IT’S MY MUM’S BIRTHDAY AND AS SHE WASN’T HOME JUST NOW WHEN I CALLED (PROBABLY OUT AT THE BUTCHER’S ARMS HAVING LUNCH OR SOMETHING), I THOUGHT I WOULD JUST DO A QUICK TOP TEN, ALL THE SCENTS THAT REMIND ME OF HER

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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.

9. MADAME ROCHAS

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.

5. OSCAR DE LA RENTA.

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.

3. BALMAIN IVOIRE

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.

2

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…

2 NINA BY NINA RICCI (I987)

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.

I.

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

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( I wonder what you would have been wearing here (at left, obviously); me, Deborah, Greg, nan, and Dad (looking very dashing)

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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

Neil

xxxxxxx

Incidentally, chers lecteurs, what are you own maternal masterpieces? I’d love to know.

31 Comments

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31 responses to “IT’S MY MUM’S BIRTHDAY AND AS SHE WASN’T HOME JUST NOW WHEN I CALLED (PROBABLY OUT AT THE BUTCHER’S ARMS HAVING LUNCH OR SOMETHING), I THOUGHT I WOULD JUST DO A QUICK TOP TEN, ALL THE SCENTS THAT REMIND ME OF HER

  1. Nelleke Oepkes aka Booknose

    Oh, M. Ginza, une mer(e) a boire. In stories, not in scents.
    I rather think I told the one about Ma Griffe, that was also worn by her rival, my father’s mistress, w(h)ich then got chucked out in favour of Joy. Not the mistress, who became the second mrs O.
    But the one I remember with all my senses, because I put it on and spilt the bottle in the bathroom basin AND was furiously reprimanded by her, because parfum, yes parfum, not watered down edt, was very expensive in that era … I recall the occasions she was wearing it: her copper wedding anniversary, dressed in a poppy-flowered dress with a wide skirt or going to My Fair Lady with us, our first musical on stage, with the Beaton black and white Ascot parade …
    Chasse Gardee, protected hunting, a notice you find everywhere in France where they love their game.
    Chasse Gardee a discontinued perfume by Carven. A not too floral nippety scent with a hidden persuader in the tail, a gorgeous dry-down and a staying power to rock the gates of heaven or hell.
    Just like my mum, god bless her. And if any afterlife exists , is still doing that right now.

    • God how beautiful. Brielle has mentioned Chasse Gardee as well; it sounds heavenly. Bless her. These things really do matter. x (and look at me still up: H. A.V.E to go to bed now but thanks so much for writing this). x

  2. Wonderful piece…your mother has such wonderful taste. I wonder if I smell as fantastic in First??! Thanks for the fantastic read and happiest of birthday to your mother!

  3. emmawoolf

    So loved this (and I love you for saying that Jardins de B is mine all mine. Just like the fog on the Tyne). What is it with septuagenarian Scorpio mothers? (I have one too, and we are both so lucky that ours are alive and well, thank goodness). Ours have startlingly similar tastes (Chanel No 5, Rive Gauche, Ysatis YES and also I’m afraid yes even to the recent allure of Allure, well to her anyway. It should be renamed Disappointment. I think many of us have a maternal top 10, surely tis where our love of perfume begins? My maternal hit parade would include Fidgi by Guy Laroche, (with matching spherical talc in fetching banana yellow, which I would play with in our turquoise bathroom at most available opportunities), Aqua Manda before then, chanel no 5 of course followed by Coco and Opium (she used to carry off spicy grownup scents in her 40s so well, which I still cannot do, before her more recent descent/decline into the Vera Wangs of this world etc. Oh well, probably best not to go there). Oh and more recently the Iris Prada one. Is that more than 10? Happy birthday to your mum xxx

    • emmawoolf

      I have misremembered the yellow spherical talc. Apparently it is Kiku, some 70s fragrance by Faberge, which probably smelt dreadful, but in my faded memory I loved it anyway.

    • Tell me she isn’t wearing all those pinky princess Vera Wang type rubbish?

      Acqua Manda was mentioned on another blog the other day but I don’t know it (which frustrates and tantalizes me: what’s it like?). My mum always did the spicy thing for a while, and I almost mentioned Coco and Opium here (which she both had), but somehow they didn’t quite stick. Her skin really blooms in aldehydes.

      The Prada, though…….really nice and all but it can get a bit banal and sweetly insistent after a while..

