Seven scents of a woman: from Impulse to Exclamation through to Charlie. Oh yes.

A regular Tube journey smells like warm halitosis, damp farts or vom-inducing body odour, but occasionally you’ll catch a whiff of a scent that takes you back to years gone by. Not last night’s vodka Red Bull, but the perfumes of yesteryear. I sat next to a bloke wearing Brut the other day and I was immediately transported to a land that time and taste forgot. It got me thinking about evocative scents throughout my life…

Back when ‘Milk Snatcher’ Thatch ran the country with an iron fist, Britain was engulfed in a shitstorm of royal blue, bobbing along on a wave of shoulder pads. I however, was sat cheerily in front of Wacaday, watching a grown man in Bermuda shorts belt children round the head for laffs – whilst I shovelled Coco Pops down my face. In the early 80’s the only thing I had to worry about was the call for Sunday tea laying waste to my carefully contrived recordings of Bruno Brookes counting down the Top 40. Many a BASF C60 bit the dust during this time.

Being knee-high to a gnat’s knackers, my ‘beauty regime’ largely consisted of choosing which colour scrunchie to wear that day. One thing that did tickle my fancy from this alien world was perfume. My Nan housed a veritable smorgasbord of perfumery on her dressing table. It was all there, like a decadent chemistry set; pumps, pipettes, atomisers, funnels – a heady mix of The Good (Chanel No.5) The Bad (Tweed) and The Downright Ugly (Charlie).

1. Charlie

I was handed a bottle of Charlie when I was seven. It felt seriously glamorous. I’d seen Charlie bandied around at school – probably because it cost precisely tuppence – and I wanted in on the action. When Charlie was launched in the early ’70s it’s aim was to represent a go-getting, Howard’s Way type. All slick suits and cheekbones. It’s adverts included a woman giving an unsuspecting man-thing a fruity little pat on the bum cheek. All this soft-focused musing ensued until I popped open the bottle.

It smelt like what I imagine Castrol GTX smelt like in those awful creepy TV ads, spliced with dusty talcum powder and turnips. Maybe it was because this particular bottle had been sitting on the shelf as long as Jennifer Aniston, but it was bad. Really bad. It hit the back of your tonsils like a red-hot biryani. It was a harsh introduction, but it didn’t put me off. I hankered after something just that little bit sweeter…

2. Exclamation!

When boys rooms were made up of Ferrari pictures, diagonal stripes of red, black and grey, and the pendulous breasts of C.J Parker, I was dousing myself in Exclamation. Making a statement without sayin’ a word, ho yes. These days were innocent times. The only reason for infiltrating a bedroom of the opposite sex was to play Paperboy on the Commodore 64 and listen to Bros tapes.

I’ve got happy memories of my flirtation with Exclamation. It smelt like three of my favourite things; candy floss, hot doughnuts and Sara Lee gateaux. Everything around this time had that kind of smell – even bloody stationary. Rubbers smelt like strawberries and cream, pencil cases smelt like jars of gummy bears. Yeah they did.

Exclamation takes me back to tea times of Findus and Birdseye in front of ThunderCats and The A-Team. When a Mars bar would set you back 12p (or something like that) and it would be friggin enormous. Happy days.

3. Impulse

Okay, not strictly a perfume – but definitely an enduring scent. I went through pretty much all of the Impulse body spray range from the age of eleven upwards, but my first dabble was with seductively titled ‘Temptation’. With a slogan like ‘Men can’t help acting on Impulse’ this was bound to have them queuing up. Just take the advert. From the moment I hosed myself down with this stuff I’d render myself totally irresistible, juggling armfuls of chocolates and bunches of flowers from handsome strangers. Or not. My Impulse days were interspersed with various citrus/battery acid Body Shop creations like ‘Satsuma’ or ‘Dewberry’ leaving me smelling like the Man from Del Monte.

4. Anais Anais

Heavens to Betsy! Like an explosion in a Glade Plug-In factory, Anais Anais was whopping great floral fug-fest. Sickeningly sweet, its botanical haze overpowered everything in it’s path. Perhaps this was a way to draw attention away from the prevailing taste in hideous clothing and beauty trends that engulfed 1994. Tapestry bags, baggy denim, shirts done up to the top button, paisley shirts, dungarees, greasy curtains, doc martins, cheap leather jackets from Wembley Market. I wish I’d kept my DMs now, but at the time I resembled the love child of Shaun Ryder and someone that works on the waltzers

5. Lynx ‘Africa’

I think Lynx deserves a special mention in this list (with a cheeky nod to that other firm favourite ‘Java’). Sheesh. That post games lesson, testosterone-fuelled fug that crept up the hooters of all pubescent school girls. But mingled with the rubbery barefoot guff of gym mats, Lynx always had that whiff of a well-worn pair of moccasin slippers, popular with grannies the world over.

6. CK One

Ahh stonewash, six packs and crisp white underwear. When I spent all my paper round money on a coveted Antoni & Alison tank top which screamed from the pages of Just Seventeen, I failed to achieve that gamine/waif look and ended up like a poor man’s Jack Duckworth. Still if I couldn’t have Mossy’s face, bod or fella, at least I could smell like the bitch. A unisex fragrance! You could buy it in Woolworths! Tres chic! It smelt half decent too. CK One was like the coming of age scent. With its understated packaging it felt grown-up, subtle, and slick.
A little bit of cut-price designer gravitas. Like people who can’t afford designer handbags so make do with the shit key rings.

7. Cool Water

Cool Water was first picked up on my sensory radar thanks to a particularly hot young thing I sat next to in Geography. Long before wossit off Lost emerged in his undercrackers shaking off some excess ocean, there was a 15 yr old from North London making waves in my classroom. He wore the aftershave I wore the lady version. It was a match made in heaven. (Read: my head). It reminds me of afternoons in Camden with other Britpop wastrels, hoping to catch a glimpse of Damon or Jarvis popping for a pint in The World’s End. Before long Cool Water had spread like verrucas at a leisure centre and it was the spray to mark the territory of every Yates’ wine lodge across the land.

And now?

Well, I’m happily settled down with Coco Mademoiselle. Yes, I’ve fallen in love with the packaging, the bottle, the adverts, the decadence. People tell me I smell good and I don’t clear rooms or knock out small children. So I hope next time I waft past someone on the Tube, they close their eyes and cast their minds back to those halcyon days, a romantic tryst or an epic holiday. Whilst I make off with their Metro.

– Kat Strong

  • Comments

  • avatar

    Oh my. Where to begin? This took me down ol’ Memory Lane. Is it any wonder my sinuses are fucked, when the sort of scents were inflicted on my youthful nostrils…

  • avatar

    Now you mention it, I’m sure I’ve got a bottle of Charlie somewhere in the back of my parent’s bathroom cupboard… will have to fish it out next time I visit, for old time’s sake.

  • avatar

    I can almost smell those smells! For some reason every boyfriend i had up to age 18 bought me a bottle of Anais Anais. Either i stank or they thought it was sophisticated!
    Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    • avatar

      I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve been spritzing myself in a birrov CK One of late. The ’90s are so NOW, dah-ling!

  • avatar

    Such a brilliant post! I’m LOLZ’ing all over the shop ;p The only one you’ve overlooked is Tribe. Absolutely cloyingly vile but the height of sophistication in my school. I’m from the North though so it might just be us…

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