Saturday, February 19, 2011

Cacharel Anais Anais: fragrance review & history

Who could imagine a block-buster perfume today being promoted through porcelain-skined beauties in soft focus showing no inch of skin beyond their necks set to pre-classical music? And yet Anais Anais, the first perfume by Cacharel (1978), was advertised exactly like that and became THE reference scent for the early 1980s for droves of young women who still reminiscence fondly of it 30 years later. It's also one of the most influential perfumes in history, at least on what concerns marketing success ~a triumph of Annette Louit~ and top-to-bottom design, if not complexity, quality materials or classicism of composition. It didn't possess any of the latter.

Yet it's still featured on the Cacharel website prominently and is up front on perfume counters. For many,
Anais Anais by Cacharel was the first fragrance they got as a gift; or even better the first they cashed out their pocket money for: Its image was youthful from the start. No doubt the deceptively innocent scent, coupled with the dreamy advertisements accounted for that, as did the opaline packaging with the pastel flowers on it and the slightly suggestive name. It was the debate of many, to this day: Was Anais Anais a reference to writer Anais Nin and her ~"forbidden" to the young~ erotic literature, such as Delta of Venus? Or was it a nod to the ancient Persian goddess Anaitis, goddess of fertility? And which was more provocative?

Cacharel was specializing in retro knits at the time and both references for the name were valid enough, although the company always officially went with the latter. The goddess was testament to a peculiar cultural phenomenon on what concerned the position of woman in the zeitgeist: On the one hand Anais Anais with its imagery disrupted the context of feminism in perfume; the complete antithesis of Charlie by Revlon (1973), if you will, where Shelley Hack was dressed in pants skipping off to work or grabbing the bum of a cute guy in the street as an outward manifestation of her desire to be divested of her traditional passive role. These were both youthful fragrances advertised to the young. So what had intervened in those 5 years elapsing to account for such a change? Nothing much. (If you exclude the rush of spicy orientals in the market in the wake of Opium's success). The French aesthetic was always more traditionally feminine than the American one, going for Venus over Diana, and the marketeers soon realized that the beauty industry can't disregard the changes of times, but deep down, it will always depend on the passivity of the consumer into buying "hope in a jar". Perfume is perhaps the most mysterious of all beauty products, ladden with hundreds associations and legion aspirations. It was deemed best to start bouncing the ball back right away... Plus the youth market hadn't been exploited sufficiently (this was back in the 1970s remember) and someone had perceived that the young regarded standard perfume imagery as bourgeois and old-fashioned: they needed their own. Cacharel was extra attentive to grow the market; they put basins in department stores where they encouraged young women to plunge their hands in basins of water, dry them, apply scented cream on them and then finishing off with a spritz of Anais Anais, extoling the virtues of "layering" for a lasting effect. A youth phenomenon was at work.

And Sarah Moon was called for the Anais Anais advertisements: To take shots of women as pale-limped and virginaly innocent as paintings, lily-like, exactly like the opaline bottle and the main core of the fragrance which was built on lilies of the fields. The long limps gained an almost Piero Della Francesca sanctity, the doe-eyed gazes were soft and narcotized, almost. Were they beckoning unto the males watching, inviting by their easy-to -prey-on-passivity and odalisque-style harem numbers? Or were they nuzzling on each other evoking lesbian fantasies? Perhaps the most provocative thing is that the ladies in question all appeared so very.. young; almost under-age! Whatever the intention, the imagery is still memorable: It marks a mental no-mands-land between the advent of feminism in advertising and the regression to conservative values of the 1990s, peppered with some of the issues that still concern those of us who immerse themselves in beauty advertising with a critical eye.

