If a lemon went to finishing school, it would smell like Jean Naté.
Soft, powdery, complex and sophisticated, this old gem (the old school Charles of the Ritz cologne spray, anyway) is sunny without being ditzy. It starts out at the gate (cue the 70s commercial above with the female jockey) all lemon. Even Lemon Pledge, uncannily. But soon enough, before you can disparage the old gal, she tosses off a bon mot or two, talks about a summer she spent in Tangiers, and soon you realize you're dealing with something refined and special.
A reader on Basenotes says that the the following are Jean Naté's notes: Lavender, Jasmine, Rose, Carnation, Lily of the valley, Cedar, Tonka, Musk, Sandal. This sounds smells right to me. Especially the tonka and sandalwood, which give it a roundness and woody complexity at the end. The lavender probably contributes to the slight medicinal/cleaner note at the beginning. (I even get a herbal tarragon note occasionally.) Spraying it several times, I realize that there's no getting around a kind of bug-spray screech that, strangely, isn't off-putting to me. The more I sniff Jean Naté it and let its nuances speak, the less the lemon (lemongrass, maybe?) grabs my attention, and the more its sensuous base sings out.
Lemon scents were pretty popular in the 1970s, which is why Jean Naté (born in 1935) was popular through that sporty-scented decade. (There was Love's Fresh Lemon, Revlon Wild Lemon, and Skinny Dip, just to name a few.) Perhaps that note seems too crass now, too easy. But I imagine that for a perfumer to replicate lemon and, at the same time, transform it, is akin to using a primary color as a painter to novel effect. (Think Mondrian, or even Mark Rothko, who I've cited on my blog before.)
I also think of those poor chefs on the Food Network show "Chopped" who compete against one another to make palatable, creative and even delicious dishes out of crazy ingredients. ("In your baskets, you have Rambutans, duck liver paté, chocolate, and Kool Aid. Have fun kids!") Where's the fun in safe or easy perfume notes?
I remember Jean Naté in the splash bottles, and this version definitely recalls that, but the spray cologne has so much more dimension. The Charles of the Ritz Jean Naté is an overlooked oddity, and I'll be wearing it in the sweltering New Orleans heat this summer. Courtesy of eBay, for $1.99.