My great auntie Jean has died at the age of 97. My mother’s mother’s sister, auntie Jean  – which is what we always called her –  passed away in a nursing home in Birmingham, fortunately not alone, and not of the virus. My parents were not allowed to visit her in recent weeks, for obvious reasons, but it was a great relief to them that she was in bed holding the hand of a caregiver she felt calm with and liked; that she passed away relatively peacefully. Rest in peace, auntie Jean – I think we are all relieved that your suffering is over and you can go on now to the next stage.


























Jean loved flowers, and always enjoyed coming to our house to sit and look out at the garden (my mother’s pride and joy). Both in our old house where I grew up, and the house my parents moved to later, there was always a bay window that she could gaze out on to the garden from when she came to visit. I can see her in that corner armchair. Hair always carefully done. Well presented.  I had thought she had loved daffodils the most. My mum told me the other day that in fact she loved peonies and carnations the best of all:  I remember vividly we always had gorgeous peonies growing in the hedgerows of the garden in summer; I adored them. Now I always associate the sound of wood pigeons cooing and the late light of early English summer evenings with those flowers, whose heads I sometimes could not resist furtively picking and peeling back to see what was inside; then immediately regretting it. Jean would definitely have berated me. But there are few flowers more magnificent; they need to be left to bloom and unfurl in their own, slow, beautifully serrated,  peonish time.








































A very glamorous woman  – and thus the envy of my grandmother, Ivy –  Jean was married four times, was a show girl in the war, and she wore a lot of perfume – always clouds and clouds of Clinique Aromatics (though I do remember a period of Clinique Wrappings as well; as a young boy I was always very interested in such things); a scent that would announce her presence before the front door even opened when she came at Christmastime or Easter and she proffered a cheek for you to kiss. Soignée and suave, it suited her to a T; I don’t think I have ever really known a person so utterly connected to one particular perfume  –  the signature that she wore for years; decades.








Later, as her health began to deteriorate and she went from semi-autonomous living in sheltered housing to constant care at her final nursing home, she stopped wearing perfume. But she still always smelled clean in the last few times I saw her; soft, powdery, soapy. Benign. She liked talcs and rosy, feminine-smelling products that my mum would take to her regularly ( mum has been an extremely dutiful, loving and patient niece   ;   hats off, mum….seriously  xx).









Black Peony by Satori  – a poudré, unsweetened orange blossom orientally douce musk coaxed with geranium, citruses and violet to approximate the sharp ink of the heart of a head of peony, is by no means a life-like rendition of those beautiful flowers that Jean loved (there were also always flowers at her windowsill,  in the care homes she eventually lived in where she sat in her room, looking out);   but this perfume has an atmosphere to it, a softness, that I think she would have enjoyed.  Some scents seem almost designed for those in their twilight years; there is a sensual secrecy at the heart of this perfume, the vanilla and oakmoss, the savoury ambered patchouli that nestles like chalk on the skin and that you can imagine a person sinking into and smiling at private memories; a warmth and a sageness. I see theatre goers in Ginza; ladies in best dress. A discretion. Jean about to go out on the town, with her Frank Sinatra-loving late husband, who though the last man she married,  I think was her first true love.









































It is peony season now in Japan.  Auntie Jean never came here. But I know she would have definitely enjoyed the peony gardens at Hase temple and at the main Hachimangu shrine in Kamakura, where visitors can stroll, take in the blooms.

She would have loved it.





















Though naturally saddened by the news, given the current situation, I was also pleased to hear at least that there is actually going to be a funeral this week, even if it will only be attended by my mother and father, and a priest who never knew her and will be reading back to my parents the information they gave him to read about her (which seems almost comical in a way; maybe she will be laughing)   –   but I am still, at any rate,  glad that Jean is not going to be totally alone. So many people are not given the luxury of a funeral service in these sad and drastic times, and I am thus happy that she will not have just left this world unobserved, in statistical silence. Auntie Jean lived to a grand old age, was a proud, yet  private woman;  had a dramatic life with a lot of ups and downs, but she will now hopefully be reunited, somewhere, with her beloved Albert, who she lost far too soon.











A peony from our garden.














Filed under Flowers, Powder

37 responses to “BLACK PEONY by SATORI (2008)

  1. A beautiful tribute to your great aunt, Neil.

  2. Gisela Barrington

    What a lovely thoughtful tribute to your great aunt. I hope that when I snuff it, everybody will comment on how nice I always smelled…….!

    • I know for sure that the same will not be said of me, but we can but live in hope!

      Thanks for commenting.