Four perfumers were credited with the creation of Anais Anais jus: Paul Leger, Raymond Chaillan, Roger Pellegrino and Robert Gonnon, working at Firmenich. A surprising fact as the formula isn't complicated or challenging really. The opening is fresh and a little "screechy", a touch
of green galbanum resin felt all the way through the base (galbanum is in fact a base note but it's felt at the top), giving a herbaceous overture that segues into the main attraction: lily of the valley forms the core coupled with another "clean" note, that of orange blossom, sanctified through the wonders of analytical chemistry. White lilies melt as if gaining human form, tender, devoid of their customary spiciness and given a touch of woody dryness. There is a supporting accord of honeysuckle, jasmine and rose, played sourdine; it's not especially felt. The permeating cleanness continues for long before a hint of playful soft leather in the base surfaces alongside indeterminate, powdered woods to give an intriguing twist to the plot: is this an autumnal scent for more mature women, I wonder?
Although I seem to recall the scent of Anais Anais as a little bit more "substantial" in all its softness, there is no major change in its formula last I compared batches, probably because there is not much of allergens-suspect ingredients necessitating restrictions and because hydrocitronellal (lotv note) has been successfuly substituted anyway. It's a pity the parfum concentration has been extinct for some years now, as it played up the autumnal basenotes beautifully.

Notes for Cacharel Anais Anais
Top: Bergamot, galbanum, hyacinth, honeysuckle, orange blossom
Middle: Lily, lily of the valley, rose, ylang-ylang, tuberose, carnation
Base: Cedarwood, sandalwood, amber, oakmoss, incense, vetiver

Sarah Moon photography via and


  1. Fantastic review! A friend of mine recently sent me and I've been revisiting my midteens and wearing it. It's so wonderfully reminiscent of first discovering the world of perfume.

  2. Anonymous13:04

    Thank you for that blast from the past! :)
    Anais Anais was one of the first perfumes I ever conciously smelled. Your review makes me want to go out and re-experience this perfume. It sounds like I could still love it...

  3. So interesting to be taken down the path of Anais Anais' history. In my own late-bloomer when it comes to perfume history, Anais Anais is notable in that it was part of my life at a a young age, and I retain both contextual and scent memories of it. A rather complex relationship, actually, as it represents something that was allowed under a rather invisible rubric of teenage appropriateness. (...wanders...) To come back to it from the perfume person perspective therefore it doubly interesting.

    Am glad to hear you mention the perfume; I would not have known about it myself, but a micro mini of it is nestled among one of the "collections" of minis I have. Thank goodness. It really does bring up the bass, as you say, and permits me an occasional nostalgic foray without feeling silly.

  4. Wonderful. You know, Sarah Moon imagery seemed ubiquitous around the time Anais Anais came out. I remember several clothing stores at the mall had that sort of look to their campaigns; soft focus, heavy rouge, pale pastel hues, a sort of twenties by way of the seventies look.

    Do you remember the film Pretty Baby? It was a hit, and a scandal, because it featured a tween Brook Shields playing a girl who grows up in a 1917 New Orleans bordello. That movie came out the same year Anais Anais did, and it was all over the news and sort of culturally pervasive--not just the film but the fascination with soft focus pre-pubescent erotica, masquerading of course as indignation and moral concern. So I'm apt to think that Anais was named very consciously after Anais Nin, whose book jackets also looked very much like Sarah Moon photos.

    Loved this.

  5. Thanks for the review. Serendipity! By chance, I had just smelled Anais Anais for the first time a couple of days ago (I quite like it, I must say, it would make a good masculine now).

    After clicking your youtube links, the memory came back, I was 10 at the time. Funny that, you say, they appeared uncomfortably young back then. By today's fashion standards, with photo-models starting at age 14, and trying to maintain that babyskin, skeletal perfection as late as possible, they would be considered positively middle-aged.


  6. What a great review! To me Anais Anais is France, is my French boyfriend who would load me with bottles and bottles of Anais Anais everytime he came to see me and this was every two weeks. Anais Anais and chocolates, and Swarovski gifts *I still keep a big one* This is Anais Anais to me. I got the name for that love relationship and when it ended I never wanted to smell it again because it would remind me of that love story that was over and I wanted to realy forget. I threw all the bottles. oh god yes I did. but never his letters. There was boredom in that love but Anais Anais was the romantic touch in my memory.

