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Proustian moments

Posted on May 13, 2021 in Chanel No 5, L'air Du Temps, Mitsouko, Youth Dew | 8 Comments

I’ve been thinking about perfumes and how evocative both can be, since I read that Joanne Harris wears a different scent for every book she writes and uses it to get into the zone. I have sometimes done the same. And this reminded me of something I wrote years ago about perfumes and their names. Here it is, updated:

A while 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 her birthday or Christmas.

My own favourite perfume as a 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! I still like it. 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 used to be 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, but still when I wear one of the scents that she liked, I think of her.

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.

But perhaps the most magical perfume-related moment came on a birthday after my husband died. I opened a present from my daughter. It was a bottle of Mitsouko. Peter had given me that scent for a previous birthday. My daughter had noticed that it was almost finished and, as he wasn’t there to replace it, she had decided to do it for him.

8 Comments

  1. Margot Kinberg
    May 13, 2021

    People forget sometimes just how powerful and evocative scent can be, Christine, so it was really interesting to read your post on perfume. I’ve always liked perfume myself. There’s just something about it… For me, anyway, I don’t like scent to be too strong and heavy – I prefer something lighter, so it was nice to read your preferences. Oh, and I love that birthday gesture from your daughter – how thoughtful and loving.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      May 13, 2021

      Such a personal thing, isn’t it, Margot? I don’t like anything too strong or heavy either – and there are some scents that are more appropriate for evening than for day. Yes, that was a wonderful thing that my daughter did – I was so touched.

      Reply
  2. Christophe
    May 16, 2021

    A very interesting post with keen observations and touching memories.
    My mom’s favorite and go-to was Estée Lauder’s Beautiful.

    Reply
  3. tracybham
    May 16, 2021

    I cannot enjoy memories of scents because I cannot wear colognes or perfumes or use any products with a smell. It runs in the family; my mother and my brother have the same affliction (and other allergies). My sister escaped, but she had to put up with never wearing scents around us.

    But I can imagine how perfumes would evoke memories and feelings, and you are lucky to have those. The story of your daughter’s gift is lovely. So thoughtful and caring.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      May 16, 2021

      How interesting, Tracy. My ophthalmologist is the same and I have to remember not to wear scent when I go to get my eyes tested, otherwise her eyes start streaming!

      Reply
  4. Deborah Mainwaring
    June 9, 2021

    What wonderful, evocative names and scents! My mother wore Joy or Joya (I think Joy), and her favourite lipstick and nail polish was Fire Engine Red by either Revlon or Max Factor. Those were the days of 40s and 50s movie stars so the colours and scents were bold. The perfumes I grew up with as a teenager and into my twenties were Blue Grass and then Chanel No.5. Then I found that the boys I dated and the man I married all were averse to perfumes, so I gave them up. Reluctantly. My standby scent (not perfume – a moisturising massage cream nowadays) has lemongrass and ginger in it. But I still love it when an old, familiar perfume wafts past me and I can immediately see my mother in all her Bogart/Bacall era glory.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      June 13, 2021

      For a moment I felt I could see your glamorous mother too! Different days indeed . . . my mother would not have dreamt of going out without her lipstick. I remember Blue Grass too – and you have just reminded me of something I haven’t thought of for years – there used to be perfume dispensers in some ladies loos in pubs and Blue Grass was one of the perfumes. I hope I am not making that up!

      Reply

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