Not long ago, with time to spare before a Eurotunnel crossing my daughter and I wandered into the perfume section of the duty-free shop. And what a stroll down memory lane it turned out to be. The story of my life was there. The first perfume that I associate with my mother is Estée Lauder’s Youth Dew which I remember her wearing when I was a teenager. It remained a favourite and was a great standby if I couldn’t think what to give her for birthday or Christmas. She also liked the packages of five or six tiny bottles of different perfumes that were handy for keeping in a handbag and I often picked those up for her at the duty-free coming back from holiday.
My own favourite perfume as a very young woman was Rive Gauche. I loved its smart blue, silver and black packaging and the intellectual connotations of the name: perhaps Simone de Beauvoir wore it, hanging out with Jean-Paul Sartre in Les Deux Magots! Of course the naming of a scent is a powerful piece of marketing – but even knowing that, what magic there is in those names. A present of Miss Dior on my nineteenth birthday seemed so elegant and sophisicated. Later I loved the minimalist chic of Chanel No 5 and Chanel No 19.
There was – perhaps still is – a shop in York that sold discount perfume and my mother and I used to see what they had got when we met in York for the day. Nina Ricci’s L’air du Temps brings back memories of those days – and shopping for my wedding dress in Droopy and Brown just up the street.
After my mother died I kept her unfinished bottles of scent and they reminded her of her when I used them. They are long finished, alas.
Back to the Eurotunnel duty-free: ‘This was Grandma’s favourite perfume,’ I told my daughter, spraying on some Youth Dew from the tester. We sniffed it. ‘I remember,’ she said and so did I. For a moment I was back in my mother’s flat in Scarborough, sun streaming in through the windows. It’s been six years almost to the day, but it sometimes seems no time at all.
I have a theory that glamourous women like to receive presents that suggest that they are secretly a bit of an intellectual: remember that that photo of Marilyn Monroe reading Heidigger (or whatever) with her specs perched on the end of her nose? Conversely a blue-stocking such as myself doesn’t want to appreciated purely for her towering intellect. So when it was my birthday last week, I very much appreciated Chanel No 5 from my husband, an elegant cardigan in a delicious shade of chocolate brown from my grown-up daughter, and a very pretty necklace from my son and daughter-in-law. However, my theory is somewhat exploded by the fact that I love to receive books as well (and as I recall, Marilyn wasn’t averse to a spot of Chanel No 5 either). So thank you to my old friend, Jonathan, for Richard Holmes’s THE AGE OF WONDER. which I have had my eye on ever since I read the excellent reviews, and to my writing buddy, Sue Hepworth, for E. M Delafield’s THE DIARY OF A PROVINCIAL LADY: a very appropriate choice, for Sue has a good claim to be regarded as the E. M. Delafield de nos jours. Check out out her wonderfully funny novels and her blog.
A very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to anyone who reads this. I’m off now to listen to Elvis’s Christmas Album while I finish wrapping my presents.