I spy it amidst the jumble on the thrift store's cosmetic shelf, sitting next to a nearly-empty bottle of Tova Borgnine's Tova Signature. To be quite honest, my first thought centers on which fragrance will make a better punchline. Naturally, I reach for the Tova-- and just as naturally, Tova reminds me of Windex diluted with water to a 1:5 ratio. Conclusion: someone who liked smelling vaguely of clean windows used most of this bottle before generously donating it to the needy. (As Christian Bale might scream, Oh, good for YOU!)
Back to the Avon product. Despite a couple of dents and dings, its packaging is original, intact, and in fairly good condition. In retro ink colors still clear and bright, the box graphic depicts a natty, garter-sleeved barber taking a break from shaving a customer so that they can sing a duet. ("Lida Rose"? "Good Night Ladies"? So many possibilities-- most of them with book, music, and lyrics by Meredith Wilson!) One need not make a special point of reporting that both gentlemen are wearing spats.
If ever society indulged itself with the little pleasantries of life, it was during the Edwardian Era... when even functional grooming devices were fashioned with meticulous attention to comfort and craftsmanship. So a text panel informs us, before launching into the history of the badger-bristled shaving brush. For a perfume label, it's practically a doctoral thesis. I find myself impressed by its scholarly bent. Who knew the Avon Lady was a bluestocking?
Finally I get around to opening the box and extracting the fragrance. It is housed in the height (or that depth?) of Avon kitsch - a bottle shaped like an old-fashioned shaving brush. An amber-glass bottle molded to resemble the brush's cylindrical handle is surmounted by a hard plastic cap shaped like a tuft of silvertip badger bristles.
A quick squint reveals that the bottle is full, but a slight residue of gummy dried fragrance pooled at the base of the cap suggests that it was opened at least once or twice. Out of curiosity, I turn the box over and inspect its bottom flaps for a date code. Sure enough, I find one which identifies 1976 as the year of vintage. Thirty-five years old and hardly touched-- not a promising sign.
My husband, fresh from checking out the thrift store's magazine box, comes up behind me. "Whatcha got?" I show him the bottle, then open it so that we can take the plunge together. A blast of acetone ripples in the air over the bottle's open mouth. This quickly subsides to a soapy, root-beerish nutmeg aroma laced with a manly dose of synthetic musk.
Perhaps it's because he's spent more time in barber shops than I have that my spouse finds more to recognize (if not admire) in this bottle. "I'm getting talc..." he muses. "And that blue liquid the barber soaks the comb in. I'm guessing that's alcohol."
"Absolutely," I reply. "What's that stuff the barber rubs on his hands and then works into men's hair after a haircut? Pomade?"
"No, that's a wax. The liquid stuff is called hair tonic."
"Hair tonic, then. I'm picking up some of that. Plus that lubricant they put on the blades of the clippers to keep them in working order."
So far, we've hit on every cherished myth of the barbershop. Price as marked: $2.00. How can we pass this up?
Back at home, I glean a few facts about Wild Country Cologne from the internet. It's still in production, its most current incarnation described by Avon as "a rugged essence with a vibrant mix of grasses, spicy coriander, and powdery tones... masculine with aromatic freshness of lavender and oakmoss." I get none of this from the bottle in my hand-- but a survey of eBay confirms that 1976 was indeed the year that Barber Shop Brush made its debut. It also reveals that there are a ton of people out there eager to get rid of full (or nearly full) bottles of this stuff. Asking prices range from the desperate ("$6.99 and free shipping!!!") to the delusional ("$29.99...Buy It Now!")
It is worth noting that not a single bottle of Barber Shop Brush Wild Country Cologne on eBay -- no matter how reasonably priced -- appears to have attracted a single bid.
They say that fortune favors the bold. Clearly, the only way to find the truth about this fragrance would be to slap some of it on myself. Which is exactly what I did-- over the kitchen sink, just in case.
The verdict? Nauseating Edwardian skank with mid-1970's Burt Reynolds chest hair. I could not possibly scrub it off my arm fast enough, and yet I laughed the entire time I was scouring. What can I say? I knew it was crap going in-- it is, after all, Avon. And no, I don't want my two dollars back. In terms of comedic value, I got back every penny of my investment.
Vintage Avon Wild Country Cologne makes Old Spice seem like Armani Privé-- a thoroughly unsurprising fact in just about any light you'd choose to view it. But if you have two dollars to spare, need cheering up, and feel a deep desire to experience this treasure for yourself, do let me know. And remember.... free shipping!!!
Scent Elements: According to the label, "S.D. Alcohol 40-B, Water, Glycerin, Fragrance, Benzophenone-11, Color." I hear 1976 was a banner year for benzophenone-11.