it’s a jeans and t-shirt rose, but like AG jeans and a high-end tee.  We can’t wear a ballgown every day, right?  (I mean, I’d like to try, but there’s the train to think about.)  I also feel it would layer well (Throw a cashmere sweater on that jeans and tee with some vanilla, maybe add a chic blazer with some incense?  You get the idea.)  Additionally, while the perfume critics seem incapable of getting excited about Stella (fair), she appears on both Bois de Jasmin‘s and the Perfume Posse‘s lists of great rose perfumes.  Part of this cliquey behavior (Raise your hand if you’ve been personally victimized by Regina George), comes from the fact that while Stella may not be particularly exciting, we live in an age of perfumery where a true rose, as simple as she might be, is notable. Stella reminds us that deep down, as much as it curls our toes, sometimes we just want to feel pretty. What I mean to say is, on Wednesdays, Stella wears pink.

Maybe THAT explains the salty note.  Stella is actually Gretchen Weiners.

So what is Stella actually?  Peony for starters, then rose, then a salty ambery musk.  The drydown is a bit abrupt.  Last night, I tried it on at Sephora.  Reapplied it a couple hours later still enjoying the slightly jammy rose.  A couple hours after that I slipped into bed, took one last sniff and said, “WHOAH!  Where’s the rose?” (The rose can’t go out.  *cough cough* It’s sick.) Totally ghosted. But I’m still fine with it. (Boo, you whore.)  It may seem I’m determined to like this perfume against all odds, but that’s not the case at all.  I find it immediately likeable.

Here’s the thing.  One of my favorite perfumes of all time is YSL Paris.  A gigantic jammy rose violet monstrosity that is basically bliss in a bottle for me.  I am aware, however, that it enters a room before I do and as I’ve been raised to be polite, I don’t wear it very often.  Stella, for me, is Paris Lite.  VERY Lite, yes.  But sometimes, you just don’t want to think.  That’s why we order pizza.

I feel that Stella has the potential to be a gateway drug of sorts.  It’s easy to write off a tea rose as old-fashioned.  Stella gives you a rose with a modern sensibility.  The kind of rose that might make a girl think, “Hmmmm.  Maybe I don’t hate rose after all.”  As I mentioned before, I could see it layering well with vanilla.  I’d like to try a foodier vanilla for a twist on the Tocade idea (which is a more floral vanilla combined with rose.) Ultimately, Stella makes me want to play. And for $22 bucks for an EdP roller ball at Sephora?  I can afford to.  Alone, she is a bit buttoned up, sure.  But I feel she would come out of her shell given the right encouragement. OR, as I suspect Stella is an introvert, she may do better supporting someone else in the spotlight. That is to say, if you have a Regina George perfume that you feel might enjoy a little rose from time to time, Stella might be the perfect addition.  OR, and I love this idea, imagine adding it to a well made but simple masculine.  Don Draper becomes Beau Brummell.

Perfume Challenge:  Regina George and Cady Heron perfumes. To be discussed at a later date.

And Don Draper.

Anyway…

I think the general “meh” of Stella comes from what could have been.  All these years later, better to focus on what is.  The Guide asserts that Stella is “not obviously perfume.”  Okay.  Maybe it’s an idea.  But I like the idea.  So fetch.

3 Stars

Cristalle by Chanel (1974)

Cristalle:  It gives you wings!

I hate to draw a classic Chanel into the world of energy drinks but there is an undeniably uplifting quality to Cristalle.  It, like it’s champagney name, feels effervescent.

But not.  I repeat.  NOT ditzy, so put down the can of Red Bull and pick up the glass of Veuve.  Come along and let’s examine.

Cristalle is what I would call a green citrus.  It has more staying power than your average citrus and it’s a more complex composition as well which puts it on a bit of a pedestal. Citruses have a tendency to be fleeting little things on one hand, or masculines on the other.  While I think it would do well on a man (Lovers of Aqua di Parma take note), it never crosses that stereotypical masculine threshold.

It is unbelievably refreshing.  On a practical level, it would do well on public transportation on a hot day.  I can nearly imagine being thanked by fellow passengers should anyone particularly gamey be nearby.  It’s an antidote to stonk and grunge.  I’m sure there are people that dislike Cristalle, or are ambivalent, at least, but I simply can’t imagine it.

I’ve heard it described as a fragrance that would do well on a blonde.  Sure, I suppose.  I think the real imagery, however, is that of an ice queen of no particular appearance but rather a certain behavior and bearing.  Cristalle, as exhilarating as it can be, is not a warm and inviting presence.  It’s crisp, but not sharp.  Cool, but not frozen.  It’s sophisticated and does not overpower, in sillage at least.  Psychologically, it’s a different story.

