A few weeks ago I was sitting with some other mums enjoying the early Autumn sunshine while our daughters raced about playing. My daughter L. appeared suddenly and climbed into my lap for a rest and a cuddle. As she nuzzled into my neck she sighed and said, ‘Oh you smell nice Mum’. I was wearing SSS’s Nostalgie.
After that there was little doubt that I would possess myself of a full bottle of Nostalgie, and one is on its way to me now as I write.
I also began thinking about mothers, daughters and perfume memories. Any discussion of that topic on the blogs and forums always brings a large response. But I was wondering too about what characterizes a ‘mums’ perfume’. Women of my age (mid-40s) tend to remember their mums in fragrances like Chanel No 5, Arpege, Emeraude, Shalimar, Femme, Youth Dew, and Bal a Versailles. Joy? Sometimes, although it was probably a bit expensive for many women with families.
A lot of these were aldehydic florals. That was the style of the day. But warmth and intimacy seem to be the common characteristics too. Amber, sandalwood, vanilla, warm spices and fruits. These tend to make up mum’s fragrances for people my age.
People a bit younger will mention perfumes a little more assertive: Charlie, quite often, or Enjoli, or Chloe. And chypres will get a mention (usually a lesser mention): Mitsouko and Miss Dior from an earlier era, or later, Haltson or Aromatics Elixir perhaps.
Of course women of any age will remember their mothers wearing scents derived from the garden. My mother adored Yardley’s April Violets. In more recent times children and their dads will get together to buy mum’s favourite from Crabtree & Evelyn, L’Occitane or Jo Malone. For decades well-off British mothers have found something pretty from Penhaligon’s under the Christmas tree.
But look: it seems much more rare that mums wore, say, Chanel No 19. Or Vent Vert. Tabu? Probably not. Jolie Madame? Cabochard? Tabac Blond? Habanita? Fracas? Bandit? Who can remember their mother wearing Bandit?
And yet women have worn these fragrances for decades. They are classics. So what is going on? Do Bandit wearers not have children?
Or is it that we silently eliminate these scents from our memories of our mothers, even if they were worn? Smoking, drinking, casual sex, and dancing ’til dawn are not what we expect of mothers. At most we expect that after our mother has dressed for dinner or the opera, she will envelop us in a motherly hug and a cloud of Shalimar before departing on the arm of our handsome father.
Bitter greens, dirty panties, leather and tobacco are not notes part of the picture. We do not associate them with motherliness. Sexy they may be, but they are not nurturing smells. Not in anyone’s book, I reckon.
Even I participate in this. My children’s father and I are divorced, so they spend one week with their father – that’s when I’ll wear my Habanita, my Chanel No 19, or my Amaranthine. The following week the children are with back me and I’m in Nostalgie or Beautiful or one of my new rose fragrances. Then we start all over again.
Good lord! What sort of mother am I? Am I a good mother for surrounding them with warmth? Or a bad mother for reinforcing stereotypes? Aaarrgh.
I know, I know, I should take the perfumistas’ advice: just wear what you like. And be true to yourself.
So: Bandit for breakfast, anyone?