Thursday, January 02, 2014

Charbert- The French Touch (Vintage Perfume)

I first heard about Charbert a couple of years ago when Barbara Herman sent me a sample of Breathless, Charbert's most popular perfume. I liked it very much, which led to some research and to stalking my usual vintage haunts. One such trip resulted in a pretty large bottle with the label  "Charbert- The French Touch". At first I wasn't sure it was actually the fragrance's name , but according to Nigel Groom's New Perfume Handbook (1997), Charbert released The French Touch in 1947, and it was the second-to-lase perfume of the house, followed by Consent (1952).  According to Groom, Charbert was a New York-based company that made cosmetics for the American middle-market, which at first seemed to explain the name of this perfume, until I found the following article from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, dated to 1947:

Further digging unearthed the Playbill leaflet for The French Touch, a play that ran on Broadway for about a month during the Holiday season of 1945, and was indeed produced by Mr. Harris of Charbert. The synopsis according to Playbill:
During the Nazi occupation of France in World War II, a down-and-out French actor and his third wife are asked by his first wife and her Nazi-officer boyfriend to write a piece of Nazi propaganda, which the actor hopes to change at the last minute despite dangerous warning signs.

Much better than a cheesy Franco-washing, right?

So, what does The French Touch smell like? Apparently it's a spicy concoction, heavy on cinnamon and also laced with lavender and a hint of clove. I smell a powdery rose, tonka bean, vanilla, and a fairly dirty musk. There's also a dusty patchouli-vetiver touch in the dry-down that balances the sweetness, I get a hint of vintage Tabu somewhere in The French Touch, but flatter, and not as rich or complex. The fragrance smells a bit cheap next to the more sophisticated Breathless, yet it is quite wearable today if you're a fan of very sweet spice with a mega dose of powder. In my mind The French Touch fits well in its context and time-- the Post War years, Truman's presidency, a stock market plunge, and an adjustment period prior to the growth of the 1950s. The French Touch is still part of the lean years but shows a hint of cautious optimism. Still, if you consider that 1947 was the year of Miss Dior, Vent Vert, Farnesiana, and Le Dix, it seems that Paris had the real French touch.


  1. Thank you for your reviews, which are always very interesting. Not only because of your experienced descriptions of the scent itself, but also because of the background stories.

  2. I enjoyed reading this, the background sleuthing brings that window to the past is always fascinating to see. Love the 1952 Consent - prim yet provocative :-)

  3. Great review and loved reading the newspaper article. How interesting that a theater producer was creating perfumes and not an actress or actor - although it sounds as if he was actually the nose. But, wow, some of the names he gave the perfumes! I don't think that a perfume called "Of Thee I Sing" had much - or any - chance at longevity, no matter what it smelled like. Definitely only limited choices for Charbert perfumes left online. Am intrigued by an ad for a Gardenia Carnation, but there aren't any actual bottles, so ended up getting Breathless (no French Touch available except from a seller who has an unmarked bottle and simply says it might be one of the three most popular Charbert perfumes).


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