Not to be sniffed at: Pungent perfumes from the past

HELEN MCGURK reflects on the fragrances which marked her adolescence - a time of scents and sensibility.

Friday, 10th September 2021, 10:37 am
Updated Friday, 10th September 2021, 4:03 pm
Tabu by Dana was popular in the 1970s
Tabu by Dana was popular in the 1970s

Growing up I wanted to be the girl in the Charlie perfume TV ad. I wanted her flicky hair, her pearly whites, her slinky satin jumpsuit, her all-American sun-kissed, corn-fed aura of health and wellbeing.

Many fruitless hours were spent trying to replicate the fresh-faced Charlie girl look with liberal applications of my mother’s ‘rouge’ that didn’t even begin to address my consumptive-looking Northern Irish skin.

I also harboured a secret fondness for Tramp. Secret, because in our house it may as well have been called Slut or Harlot. The ad was turned off the minute it came on, as was the one for Tabu; I reckon my parents thought I’d get pregnant from watching them.

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I did not want to be to the sensible, court shoe-wearing lady in the Tweed by Lentheric ad. Tweed’s strapline was ‘The Finishing Touch’. Surely there could be no greater ardour-dampner or ‘finishing touch’ than a fragrance named after worsted wool?

Entering my teen years and the 1980s, Christian Dior’s Poison was another one that caught me in its noxious snare. It belonged to that dangerous group of purple-packaged products - Silk Cut, Dairy Milk, Prince - against whose evil influence good country girls were constantly warned. Poison was a power scent and in those times as common as shoulder pads and big hair.

My friends and I would douse ourselves in overpowering scents like Yves Sain Laurent’s Opium and Calvin Klein’s Obsession until our eyeballs would smart and we’d choked on the fumes. It’s incredible we have any sense of smell left.

I recall secondary school classrooms scented with the sickly sweet smog of The Body Shop’s White Musk and Cacharel’s Loulou and Anais Anais. My friend was given a bottle of Yves Saint Laurent’s Paris by her then boyfriend. I could have died with jealousy, for at that time it was the fragrance equivalent of alcopops, and we were all hooked. She showed it off like it was an engagement ring. Which, it sort of was. Smelling it now takes me back to a time fun and friendships and even though the boy may not have been the best choice, as Audrey Hepburn once said, Paris is always a good idea.