  7. When I was 15, I was lucky enough to go to Spain for 3 weeks - half of the time was spent traveling around and seeing the sights (mostly educational) with other students from my school, half of the time was spent staying with a host family in Sevilla.
    These 3 weeks remain 3 of the most important, formative weeks of my life.
    For mainly 2 reasons, the first of which is tied very closely in scent memory to Anais Anais. I went to a very small school. I knew the other kids in my class very well. I was not very popular, I had moved through each of the available social groups, and hadn't fit well with any of them. Boys never looked my way ... and on this trip, through staying with my host family, going to my host sister's school, and spending time with her friends, I learned that to others I was interesting, and maybe even attractive. My host sister was busy studying for exams. She would ask me if I wanted to go out, I'd say that I loved to, and then she would call her boyfriend and make him take me out. I remember long evenings, siting in parking lots, watching boys play football, hot afternoons with ice cream, and a sudden intense friendship with a Spanish girl whose name I've long since forgotten. She actually wore perfume - I'd never met anyone my age who did before. We were dazzled by one another, I think we both had a little crush ... and towards the end of my time there, she showed me her precious collection of fragrance samples and a couple minis, and tried to tell me through our langauge barrier what she thought of each of them. She gave me a tiny little bottle of Anais Anais, about an inch tall. I think it was the parfum, because it was heavily scented, and oily.
    I haven't smelled it since I finished the little bottle, a couple months after the trip. I had intended to save it and treasure it, but somehow, I just couldn't stop wearing it. This memory is linked to innocence, and the beautiful time when you are just starting to venture into the mysteries beyond innocence. I really would love to smell it again, because I remember exactly how it smelled to me at the time.

    The second reason why these weeks were so important was, of course, first love. A boy from my school. I was a freshman, he was a senior. Walking around the sites of Spain, somehow we kept talking. We had matching senses of humor. He thought I was funny, and interesting, I couldn't believe he was talking to me ... it was magical. We'd never spoken before, but we talked pretty much all day, every day, of that whole trip. I didn't even realize I was in love with him until one of the other girls asked me if I liked him, and I said no, and as I said it, I realized I did.
    This whole thing sparked a 4 year long intense and epic crush, and failure to connect with someone who, it turns out, liked me every bit as much as I liked him. He ended up with my best friend, who was bolder. He never really knew how I felt, until everything was too sullied and broken, and people had moved away to other states. Oh well. One of the more painful chapters of life.

    However, I eventually managed to separate the joys of that time into realizing that it wasn't even so much him (though he was great) as it was the discovery of love and sexual feelings that was so powerful at the time - it was actually myself that I was getting to know, and being so fascinated by. The scent that will always always always take me straight back to this is orange blossom, and that's why I'll be on a life-long search for the perfect orange blossom perfume - L'Artisan Fleur d'Oranger 2007 is the closest I've smelled - and it's already impossible to find. What a shame. I bet the 2005 would have been even better, but I've never smelled it.

    Sorry this comment was so long, it's really just for me.

  8. Proximity, thank you for sharing your story, it's wonderful and I so identify! Also, as Cacio said: Serendipity! It's really amazing, out of nowhere, this past week I suddenly remembered Anaïs Anaïs, after years and years! It was the first perfume I consciously loved...I must've been around 6 or 7 and, to me, it represented being grown up and feminine and lovely. I would sometimes spritz some on when my Mom wasn't home (back then, Halston was her signature fragrance) was just so beautiful to me :) Just yesterday I was thinking: I have to go to a Perfume Shop to smell it! I don't know if I'll still even like it, but it will absolutely transport me (especially since you've let us know that it hasn't been so reformulated). This perfume really is nostalgia in a bottle, even when it first came out (I think, in that sense, the publicity campaign went perfectly with the scent). I love these many perfumes from, say, 2004, are discontinued and this one marches on, quietly but firmly! Thank you so much, Elena, for this great, comprehensive post on this now oft-overlooked,(even by me, until a couple of days ago) forgotten though ubiquitous gem! Have a wonderful, fragrant Sunday, everyone!

  9. Anonymous15:37

    Those commercials are so sensual and artistic and beautiful. I haven't smelled Anais Anais in probably two decades, but sure want to now. My birth mother wore it, so I will always associate it with her.

