Call it nostalgia, call it sentimentality, call it a yearning for the good old days when “Trump” was just a funny noise, but with the benefit of retrospect, those strange, mature-smelling notes seem to fit much better these days.
I guess mama really does know best. Those spiced vanilla scents and creamy florals that we grew up sniffing, have suddenly become a lot more appealing now we’ve hit the same sort of age she was when we were knee-high and trying to swipe them from her dressing table.
Just in time to help us reminisce, four of the major fragrance houses are dishing up a heavy dose of nostalgia, dusted down with a modern twist. Guerlain, Chanel, Chloe and Dior have each given their best-selling perfumes (Shalimar, Coco Mademoiselle, Chloe Eau de Parfum and J’Adore, respectively) a millennial makeover. It gives us the opportunity to revisit the iconic nineties and noughties scents that meant so much to our mum’s generation – and to us.
Shalimar is the wedding day perfume my mum wore when she was pregnant with me. One whiff of the original and I rewind to bedtimes in the nineties, buzzing at being allowed to stay up. I’d help her pick her earrings when she went out for dinner. She’d spritz us both in that delicately incensed powder-bomb of vanilla and spice.
Coco Mademoiselle feels like it belongs to me these days, but I stole it from my mum. Released in 2001 (the year we were all listening to S Club 7’s “Have You Ever”), I properly fell in love with it a decade later, burying my face in my mum’s borrowed scarf while walking home from a drunken night out with friends. Her familiar scent mixed with hazy conversations and hiccup-y contentment. I’ve worn it ever since.
It makes sense. Our earliest and most meaningful scent-associations stem from those early years when we first encounter smells. It’s unsurprising they re-establish themselves in later life.
But it goes deeper than that. It goes back to nature. We know how hefty the bond is between us and our mum, but scent plays a blinder. Our pheromones (the chemicals that send signals to others) kick in when we’re in the womb. Before we’re even born, we communicate chemically with our mums, through scent. It’s the reason you recognised your own mum in a room full of others when you were box-fresh – you were so drawn to her, you could sniff her out.
But nurture’s no side-piece either. Scientists are now beginning to question whether the scents we love (or loathe) are learned rather than hardwired into us from the beginning. A 90s study found that the foods our mums ate when pregnant, made their way into our amniotic sacs, forming memory patterns and predisposing us to certain tastes and smells, before we were born.
Growing up, we’re conditioned to attach associations to scents; forged through the circumstances in which we experience them. We learn to prefer scents that are paired with affection, such as cuddling, which explains our attachment to the perfumes our mums wore when holding us.
Our emotional connection to scent can be explained anatomically, too. Of all the senses, scent has the most direct connection to the parts of our brain that deal with memory and emotion. And while memory association for sight and sound generally peaks between the ages of 15 and 30 (when we’re going to uni, creating new relationships and establishing ourselves in the world), scent makes the biggest mark on us during childhood, peaking at around age five. It’s why so many of us can instantly place the perfumes our mum spritzed when we were small, but are less fussed by the fragrances our mates wore through freshers.
Which brings us back to our mum’s favourite nineties and noughties spritzes. Try as we might, we’re coded to find them intoxicating. Both because we associate those scents with our mum’s natural pheromones – which instinctively, we’re drawn to – but also, because they’re the smells we experienced in that peak scent-establishing period when we were tiny. In a year marked by distance, a single familiar spritz can help us feel more connected.
But what if we could keep the comfort and security of our mum’s perfume, while establishing a scent of our own?
Guerlain’s update to Shalimar (which incidentally was first created in the 1920s but has boomed and dipped for generations since) is a respectful refresh. The original fragrance is still there in all its Gatsby-glam grandeur, but Shalimar Philtre is airier, softer and more lightweight. The coquettish incense has been tempered with an opening gasp of lemon, bergamot and baby powder, which settles down with an extra glug of milky-smooth vanilla. The original dries into a velvety oriental. The update feels silkier somehow.
Guerlain Shalimar Philtre Eau de Parfum, from £81 for 50ml
Dior’s J’Adore (first launched in 1999), has been given a new rendition in the form of J’Adore Eau de Parfum Infinissime. The original line-up of rose, jasmine and ylang ylang remains. However, with the addition of flirty tuberose, it’s become the naughty, liberated younger sister scent, flashing its boobs at the lads, but only if it feels empowered to do so, because #feminism.
Chloe’s eponymous fragrance (reformulated in 2008) has been through many adaptations, but the latest, Rose Tangerine, keeps the pleated glass bottle, the ribbon neckerchief and the signature rose that Chloe’s known for.
This time, the clean, soapy rose, is laced with just-peeled tangerine, spiked with a subtle burst of sticky blackcurrant and licked with green foliage.
Finally, Chanel’s new interpretation of Coco Mademoiselle is geared for night time – though, not necessarily evenings out. Chanel’s breathy Coco Mademoiselle L’Eau Privée is the negligee of the collection: slinkier, gauzier and designed to be worn to bed.
The warm vetiver of the original has been turned down, the mandarin has been amped up and the soft florals, intensified, for a sheer, petal-like fragrance that’s stunning whether you go full-on Marilyn Monroe and swap your PJs for your perfume, or simply fancy a more delicate option for daytime.
All offer comfort, sure, but beyond that, they’ve re-emerged as scents that can intoxicate us in their own right. Poetic, since the perfumes we choose for ourselves will likely influence our future kids (if we have them). Therefore, perfume itself can travel down generations as its own chemical code… So, it’s worth taking your next spritz extra seriously.