      • emmawoolf

        The pink princess one, thankfully no (she’s 72 for crying out loud) but the original Vera Wang, yes. And ore recently, she had the audacity to ask me for Estee Lauder’s Sensuous Nude for Christmas. Mum! I felt quite the mortified daughter asking for that one over the counter. (It smells rather nice on her, to be honest. I am being unfair. Hope I can rock a sensuous nude in three decades’ time.) Aqua Manda I remember as sweet, clovey, spicy. Nothing amazing, to be honest, but gorgeous flowery packaging: very 70s. A little bit Mary Quant. My mum still wears Coco a lot, and wears it really well. I’d forgotten other great of her midlife years: the original Miss Dior, in black and white houndstooth check. At the age of about 17 or 18 I would stick to Rive Gauche for school (mine) but insist on drowning myself in her Miss Dior, complete with Dior blue-red lipstick for nights out, which I’d saved weeks of pocket money for. It’s hard to work out which the two suited me the least.

  4. veritas

    What a lovely tribute….and now I feel terribly old for I loved and wore so many of those fragrances as well!

    • But as I said, girls my age at university would wear First and I didn’t even recognize it as the same scent, and Ysatis et al as well. I think the really well made perfumes have a certain timelessness to them, don’t you?

  5. tonkabeany

    Magie Noire…..for me sitting in the back of the big red Ford Sierra, on our way for a family evening out somewhere……the evening was instantly special and ‘important’ to me, at that age. The perfume was too richly, darkly sophisticated for my teen taste, but I loved it by association. O de Lancome, worn during the day sometimes, left no impression on me, couldn’t compete.

    • Magie Noire…..I remember. It really is (was? not quite so good reformulated ), as you say, so richly and darkly sophisticated – actually a work of genius I think. Weird even in its tones, I love it.

  6. tonkabeany

    Gorgeous, touching post by the way, I loved reading it, thank you for your sweet, funny and poetic ways!

    • I have no other way of being. Actually I knew instinctively last night that there was no chance of sleeping at that point as I had too much energy so I plunged right in. She probably hasn’t even read it though – only a sporadic internet user….

  7. Renee Stout

    A very beautiful tribute to your Mom.

  8. Ahhhh, Mums. It was lovely floating through your fragrant Mum flotsam. Getting to know someone through their fragrant choices is even better than I’d have thought.
    HAPPY BIRTHDAY
    Portia xx

  9. Such a nice tribute to your mum! My Top 10 for mine would have stopped at zero.

  10. Zubeyde Erdem

    I was always carrying Crepe de Chine in my bag for emergency case. If I don’t feel ok with any case just open the mini bottle and take a sniff. The whole world was gaining meaning again then ( I sent it to my sister)

  11. yellow_cello

    What a lovely post! Really made me smile this morning. My mum has never really worn perfume, though she has had (and occasionally used) Anais Anais, Baroque (a Yardley fragrance, I think) and a Yves Rocher perfume called Milrose. I don’t have much in the way of a family fragrance history, though my perfume hobby (coughobsessioncough) doesn’t seem to have been hindered by this!

    • Mine was I think a very typical English person’s attitude to scent. Most wear it, but they don’t think about it particularly .Then wolverine freaks like me come along, marveling at every last drop.

  12. Lovely post! My mother was quite elegant in her day. The first fragrance of hers I remember was Chanel No. 5, and it was wonderful on her. She wore it to dinner parties, and cocktail parties, and benefit galas. Later, I remember her wearing Norell, and Opium, and a brief flirtation with Paris and Poison. Then it was White Linen for a while, that one really suited her very well. Now that she is in her 80s and housebound, she doesn’t wear scent often but she still has some No. 5 edt. I think (hope) it brings back some happy memories of when she was a stylish young wife and mother, going out on the town.

  13. Lilybelle

    My fragrance loves are pretty much in line with your mother’s. Aldehydic florals are what suit me best, and a few nostalgic soliflores. I love so many that you’ve mentioned, Infini, No 22 etc. I bought a new White Linen this summer and even though it has been reformulated it turned unexpectedly amazing my skin. I’ve never smelled the original Nina, alas, but I will someday.

    • Lilybelle

      Also, though I love all those earthy, mysterious chypre with patchouli, they don’t suit me. I loved Dioressence back in the day but it isn’t really me. Does your mum like Chamade? I’ve always loved it, but of course vintage is best. My mother wore all sorts of fragrances. And her mother. I became a fragrance fanatic fairly young. Sorry all this is so random, I’m dashing off and would rather stay and read. Happy New Year to you and Duncan!
      –Sherrie

    • It has a cloudiness in its underneath, a hazy dreaminess (sandalwood? moss), but is also as clear as a bell. Pure romance. I think you would like it.

  14. jennyredhen

    What a sweet boy you are to remember all your mothers perfumes.

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