    She had a very limited range of fragrances that she wore -- truly, she had her couple of signature scents. Anais Anais and the Liz Claiborne uber-green scent that came in a colorful triangular bottle. I kind of respect that kind of devotion ... but I certainly don't understand it!

  10. Anonymous18:23

    I didn't have a chance to smell it in my teens, but now it is my top10 scent. I don't understand why it is a gift for young girls sort of perfume. It is so sexy and yes very french to me. I love Anais Anais.

  11. Pip,

    thank you for saying so and welcome to Perfume Shrine!

    The current crop of perfume enthusiasts checking blogs and fora online (roughly in their 30s and 40s, from what I see) are just the right age to have memories of this one. ;-)

    It's a likable scent, isn't it?

  12. Olfactoria,

    it's not ruined, it's still recognizably Anais and it still smells all right in its pretty, soft, clean way which isn't dull. Do retry it!

  13. S,

    glad the history didn't get too boring for readers, LOL

    Anais rings many bells for many I bet and I knew you'd be one to get on to it the right way: you'\re lucky to have experienced the parfum. It's richer and less sharp at first. I always found that the splash opaline bottles even in EDT were more "dense" than the sprays: strange eh??

    Teenage appropriateness is a great phrase!

  14. Brian,

    see, you bring a perspective which escaped me when I was writing. Thank you!
    Of course I've seen the Malle film, but didn't correlate it with the scent; but you have a point. Indeed people gossiped about how Shields was "out there" for all to ogle. In fact I think her mother was severely criticized for opting to have her daughter in a risque themed film.
    I found the film rather tame myself, but then I have a rather high tolerance for that sort of thing, as I chalk it up to art appreciation rather than impure thoughts and prostituting our children etc etc.
    (I'm of the opinion that perverts will be perverts even if they're living with no films, no books, no ads etc. Otherwise why are there people in the Bible of all things doing despicable things with no added stimuli? )

    Now the interesting question is: were the publishers who published Anais Nin books influenced by Sarah Moon and her aesthetics living in 70s fashion (thus transferring it onto their book jackets) or was Moon influenced by pre-existing soft focus imagery that had been tied to the sort of erotica that Nin would represent? Your wise comment of "20s by way of the 70s look" gave me pause for thought on that score, you see.

  15. cacio,

    love serendipity. :-)

    Yeah, they don't look very young by today's standards, although they should be quite young (but not 14!) Good point!
    I think the boyish, thin figure has always been a desirable trait in fashions (even in the time of Coco Chanel) because it just lends itself so well to hanging clothes off its frame. It's a matter of proportions rather than sexual politics in my mind.
    Then again there's the fact that many fashion designers are gay and perhaps they find a boyish (i.e. immature in feminine attributes) figure more pleasing to the eye. Who knows?

  16. VL,

    thanks honey!

    Ah, such sweet memories. Swarovski gifts were the bee's knees as they say in English: very desirable, very cute. Mine gave me some of those as well.
    The scent must have felt very special to you and I can see how it would.

  17. Prox,

    what an absolutely amazing account of your experiences! You transported me there you know, seeing Spain again and feeling how it must have been to share with someone scents and trinkets. (that must have been a sweet memory).
    As to the love story, aww...bittersweet! The steps we never take, eh?

    As to orange blossom, I see how it's so ingrained to Spain (which is full of it!) and this particular memory.

  18. melina,

    I must have touched on a sensitive chord with Anais, I see, wow, so many have memories.
    You're most welcome on the review, I'm so very glad it resonated with you and covered a bit of uncharted territory.

  19. LuxeBytes,

    sounds like she was very dedicated and knew what she liked! That's not a bad thing, I suppose.

    I always found these commercials positively Venus-like, like marble statues taking life and moving. I also ADORED the Cacharel makeup commercials and tutorial videos (anyone remember those??? They even had Bach's Bradenburg concertos as background music)

  20. Lavinia,

    aha! A late comer to this one. It's quite French in its ad communication and imagery, no doubt about it and the scent has a soft haziness and intrigue beneath the clean, which makes it interesting rather than dull.

