My Mother’s Last Perfume

My Mother’s Last Perfume

Re-posting this in honor of National Fragrance Day, as the Fragrance Foundation has suggested sharing one’s most poignant scent memories. My poor mother is still with us and still in her own home, but her condition has declined even further.

My mother is slowly dying. It is sad but acceptable, given that she is in her mid-80s and suffered a major stroke more than two years ago. She has been able to stay in her own home, cared for by a live-in aide who has become a much-appreciated member of the family “team.” Now my mother also gets hospice care in her home and she is bedridden. She is emaciated, as she only drinks protein shakes and water. Most of her medications have been discontinued, because trying to swallow pills came to cause her so much distress. She would be mortified to know her present condition, as she was always a proud woman who valued autonomy above almost anything else. She had always hoped that her unhealthy heart would fell her instantly, without any fuss, after she was no longer able to enjoy what she called her “adventures.” My mother loved to travel to exotic places, with or without my father (who died several years ago).

In her younger days, my mother also loved glamour, and parties, and dressing up. She had an eye for fashion and was a striking woman herself: tall, with white Irish skin and startling blue eyes under dark eyebrows and hair that was such a dark brown it looked black. An early memory of mine is of sitting on my parents’ bed, watching her do her hair and make up at a vanity, or what we called her “dressing table.” It was a ritual; and part of that ritual was the finishing flourish of Chanel No. 5.

Chanel No. 5 perfume ad

My parents’ marriage was not always a happy one, though it lasted more than 50 years and only ended with my father’s death when he was almost 90. My mother was never cut out to be a suburban housewife, yet the part of her that craved security sought out that life and chose to stay in it. She was, indeed, very like the creation of Rudyard Kipling to which she frequently compared herself: The Cat that Walked by Himself, or as she said, “the Cat that walked alone.” She sought out creature comfort and made for herself (and us) a pleasing home, but there was always part of her that withheld itself. As a child, I often tried to make my mother feel happier, though I now realize that much of her unhappiness was due to exaggerated expectations on her part of how her life should have unfolded.

The Cat that Walked by Himself, from the Just-So Stories, text and illustration by Rudyard Kipling

One way I tried to make her happy was to save my small allowance to offer her gifts: special gifts, the kind I thought my father should give her more often. More than once, that gift was some form of Chanel No. 5. I remember offering Chanel talcum powder; and once, the smallest size of spray cologne, as that was all I could afford. She was, in fact, delighted by these offerings and made a point of using them when I was around to see that she loved and appreciated them. My mother was in many ways a self-centered woman but she loved us as much as she was able to, given her own loveless childhood.

So now, as she lies slowly dying — a process that could sadly take many more weeks or even months — I occasionally “borrow” a spritz from her last spray bottle of Chanel No. 5 eau de toilette. I think I may have given it to her some time in the last decade; I just don’t remember. But I do remember the fragrance, and her bottle pre-dates the 2013 reformulation. It hasn’t been carefully preserved — it sat out on a shelf in her sunny bathroom for years. So the top notes are a little “off”, but it quickly settles onto one’s skin with powdery, warm, heady florals. Smelling it, I can recall the vibrant, restless, beautiful woman my mother once was. It really is a lovely scent, though I would never choose to wear it regularly as my own perfume, given its long association with my mother.

Sadly, she no longer enjoys it. On one of my visits during this latest phase of her long decline, I thought she might like to smell it again, as she was always hyper-alert to smells, so I applied a bit to my own wrist and held it close so she could smell it. She wrinkled her nose and said to the room, “What is that awful smell?”. So I haven’t offered it again; instead, I bring her pots of live hyacinths, which she has long loved and still enjoys. My father, an avid amateur gardener, used to please her by potting up dozens of hyacinth bulbs for forcing indoors every winter, when their perfume would fill entire rooms.

