Portrait of a lady

What Mel Did - Portrait of a Lady, Ava
Image credit: Melinda Fargo

Long after one has forgotten what a woman wore, the memory of her perfume lingers. — Christian Dior

I have a childhood memory of my aunt on a tarmac-melting hot day. She wore a 1950’s style dress covered with boozy pink roses. It was cinched in at the waist with a patent-leather black belt with a large silver buckle. This cinching made the skirt splay outwards, greatly assisted by several stiff petticoats employed underneath. Her accessories included white clip-on earrings, white cotton gloves and gossamer-thin stockings slipped into 3-inch high heel shoes. Her perfume smelled like lipstick, powder and hairspray.

The woman featured in this week’s image is reminiscent of, but is not, my aunt. She is a new friend, Ava. We met last year while she was sitting in the sunshine minding her own business. Dressed in paint and overalls from decorating my apartment, I knew I didn’t look my best. However, I couldn’t walk past without telling this woman how lovely she looked, how much she reminded me of my aunt and days of bygone elegance and glamour. Inviting me to sit next to her, the air around her was scented with grace and good humour. An eloquent spokeswoman for the transgender community, Ava carried herself with the same style I remembered as a child. We got to talking about my aunt.

What Mel Did - Portrait of a Lady perfume bottle
Image credit: Les Senteurs

There is a perfume by the Federic Malle house called ‘Portrait of a Lady,’ made by the nose, Dominique Ropion. It never fails to transport me back to the day my aunt glided into our home in a fragrant cloud of femininity. This perfume is expensive. I wear it on special occasions – or when I want to feel unbearably chic on the bus to work.

I buy this elixir from a small perfume boutique in London (no affiliation) called ‘Les Senteurs.’ It is the haunt of perfume wearers in the know. Or for perfume wearers desperate to smell a whiff of their childhood, people long gone, or other fill-in-the-blank memory.

The staff of ‘Les Senteurs’ are happy to enable the addicts that come in for their scented fix, knowing themselves the sweet heartache of searching for one’s holy grail in perfume. Although it is said that no such perfume exists. That, again, what we are chasing is a feeling, a time, a place. That being so, I have found my crack cocaine holy grail in ‘Portrait of a Lady.’

As a perfumista with a perfume wardrobe, I have dabbed many memories behind my ears over the years, and if the only statement eventually written on my headstone is that “She always smelled nice,” I’ll take it.

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