Thursday 10 January 2013


Is there anything more evocative than fragrance? In a heartbeat, just a trace of a certain perfume can transport you back in time. For me, Madame Rochas, Diorissimo and Miss Dior by Christian Dior, Caleche by Hermes and Je Reviens by Worth all instantly remind me of my mother and my childhood in the Sixties. I'd have to add the heady scent of Elnett hairspray to that list, too, as it was such a fixture on my mother's dressing table and she was forever spraying great clouds of the stuff around her head. I'll never forget the time she was in a rush and reached for the hairspray, only to realise, too late, that she was spraying her hair with a can of furniture polish. Her fabulous beehive, that had taken her ages to backcomb and perfect, slowly disintegrated into a soggy mess before our eyes. I'm pretty sure I got the giggles at that stage and was ceremoniously marched out of my parents' bedroom.

But back to the serious fragrances - it isn't only the wonderful aromas of the perfumes my mother wore that have stayed with me all these years, it's also the memory of the feel and the shape of the fragrance bottles. I so adored admiring and holding those beautiful bottles as a child. They were like artefacts; so pleasingly tactile and luxurious, and so different to my assorted bottles of 4711 toilet water and other, totally insipid toiletries, that I used to get for Christmas. 

Miss Dior advertisement from 1971, illustrated by Christian Dior's great friend, Renee Gruau.
Miss Dior was created in 1941 by Paul Vacher and Jean Carles
Photo credit

I was particularly fond of the Madame Rochas clear ribbed-glass bottle, with its gleaming gold stopper. It fitted snuggly into its silk-lined box and smelt so sophisticated and divine. Whenever my mother went out for the evening I would wriggle away from the babysitter and sneak up to my parents' room. I'd quietly pull out my mother's satin-covered stool and sit, as carefully as I could, at her dressing table and survey her collection of fragrances. Her whole room smelt of perfume and the dressing table, which stood centre stage in the window, was decorated with the fabulous scent bottles that my father brought back for her on his numerous business trips abroad. Once I was confident that the babysitter wouldn't follow me upstairs, I'd tilt the dressing table mirror to my hight before applying the perfume to my wrists and behind my ears, just like my mother used to do. I'm sure she must have known that I'd been sampling all her perfumes when she came home and popped her head around my bedroom door to check I was fast asleep - just the smell from the concoction of fragrances I was wearing must have given me away. She very kindly never said a thing; perhaps she felt it was a rite of passage for me to experience her perfumes first hand. I remember clearly being over the moon when I was given a bottle of Diorissimo on my 13th birthday. Finally I had my own very grown-up perfume to place proudly on my tiny dressing table and, from that day on, I'm pretty sure I stopped tampering with my mother's perfume bottles.

When she passed away a few years ago, I took care of clearing out all her wardrobes and her treasured dressing table. It was such a difficult and emotional task, but there was a reassuring lingering trail of Madame Rochas that stayed with me during those dark days; just as if my mother was there, right beside me...

Madame Rochas by Rochas fragrance advertisement from the 1960's. The perfume was created in 1960
by Guy Robert, the nose also responsible for Caleche by Hermes (1961)
Photo credit


  1. I read with a tear in my eye. It is so true I can picture myself right now as a child. For me Worth will always have me sent straight back to my childhood, a fragrance that my mother wore when I was growing up. Having just read "Vogue on Chanel" I found myself being transported back to the early 80's when I had saved up to buy a bottle of No 5 - thinking at the time that I was finally grown up by wearing such a heady fragrance Mentioning this to my husband I came home yesterday to find.......a bottle of No 5 on my dressing table (actually eau premiere which is still the same deep tones with a silky feel to it) - what a treat! And yes so smiling, Elnett - recently found myself needing hairspray and each time I spray it takes me back to my teens. And then there was brut........ Wonderful article, thank you xx

  2. Thank-you, Becky. I also love Chanel No.5. There are so many gorgeous fragrances, although I do find myself wearing them less these days, which is a shame. Just rediscovering Caleche, which my mother-in-law gave me a beautiful bottle of once, in a fabulous silk-lined box that I still have. I can never understand why we wore Brut?! We all did at school and I had a colleague who still wore it in the late 80's along with Giorgio, which was often banned from restaurants as the fragrance was so overpowering! x

  3. I so enjoyed this article Lottie! My mother always wore Chanel No 5 for “best”. It was so expensive in those days, it really represented a special luxury for her. I remember creeping into her room to try it out, and then being told off for leaving the stopper off, in case it evaporated! There was always a bottle sitting on her dressing table in the same position, as there was an oblong No.5- shaped stain in the walnut veneer underneath, where it had seeped. So my father always kept her topped up with the same size bottle to cover it up!

  4. Another fabulous anecdote! Thank-you, Kathy xx


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