The first scent I can remember is probably my mother’s, and it was made in 1927, the same year she was born. Lanvin’s Arpège is still one of the most heavenly scents ever invented, often referred to as “the fragrance of 1000 flowers”, which is entirely appropriate because my mother like myself is a passionate gardener.
Like all great scents, Arpège changes according to the skin of the person who wears it. When she first sprayed it on, it smelt awful – a bit like cat-pee (which as she loves cats too didn’t upset her) but after a short time it smelt more like the kind of soap you might find in paradise – a mixture of jasmine, lilies, sandalwood and spice. It was both intensely feminine, and elegant, and a bit mysterious, the kind of scent you’d expect to find wafting from the wings of a goddess or a beautiful queen.
It came in a round black bottle with a gold design that I gradually worked out was the figure of a woman bending over her child. I loved this, too, and although I didn’t know that the great perfumier Jeanne Lanvin had made it for her own daughter, it seemed to me to be a special message from my mother to me. As a working woman, she had to leave my little sister and myself in the care of a succession of nannies, most of whom made it clear that they hated children. I missed her dreadfully, and would creep into my parents’ bedroom to smell her silk scarves, kept in a tiny sandalwood chest of drawers, because they had her wonderful perfume on them.
To be enveloped in it was to breathe in the scent of love.