Mothers, Daughters, and Perfume

Mary_Cassatt_Young_Mother_Sewing Everyone has one of these stories, either concerning what you remember your Mother wearing, or else what your Mimaw wore, but either way, their choices influence yours.  It’s inevitable.  Some mothers never wear perfume, and their daughters react against the austerity; others had mothers who over-spritzed, and a lifetime of no scent can be the result.

However the nicest tradition perhaps, is the generational carry over of a perfume: the mother who always wore Joy, and so the daughter does as well, for instance.  It’s lovely, but seldom seems to happen.  People often want to distance themselves from what their mothers wore, more than they want to reprise them. But there comes a time in everyone’s life when remembering does take on some importance.

My own Mother wore scent very infrequently.  When she did, the scent was the musky behemoth Tabu.  Unfortunately, my first memory of perfume as it related to my mother was that she wore this Tabu, something I thought was far too loud for her.  She switched to Fidji finally, and oh, the relief! But although I tried wearing the Fidji later, it did not suit me.  It was only in her later years that she found a spiritual address in perfume, and that was Diorissimo.

Diorissimo was beautiful, this being the period when the formula was roughly still itself.  What a fragrance it was!  I once walked past a woman in the stairwell of the National Gallery in Washington wearing it.  The lift was such that you could smell her sillage two stories above her.  It was dissipating off the stairs she had just finished walking down, and the scent of lilies filled that cold stone staircase as if there were a huge bed of them right outside the window in full bloom, though in fact all the windows were sealed shut and it was raining outside.

My mother had few occasions on which to point out to passers by, that she was wearing one of the most beautiful perfumes in the world, because she seldom used her bottle.  She hoarded it for special outings and for celebrations, of the kind that don’t happen often during the average lifespan.

So, after she died, I opened those bottles up.  Perfume, like life, is for the living, and so I wear what I have, give away or sell what I don’t, so that someone else will, and never bother to wait for occasions or special days. Never worry if what I wear is expensive or cheap, only ask myself if it’s beautiful or not, and let the rest pass. Mother taught me a most valuable lesson in reverse, that whatever is there, is there to be used and enjoyed.  Pleasure put off is often pleasure gone for good.  So don’t wait. Wear whatever you want to wear today.

As to my daughter, I have no idea what she will think of perfume twenty years from now.  I hope she likes it.  Right now her favorite perfume is Marc Jacob’s Dot.  Maybe she’ll have one, maybe not, but as I said to the SA at Caron, it will be a while yet before I can get her to smell the merits of En Avion, or Diorissimo for that matter.

After all, I still don’t get Tabu.

What’s your inter- generational perfume story?

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10 thoughts on “Mothers, Daughters, and Perfume

  1. I never get tired of telling this story. I suspect that some people might be tired of reading it…

    My mother had two fragrances when I was quite young: Jovan Musk for Women for “everyday” and Chanel No. 5 for “dressy occasions.” That is, she wore the Jovan to the grocery store and the Chanel to church, or out to dinner. Mmmm. I distinctly remember sniffing No. 5 from the bottle and jerking my head back from it — done in by aldehydes up close! — but on Mom, it was lovely. I think she had the EdC, and this would have been in the early ’70s. When her No. 5 ran out in around 1980, she wore Anais Anais, and then she moved on to Coty L’Effleur in the early 90s (she said she loved it because it “smelled just like a nice bar of soap”). Sometime in the 2000s she started wearing Eliz Arden 5th Avenue, but all along she’s been wearing her Jovan Musk for Women. Mom likes her clean scents, doesn’t she?

    Her mother (who was bipolar and difficult) lived with us, and “Bambaw” was susceptible to every Avon fragrance ever made, particularly Cotillion, which seems to have been a musty sort of Oriental. I hated it. I know she wore Elizabeth Arden Blue Grass, which I also didn’t like. And she was addicted to her Nivea lotion, which I also hated the smell of. It is sometimes difficult when someone you love smells so awful. Sigh. Wish I had her back now, Nivea or not…

    My other grandmother never wore perfume, as she had allergic skin reactions to it. Elizabeth W Sweet Tea smells just like her, though.

    When I got started, the scents I loved were Emeraude and big white florals. I mean BIG white florals, beginning with Chloe, which Mom didn’t like but since I was given it by someone on Dad’s side of the family, she couldn’t complain. And then I bought, BOUGHT WITH MY OWN MONEY, a bottle of Sand & Sable, which Mom made me take back to the drugstore because she insisted it was too old for me. Reader, I was 18. And she just didn’t like it. (I have forgiven her.) It took me years and years to want to smell either like the Cachet she bought me, or like her own Chanel No. 5, but I appreciate both of those now.

    My daughter likes B&BW Dark Kiss, or Hanae Mori, or DK Gold, and recently we found that she likes Penhaligon’s Violetta — either very floral scents or floral candy ones. Generational thing, I think, but I know that she absolutely hates hates hates galbanum. And that’s one of my very favorite notes, too…

    • Nice line up your Mother had, so much easier to be down wind of than Tabu. I wonder if she would still like No 5 today or Eau Premiere for that matter?