      She really DID smell amazing, though. It was like having America come in through your doorstep. Glamour. I HAVE ARRIVED. Film star like. I was always slightly in awe of it all. No one else in my family really bothered with perfume: my mum had Youth Dew, Oscar De La Renta, Rive Gauche, Madame Rochas and many others but she never truly went for it in the way that auntie Jean did. I don’t know, perhaps it was her stage background. But she really ANNOUNCED herself, and I loved it (my sister didn’t: even now, if you are wearing anything remotely patchouli powdery she will proclaim OH MY GOD YOU SMELL LIKE AUNTIE JEAN) ; the pejorative being that she could also be quite critical and to the point, about anything; your face, your weight, your life…….

      There was also the fact that she and my grandmother HATED each other. But I loved my grandmother (and still do…..hello Ivy; I share your bitterness in many regards, I understand your hyacinth hatred) and so, I suppose, I sided with her.

      I was never really close to Auntie Jean, and I often wish that I could have known more about all of my relatives (my mysterious grandfathers especially; both had secrets that I would LOVE to know about. I want spreadsheets; documents, I would be wildly interested to know what made their hearts tick). My grandmothers were the nervous ones (both had some form of nervous breakdown): maybe I inherit more, ultimately, from the female side.

      • Does anyone else reading this connect to what I am saying? The way that relatives behave like relatives, in the behaviour behooven to their age group (and you just behave like a child or a sulking teenager according to yours ), and you don’t always get to know your ancestors while they are living with you and then when they are gone wonder precisely who they were……

        Perhaps these are our set roles. Or perhaps not. I was definitely closest to my grandmothers overall, but I still wonder precisely WHO THEY WERE.

      • Your Auntie Jean sounds like an intriguing woman. I guess I’ve never wondered too hard, because they were shaped by a different social context that I can’t relate to, and any depictions or descriptions seem exaggerated because they are generalized and the little nuances of existing as individuals in their generations don’t really make it through in the stories and data we receive. Or maybe I just need a richer imagination. So my theory is “we’ll never know,” but it could be fun to try to find out.

      • I think that is why getting older and having a more interesting relationship with one’s parents is so important. When you are a kid you see them just in their roles, but as an adult, I have enjoyed in recent years having deeper conversations about their childhoods, asking about their parents, filling in the gaps a little. Perhaps bridging the gap of two generations is too much though.

  3. Tara C

    I knew both of my grandmothers and one grandfather, but only superficially, the way a small child interacts with adults, and none of them wore perfume. Your auntie Jean sounds like quite the character. My condolences to you on your loss. I’m glad she had a relatively peaceful passing. 97 is an excellent run.

  4. matty1649

    A wonderful tribute to your aunt Jean.

  5. OmnWingsofSaffron

    Now that’s intriguing: Victoria from Bois de Jasmin, and you both feature Black Peony by Satori on the same day!

  6. bibimaizoon

    Such a lovely literary epitaph to your Aunt Jean. Clinique Aromatics seems a rather modern but distinctive choice for a lady of a certain age. Sad that the new reformulation of Cliniques Aromatics isn’t quite the oakmoss and patchouli bomb it originally was. It used to be almost a terrorist weapon in terms of its herbal earthiness. Black Peony sounds quite interesting as a fantasy floral.

    • Yes, it’s too soft for me to think of as a ‘fantasy floral’ as such (very mallow musk; powdered crepuscule) ; but quite soothing.

      I agree about the delineation of Aromatics, but it is still quite a noticeable perfume. The original is amazing, I think. Auntie Jean had an aggressive, masculine edge, and I think this perfume worked in that regard.

  7. Ann

    Oh this is lovely. When I look back at my parents’ relatives I remember my Uncle George very clearly. He wore yellow cashmere sweaters and, when driving, soft leather gloves, his trousers had a perfect crease always and his shoes were like mirrors. He never married and was probably gay but this wasn’t discussed in front of us. He doted on his spaniel Smokey Joe and also smoked like a chimney. We used to go for drives with him on Sundays in his Rover and the combined smell of the leather seats, damp dog and cigarette smoke was overwhelming. I sat in the back and remember throwing up all over my grandmother’s fur once….she had a tippet ( do you remember those…horrible animal fur with the head and tail still attached) around her shoulders and it was never the same again. Uncle George gave me the most murderous look.

    • What memories! I can’t abide the smell of dogs, particularly wet ones, nor cigarette smoke. I think we do remember these physical realities of our relatives, but often don’t know what was actually really going on in their interior lives.

  8. Tora

    Your Auntie Jean would love this tribute, Neil. What a nice long and interesting life. I am glad your mom and dad could go to a real funeral for her, that really helps. And so interesting that you were the second person today to mention this perfume. I had never heard of it before. XO

    • Wow. That is a strange coincidence: it is not often discussed (where else was it mentioned?). I don’t know if it is an exquisite scent as such, as it is fairly ‘relaxed’, without too much mental complexity, but it definitely has a very enigmatic, restrained mood and a glow of warmth that is quite lovely. Perfect after a bath for bed, I would say. Quite Japanese.

