A different fragrance that thinks your way, and they call it – Charlie!
Kinda young, kinda now, Charlie!
Kinda free, kinda wow! Charlie!
The kind of fragrance that's gonna stay, and it's here now — Charlie!"
Created during the heyday of the women's movement in the seventies, Charlie, with its androgynous name, studiously carefree signature, and jaunty green/floral aldehydic personality, could be said to be one of the first feminist fragrances ever created.
I say feminist because it was marketed to American women during an era when feminist consciousness was at its pop culture height, and because it features independent ladies (mainly model-turned-Charlie's-Angels-actress Shelly Hack) confidently strutting through print and television ads.
I am going to have a hard time maintaining enough distance from this scent to review it, I can already tell, because it was something my mother wore when I was a kid that is seared into my memory like Shrinky Dinks, the Roots miniseries, and the Electric Company.
First off, it was a departure from mom's Old World Francophile scents. (Femme by Rochas, for example, was her signature before this.) But my single mother going back to college wanted, perhaps, to break away from a more formal chypre and put on something happy, floral and "independent." (Or maybe Charlie was cheap, at the drugstore, and it was the only perfume she could afford?) In any case, its cheerful personality takes me back.
Top notes: Citrus oils, peach, hyacinth, tarragon
Heart notes: Jasmine, rose, lily of the valley, cyclamen, carnation, orris
Base notes: Cedarwood, sandalwood, oakmoss, musk, vanilla
I have the vintage Charlie *, and although florals aren't my thing, Charlie has some interesting tensions going on within it that make it quite interesting. As a feminist fragrance (just humor me on this one), it seems to be saying, "I can be pretty, independent, and strong." As a pretty green floral that's almost a chypre, it's wearable, and, to my nose, still modern-smelling.
First off, the citrus oils and tarragon give it a bright and slightly green/herby beginning with the tiniest (I mean minuscule) dose of a licorice facet from the tarragon. Its radiant florals are more sporty than they are sexy — the cyclamen and lily of the valley greening the fragrance even more.
In its dry down, which I'm smelling right now, having had it on my hand for about an hour, it smells a lot like Bandit, arguably the first feminist fragrance in a pre-feminist era. What do I smell? Something leathery/rubbery, as fragrances with galbanum or isobutyl quinoline would give off. It has a faint chypre-like dry down, which makes sense because of its citrusy-top note and oakmoss/sandalwood/cedarwood base notes.
Chypres, to me, signify "strong woman," and Charlie retains a trace of that in the dry down. (Interesting that a Basenotes reader** likened it to Norell, which I just reviewed, because that fragrance, too, held back on being a full-on chypre but hinted at its personality.)
And then there's the classic Charlie television ad, whose jingle you won't soon get out of your head. It stars Shelly Hack, who is so lighthearted you think she'll become airborne any minute. First, Shelly jumps out of her Rolls Royce, enters a restaurant and twirls while Bobbie Short sings, and then sits down to dinner with some dude as she tousles her blond bob, pouts seductively and... proceeds to order a salad, no doubt. (How else will she remain svelte enough to wear that satin gold jumpsuit?) I guess Revlon had to include a guy in this whole thing; it must have been before Gloria Steinem said, "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle."* I bet the drugstore stuff available now is awful, but anyone who wants to say otherwise, please do! I haven't smelled it. ** "I always thought of it as the everyday women's version of Norell. Nice green floral." Ga97, from Basenotes.