"Tingle to the touch... of Jean Naté," the ads used to say. In the 1970s, Jean Naté Friction Pour le Bain was In. If you, too, were In, you splashed it on after a shower, you knew how to pronounce every syllable in French, you privately snickered at the girls who pronounced it Jeen Nate. For an adolescent female it was the ultimate in cheap glamour. It made me feel so French! So worldly! Slap on a navy blue beret and a little Jean Naté, and I was raring to go.
Of course, no one really paid attention to the fact that the company that produced Jean Naté was 100% American: Revlon. Sounded a bit French. Who cared?
Eventually most femme fatale-wannabes matured and moved on from the citrus-y, zingy carefree scent of Jean Naté, to find our own more sophisticated grown-up fragrance. I was peeved to discover recently that Revlon had changed the descriptor for Jean Naté. It is now "After-Bath Body Splash." B-O-R-I-N-G! What happened to the French? Friction sounds so ...suggestive, so je ne sais quoi.
At least the original friction pour le corps that Jean Naté was probably modeled on is still available in France. Le Friction de Foucaud. It's touted as an energizing tonic for men and women, with a new marketing strategy for active, sporty types. Still produced in Paris, for over 60 years, in the 14e arrondissement. I have a bottle that I bought at the pharmacie. And I certainly splash some on after every daily 3-hour cardio-abdo-pilates-yoga-powerplate work out. Every single time. I tingle to the touch.
But the search for a personal "signature" fragrance beyond Jean Naté has been a winding path. In my twenties and thirties, in my endless quest to be more French and thus more alluring, I spent years wearing Chanel No. 5. I continued for a long time, even after Candice Bergen's wildly popular Saturday Night Live parody of the classic Catherine Deneuve Chanel commercial.
Eventually I moved beyond the cliché that Chanel No. 5 had become, though I still revere its iconic place in French lore. About a decade ago, on advice from a French friend in the states, I spent a year trying a new eau de toilette each day or whatever fragrance du jour the department store cosmetics ladies were spritzing on unsuspecting passersby. I had to find the subtle one that suited me just so.
I'm no fragrance expert -- offhand, I still couldn't tell you the difference between eau de toilette and eau de cologne, for example. But I know that you have to wear what suits your body chemistry. First off, any perfume that precedes you when you enter a room: big no-no. Or one that makes you smell like your grandmother's hope chest. You have to see how it lingers on you, and never buy it at first scratch-n-sniff. Go for the alchemy, the magic, the mystery. Not the marketing. Finally, after revisiting my top five favorite eau de whatever, I settled happily on 24 Faubourg by Hermès, named for the address of the flagship store in Paris.
My little shopping secret: one of the side benefits to wearing 24 Faubourg is that it's about the least expensive item in the Hermès shop. I get treated just as royally as the next customer, even though I'm not waiting in line for a Birkin or a Kelly bag, or even a silk scarf. I exit the boutique toting my own little orange Hermès shopping bag.
The brief annual shopping-bag moment alone is worth it. Makes me feel tingly, that feminine frankly-I'm-worth-it feeling. A definite improvement over the old days, swinging a plastic CVS bag containing pseudo-French after-bath body splash.
Sometimes it's nice to be a grown-up, isn't it?
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