Do you remember that Nancy Mitford novel in which a daring lady attends a costume ball in a fig leaf, dressed exiguously as Eve The Mother of Us All? It is a banal old truism to say that mothers come in every age, shape, style and size but you might be amazed at the number of people who ask for a suitable gift scent and when asked what sort of lady it is for, reply, “oh you know – just a mum!” How depressing is this? You often hear the same remark about grandmothers: “It’s only for gran…” But do try to refine the search: is granny a glamorous 36 year old with a new baby of her own or a thrice widowed World War veteran of 101? Is she an Adele fan or still stuck on Gracie Fields? Is she a practising brain surgeon, a housewife, a ballet dancer or a street sweeper, like those little old ladies who used to sweep Red Square with dustpan and brush? I remember working in Harrods one Christmas Eve and trying to help a girl who came by with her boyfriend to find something to offer up to granny the following day. We narrowed the search to a toss-up between rose or gardenia. The conscientious granddaughter appealed to her young man who shrugged eloquently in obviously terminal throes of boredom, at which point the rich Eastern European tones of an amused onlooker boomed out, “Ho! ho! ho! He don’t care what the old grandmother wear!”
But we have to care, and here come a few suggestions to help.
First of all, define in your own head the kind of personality your mother is; after all you may well be the person who knows her best. Is she the sort of adventurous woman who likes a surprise, a novelty? Or would she be happier with a bottle of her favourite signature scent. Might in fact a Gift Voucher be best, so that she can decide for herself, uninhibited by the ideas of others? Again, do consider whether she is the sort of mum who may be perturbed, even distressed by the idea of your spending what she considers to be too much money on her. In which case, perhaps choose a delicious soap, a room scent for her bedside table, a scented body cream; or even a deliciously perfumed candle with all its ritual associations – “To Mum: shining out like a good deed in a naughty world”. Those gorgeous new Laduree candles for instance come packed in delicate biscuit china cups in a wide array of colours, redolent of all sorts of wonderful odours from rice face powder to wild strawberries and orange blossom. The boxes are so exquisitely designed that you don’t even have to wrap.
Then to go a stage further: say you have decided to give her a surprise and to pick out something new and different – a little adventure. We’ll assist you as much as we can, but please do a little preparation in advance. Think over what scents the lady has worn in the past (and perhaps even more important what she has hated – so we know what oils and ingredients to avoid). It helps a lot to know what her favourite colours are, how she dresses and also WHY she wears scent at all.( I might say at this point: be sure in your own mind that she DOES wear scent. Though even if not, this could prove to be a turning-point in her life: a REAL adventure!). But the last point is important: mothers of families especially tend to wear scent for their husbands and for their children. They often have the lovely idea of sticking to one particular perfume so that their offspring will remember them by this in later life. The late Rita Hayworth’s daughter even a bespoke candle made up of her mother’s personal scent so that she could feel her presence about the place. Less romantically, mothers are often bullied into wearing a perfume for which they don’t much care, but of which their whole family approves. And children’s acute but unsophisticated noses are not the best judges of a good fragrance. Allow your mother some self-expression: try to find the one that best evokes her tastes, personality and dreams. Every man and woman (mums included and especially) should have at least one fragrance that they wear for themselves alone – to boost their morale, use as a comfort blanket, an aphrodisiac or whatever the occasion demands. Please don’t ever say – “She’d love this. I hate it. She’s not having it.”
But mothers are so incredibly emotionally generous to their children that you can be sure that on Mothering Sunday it really IS the thought that counts; and if you still find yourself completely stumped (for we can sometimes find it most difficult to analyse our nearest and dearest) consider buying her something of symbolism, like that candle I mentioned above. Select a perfume whose ingredients say a little something – a rose scent for instance; rose representing pure love and the pearl of womanhood. The violet is for unselfishness love; peppermint (there is a wonderful James Heeley scent which uses this) for warm feelings; juniper (recently fashionable in perfume) denotes protection; the lily, purity; and jasmine for elegance and grace. With a little ingenuity you can make up a ciphered olfactory bouquet that goes straight to the heart as well as the nose. This is the day of all the year when a mother wants to FEEL a mother: use that nurturing instinct that she has always lavished on you to buy something instinctive and special.
Image of Norman Rockwell’s Mothers Day painting sourced by Lemon Wedge