Back in 1978 a perfume sensation hit the department store shelves of the U.S.A. Packaged in a dreamy abstract floral design, Anaïs Anaïs really made people sit up and take notice. It was a fresh but heady green floral built around the elusive white lily, Lilium candidum, known commonly as the Madonna lily for its long association with purity and religious symbolism but rarely used as the main floral accord in perfumery. It was truly like nothing else, and furthermore, most of us had never even heard of Cacharel, a French house formerly known more for fashion than fragrance. The marketing blitz was complete; for this new perfume sensation came in every form you could think of from shower gel to a skin-silkening dry oil spray and was supported by a lush ad campaign. I fell for it myself the minute I smelled it. I was young and looking for a more grown-up perfume than what I had been wearing (don’t ask – okay, it was Babe by Fabergé). Anaïs Anaïs was perfect. It was one of the few fragrances I can recall that really was as good as its publicity. It also spawned a host of imitators, some good and others not so hot; by far the best to follow in its footsteps was the original Jessica McClintock fragrance, which I also wore a lot back in the day. Both had a pure yet heady aura and were decidedly feminine and very girly, in a good way. Both featured cool white flowers and green notes with a high, sweet backbeat, a combination I will always love.
Years passed and Anaïs Anaïs remained popular, but things began to happen in the Cacharel brand. New scents were introduced, and products began to disappear from the Anaïs Anaïs lineup. It had been available in two formulations that quickly became my favorites – a pure Parfum and a heavily scented bath oil. Never has the concept of different strengths and formulations of a perfume been so clear to me – talk about night and day. On the upper end of the spectrum was the Parfum – this was quite simply the most beautifully romantic perfume I had ever smelled, a distillation of pure white flowers centered on the white lily and muguet, and an ethereal dream of a scent. Its polar opposite was the bath oil, a heavy, viscous deep amber potion that showcased the sexy, indolic side of the lily and hyacinth notes and emphasized the wood and incense. I did use this as a bath oil, but my preference was to use it as perfume; just a tiny dab lasted for hours on end and made me feel very daring. The Parfum was discontinued first, and then the bath oil went away. I got the last bottle in town and hoarded it for years. If I had know that the Parfum would disappear I would have found a way to get more of it before the axe fell. I had to settle for the Eau de Parfum from then on, but guess what? That started getting hard to find as well, and eventually only the Eau de Toilette remained on the shelves. If you try you can still find the Eau de Parfum online at the better discounters, but it’s highly unusual to see it in a store, at least in this country. I stopped wearing this fragrance after a while except for my precious bottle of the bath oil. It’s still sold everywhere in the Eau de Toilette form, which to me is the least interesting; I preferred the EDP as it brought out the lily note more prominently.
Cacharel kept introducing new scents, and continues to do so now, but they have never hit the jackpot that way again. Their biggest success to date other than Anaïs Anaïs was Noa, followed by its flankers Noa Fleur and Noa Perle, all of which are nice but not innovative, and rather tame to my nose. Despite its pastel packaging, Anaïs Anaïs was a bold departure in style. Just imagine seeing these listed notes (from the Fabulous Fragrances maven Jan Moran) thirty years ago, and what an unusual formula it still is for a mainstream scent. If it were released today, and you smelled it for the first time you might think it was from some avant-garde niche house:
Top Notes: White Madonna lily, blackcurrant bud, hyacinth, lily-of-the-valley, citrus
Heart Notes: Moroccan jasmine, Grasse rose, Florentine iris, Madagascar Ylang- ylang, orange blossom, Bourbon vetiver, California cedarwood, Singapore patchouli, Yugoslavian oakmoss
Base Notes: Russian leather, musk
I have been testing it on my skin again recently, and trying to separate my nostalgia for it from its true character, much as one would read letters from an old lover and think mostly of the good times, forgetting how they broke your heart so long ago. And you know what? I still love it, and I still believe it is a great perfume destined for classic status. I believe it has been done a great disservice by having its best incarnations taken off the market, but that does not change how I feel about it. It started my long love affair with both green florals and lily scents that continues unabated today. It has outlasted many other “new sensations” in perfumery and still has legions of loyal fans, not all of whom are under 21 either. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for this most unabashedly romantic of perfumes.
Image of the elusive Anaïs Anaïs Eau de Parfum from perfumestore.co.nz