I loved Cristalle at first sniff very early in my perfume journey.  It’s not a particularly difficult perfume to like, although I don’t know a lot of people (other than me) who downright love it.  I think what roped me was, having come from a world of ditzy fruity florals and a lone bottle of Coco Mademoiselle (I’ve ALWAYS loved that Chanel base), Cristalle makes it immediately clear it is well made and may make you question the quality of other fragrances.  It is a well-tailored suit.  A perfect little white sheath dress (with killer heels).

Frankly, it’s a little bitchy.  It kind of has a Lady Tremaine feel about it

Anna Wintour probably puts it on after she’s eaten her young.  (Well, you wouldn’t want anything heavy after that.)

So no Cristalle probably isn’t going to the party (you totally invited her), but she’ll get you through a long day.

Lest you think I’m trying to imply something about Cristalle, I should clarify.  Cristalle might be a bitch, but bitches get shit done.

Plus, it’s merely one element.  Cristalle may have a slight Karen Walker brusqueness, but she is complex, particularly for a citrus.  Other citruses are playful and fleeting.  Refreshing but they cancel plans.  Once you’re in Cristalle’s calendar, that meeting is HAPPENING.  And you are meeting somewhere NICE for lunch.

However, if Cristalle is one tenth Karen Walker, she’s a hell of a lot more Christine Lagarde. That’s right.  I’m putting Cristalle in charge of my perfume International Monetary Fund (Someone needs to be, for crying out loud.  It’s getting ridiculous.)

Christine Lagarde, Head of the International Monetary Fund.

When I’m working on a big project and I need motivation to get it done. I…well, alright don’t judge my dorkiness but I watch Apollo 13.  That scene where they bring in a box full o’ crap and say we have to make a CO2 filter out of this.  That makes me go LET’S DO THIS.

(Spoiler alert:  They totally figure it out.  Was someone wearing Cristalle?  No.  That happened in 1970.  Cristalle was launched in 1974.)

Cristalle has a sense of productivity. She might even be a pill-popper.  I can imagine myself coming upon some stressed young thing, pulling her aside, handing her a bottle of Cristalle and saying “This will help.  Don’t say anything.”  Then I light a cigarette, and drink a martini.  As I walk away, I say, “Now pull your shit together.”

I have become one with Cristalle.

Lucille Bluth probably has a bottle of Cristalle.

Cristalle doesn’t understand the question, and she won’t respond to it.

Wait.  Didn’t I start out this thing saying “uplifting” and “champagne?”  So I did.  And so Cristalle is. Cristalle gets you through the job.  And then it helps you celebrate after it’s done.

You see, Cristalle isn’t bossy.  She’s the boss.

The physical incarnation of Cristalle.

Not only is Olivia Pope the essence of Cristalle, but the CHARACTER of Olivia Pope did a totally Cristalle move on TV in general by shooting the equivalent of galbanum resin into prime time.  Shonda Rhimes Chanel Cristalled Hollywood. That is a bracingly refreshing breeze.  How meta.  And how very Cristalle.

If we assigned careers to the Chanel classics:   No 5 is the Philanthropist.  19 the diplomat.  22 the PR rep. Coco the Actress.  Beige the Accountant (Poor Beige).  Cristalle is the attorney. And that suit is, well Chanel of course. But not the tweed.  Too dowdy.  She’ll take it in tropical wool.  Her nails are impeccable.  Hair too.  I wear Cristalle when I need to convince myself that I’ve got this.  Cristalle represents well.  She knows who she is.

It might be sacrilege (but then so is any temperature above 95): try putting Cristalle in the fridge for the dog days.  She might work hard but she knows there is a time for a cold glass o’grigio on a patio.  And I picked that Samantha Jones reference on purpose:  Cristalle might be chilly, but she’s not frigid. Where there is oakmoss, there is a dark sexiness. Cristalle is also calculating, although I wouldn’t go so far as to compare her to say, Amy from Gone Girl.  We’ll leave Gucci Envy to do that.

You sense I’m a bit intimidated by Cristalle.  I am.  I just (choking up) I just want to live up to her expectations.  But I am also no pushover.  She likes my “quirkiness”.  She once called me “weird.”  I said she was uptight.  And then we both loosened up.

5 Stars.

My sample is the EdT from circa 2008.  The EdP is said to be sweeter and fruitier with less bitter herbs.  I don’t know why you’d want that.  Find the EdT.

*After I wrote this, I bumped into this post likening Cristalle to introversion.  I agree, for the commonly deemed bitch is often a misunderstood introvert.  As I identify as an introvert, I see Cristalle to be one too.  Wonderful piece.  Check it out.