15 Retro Fragrances and Their Cheesy Commercials
Until Smell-O-Vision is invented, fragrance peddlers have to rely on sexy ads to convince us to buy their product. And some of the scents popular in the 1970s and '80s had some very memorable TV commercials whose jingles lasted longer than the product availability did. And if you ever wore one or more of these colognes of yesteryear, you might just get a nostalgic whiff or two as you watch the ads.
Introduced in 1973, Revlon’s Charlie was positioned as a “feminist” fragrance; with its androgynous handle and green floral outdoorsy scent, it was a change from the flowery perfumes with French names that Mom wore in the 1950s. One might even describe it as kinda young, kinda now, kinda free, kinda “wow!”….
2. Wind Song
Prince Georges V. Matchabelli was really a member of the nobility back in his native Georgia. He and his wife fled to the U.S. in 1921 after the Soviet invasion of Georgia, and five years later they founded the Prince Matchabelli Perfume Company. His wife designed the crown-shaped bottle for Wind Song as a nod to their royal bloodline.
Women in the '70s must have had lots of stamina: I get winded just thinking about cleaning the oven, but this spunky gal gets to feeling frisky after a full day of chores just by splashing on some musky Aviance cologne. She all but pounces on her husband the minute he arrives home from work and demands some sweet lovin’—NOW.
In the same “I am Woman, hear me roar” vein, Enjoli was another scent that could carry a modern 1970s woman through a non-stop day of feeding and clothing the kids, putting in eight hours at the office, and then handling miscellaneous household chores until it was time to hang out with her man.
5. Jean Nate
Jean Nate was the name of an entire line of fragrant products, from after-bath splash and after-bath mist to lotion and dusting powder to cologne. Good thing, because you probably needed the combined strength of the whole shelf load to combat the distinctive odor of a sweaty horse after a race.
Candace Bergen was the spokeswoman for Cie, a scent designed “for all the women you are.” Wearing Cie solved the tedious problem of having to spritz on a different, appropriate cologne for reading, walking on the beach, and eating ice cream.
7. English Leather
That’s future Charlie’s Angel Jaclyn Smith bragging about her polyamorous love life while hawking English Leather for each and every one of her men. Apparently the message here is that there’s no such thing as monogamy when it comes to the intoxicating fragrance of English Leather—splash some on, dude, and she’ll forget about her steady boyfriend and be all over you like a Kodiak bear on a salmon.
You can just tell that Chaz has a manly man smell by watching Tom Selleck splash some all over his muscular, hairy torso before donning a tuxedo and cowboy hat and then speeding off in a sports car. That tiny bottle of fragrance has testosterone written all over it.
Why do so many perfume commercials feature horses? Have any of these Madison Avenue advertising execs ever been within sniffing distance of a stable? Equines aside, Jontue tried to tread the line between making the wearer smell sexy yet innocent, a gimmick Love’s Baby Soft took and ran with to a somewhat cringe-worthy degree.
Jovan introduced Andron in 1981 with one version for men and another for women, both of which contained pheromones specifically (or, as the ad says, scientifically) designed to attract the opposite sex.
The overwhelming aroma of Aramis combined with cigarette smoke would immediately remind anyone who was of drinking age in the late 1970s or early '80s of the flashing lights and 120 beats per minute music of the local disco. A pre-Cheers Ted Danson appeared in a series of commercials for the fragrance, including a few where he’s overly excited about the Aramis Signature Umbrella that was given away as a premium with any purchase. (An umbrella? Isn’t that sort of like getting a pair of galoshes for your birthday?)
Fabergé first started selling Brut aftershave and cologne in 1964, but the product didn’t become a household name until some famous athletes like Joe Namath and Wilt Chamberlain touted the “great smell of Brut” in a series of TV commercials.
13. Hai Karate
Martial arts were just entering the mainstream in the 1960s thanks to Bruce Lee (who co-starred on TV’s The Green Hornet) and late-night Kung Fu Theater film fests in weekend time slots on local television stations. Hai Karate after shave and cologne was more gimmick than enticing aroma (the stuff smelled pretty nasty)—its temporary high sales were the result of a clever advertising campaign.
When Dana first launched Canoe in 1936, there was an acute accent over the “e” and even into the 1960s the TV commercial announcer pronounced it “Ca-NOO-ah”. But as the Me Decade dawned, marketing studies showed that modern males cared less about pretentious names and more about manly pursuits (like sailing and bagging babes). The pronunciation was changed to sound like the word looked in plain ol’ English, which also opened the door to a series of commercials playfully inquiring “Can you Canoe?”
15. Coty Wild Musk
The young actors in loincloths selling Coty’s Wild Musk bear more than a passing resemblance to Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins in the then-controversial film The Blue Lagoon. Teenagers suddenly discovering the difference between male and female in a Tarzan-and-Jane-type scenario (and quivering in response) was just unsettling enough to sell a lot of Wild Musk.