Pots of blue hyacinth bulbs in bloom

My mother slips in and out of awareness these days, and I’m not always sure she knows I am there, but when I brought her the latest hyacinths and held the pot of blossoms close to her, she inhaled their fragrance, smiled and said, “Lovely!”. It still matters to me to try to make my mother happy, even at this indeterminate, shadowy end.

Bottle of Chanel No. 5 perfume with pink hyacinths

Fragrance Friday: Nirmal

Fragrance Friday: Nirmal

I love a fragrance that is both lovely to smell and intriguing to consider. I also love floral fragrances, although I am branching out as I learn more about perfume. Laboratorio Olfattivo Nirmal is all three. I have previously declared my love for that house’s Decou-Vert Nirmal is a new love, though I don’t see myself wearing it more than Decou-Vert, generally speaking — maybe in the fall, when I don’t crave the green notes of my beloved muguets.

The firm’s website describes it in terms of soft white fabric brushing against skin, sweetness, serenity, tranquility, a cloud of white notes. The top note is carrot, followed by heart notes of iris root and violet, drying down to a base of sweet suede, cedar and amber. The name is a Hindi or Sanskrit first name for boys, which means pure, innocent, tranquil. And yes, this is a fragrance that could easily be worn by a man. The iris note is really orris root, the violet is very hushed and the sweet notes in the base are well-balanced with the cedar.

The carrot top note is very clear and leaves no doubt that it is carrot. It is a fresh carrot, though, the kind one might buy at a farmer’s market, with its ferny green foliage intact as well as its fresh-from-the-earth sweetness, that vanishes before carrots reach the supermarket. The carrot slowly gives way to iris root, the two merging imperceptibly until you notice at some point that the carrot is gone and the iris has taken over, with a blush of violet. Then the iris slowly yields to the violet, and the undertones of cedar, “daim” and amber begin to appear softly.

Olfactoria’s Travels had a lovely review of Nirmal two years ago; the author did not perceive the carrot as strongly as I did, and she sensed the sweet “daim” notes more strongly, although they do get stronger and more candied as Nirmal dries down. She made a lovely comparison between Nirmal and the lone white iris in one of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings, noting that like the white iris, this scent is pale and delicate.

Oil painting of iris flowers with lone white iris, by Vincent van Gogh

Irises, by Vincent van Gogh

I agree — there are no grape notes, as one finds in some iris flowers; the only purplish fragrance note is the faint flush of violet, and maybe that’s a white violet, too.

white-violet

Sweet white violet

Nirmal has good longevity on my skin; five hours or more. I would say that its sillage is moderate. As it dries down, the sweet “daim” notes do become stronger, but they are never cloying or too sugary. There is a warmth to the sweetness that probably comes from the amber note, and a nice balance from the light but woody cedar. After eight hours, most of what I still smell is the amber, which has come shyly out of the background to outlast the other notes.

I will be interested to try this next summer, when the weather is hot, to see how it fares. Right now, my favorite fragrances for the kind of hot, humid weather we get in the South are Ellena’s Un Jardin Sur le Nil and Un Jardin Apres La Mousson Right now, the weather is cool and overcast but not chilly, and Nirmal feels just right.

 

Fragrance Friday: Shampure

This past week, I have needed “comfort smells.” To be honest, the American Presidential election and its outcome were shocking to me and I am downcast, to say the least. I have had trouble sleeping and it took several days for me to stop waking up in the morning thinking the whole thing had been a bad dream. I also had a nasty little virus that stuffed up my nose and kept me coughing uncontrollably. I needed aromatherapy!

And something that I have found comforting is Shampure Composition Oil, made by Aveda. Aveda’s website describes it as a blend of sunflower and meadowfoam oils with 25 different plant and flower essences. It can be used as a massage oil for body and scalp, moisturizer, bath oil, etc. and, in the website’s words: it “calms the senses with an aroma with 25 pure flower and plant essences including certified organic lavender, petitgrain and ylang ylang.” That sounded promising, and I have a small one-ounce bottle of it from the local Aveda boutique, as a birthday freebie.

