In 1964, the year that Jean Patou’s Caline came out, I had a baby sitter. She was very pretty and had the kind of hair that everyone wanted back then, i.e. hugely puffy. It was shoulder length and had to be put up in curlers and then carefully back combed and sprayed to get the effect that younger people only recognize now from films such as The Blob, or old sitcoms like Bewitched. I was in awe of Linda. She listened to the Beatles! Wow, how fab was that?
Ratted hair, a portable record player, pale blue chenille bedspreads, and a bottle of Caline are what I remember of Linda’s bedroom. Caline was new that year and Linda was an only child, therefore spoiled by her Daddy who was probably the source of the Caline – if it wasn’t her boyfriend, who was about equally under her spell.
Caline, to this day, re-incarnates Linda for me. I don’t actually remember too much else about her (besides the hair and the Beatles), but I do recall vividly how she smelled. Hers was the most glamorous perfume I could imagine. Although the context against which I remember the scent was full of retro kitsch, like that of a John Waters’ movie, actually Caline was a rather straitlaced scent. There was nothing down-market there; the perfume was very high quality, as the Jean Patou releases tended to be, and dry enough to be unusual as a green floral.
When you smell Caline now, if you’re a perfumista, I’d guess you’d peg it as a green chypre because of the oakmoss in it. Almost inevitably a lot of people will comment on how soapy it is as well, code for the instantly recognizable sixties combination of aldehydes, and rose, that did get downgraded eventually (in synthetic forms) to soaps and bath salts. Jean Patou categorizes Caline as a green floral aldehyde, and lists the head notes as: mimosa, mandarin orange, bergamot, basil and neroli.
But then a sort of darkness creeps in at the heart, just as it did in the sixties, interrupting the halcyon British Invasion dance parties with race riots, Vietnam, and the Manson murders. The notes are iris, patchouli, orange blossom, oakmoss, and coriander, then an amber and musky base makes it more than a little animalic. Well, that generational roll in the mud Woodstock was only five years away.
There is, however, a trick in Caline that some people who’ve worn it remark on, and so do I, and that is the amount of labdanum in there. This gives the perfume such an oriental cast for a while that even though you know you’re technically wearing a green floral, about half way through, it feels very like a woody oriental.
That little twist makes Caline an unexpected, swiveling creature, and more interesting than many of the other green florals of the sixties and seventies, like Calandre, or Fidji. I wore them too, and found them both much more straight forward. This shift is so marked in Caline, that you wonder whether the perfumer (Henri Giboulet) wasn’t paying a small homage to Chubby Checkers, so that this perfume, like the girls who wore it, could twist the night away.