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.

 

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Eau, Johnny, Eau.

I laughed right out loud, yes.  But this is one crush that will never end. I’ve loved him since Cry Baby.  A film that is high camp.  Well this one is, too.

Perfume is hilarious.  Weird.  And Sexy as Hell. So Johnny makes sense.

I’ll admit, I’ve always dreamed of a perfume inspired Johnny Depp.  It should be dark, weird, funny, smart, androgynous and filthy. In short, great.

Let’s just hope Dior didn’t spend all their money on Johnny.  Let’s hope they saved some for the juice.

And let’s hope they get their own joke.

Back to Black by Kilian (2009)

Who is the Man in Black?

Who is the Woman in Black?

Now.  Who is the Perfume in Black?

In my quest to personify perfume (Scents act as a companion and you should really know who you’re bumming around with, no?) I am a bit flummoxed as to Back to Black’s identity.

So is Back to Black the spirit of Johnny Cash?  Nah.  I feel like we’d need grainy leather and booze.  A fragrance I would LOVE btw.  But Back to Black is not it. I do, however, see Back to Black complimenting a leather jacket.  I’ll keep that in mind.

What about the Angel of Death? Absolutely not.  That perfume would have a chill.  A shroud.  And some funk.  Again, no dice. However, there is an autumnal darkness about Back to Black.

So why can’t I get a reference for you?  A theme? Back in Black is hardly shrouded in mystery.  The major players are all readily evident upon first sniff:  tobacco, honey, spice, vanilla. And yet, it’s face remains obscurred from my view.  Well, at least we know we’re dealing with an introvert.

And a smoker.

The Tobacco

I’ve been known to like a dollop of tobacco in my perfume.  It’s sweet.  It’s strong.  It reminds me of my Gramps without downright smelling like him (For that, we would need Stetson.)  Tobacco warms things up, smoothes them out.  It keeps gourmands from being edible, and that is how I like my gourmands. Shalimar, Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille, Sacrebleu, and Back to Black.  Dessert you aren’t supposed to eat.  But rather.  Um.  Slather all over your body?  I don’t know.  But that’s the feel.

If you’ve never experienced the warmth or comfort of pipe tobacco smoke (or even unlit in the pouch), then Back to Black may be providing not just fragrance, but also a service.  Pipe tobacco is one of the great comfort scents the world has to offer.  It’s sweet, rich, roasted, smooth, a little herbal, and, spicy as it is, despite its fully developed appearance, ultimately a big ol’ leafy plant.

The Honey

To look at at tobacco and honey as a pairing, one might suspect the combination may be too sweet and Back to Black IS quite sweet.  However, when it comes to sugar, this pairing of tobacco and honey are LESS than the sum of their parts and it is all the better for it.

Which leads me to the animal factor in Back to Black.

This perfume is a sexy beast, but not so much that it sends you a dirty text (We’ll let Serge Lutens Muscs Kublai Kahn do that). Perfume newbies, you should know that a little animal factor can take a perfume from meh to wowser.  Civet, honey, musk, leather, ambergris, our own bodies make perfumes smell more complex, sexy, and rich.  There is some dubious treatment of animals when it comes to some perfume ingredients (particularly natural musks, civet and castoreum) so it is for those reasons and also my personal taste that my favorite animalic note is honey.

Back in Black delivers.

Now, when I say honey I do not mean the honey flavored syrup in a bear bottle on your grocer’s shelf. And as much as I would love to include a picture of Pooh bear, this isn’t an innocent kid cartoon kind of honey.  This is raw, organic, straight-off-the-comb, rich, sexy, complex honey.  We’re all adults here, right?  So I can say this thing I need to say.  In short, honey smells like butt.  Bee butt.  Clean bee butt.  And Back to Black, our scent story for today, has it spades.

Wait.  Is Back in Black Sam Spade?

Nah.  That man is a walking aromatic fougere.  Plus, wrong jacket.

(For experimental and culinary purposes, go to Trader Joe’s or a natural food store.  Buy their raw organic honey.  And give it a whiff.  If you’re only used to the cheap stuff, you’ll find honey is a perfume in and of itself.  Floral, warm, animalic. MAC used to carry two limited edition honey perfumes and I’ve always kicked myself for not purchasing them.)

In that we are animal, and honey is too, I find that my own skin is an essential ingredient to the mix.  The honey seems to recognize skin as familiar and warms right up and blends right in.  On paper, Back to Black seems to be missing something and I find my bod fills the gap (Yours will too.  It requires a human, but not anyone in particular.) This honey is intimate. The Perfume Posse folks describe it Back to Black as “bordering on TMI,” but the border is never quite crossed and that means Back to Black is available, yet aloof, and panties the world over metaphorically drop to the floor in response.  And thus we realize that “honey pot”  is a delightful euphemism and I will leave it at that.

