The most wonderful thing about perfume is how vastly different everyone’s tastes can be. No other area of beauty can divide a room quite like a perfume can. While some are drawn to sweet, vanilla scents, others prefer deep, woody, more masculine notes. And most fascinatingly, throughout my time as a beauty editor, I’ve been unable to figure out exactly what it is that makes one perfume a crowd-pleasing hit.
When it comes to personal tastes, however, it appears that what each individual finds appealing in a perfume goes far beyond the blend. In fact, it’s the story associated with any particular smell that grants a perfume a special place in someone’s heart. The ones that we hold dearest to us tend to evoke memories of happy, joyful times that we have grown to cherish.
It makes sense, therefore, that we inherit a huge amount of our perfume taste from those that were closest to us in our formative years, notably the mother figures in our lives. So ahead of Mother’s Day this weekend, I caught up with some of the industry’s biggest fragrance fans to reveal the perfumes that remind us the most of our mothers and have subsequently moulded our memories.
"Fragrance is really important to me, as my mum was a fragrance lover! She never left the house without it. In fact, as children, if we were driving somewhere, mummy reapplying her lipstick and dousing herself in fragrance was an indication we were nearly there.
My mum's collection was fairly extensive with many classics—Chanel No 5 and No 19 being favourites—but there are two fragrances that stop me on my tracks. Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche transports me immediately to being in my mother’s arms as a child and my face turned in to her neck (wow). It's so evocative.
Then later in life, Estée Lauder Pleasures was her everyday scent with bottles in every handbag. I have a collection of her fragrances in a box under my bed, and if I just want to have a moment to remember her, and almost feel her, I give them a sniff."
"My mum has worn this perfume for as long as I can remember, and even the slightest hint of the scent reminds me of her hugs and my childhood in Paris where she started wearing it. It's a very elegant scent but still strong—two words that perfectly sum up my mother."
"I think I definitely inherited my love of fragrances from my mum. I really enjoy discovering new scents and connecting a smell to a certain moment of my life, but for me, the most special will always be Tommy Girl, which was her favourite. Sadly, she passed away over a decade ago, but every time I get a hint of the fresh scent, even now, I’m transported back to the smell of her handbag which always seemed to be doused in it from carrying a bottle around everywhere with her! Luckily, it’s become a classic and I still try and pick one up every time I see it when passing through an airport."
"When I was small, my mother used to wear intensely flowery scents like Diorissimo. One sniff of this takes me back to the '80s, leaning over the top bannister as she rushed downstairs (a swish of lurex and cloud of lily of the valley) to answer the door to her raucous dinner guests. As she’s grown older, her tastes have become more woody, masculine and smoky. She’s a huge fan of Tonka by the indie British brand Laboratory Perfumes—a scent I’d imagine emanating from Marlene Dietrich. It reflects a woman who knows her mind, cares little for the judgement of others anymore and immensely enjoys shocking the younger generation from time to time."
"The first perfume I remember my mum wearing was Lancôme Trésor, which launched in 1990, and it really embodied the era, sweet, strong and unmistakable. Back then, it was a real luxury item, but she wore it daily and added a double dose for special occasions like dinner parties or doctors' dinners, always resplendent in a jewel-toned sari. Looking back, I think those power scents were a form of armour for her in a tough and notoriously elitist profession, in a new continent and in a not-so-great living environment (we had quite racist neighbours who loved the P-word). She still wears heady scents like that to this day—usually in a more modern guise by Terry De Gunzberg or Chanel's Les Exclusifs—but they reflect her strength: They're determined, courageous and unbeatable. I still aspire to be just like her."
"My mum has been wearing Armani Si since she smelled it on me when it first launched and I reviewed it for the blog. I think that was back in 2013. She loved it so much that I felt the urge to run upstairs and give it to her. I have always kept her stocked up with it and when I smell it or see it, I think of her.
"Since then, my mum was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and thankfully, we had a spare room she could move into. It's amazing being able to look after my mum at home, and now Si is the smell of her bedroom. She values her routine to remind her of who she is and wears her fragrance every single day."
"My mum has long been my last-minute sartorial saviour and before my eyes even meet the collection of crisp white shirts and wool blazers in her wardrobe, I'm greeted with her ever so familiar scent. It smells like what I can only describe as sipping a raspberry daiquiri in a musky Parisian bar, where all of the scents from the leather bar stools to the creamy-sweet candle on the tables collide. That is exactly what Ex Nihilo's Love Shot manages to capture, and it always makes me think of her. It's my mum's signature scent and it lingers on everything she touches, which is very apt as whether we're in the same room binging on cookery shows or miles apart, her love and presence linger, just like her scent."
"When I smell this perfume, it transports me right back to sitting on the end of my mother's bed, wrapped up in my fluffy dressing gown, in the early '80s, watching her apply her makeup before an evening out. The finale was a generous spritz of the wonderfully intoxicating Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche. The metallic silver and electric blue packaging and the peachy pungent rose notes will be forever set in my mind as a fragrance that wraps you in a veil of sophistication and elegance—and that’s my mum!"
Some of my earliest beauty memories involve me, sat crosslegged on the floor, rifling through my mum’s perfume drawer and spraying each scent in turn. Over the years, my mum has worn countless fragrances and she would never go a morning without spritzing her perfume du jour first thing.
The correlation between my memories of my mum and her perfumes are so strong that I can look at photographs and almost smell the perfume she wore on that day.
My childhood smelled like the powerful and heady Yves Saint Laurent Opium. As time moved on and her tastes changed, the smells that I have come to associate with mum are fresher and lighter. Since moving away at 18, Jo Malone London Wood Sage and Sea Salt has come to remind me of weekend visits where we might spend hours nattering and drinking cups of tea. I also can’t walk past someone in the street smelling of Acqua Di Parma Colonia without thinking of my mum and giving her a call. The one constant in her collection, however, has been Chloé Eau De Parfum. It’s floral and fresh but has a warm depth to it that makes me feel like I’m home.
"My mum has always been a Chanel girl. Back in the '90s, whilst I was growing up, it was the scent that would linger on her oversize sage green Marks and Spencer coat which actually looked like something off a vintage rail. Nowadays she opts for the sweeter Mademoiselle. One thing she does like to do is layer the scent. She’ll use an oil in the bath, then a body cream, then the perfume, with possibly a little hair oil too. That’s the thing about Chanel—it’s never too much."
"My mum has never been girly (she’s a sleeves-up-in-the-garden sort, rather than the type to sit at a dressing table with a powder puff), so anything rose-based would never be an obvious perfume pick for her. But I bought this for her one Mother’s Day when I was feeling particularly plush and the Liberty fragrance counters lured me in. Yes, it empathically smells like rose—it does what it says on the bottle—but it’s the almost primal kick of moss, musk and patchouli that really provides personality and makes this otherwise feminine note decidedly punchy."