      Your daughter likes nice things too, as I said, mine is into Dot, and sometimes BBW Country Chic. I wonder if she will ever turn into a Guerlain person, as she likes vanilla? Too soon to say.

      Oh and at least your Bambaw did not smell like linament. This is what I remember from Church as a child: linament, LOrigan, and sweat. Yeesh!

      • Childhood church services for me were marked by way too much Youth Dew. Bleargh. (We had AC. New concrete-block 70s construction in the sanctuary. You couldn’t wear sundresses because you’d freeze to death – men in suits were in charge of the thermostat.)

        Mom still likes No. 5 – Eau Premiere is not very good on her, for some reason. On me, EP smells like citrusy No.5 with more clean musk, but on her it smells slightly sweaty. I don’t know why. I bought her some NO. 5 body cream for Christmas two years ago, and that is so gorgeous on her…

        • Youth Dew = Tabu with clean underpants on, so I think I prefer my memories of liniment and L’Origan to that scenario. Not a fan although some folks pull YD off, if peeps choose to go that route, wish they’d stick to Bal a Versailles.
          Eau Premiere does not smell good on your Mom, hm? Funny, since if it’s so musky (and everything is these days have you noticed?) and she wears Jovan MfW you’d think it would suit her.

  2. This was a very lovely post, Blacknall. I associate the original (now vintage) Magie Noire with my mom, because that’s what I bought her when I was in my twenties and which she immediately adored and wore for many years, before her new husband more or less persuaded her to give it up and wear the Lauren he bought for her. She accommodated him for several years before she then went and bought herself Clinique Aromatics Elixir. Even though I don’t care for the overpowering nature of Aromatics Elixir at all (believe it or not, there are some perfumes even too big for my big-loving perfume tastes), I sort of looked at this move of hers as going back towards the Magie Noire. Maybe I’m flattering myself, and maybe I shouldn’t say more on the matter. :)

    I’ll close this by saying that here’s what she asked me for as her Mother’s Day gift this year: refills on her Amouage Opus I, Caron Tabac Blond extrait, and Caron Parfum Sacre decants.

  3. Oh your Mom definitely acquired a taste for sophisticated dark perfumes, and if I remember Lauren correctly, she didn’t get it from that. Early Lauren was a fruity floral, a quiet tasteful one, but definitely fruity.

    Magie Noire on the other hand was lovely, dark and inscrutably elegant. Refo city is the current address, alas.
    Of course your mother has great taste, because she wears Tabac Blond and you can’t go wrong with that- despite the refos- I think.

  4. I love this post because mother and daughter perfume stories; many thanks! I also really love that wonderful image of Jeanne Lanvin and her daughter Marguerite, which became the Lanvin logo. It is so joyous. http://www.perfumeprojects.com/museum/marketers/Lanvin.shtml

    It’s interesting to hear about the sillage of Diorissimo. I find the sillage on the current iteration (well, 2007) to be very assertive for a short while, but then it disappears. It sounds as if vintage Diorissimo had a more constant and pleasing presence.

    My mother wore April Violets (Yardley) for about 50 years. She wore it fairly often, about once a week maybe, but like your mother, she did have a tendency to save some things for special occasions. It was a generational thing, I guess. People had less disposable income and luxury items had to be made to last. I cannot wear AV but I keep a bottle and use it to scent my handkerchiefs.

    My daughter who is ten likes J’Adore L’Eau. She does not own it but we often pause for a spritz as we pass through the shops. Could be worse, I guess …

    • Oh I think J’Adore l’Eau is pretty good going for a ten year old, considering that my twelve year old loves BBWs and though they’re not so bad, she does choose things that curl my toes, though nothing so hard for me to smell as Tabu!

      Always associate the Yardley fragrances with little old English ladies, as one summer my father who was a minister, switched parishes with a minister in Devon. Dad’s congregation there would come to church in their delightful cake like hats, wafting Yardley English Lavender and the April Violets your Mom wore,plus a few simple rose waters. On the whole I preferred it to liniment and L’Origan to be smelled outside DC.

      • Yes, Yardley did get very fusty, sadly. It’s hard to imagine my mother as a very young woman in the early 1950s rushing off excitedly to spend a sudden financial windfall on a bottle of April Violets. (But she really did, and never forgot how happy it made her.) But Yardley used to be glamourous (in a formal, Englsih sort of way). If you get a chance, do a Google search for Yardley’s Bond Street – gorgeous 1950s ads for well-off ladies in tiny-waisted suits, clutch purses and pill box hats!

        • Have been thinking about those old English perfume houses lately, and it seems that Yardley (at least) is trying to move back up market with something called Polaire.
          My Aunt in law used to use nothing but Yardley’s English Lavender, and she had rather fussy tastes. So I think you are spot on about the brand, and wonder if they will bring back Bond St.too?

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