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Classic Ad Review: How Charlie Created a Revolution in a Jumpsuit

By Published on .

There's a fragrance that's here today, and they call it—Charlie!"

The year was 1973, and this spot—a kinda-wow-kinda-now beacon of hope and rising feminism—stands in stark contrast to this complicated harassment-outing moment in our culture. In the early '70s, women's lib was blossoming. Mary Tyler Moore played unmarried TV producer Mary Richards, famously opening her TV show by throwing her beret in the air. That iconic gesture, now baked into the fabric of America, suggested to fellow single "career" girls in the city that the sky was the limit.

Despite all this, Revlon founder Charles Revson was hardly a feminist. But he sensed something revolutionary happening. The company had recently branched into fragrances, and the stars aligned for the release of his namesake scent.

And who among the young 'uns wouldn't dream of being (pre-"Charlie's Angels") fashion model Shelley Hack, with her golden '70s bob, light-up smile, and super-long-legged, jump-suited bod?

Imagine driving your Rolls convertible to the Plaza Hotel in New York City, throwing your cap at the bellman, scrawling your one-name signature, dancing around the bistro and then being twirled into a booth by your date. Though this was actually more like a scene from a 1930s crackpot-heiress movie, there was something about the alchemy of the jaunty male brand name and Hack's forward movement that telegraphed to women a vision of future strides.

Charlie became the first "lifestyle" fragrance, an affordable, non-old-lady, daytime scent marketed to the wearer herself, not her man. By 1975 it had racked up $55 million in U.S. sales.

Since then, the eau has faded. You can now buy Charlie Red or Blue for less than $8 at Target. Certainly, gender roles have grown more fluid. Still, it's disappointing that 44 years later, the jig is far less joyous.

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