  21. Anonymous14:02

    I was researching reformulated perfumes and saw your blob. I have been using Anais for years and have been totally unaware of its advertising history. In the 80's I was consumed with giving birth and nurturing my large family so the whole youth orientation was lost on me. I use it because I love it. The latest bottle I purchased at a big price increase and it smells nothing like the scent I know and love. What's up with this-- has it been reformulated or not? How do I log my complaints with the company. I am devastated...heartsick... it is the only scent I use and I feel abandoned without it.

  22. Anonymous05:33

    Stores have stopped carrying this perfume. I first bought it for my first love in 1984, and nearly 30 years later I still buy it for her.

    The girls at the department store were asking me "what does it smell like?" I told them it smelled like you just had really dirty sex in a bed full of hyacinth and rose petals.

    lol ... got a couple of strange looks for that one, but I do think it's an apt description.

    1. Anonymous18:47

      Gee thanks for ruining it for me. For me it stands for youthfulness and purity. Even hope.

  23. It's better than what is usually mentioned in press releases, that's for sure!

    Funny, lots of other Cacharels have been locally discontinued but not this one, I believe. I will check again.

  24. Anonymous06:56

    You made me want to run into the bedroom and have a sniff of this fragrance that I don't wear but keep for its sentimental value. As I breathed it in, I thought of jade green, then it took a hard couple of minutes chasing the memory until I arrived at a jade green jacket that I swear I've never thought of once in the 25 or so years since I got rid of it. Amazing!

  25. Glad I did, Anon!

    This kind of vivid association is just at the core of perfume fascination, isn't it? Love it when it happens so thanks for sharing. :-)

  26. Anonymous19:11

    Such a lovely scent.It has all of my favourite notes.

  27. Anonymous04:00

    Beautiful,sexy,wonderful ,So many great experiences accompanied by Anais Anais. Hail.

  28. "Anais Anais" is a clean and modest perfume, conservative in the impression it leaves behind, which along with "Loulou" I consider to be among the finest ones ever created.
    Galbanum is indeed a top note which lasts ("Cristalle" is all about galbanum BTW) but for me Anais is characterised by the use of cis-3-hexenyl (they say the acetate version was used here) but I can recreate the perfume quite well using the former variant which I find more perfumery-like as well.
    Cis-3-hexenyl smells like cut grass, so, "Anais Anais" in reality is a discreet but persistant impression of white flowers and fresh greenery on a musky-woody base (more musky than woody in my opinion).
    I find the bottle of the perfume a pure delight to hold and see. The coloured pencil design on the box is just beautiful and the gentle tenderness of the aroma respectful, honest and eternally youthful.
    A lovely creation indeed!

  29. Anon #1 and anon #2,

    thank you, it seems it has many fans after all. :-)

  30. ION

    (you never mailed me, please do so if you want to, I'm not shunning you ~ just so you know)

    thanks for the analytical break-up. The LOTV plus the hexenyl could be responsible for what they describe in the heart notes (green florals), which is of course a fantasy. In my mind, AA was among the first -if not the first- fine fragrance to introduce those functional fragrance compounds to the general public. They still did it elegantly however, back then.

    LOVE the design of the whole thing (especially the vintage images with the Sarah Moon flou and the unconventional look of the models who looked as if taken out of a painting, rather than a catwalk like they were later on): IMHO one of the genius parts of the concept of AA!

  31. Can anyone tell me wenn this vintage parfum anais anais was on the market? Thanks.

  32. Silvia,

    looks like a parfum edition from the 80s. I don't recall ever seeing this in 90s material.
    Splash bottles (and opened at that) do tend not to keep as well, though, so one should consider that before budgeting for this. [Just a precaution if anyone is interested in the actual juice instead of the LE bottle].

  33. Anonymous00:13

    I received Anais Anais as a wedding gift in 1983 and still have the same bottle of fragrance today. It smells the same as it did 31 years ago. I'm afraid one day, I'll use it up, so I plan to buy a new bottle just for the sake of keeping some of the original fragrance. Not only it is a beautiful fragrance but the craftsmanship in the bottle is second to none!

