Like most perfume maniacs, a mother’s own interest in perfume, even if she had them on the dresser, and wore them frequently, or all the time (which is half the reason why you are now so besotted with them yourself) is no way near as deep, nay maniacal, or obsessional than us weirdos, who rather than just using les parfums as mute accessories, as something that you just do, plunge for them five dimensionally and wax on and on and blah blah blah about them ad nauseam because we we are sick in the head or mad in the nose or just horrendous Baudelarian sensualists who just can’t say no.
But this was supposed to be about my mother, All About My Mother (don’t you adore that film?), and the perfumes that I associate with her. Or the ones I project onto her, which is quite a different thing, possibly, though maybe it isn’t.
Anyway, I have to go to bed, and should be in bed already, and have just got in from a mind bending teaching session, but I just can’t resist the idea mum of doing a quick random review of the scents you smell in best. It will come out randomly, and I might have to rejig it half the way through, but here goes:
I0. ESTEE LAUDER YOUTH DEW.
This never suited you. Too spicy. Too patchouli chypre-ish. Too….Mediterranean (Daphne, Duncan’s mum, does these things very beautifully: Opium; Coco, anything patchouli and earthed like Magie Noire, perfection; but somehow they don’t quite work on Judith Chapman). And yet: THAT BOTTLE. It is my very first perfumed memory. And you in a fur coat, some time in the eighties, glamorous and ready to go out….
Still think it smells a bit like coca-cola though.
Again, you would probably deny even having ever owned it, BUT I KNOW BETTER, BECAUSE I WAS A NERVOUS, ‘POETIC’ AND OVERWHELMED LITTLE BOY WHO NOTICED SUCH THINGS. You never wore it. It went rancid eventually, but that bottle was most definitely there on your dresser or in the bathroom at some point with its strawberry chypre mannerisms and that fact alone has seared it quite fully into my consciousness.
8. CHANEL NO 5
Because you have always had a whole load of it in all its concentrations, and it suits you beautifully, even if it doesn’t quite do you justice.
7. CHANEL ALLURE
I associate this with you for all the opposite reasons. Because it was so wrong on you that it basically made me literally angry.
6. GIVENCHY YSATIS.
God this should probably be much higher in the list, and I wrote a whole rhapsodic and traumatized piece about this and Givenchy Gentleman and how they affected me so much, but I can still smell this when you first bought it and how it ROCKED MY F*&%& WORLD ON THE STAIRCASE LANDING. SO beautiful. So complex, and yet sensual as a mink-kissed jungle. J’ADORE.
DALLAS. DYNASTY. This WAS that time. SO Santa Barbra, SO liltily, guiltily, American. Yet although this was a departure for you (my mum worked in a department store for years so was always getting sprayed with the latest releases) this somehow smelled very lovely. It reminds me of babysitting, and being a teenager, and loping around upstairs when you were both out, and, basically, STARTING ME QUITE EXTRAVAGANTLY ON THIS PATH THAT I STILL FIND MYSELF ON.
4. CARON INFINI
We are now in the realm of perfumes that I have introduced YOU to rather than the other way round, but this utter beauty is one that we are now fighting over (readers you should have seen the LOOT that this woman took back home with her in her suitcase, it was obscene).
Infini is elegant, it is that aldehydic floral that suits you way more than anything else, it is rare enough to be distinctive (because only Japan seems to have an unlimited supply of the vintage parfum; it pops up EVERYWHERE), and you wear it so much better than me that it is embarrassing. Mater, in Infini I salute you.
You never really liked it. You said it was ‘too sweet’. And yet I spent an entire Saturday in Birmingham fretting over it, trying to buy you the ultimate perfume. I would go into Rackhams and smell different perfumes ( I think I was seventeen), smelling them on scent strips in books on the lawn down by the cathedral), then go back and suss out more, and then try to imagine what would suit you…….I suppose ultimately I was obsessed with this perfume all on my own, and the thrill of buying it. And when I went to Rome in I992 I sprayed an entire expensive leather bound note book with this scent and it thus reminds me of that now.
Realizing now that there are more scents than I had realized. I know you fell in love with No 22 when you came to stay this April during the cherry blossom season, and it is definitely a winner on you. No I9……nah…… sorry that one’s mine. Guerlain Jardins De Bagatelle (possibly the finest perfume silage in the whole world, I love it, and you kind of like it but it’s still not quite holy grail material (Emma wins the contest with this one, no holds barred). Chanel Gardenia, YES, I am liking that one on you big time but I can’t quite bear to part with it somehow……there’s something about that paper embossed Gardenia on the box that gets my inner otaku going……pure collector-ism…… RIVE GAUCHE most definitely deserves a mention as I did love that one on you, and, yes, god how did I think this could be just ten, but ESTEE LAUDER WHITE LINEN is a massive mum hit: gorgeous. Remember that time when you were working and someone asked you if you were wearing white linen and you said no, actually it’s muslin, or silk or whatever and then you realized what they were in fact asking? This one is perfection. Which is why you most definitely didn’t say no to the vintage parfum that I presented you with from the collection this spring (Readers: my parents stayed and slept AMONG the perfume collection like the pharaohs and queens of Egypt, surrounded by perfumes, it was inescapable; and then mum would espy a bottle she liked (let’s face it, she likes the bottles as much as the scents) and we would tussle over it. Many I could relent to. Some others (Vol De Nuit, say, no f*&*&g way).
No, ultimately no 2 must be I would say…
No, not the red toffee apple shite dumbo, I would rather die than give that to my mother, but the original perfume, which she wore when it came out, which is so lovely. Again, an aldehydic floral, lilyish, green; complex and mossy, but just so diaphanous and lovely. In fact I found, the other day, a 50ml PARFUM for three dollars (Brielle I know you are dying reading these words) and I am obsessed with it. I added just four drops of bergamot oil to revive it (it was unboxed) and now it is unfurling itself and blossoming itself into the feminine masterpiece that it always was. I wrote about this recently, actually. You at the races in summer. Wearing this.
This is why I love perfume.
Obviously, there is no contest. Nothing else could ever compete for the title of THE ONE. It could only be
FIRST by VAN CLEEF & ARPELS.
So funny the way one particular perfume works so brilliantly on someone’s skin. In fact I have smelled this on other women, girls at university who made it smell different, somehow, gorgeous in their own way, but my brother and sister
( I wonder what you would have been wearing here (at left, obviously); me, Deborah, Greg, nan, and Dad (looking very dashing)
will attest to the fact that this IS you, utterly and supremely. An aldehydic green floral with jasmine galore (always your favourite) and blackcurrant buds to boost it, this just smells perfect on you every time. Almost heartbreakingly so.
But look at the time.
I have to get to bed.
Mum, happy birthday
Incidentally, chers lecteurs, what are you own maternal masterpieces? I’d love to know.