I have been rubbing it onto the back of my hands when I go to bed, so I can smell it while I read before I sleep. The scent is a pleasant blend of herbal, floral and lightly spicy notes. MakeUp Alley says that some of the 25 essential oils are: Rose, Lavender, Aloe, Rosemary, Orange, Eucalyptus, Patchouli, Ylang Ylang, Anise, Fennel, Licorice, Bergamot, Coriander, Peppermint, Petitgrain, Vanilla. The ones I smell the most, in no particular order, are probably the aloe, eucalyptus, orange, ylang ylang, peppermint, petitgrain and rosemary. It reminds me of Miller Harris’ La Pluie, which shares several of its aromatic notes.

And yes, I am finding its fragrance very soothing at bedtime. I do like to wear fragrance at night sometimes, but it can be challenging to find one that is calming enough to support sleep. The scent of Shampure also wafts up nicely from the back of my hands if I’m up reading, and it is close but not too close when I finally turn out the lights and try to sleep. Added bonus: the oil feels great on my skin and my hands are benefiting from the moisture!

So that’s my current regime of election aftermath aromatherapy. I’m sure I’ll be ready for more resilient fragrances soon, suitable for the long period of resistance I foresee ahead. Something, perhaps, by Boadicea the Victorious.

Queen Boadicea of the Britons, warrior leader against Roman occupation of Britain

Boadicea, Warrior Queen

Image from the Brooklyn Museum.

Fragrance Friday: ?

Fragrance Friday: ?

Usually I post something about fragrance on Fridays here, on the blog I began to remind myself of the many things that make me happy, which is why I called it “Serenity Now.” But this election week, I have no words.  What shall I describe? The scent of despair? The scent of disgust? Our President-elect exemplifies all the behaviors I abhor most: cruelty, greed, mendacity, cowardice, avarice, infidelity … the list goes on and on. I’ll try to post something fragrant later this weekend when I regain some composure, and maybe some serenity.

Image: DarkMedia

Fragrance Friday: 6 roses for golden Autumn & rainy Autumn

Fragrance Friday: 6 roses for golden Autumn & rainy Autumn

I love Chemist in the Bottle’s list of rose fragrances for autumn, as rose is one of my favorite fragrance notes. I have put away some of my more summery rose scents in favor of those that have a more autumnal spice to them, such as Jo Malone’s Tudor Rose and Amber and Miller Harris’ Rose En Noir. Any other suggestions for autumn fragrances, with or without rose notes?

Chemist in the Bottle

October has brought golden Autumn filled with colorful leaves in shades of brown, orange, yellow and red that gradually fall from trees turning into vivid and rustling carpets on top of the park pavements. Autumn like that is pretty and can be enjoyable even at times when a chilly wind is blowing behind our backs. On the other hand there are days when the sky is completely grey and it looks as if it was about to start to fall on your heads. Days filled with gloom and rain are definitely less enjoyable but at least they give you a good reason to stay at home as you wrap yourself with a fluffy blanket with a big cup of your favorite tea or coffee in hands, watching some movies.

I bet many of you have already done that or are in the process of deciding if its the high time to…

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Fragrance Friday: Tangerine Vert, and Glow

Fragrance Friday: Tangerine Vert, and Glow

To round out my comments on my Miller Harris Collection Voyage, I’ve been sampling the third fragrance in the coffret: Tangerine Vert. It is really a unisex citrus cologne.Top notes are tangerine, grapefruit and lemon; middle notes are geranium, orange blossom and marjoram; base notes are oakmoss, musk and cedar. I have read that there is an actual fruit that is a green tangerine, very popular in China and Japan, where it is loved as a fruit that signals the end of summer and the start of autumn. It seems right to review its namesake fragrance in September, especially as we are enjoying beautiful Indian Summer weather. The Miller Harris website refers to “Sicilian green tangerine” but I love the imagery of the Asian fruits heralding early autumn.