  9. Robin

    Move over, Auntie Mame. Jean and her cloud of Aromatics Elixir are a-comin’ through.

    Very nice post, and put me in a good mood, so thanks, dear N.

  10. Robin

    Sometimes you kind of wish they’d be around just long enough to be able to see the tributes.

    • That’s true. She hasn’t been compos mentis for a while now, but ten years ago, say, she would have appreciated it. We sometimes talked about her days as a dancer and a showgirl (apparently she couldn’t make it in theatre because her Brummy (Birmingham) accent was too strong – the most pilloried and unacceptable accent in the UK until Peaky Blinder’s came along and made it a bit more trendy.

      • Robin

        I quite like all kinds of accents from the UK, north to south, east to west. I think the one that sometimes puts me off just a bit perhaps is the Russell Brand type one. And the one where ‘innit’ is every seventh word. Does that make me a bad person?

      • Cockney. I have trouble with too much of too, I shall confess.

        People from Birmingham traditionally sound stupid to others in the UK – the equivalent of a dumb redneck; other accents like Manchester are considered cool, Scottish universally considered sexy etc.

        We, the Brum Scum, are at the bottom of the pile (though I somehow remained mainly immune to it growing up – I think gay people often do for some reason; D is the same – he doesn’t have the Norfolk accents his family do.


      • Robin

        I think it does! Forget I said it. And you’re welcome to think that “eh?” at the end of every sentence is an annoying Canadian quirk (which we, embarrassed, eliminated — mostly — in the 1990s). Even?!

      • I have trouble with the aboot thing as well, but I know it is just a regional variant!

      • Robin

        I’ve always thought — although I haven’t heard you much — that yours is mild and what most of us in Canada think of as “classic” (but post-received). And errr, I do cringe at aboot, although in the context of the Maritimes it’s endearing to us Westerners.

        (I was thinking maybe Russell Brand was Estuary?) I know nothing! Except my grandma (born 1900) from near Pomeroy in Northern Ireland had the sweetest, softest accent, and when as a teenager I heard the accents from Cork and Dublin I was thrown for a loop. That’s Irish, too?!?!

        Was auntie Jean’s a spectacularly intense Birmingham accent? I can imagine she made it sound as made-for-the-stage as Burton’s Welsh.

      • In your dreams. No no no!

        My accent is pretty posh, according to a lot of people, but my mum’s dad had an unbelievably strong accent, and so did Jean.

        OROYt NOYL?! Ow’s COYMBRIDGE? type affairs.

  11. What a moving tribute to a very amazing sounding woman, she must have been a force to be reckoned with in her heyday. I love that she enjoyed peonies and carnations, those are my two favorite flowers as well, not too many people pick those; most will veer towards the roses and lilies as flowers of choice. Too bad she couldn’t have worked on her accent and really taken her rightful place upon the stage, she probably would have been amazing.
    I find it wonderful that she would ensconce herself in an aura of Aromatics, such a striking scent, for a confident and assured woman. My Auntie Sandie would wear copious amounts of Estee Lauder’s Azuree and it would herald her arrival and seriously prolong her exit. Even now when I wear it, it immediately brings her back to life for me. Love how a perfume can do that.
    I have to say, I know a great bit about my family, my Mama’s side mostly. I was exceptionally close with her, as well as her parents (my grandparents), and was doted on by them quite a bit. Even though they both passed on when I was young, I managed to find out about their lives when they were young and about their families. I was a terribly precocious child, always wanted more information, as if I were starved for knowledge since I was a wee babe. I even knew more about my grandmother than my Mama knew about her, I guess I asked the right questions, peut-etre.
    I am intrigued by Parfums Satori, and Black Peony sounds like a fabulous scent to start with, unless you could suggest a better choice. I wonder if they have a trial package, where one could try multiple samples?

    • They do, actually. Worth a try. They have a subtlety I can imagine you being drawn to.

      Thanks for these tales of your family. I also talked a lot to my grandmothers, and to Auntie Jean as well, but still feel that I could to have talked to them all even more. It’s funny -like your Auntie Sandie and her Azuree, Auntie Jean’s Aromatics definitely makes her larger than life in my memory now in a way that, although I was closer to them, my grandmothers never had. Soap is one thing; a really potent perfume truly SEARS that person into your body tissue and brain memory for ever.

  12. David

    This was a very beautiful tribute to your aunt. I also think it was a tribute to your mother because you mentioned she was a good niece, caring for her and bringing your aunt gifts. I know that your aunt is reunited with all her loved ones now. She is happy you can enjoy the peonies at this time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s