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[whitespace] Avon Lady

Avon Calling

Searching for an American icon

By Dara Colwell

When I was a little girl I dreamed of being two things: a stewardess or the Avon lady. In my mind, they were pretty much the same thing--both wore short tailored suits like Jackie O, had well-manicured hands with baby-pink nails and smelled of floral perfume. When, as a Girl Scout, I found I was unable to push cookies, my dreams of being the Avon lady dissolved but I always hoped one day she'd knock on my door.

Well, she never did, and Avon--like the 1970s and the innocent notion that knocking on a stranger's door didn't involve a dangerous confrontation with a Rottweiler--receded into distant memory. But despite today's proliferation of dotcom shopping sites, I discovered the Avon lady is indeed alive and well, traipsing around a financial district near you. She's a little more difficult to track, but after phoning three different 800 numbers, I was able to find Kay Mandeville, San Francisco's regional rep--et voilà, I was thrust back into a product line from my childhood. And I had finally found the Holy Grail of all my beauty quests: my mamma's Skin So Soft.

For me, Skin So Soft bath oil ($12.50 for 16 ounces)--a sensual, aromatic oil with a musky woodland scent--smells of sexual possibility. It's the kind of scent I associate with my mother primping and preening before a date, a smell that existed alongside sheepskin rugs, bulky macramé wall hangings and cologne-saturated Marlboro men. When I whisked the product under a number of discerning noses, the reaction was strong: you either dig it or you don't. I dug it hard, especially when I learned of its fame in South American countries. Evidently, Skin So Soft is the best mosquito repellent you can find.

After years of frantic calls from travel agents, who had urged their clients to stock up on the stuff, Avon decided to bring out a distinct insect-repellent line. It smells slightly different, but even so it's probably the best-smelling repellent you can find on the market. Skin So Soft has also been revamped, although its cursive lettering still looks dated, with a pink "Soft and Sensual" line which smells more flowery than the original. My vote still goes to the original, which saturates the skin with a smooth coat of mature-smelling perfume. And it does leave your skin incredibly, deliciously soft .


To buy Avon products, you can either go to www.avon.com or contact Kay Mandeville by phone at 415.252.8011. Mandeville swears she can "sell it to you for less," and she means it. The prices haven't changed since the 1970s, either, it seems, and Kay has a great selection to choose from.

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From the November 22, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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