Elusive by Avon (1970)

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Elusive by Avon (1970) proved to be just that: a fragrance that came and went from the catalogs with little success, and remains harder to come by among the long line of short-lived vintage Avon fragrances from the 1970’s out there, yet not necessarily more valuable or prized for that reason. You see, this is mostly because Elusive was probably a little too close to Avon Charisma (1970) in composition for its own good, and was seen as somewhat redundant by loyal Avon shoppers for it. To top it all off, the extremely poor-taste marketing of the scent both foolishly chose to culturally appropriate Indian aesthetics into the market copy, but also include a 33rpm record of British actor and narrator Patrick Allen reciting the ad copy in his silky voice for would-be customers in-home to hear. Imagine being given this record as a free gift and dropping it on your turntable, only to be affronted by the voice of the guy best known as the voice of UK public information films at the time, even more awkward in American homes that only knew him as a small character actor in shows like The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes imported from the BBC onto public television a la Doctor Who. All this, when combined to push a scent which at the time really wasn’t all that special, ads up to an uncomfortable silence between the Avon lady and her regulars after they’ve heard the record. Anyways, I’ll take a bottle of my usual, but thanks for the record, Margaret. Elusive was also a rare global release for Avon that kept the same name in all markets, as I’ve found market copy as far reaching as the former French Avon market (RIP) and Germany too. Can’t say I’ve seen Charisma much outside the US, and Latin America, though.

So the actual smell of Elusive itself is pretty good, to be quite honest. Elusive’s closest antique siblings will once again be Chypre de Coty (1917) or Guerlain Mitsouko (1919), as most Avon chypres seem to go straight for this DNA if they’re not aldehyde-heavy and trying to be more like Chanel or Patou; but a bit of sour civet here borrowed from Charisma minus the latter’s soap notes bring Elusive into a urinous sharp focus similar to (but tamer than) Jean Desprez Bal à Versailles (1962). If you’re a fiend for the stinky pole-cat, Elusive may be worth the hunt, as it is relatively inexpensive being an Avon scent nobody wants, but it is definitely playing sloppy-seconds to Bal à Versailles in terms of how potent the animalic actually is here. The rest of the opening is galbanum and bergamot, with herbs and a lighter fruity transparent aspect a la Mitsouko, before descending into rose, geranium, and some orris for just a smidge of clean. The base is going to be oakmoss, cedar, a shockingly smoky vetiver and clove, oakmoss, then a remaining powder coming through from the orris, with civet going from a growl to a purr as it slowly calms down. The smell is like any number of 1960’s and early 1970’s chypres at this point, riding the cusp between oriental depth and occidental propriety, ambivalent to either, but nice nonetheless. Elusive has less notes than Charisma, but shares a lot of them with it, tweaked differently almost as if it was a contender to -be- Charisma that was released alongside it to avoid wasting R&D cash. Wear time is average, as is performance, and a neat perfume oil option with a rollerball (tested) gives attar-like tenacity to the fragrance if used in that format. In “cologne” form, switch out a bit of longevity for projection.

Elusive’s original market copy was: “Elusive, Avon’s indefinable fragrance that makes a woman as mysterious as India itself. Tantalizing. Irresistible. With the spirit that makes words a poem, melody, a song. Elusive. Above a place, beyond a time”. This is much shorter than the usual promises of escape from boredom or deliverance unto a new world of sensuality and desire that typically filled the full-page ads Avon would take out in Time or Life magazines of the day, while the imagery of this bleach-blonde feathered-hair Karen with an Indian princess costume on holding a bottle while looking longingly into the camera in her perfect Avon makeup proves that America even into the 1970’s was about as culturally insulated as it gets, despite being the so-called “melting pot” of the world. Fondue pot is more like it, with anything more exotic than rye bread served at the table being considered “un-American” pfah… Anyway, if you still have the Avon record, you can let the late Patrick Allen tell you more about the “intriguing” Elusive than I can, but for what it’s worth, this is a good smell when divorced from its smarmy ad copy. In short, we have a bit of a rare bird that delivered a slightly raunchier and more pared-down Charisma with cringy marketing that doomed it from the start, but for those of us who just love the paradoxically soapy and animalic smells of the 1960’s and 1970’s women’s fragrance market, we can forgive Avon. Whether or not Elusive is unisex enough to a modern nose to be explored by guys I leave up to you, but I like it, and think that those guys out there who flirt with green chypres anyway will most likely enjoy this one too. Thumbs up

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