Down the rabbit hole: Charlie by Revlon

The 70’s were known for heavy-hitting fragrances: Opium, Cinnabar and Halston pop to mind immediately, but even “lighter” scents Like Anais Anais or Diorella were, by comparison to the 90’s trend of “eaux d’eau” (Eaux dear, bad fwehnch!) pretty in-your-face. For the men, there was the debut of Pierre Cardin, with his suggestive bottle, and heavily advertised oldsters like English Leather, Old Spice, or Hai Karate.


Into this mix Revlon decided to debut Charlie. Launched in 1973 and named after Revlon founder Charles Revson, it debuted with kicky TV ad campaign starring model Shelley Hack as the “Charlie Girl” bopping around a fantasy New York City, parking her Packard before wowing everybody at the “Carlyle” while Bobby Short sang her praises or zipping down the Seine on her motorboat on the way to being hoisted onto Mel Tormé’s piano.

They even had a Western themed one where the very Connecticut Shelley looks very cotillion as she cavorts with the cowboys.


Charlie sold like crack.

Eventually, as will happen with all things, it started to go a little wonky. Miss Hack was conscripted to TV’s “Charlie’s Angels” in a move that in retrospect wasn’t as disastrous as remembered (reruns are all over the place) but after hiring her it was clear that the producers had no idea what to do with this willowy, angular, WASP-y girl and her willowy, angular, WASP-y performing style (Woody Allen got better out of her in 3 minutes than Aaron Spelling did in a whole season, but then Woody didn’t make her pretend to be psychic while wearing a pirate’s costume- or was that Cheryl Ladd?)

In the 80’s the TV commercials kept coming: Shelley was out, but Sharon Stone was in. Long before she was beating up Arnold she was cavorting around LA in her outfits and T-Bird the color of Jordan Almonds, luring a random guy from Tail O the Pup to her hillside white-box house, so she could playfully push him and his Jordan Almond-colored polo shirt into the pool. Unlike Shelly, Sharon never sprays the perfume anywhere near her spiral-permed mullet, but does grin at the camera as if to say “They’re paying me to do this, but not enough to look like I mean it.”


The 90’s saw a commercial with Cindy Crawford and Little Richard, where I believe none of Miss Crawford’s singing was dubbed. Nor, sadly was her dancing. But Cindy would do worse later with her ad for the Cadillac Catera, a $2 million dollar boondoggle that saw her dressed in what Adweek called ”Princess Cindy’s Wilma-Flintstone-as-dominatrix get-up” while playing to a cartoon duck.


The later years also saw so many flankers to the original Charlie that I can’t even. Let’s just say that if there’s a Charlie Creamsicle or Charlie Chopped Liver, I wouldn’t be surprised.

So what, after all this, does it smell like? Well, I read that flanker Charlie Blue was actually the original, or as close to it as you’re going to get and short of going back in time and hitting Dillards I don’t think a 70’s bottle could possible have survived intact. Wikiredia states: “Charlie is classified as a floralaldehyde fragrance. It is composed of citrus, bergamothyacinth, green leaf, tarragonpeach, and aldehyde top notescyclamencarnationorris rootlily of the valleyjasmine and rose middle notes, and sandalwoodmuskvanillaoakmoss, and cedar base notes” and that pretty much sums it up. It starts (and this is the “blue” mind you) with a burst of aldehydes and hyacinth followed by greens (including a faint and faintly disturbing pickle note) and that powdery, skin musk drydown that may read to the youth of today as the opposite of “kinda free, kinda now..”. Do I crave it? No. Would I wear it? It were a little more gladioli and a little less gherkin in the middle, maybe. Nobody is going to burst into Cole Porter when my no longer willowy, angular carcass saunters by wearing this, unless it’s “In the Morning, No” and in protest. But hey, it’s $7 and perhaps some willowy, angular teen out there would love it.

Just please don’t bring back the spiral perm.. 

At least a few of the truly dizzying number of Charlie flankers are available out there on the interwebs at various e-tailers. The original is out there if you’re willing to pay serious money for it. I paid frivolous money for my bottle of Charlie Blue on eBay Photo of the bottle is mine.

  • Dina C. says:

    My daughter got a tiny hand-me-down bottle of Charlie blue from a grandmother when she was little, that she eventually shifted over to me when it only had a couple drops left in it. I wore it out of curiosity — not too bad. Since I like aldehydes, and green notes, I wasn’t put off by it. I certainly remember the pseudo-glamorous commercials of the 70s and 80s. I was more of a Revlon Jontue girl and used up dozens of bottles of that stuff, a romantic, powdery, tuberose floral.