  34. Anon,

    good for you!!
    (Alas I haven't had such luck. My older bottles show a little oxidation up top)

    Definitely agree on the older craftsmanship in the bottle. Vastly prefer it to the newer one (and not just because I always say "older is better", I don't).

  35. I used Anais Anais perfume 20 years ago, I was around 6 or 7 years old. My friend gave me as present. Now, I want to try it again but when I find in cacharel website, the old anais anais is no more there. Could Somebody tell me the new anais anais perfume's odor is the same to old one that I used? If I buy online, I could not test it. That's why.

  36. JF,

    you were indeed "jeune" when you came into the cult of Anais. :-) Thanks for sharing.
    The Anais Anais on the site of Cacharel is the re-bottled, slightly reformulated contemporary edition. It's not vastly different, though I find it lacks staying power and is perhaps a tad less "dusty" (?) but that might be just my impression or faulty memory.
    The exterior is different as are the ads, as discussed above, but the scent should be satisfactory for you I think.

  37. Thank you Perfumeshrine for your reply, could you help me to choose ? If I want the old fragrance of anais anais, which one should I buy because I see different anais anais?

    Thank you again

  38. The bottle for the old one is white opaline with silver cap. It's been "rose-fied" optically in the newer one.
    Consult this pic:

  39. Anonymous07:38

    The only perfume that has ever rocked my boat. At 58, it still works for me. I try other perfumes, but always come back to AA. I tend to absorb perfumes and AA is the only one with any longevity. Just an old romantic at heart, I suppose. (L'Air du Temps and Fidji work too, with Fidji being a more adult version of AA? Maybe...) Reckon I'll wear this one to the grave.

    1. It's definitely a good one, very characteristic and pretty constant throughout the years. I think you might like the (alas, discontinued, but still can be found on ebay) Lilia Bella by Guerlain in their Aqua Allegoria line. Fidji is indeed related and a bit more "mature". Try also Lys Mediterranee by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle, you might like that one (I reviewed it here on the blog, use the Search)

  40. I love Anais Anais, I wre it when I was 16 for years.. I still love it, but I don't want to wear all the time, I like to wear it cause all the memories come flooding back!! My best friend when I was 16 got me into it!! Sadly my best friend died out of the blue on Sept. 11, 2005 :( so now I wear it only here and there, I don't want to wear it all the time and not get that flood of memories and feelings :) I'm trying to find a new perfume, there are so many!!!! I like floral, scents. Anyone know of any good ones that won't break the bank?!? :) lol.. Thanks! And thanks for the great history on my favorite parfum!!!

    1. Hi there! (cute alias!) You're welcome and welcome aboard.

      So sorry for your friend :-( and that's a let down on the memory associations ruining the experience of wearing it.
      Depending on your residence I would think Pleasures wouldn't be too expensive and it's worth considering for a light yet tenacious floral that has some interesting elements built in (a hint of pepper via the karo karounde blossom, the lily and lily of the valley touch from Anais, a clean musk aura).
      I would also suggest (same requisites): Elvie by Oriflame, Eau Resourcante by Clarins, Fleurs d'Orlane, Ombra de Tilio and Caprifoglio both by L'Erbolario Lodi, Le Jardin by Max Factor, Fleur d'Eau by Rochas, Neroli & Jasmine by The Body Shop, Yellow Jeans by Versace. They all have cute bottles too.
      Hope that helps!

  41. Anonymous02:48

    My sister and I always called it "mamascent" as my mom wears it. Now I wear it, and my daughters call it "mamascent". <3

  42. In 1978, my husband of 9 years went to Germany and brought me back a tiny bottle of Anais Anais. I love it. I am now married to him for 51 years and every year I dab a bit for our anniversary. To me, the scent has not changed over the years. The scent is as refreshing as always. Lovely.


Type your comment in the box, choose the Profile option you prefer from the drop down menu, below text box (Anonymous is fine too!) and hit Publish.
And you're set!

This Month's Popular Posts on Perfume Shrine