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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A fragrance that changed everything: Anaïs Anaïs by Cacharel

By Donna

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

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Blogger Flora said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:34 AM EDT  
Anonymous Trish said...

separating nostalgia from its true character...I'm not sure I could actually do that with something like anais anais...what memories that perfume brings back. Not true memories I guess, more like feelings.


1:27 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At our junior high school, there were 2 groups of girls- those that wore Love's Baby Soft, and those that wore Anais Anais. I'm proud to have been a member of the latter. It's a gorgeous, romantic scent, and I think we made that ghastly old school smell lovely, even if it looked hideous....
Great review,

5:23 AM EDT  
Blogger krnszn said...

I didn't wear Love's Baby Soft. I wore Anais Anais as well. Haven't smelled it since, though! Saw it in a gift set at Marshall's and was tempted, but I rarely go backwards where perfume is concerned. Perhaps I should.

7:22 AM EDT  
Blogger Dusan said...

D, this was such an enjoyment to read! I couldn't help but notice Yugoslavian oakmoss listed among the notes, ha! There's no such thing as Yugoslavian anything today, so wonder where exactly Cacharel is sourcing the material; most likely in some lab :)
Anyway, I'll be sure to make a stop at the Cacharel counter next time I go a-sniffing.

9:56 AM EDT  
Anonymous March said...

Anais Anais is included in Michael Edwards' Perfume Legends (along with Loulou) so you *could* argue it's been granted classic status. :) The parfum sounds lovely. Thanks for revisiting an older fragrance that is under the radar.

9:58 AM EDT  
Anonymous bella said...

I never liked it at all. I always thought it was to strong. Thanks for bringing back the late '70's. I wore Halston in high school.

12:30 PM EDT  
Blogger Amy said...

I like it on others but not on me. It plays a similar role in my mind to White Shoulders.

1:43 PM EDT  
Blogger tmp00 said...

I have a friend who adores this and wears it well. It is gorgeous and delightfully femme.

3:02 PM EDT  
Blogger elle said...

I don't think I ever tried any other formulation apart from the edt. The bath oil sounds divine! I've never tried bath oils before, but recently have decided this has been a huge mistake on my part. Your post also reinforces my ever increasing belief in the wisdom of stockpiling much loved scents.

3:38 PM EDT  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...

Hmm....This is one that I never loved, it just didn't smell right on me. I know others though who adore it!
I too wore alot of Halston in HS, but I think that it was because I thought it was so sophisticated to do so:)
I also wore Babe and Jontue and all of those and I still have a soft spot for Ciara:)

7:30 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Donna -

Thank you! I just emailed Marina, hopefully she'll pass it along to you.


9:22 PM EDT  
Blogger Cadence said...

This post could have been written by me except for the Babe part. Anyway, I had a candle with the Anais Anais scent for years. But I was like you and no longer had a bottle of the perfume. I'm not even sure what happened to it. Then, just last summer at an estate sale (out in the middle of nowhere with a house that should be a demolition project), I ran across a sealed in original plastic, completely clean bottle of Anais Anais! It was amazing. It still was fresh and as mysterious as it had been for me 20 years ago.

9:58 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Trish, I am one of those people whose sense of smell is very entwined with my emotions, so I know just how that is!

12:21 AM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Marla, I am with you, I never wanted to smell like baby powder - I never understood the appeal of that one. Love's Fresh Lemon as much better, IMHO.

12:23 AM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Karin, you never know how it will strike you after all this time. I think we are so used to seeing it on the shelves it becomes invisible to us. I know I don't notice a lot of perfumes that used to be wildly popular, if only because I never liked them in the first place.

12:31 AM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Dusan, thank you! Maybe they have a big stash of the oakmoss somewhere, who knows? It smells very much the same as it always has, except of course that the only thing I can ever find is the EDT.

12:33 AM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Thanks March- it will always be a classic to me. I still dream about that darn Parfum, and the bath oil too!

12:35 AM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Bella, I never wore Halston because I thought IT was too strong! I know better now, but I always thought of the Halston as a "grown-up" perfume, and when I was (much)younger I was all about the florals.

12:37 AM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Amy, I used to wear White Shoulders too, but it got kind of cloying to me after a while. I loved the print ads way back when; they may have clouded my impressions of it and I think it probably used to be a better perfume than it became after the original company stopped making it.

12:41 AM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Tom, I am glad to know that someone else still loves it!

12:42 AM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Elle, if only I had known they were going to discontinue the Parfum, I would have bought a case! I was lucky to get the last bath oil (from The Perfume House, of course!) and I would have bought more of those if they had been available. That was before the Internet so I could not search for it except by checking with local stores.

12:44 AM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Beth, I would not have pegged you as the type for Anais Anais anyway - it was perfect for shy girls like me though! :-)

My older sister wore Ciara for a long time, so it was "her" perfume - we rarely ever traded our signature scents with each other. (Later she had Patou Colony and I had Vacances - now I have taken Colony for myself!)

12:48 AM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Cadence - you found the PERFUME?! Lucky you! Guess I better start haunting the estate sales myself...

12:51 AM EDT  
Blogger T said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:53 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its a never ending source of total puzzlement why perfume houses do things like stop selling pure perfume etc. As well its v v irritating. What was done to Je Reviens( from the House of Worth, the first ever couture house in the 1850's, and he was an ENGLISHMAN!) was nothing short of criminal, but it has just become available in the pure perfume again, albeit sourced from England. It is v much as I remember in the 70's and 80's in this form, the parfum in the round v elegant blue bottle. As well it is still being sold under 'Je Reviens Couture',in the copy of the art deco original bottle of the 30's. There was an outcry against the appalling thing that the 'new owners' had done to it in the eau de toilette version. Something like nail polish remover someone said. An accurate statement. Anais is a great favourite also, let us hope they take a page from the House of Worth, do the right thing and restore its awesome blissful glory to us all. To water down and blemish a fragrance is an insult to us all. As though we are the 'hoi poloi',( ie just the masses)and wont notice or care). We care v v much!

8:38 PM EDT  

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