digging (into) vintage: 1973- Revlon Charlie and Ciara

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Perfumers not cited.

In 1973, Revlon dove headlong into the into the marketing of feminism. Both Charlie and Ciara targeted the infamous Liberated Woman but each went about it differently.

Ciara (*) was designed to cover a lot of bases.  As a balsamic floriental it was intended to appeal to an older, more conservative woman who might be familiar with Youth Dew or Bal à Versailles. It was spicy rather than animalic, a style that Cinnabar, Opium and others would take to extremes later in the decade. Ciara’s patchouli undercurrent created a head shop vibe that played to younger women via a hippie sensibility. The face of the perfume was Lauren Hutton, whom Americans had seen transition from a stiff mid-1960s style to the groovy 1970s. Various ads for Revlon showed her in conservative equestrian attire, evening attire and topless. With Ciara the modern woman could have it all. Or at least Hutton could.

Ciara is a whole lot of perfume shoehorned into one bottle. It’s the sort of perfume that casts a wide net in hopes of capturing a portion of a number of target markets.

Charlie was another bird entirely. It went after one market: the modern, ‘liberated’ working woman. Picture Mary Richards of the Mary Tyler Moore show. Or better, picture Shelly Hack, later of Charlie’s Angels fame, who was the face of  Charlie from the ‘70s into the ‘80s.

The print and television marketing campaign for Charlie was enormous. For those of us who grew up in the American 1970s, the Charlie jingle/earworm (“Kind of young, kind of now, Charlie. Kind of free, kinda wow! Charlie!”) is a part of the soundtrack of our lives. The perfume was advertised in new ‘lifestyle’ publications that targeted aspiring young women. Where many perfume ads of the time still relied on gauzy, romantic images of women being wooed by men, Charlie created the image of a happy modern urban women in flared trousers striding confidently past men. She was a little flirty but she was first foremost self possessed. She represented mainstream feminism without ever using the divisive word.

Both perfumes seem studiously engineered to meet their goals. In trying to appeal to a broad range of women Ciara was a kitchen sink of a perfume but it was also elaborate and lavish. It came in three concentrations, the least of which was still potent and long lasting with great sillage. It took a side door approach to feminism, suggesting an extroverted woman who appreciated sensual pleasure. Ciara’s marketing tag was, “The thoroughly female fragrance by Charles Revson.” Not feminine, female.

Charlie came in only one concentration as if to connote the equality behind women’s liberation. The light cologne concentration also promoted liberal dosing and repeated purchases. The image of the ‘new woman’ charging into the future was somewhat at odds with the perfume, though. The aldehydes and chalky galbanum followed the trend, and perhaps even formula, of the aloof green perfumes of the late 60s and early 70s. Charles Revson should have cut Estée Lauder in on the profits of Charlie. It is essentially a dilute Aliage.

Ciara’s expansive bouquet of floral notes is held in check by a prickly fruitiness that gives Ciara a starchy, formal feel. It stakes out a middle ground between berries and bitter leaves. Though categorically a fruity floral, Ciara has little resemblance to the contemporary fruit slushie. The lip-smacking fruit brings out the dry, papery side of the bouquet. The lushness of the resinous base counterbalances the freeze-dried effect and gives the perfume a push-pull dynamic that keeps it from falling in to the sweet vanillic basenotes of the classic Oriental.

As it settles into drydown Ciara takes on the sawdust scent of an herb shop. The berry note lasts well into the perfume’s final stages and gives the drydown an unexpected pink tinge. In Ciara’s favor, it is a hybrid of a number of appealing genres. Against it, it feels like wearing plaid, polkadots and stripes together.

Charlie was far more to the point that Ciara. It conveyed one olfactory idea from start to finish: green, cool, crisp. Like most green perfumes it was poised and stylish but it also had a smile and a wink that kept it from falling into the standoffishness that many of the green florals of the time had.

Charlie and Ciara were definitively mainstream perfumes. Ciara could be found at department stores and some drugstores. Charlie was available everywhere. Charlie’s goal was fame through ubiquity and it beat all expectations of success. Though it was modeled on more soigné green perfumes like Weil de Weil, Chanel 19 and Guerlain Chamade, it was easily the most popular green perfume of its era. Charles Revson seems to have studied the Guerlain method: don’t be the innovator, be the winner.


* Ciara was originally marketed under Revlon’s sub-brand Charles Revson and may be a revision of Revson Ultima or Ultima II from 1961 and 1967.

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  1. MaggieToo says:

    Gosh, you make these both sound so much more appealing than I remember them. I was a sentient adult in the ’70s, and never wore either of these, though God knows I smelled them all around me. Ciara was for my mom, but Charlie was on every third girl in every room, while I went directly from my college bottle of Caleche to my swingin’ adult bottle of Lauren.

    (I might have bought one of these if it had been modelled on Cloris Leachman. How hilarious has she been in everything she ever did? Phyllis Lindstrom to Nurse Diesel to Frau Blucher (“Yesss, he vasss — my boyfriend!”) )

    When I think of Charlie now, I can only equate it with the ’70s version of Cool Water: inoffensive, unremarkable, and as mundane as a pair of blue jeans.

    1. jtd says:

      Calèche in college? That’s sophisticated! But if Charlie was on every third girl then Revlon accomplished its goal of ubiquity.

      There is something very safe about Charlie. Between the inoffensive nature of the scent and the cologne concentration it didn’t ruffle many feathers.

      1. MaggieToo says:

        I wish I could take credit for having enough chic at age nineteen to choose Calèche, but it was sold to me by an SA at Saks in San Francisco when I went to buy my first grownup perfume, and I stood by it for years. So hard to now imagine that that scent was once considered girlish.

        BTW, I’ve meant to thank you for recommending Claire Vukovich’s blog. That girl can really write!

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