Heh.

GASP

Leather Jacket.
Autumnal Darkness.
Dirty Joke.
Aloofness and panty dropping?

Is Back to Black Dean from Supernatural?

Reluctantly, I say no.  Back to Black is too sweet, and missing roughness and anger.  I suspect Dean would be a vetiver guy, but that’s another discussion.

Besides, the sexy part of Back to Black sticks around for a long time.  And Dean has to leave.  Again. Nice jacket , though.

The Vanilla and Spice

I tend to throw vanilla fragrances into two categories:  Foody Vanilla (Comptoir Sud Pacifique’s line) or Floral Vanilla (Vanilla Fields, Tocade).  Somehow, Back to Black’s vanilla is both, although it leans on the foody.  I suspect that this comes from the aforementioned honey as honey is also foodie and floral at the same time.  As is the cardamom (in chai – it’s foody.  Alone – it’s dry and warm and not particulary suggestive of anything edible.) The spices don’t stand alone so much as present themselves in relation to the tobacco and honey.  Is this clove spiked tobacco?  Cardamom honey?  It doesn’t really matter.  The point is, it blends.

The Patchouli

People fear patchouli.  They think head shop hippie and of course, we all know why.  However, I often find scents that are attributed to patchouli are not actually patchouli but rather hemp, musk, nag champa incense, or cheap amber oil.  Really patchouli can smell quite green or like good clean dirt.  It can smell resinous or indeed quite hippie.  Were the patchouli rendered differently here, Our man in Black would be Peter Fonda in Easy Rider.

But that would require more dirt.  More animal.  And a drier finish.

Rather, in Back to Black, patchouli becomes my favorite form – the soft cocoa powder version.  Another perfume that does this and makes my heart soar is Chanel’s Coromandel.  In Coromandel it is nearly a white chocolate, a cocoa butter.  But in Back to Black it is dark, roasted dutch process cocoa powder.  Not fully formed chocolate, however, and avoids smelling like a piece of cake.

The Mood

On the more esoteric side of things, I feel “held” by Back to Black.  Not like an affectionate hug from my Mom but rather an embrace from my man saying “Everything’s cool. Let’s dance.”  There are times when I wear something like Youth Dew or an old vintage something or other, or even my love YSL Paris and I again feel held, but rather in a cloud of my own making and as much as I love those perfumes:

Nobody comes to visit me in my little cloud.

Not so with Back to Black.

Dammit why can’t I figure this out.  I’m gong through my mental rolodex of iconic black leather jacket wearers:
Madonna – No.  That perfume would have fruit in it.
Elvis – not gaudy enough. His leather would have an unexpected floral.
Marlon Brando – not enough sweat.
James Dean.  I love Back to Black but it’s hardly legendary.
The Fonz? Oh man.  Would I love to smell THAT one.
Kate Moss.
Slash.  In general, Back to Black (as much as it’s AC/DC esque name suggests, is not a rock star perfume.  Not quite.)

Wait.

Johnny Depp?

Tobacco.  Yes.  Honey.  He’s got that sweet quirkiness with a dirty mind.

And yet,  no.  Not weird enough.  And while Back to Black might say something suggestive, Johnny’s would make you blush.

And Back to Black is never going fuck up a hotel room.

Damn and I was so close.

So who are we dealing with here? Back to Black is stubbornly unisex.  Truly it knows no gender.  It merely craves skin.  Lest I go down the Buffalo Bill path here, it doesn’t require you to step away from your dermal system.  It just wants to be invited in.

OH MY GOD.  BACK TO BLACK IS PIKE.  PIKE FROM BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER.

(And yeah, I don’t care what Joss Whedon says.  I’m a purist.  Give me Swanson.)

And who is Pike?  Well.  He’s a little Johnny Cash.  He’s a little b-horror movie.  He’s a lot sexy.  And very sweet…with an awesome girlfriend.

Ha!  You don’t get out of the Perfume Pad without a couple of samples and a movie reference.

But Betsy, I thought you said Back to Black was unisex.

Dude. Buffy totally wears Pike’s jacket at prom.  DUH.

That’s it.  That’s it.  I couldn’t put my finger on it.  Back to Black is a bad boy who is really a good boy who makes you want to do bad things.

And Reader, I married a Pike.

Man I love this perfume.

4 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.