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Perfume has a unique ability to trigger vivid, often emotional memories. Scent expert Linda Harman reveals why a favourite perfume might help a loved one with dementia to relive many happy memories

When your mother was given her first bottle of perfume it was probably a very special occasion. A few decades ago, perfume was a distinct luxury; something you didn’t buy for yourself but waited to be given.  As Mother’s Day approaches, a small bottle of scent could be a beautiful reminder to your mother of her youthful self, of suitors past and glamorous evenings at the dancehall. Many of the iconic fragrances of 1950’s and ’60’s are still on the market – they come from an era when there were far fewer to choose from and each one had a devoted following. Most women would have one perfume that they related to as “theirs” and used to announce their presence.  It would linger on their scarves and in their coats.   My own mother loved all fragrance and cosmetics, but the perfume I associate with her most closely is definitely Lentheric’s Tweed – which my father used as his ‘go to” Christmas present in various different gift sets for many years.

Perfume brings endless pleasure – it is a signal that you are precious, just like the fragrant oils themselves. Yet before the 1950’s women used very little perfume.  It was expensive, and wearing too much of it was considered rather common.  In France, perfume was used more freely but in the UK and USA, “nice” girls would dab the smallest amount on pulse points, making their precious perfume last longer, and at the same time making the point that they were well washed and not hiding behind the scent.  In an attempt to drive sales and change perfume etiquette, Estee Lauder first launched Youth Dew as a bath oil, which was a product that women would buy for themselves and use every day. It was a stroke of genius that revolutionised women’s relationship with perfume.

After the war, more affordable brands appeared on the market: The powdery, woody, mossy notes of Lentheric’s Tweed, the more floral Coty’s L’Aimant which was launched in 1927 but very popular in the 1950’s. Two that are no longer available are Max Factor’s Hypnotique and Primitif  both of which represent the decade’s approach to sexuality, and sometimes came in a perspex dome held by a little black velvet cat!

Yardley’s light and feminine Lily of the Valley and French Fern bath salts were in every Christmas Stocking. Teenagers (not yet known as such), making a statement about their sophistication and sexuality, treated themselves to pocket size samples of Soir de Paris from Bourjois whilst Revlon took inspiration from the Parisian perfume Miss Dior for their much more affordable Intimate, a distinctly sexy floral.

One whiff of a long forgotten scent is powerfully evocative; it resurrects memories of relationships, places and events from very long ago. For me, Lentheric’s Tweed will be forever Mum.

So which fragrance did your mother wear?

To find out more about Linda Harman click here.