The opening of Tangerine Vert is marvelous: a burst of citrus, sweet but not too sweet, with an undertone of slightly bitter rind and grapefruit that turns into an aromatic, green herb, nicely balancing the sweet tangerine. The citrus notes do not feel sharp to me; although lemon is listed as a note, I don’t pick that up. The tangerine dominates without being tangy. In the middle, the dominant notes to me are the marjoram and geranium. In the final stage, I cannot say that I smell anything but the lightest oakmoss faintly tinged with cedar. Lyn Harris has declared that “citrus is all about top notes” and Tangerine Vert embodies that principle.

Sadly, this fragrance comes and goes so quickly on me that I would have to spray it every hour to enjoy it the most. I have dry skin, and citrus notes are famously fleeting; the combination probably doomed the longevity. I may have a solution, though, or at least an experiment! I recently bought a bottle of one of Maison Martin Margiela’s new Replica Filters, Glow.  The “filters”, Glow and Blur, are lightly fragranced dry oil sprays that you use like a primer on your skin before spraying on a perfume. They are meant to brighten (Glow) or soften (Blur) your chosen fragrance as well as extend its longevity, and they are especially designed to be layered with other Replica fragrances.

Bottle of fragranced dry oil spray Maison Martin Margiela Replica Filter Glow

Maison Martin Margiela Replica Filter Glow

I tried both of them at Sephora and much preferred Glow, which I could happily wear on its own as a very simple scent, with its notes of neroli, grapefruit blossom, bergamot and rose. It feels lovely on the skin, not oily but like a veil. Blur was pleasant enough, but I felt it was somewhat nondescript on its own; and when layered with a Replica fragrance (Flower Market), it tamped it down too much. So I bought Glow (shoutout to the lovely SA at Sephora, who happily sampled fragrances with me and sent me home with two samples of Flower Market and several more Chanel samples).

I plan to try Tangerine Vert layered over Glow, in the hopes that the “filter” will improve longevity and that its bright solar notes will amplify what I like so much about Tangerine Vert, the citrus opening. I’ll post an update! Have you tried either of the Replica Filters or Tangerine Vert? What did you think?

Fragrance Friday: Future Perfume Tourism

Fragrance Friday: Future Perfume Tourism

I am so eager to visit Florence! Very few of my European trips have been to Italy, which is surprising as Italy has so much of what I love: gardens, gorgeous landscapes, art, museums, history, language, wonderful food …

And now yet another article to whet my appetite: Perfume, Power and God. Author Arabelle Sicardi describes her visits to perfume palaces such as the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica of Santa Maria Novella, where Catherine de Medici bought her famous perfumes, and the perfumery of Aquaflor, housed in an actual former palace. The photographs of the flower room at Aquaflor are stunning! Of the Officina Profumo, she writes:

If any single place stood at the intersection between politics, god, and perfume, it is this church-turned-monastery-turned-store. From the outside it looks unremarkable for Florence — no baroque detailing, just the crest of Santa Maria on the front. It is all it needs to mark its history. And then you walk inside, and the frescoes summon your eyes up-up-up, maybe sixty feet above you. A fresco of perfumed angels are framed in dark, stained wood. The building and art above you is more than 600 years old. In existence since the 13th century, it still sells many of the same products the Dominican friars once made by hand in the back room.

She traces the connection of the Medici family, through Catherine’s French marriage and patronage, to the very start of the perfume industry in France, specifically in Grasse. I visited Grasse many years ago with my husband, on our honeymoon, and the whole area is fascinating. We visited a couple of perfumeries (Molinard and Fragonard, I think) and were shown the older methods of perfume-making and the extraction of essential oils. However, Grasse is not also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, packed with priceless art. Florence is. And I can’t wait to go there.