Thursday, February 28, 2008

Tingle to the Touch

"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?

11 comments:

Priscilla said...

I remember my mother using Jean Naté in the summer. It smelled good on her, but not on me.
My first French indulgence was "Le Temps d'Aimer", by the gorgeous Alain Delon. It is not made any more, but I still have some bath powder, which I use, on very special occasions.

La Belette Rouge said...

My first French parfume was Jean Nate' and then I moved on to Anais Anais and then on to Coco Chanel. Now I am a L'Artisan gal.

lady jicky said...

I love Jean Nate and I wore it when a teenager in Australia! They do not bring it over here anymore but I e-mailed our two big department stores just last week asking them to re-consider! How spooky is that! I turn to your blog and bingo! Jean Nate.
I moved on to Infini by caron in the 70's and I now wear Jicky, Mitsouko and some Goutals but if a bottle of Jean Nate is on the shelf in a store here - I will be buying that too. Oooh, I love that hint about the Hermes shop - I kind of like that 24 Faubourg - if I get to Paris I am going to have a go at your "tick' there! LOL
Tingling to the touch !

Linda said...

I loved Anais Anais when I was younger, too! I have been wanting to go to the Hermes store to buy my first ever scarf, but I will check the scents, too. That Kelly one is alright. But I so want to have my first ever Hermes shopping bag moment!

passementerie said...

You're quite right - it *is* nice to be a grown-up. Right now it is Penhaligon's that makes me feel most grown up - I wear Artemisia when I'm in Dublin, but alternate between Acqua di Parma Colonia and Hermes Eau de Merveilles in Paris. Oh, how distant those years of The Body Shop White Musk seem...

Mimi said...

I adored Jean Nate, and back in the day, buying a small bottle made me feel about as good as you feel with that little orange bag, Polly.

Even with my Chanel bottles, I enjoy Fig Leaf & Cassis from The Thymes. I wore it all over Paris last year, and everyone else smelled of flowers.

blueVicar said...

Chanel No. 5 was my first grown up perfume...now I just go au naturale! Boulderites are so finicky about scent...if I smoked cigarettes in a public place, I wouldn't get a worse reaction than wearing a dab of cologne. Oh well...when in Rome, er, Boulder...

Meilleurs voeux!!

Polly-Vous Francais said...

I love reading all the different fragrance choices.
If you like Jean Nate for summertime, Friction de Foucaud is just a step above.

BV: Interesting that in the US there is a strong anti-perfume contingent. I've always thought that perfume worn properly can only be detected by someone embracing you, but some allergic people are very sensitive.

All: actually the real REAL Hermes "bargain" in terms of euros spent is not the even eau de toilette but the body lotion or shower gel. But doesn't last as long!

And I hope everyone had a chance to click on the Deneuve Chanel commercial. What a classic.

carrie said...

you inspired me to test out 24 Faubourg at Sephora - completely delish, you are right.

also - I appreciate your comment about "perfume worn properly" and I'm curious to know what that means to you? I do a "spritz-walk-through" but I'm afraid even that is too much. Advice, please, wise and chic parisienne?

The Late Bloomer said...

Um, perfume selections aside (And I've waivered over the years back and forth between so many different ones, who knows what my favorites are anymore!? I think I've been wearing Calvin Klein's Euphoria most recently -- go figure! After years of wearing only FRENCH perfume, ha!), I have to say that I'm floored by your admission of 3-HOUR DAILY WORKOUT ROUTINES!! Polly, my dear, you are an inspiration -- do you seriously do 3-hour workouts?! OH.MY.GOD. Do I feel lazy!

kelley said...

24 Faubourg is also my "signature" fragrance. I haven't found anything like it. In fact, I have three little Hermes bottles, still in their signature orange pouches, sitting on my vanity to greet me in the morning. Nothing else quite compares!

Kelley in Chicago

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