  • Maya says:

    I thought the original Charlie was nice but didn’t buy it. A few years ago I bought a bunch of 80’s mini perfumes which included Charlie. Last December I moved to the Midwest and Charlie leaked. While cleaning up the mess, I got it all over my hands. Could not wash it off and reeked of it for the whole day. Not pleasant. It’s definitely a perfume of it’s time.

    • Tom says:

      Yes, but think of some of other 70’s perfumes that could have happened with- could have been a lot worse..

  • ElizaC says:

    The first and only time I sampled Charlie – I accidentally sprayed it directly into my mouth! I have no idea what it was like worn correctly but it was certainly intense to eat! In the 70s I had a lovely sample bottle of Maja and then moved onto Cinnabar.

    • Tom says:

      Yikes! I can’t think that felt “kinda wow!”

      I don’t remember Maja but do fondly remember Cinnabar..

  • rosarita says:

    Wow what a blast from the past! I remember Shelley’s satiny jumpsuit from the first ad but not the others. I had a bottle of Charlie in high school but have no memory of how it smelled, but I do remember my spiral perm, the only perm I’ve had in my life. Yikes.

  • March says:

    The pickle note! Almost makes me want to search it out. Almost. I was drenched in Love’s Baby Soft or some Avon floral water type thing … these were all way too sophisticated-smelling (read: green/aldehydic) for me. Thanks for the walk down memory lane!

    • Tom says:

      It’s only $7 for Blue, which is supposed to be the original formula. At that price I though what they heck. I may not wear it, but I’ll spray it as air freshener?

  • Gina T. says:

    Why would a bottle not have survived intact from the 70s? I have hundreds of vintages from that era and older back to the 20s-50s that are perfectly fine and wearable.

    • Tom says:

      The chances of a bottle of inexpensive juice with topnotes of fragile aldehydes in a clear bottle having survived 50 years intact are pretty slim and I was not going to spend $80 to $100 in the hope that one of the ones on eBay was kept in the dark all that time. Blue is supposed to be the original, and was $7. which was all the money I was willing to invest in this trip down memory lane.

  • Portia says:

    WHAT!! Please bring the spiral perm back. I loved it so much.
    Charlie? My mate Scott loves it but I can’t even remember what it smells like.
    LOVED those ads Tom
    Portia xx

    • March says:

      I had a spiral perm! I looked like a poodle (with terrible bangs, of course.) I thought I looked amazing.

      • Tom says:

        I thought about it but thought I’d end up looking like one of those unfortunate New Wae band members from the 80’s. So I stayed with variations of the JFK and the preppy flop, which I wear to this day.

      • Portia says:

        I bet you DID look amazing March.

    • Tom says:

      Powder, at the end. It’s actually pretty pretty, except when Shelley makes that side trip to the deli to visit (if not eat) those pickles.

      • Portia says:

        HA! The pickles make it sound VERY interesting.
        Remember you and Matthew introduced me to Jewish Deli Pickles. Life changing moment.
        Portia xx

  • cinnamon says:

    Oh, Tom, the memories… Mine was Opium. Wish I still had an old bottle. And I vaguely recall the Hai-Karate ads being terrible in that ‘70s way. Def would not be shown now.

    • Tom says:

      Opium was waaaay out of the league of the Charlie Girl. Madame Opium’s Packard is Chauffeured, thanks ever so, and lacquered Chinese red.

  • MMKinPA says:

    I remember the Shelley Hack commercials, but not the later ones. Don’t remember the perfume, although I suppose I sniffed a tester in the drugstore when I was a kid. The perfume commercial I remember the most – the Enjoli “bring home the bacon” ad.

  • Alityke says:

    I was of an age in the 70s to have been Charlie’s target audience. Not something I was impressed with even as a teenager. Fidji & Cachet we’re better & the same money back then

    • March says:

      Fidji! I loved it … funny, googling it, it’s clearly another green meanie, but I remember it being more a white floral? A friend’s mom wore it and I thought she smelled amazing.

      • Tom says:

        I don’t really have a clear memory of that one. One could disappear down the rabbit hole if you tried to track down all those lost scents from the 2000’s, much less the 70’s..

      • Alityke says:

        I remember Fidji as green & white floral. Almost in the style of curren No 19. Green opening morphing into pretty white floral rather than hyacinth & narcissus. Todays version bears no resemblance.

    • Tom says:

      I think those were likely more interesting choices. I don’t hate Charlie- it’s a perfectly nice inoffensive little thing. But it’s a triumph of marketing more than a classic scent.