Pierrette Mireault (1929-2018)

My mother passed away on Saturday, April 21st.  My sister, her family and I were with her during the last days.  It was a difficult time but there was so many beautiful moments of hugs and kisses.

By her own account, my mother was a nervous little girl forcing her to skip an entire year of grade school and live with her grandmother in a village away from the bustle of Montréal.  Later, she suffered from anxiety which she battled most of her adult life.  It couldn’t have been easy.  Here is an early photo of her and her sister, Cécile.  My mother is on the left with her very fashionable marcel curls!

 

Pierrette

Pierrette and Cécile

Perhaps the earliest memory I have of my mother was a summer’s day walk to Woolworth’s.  My mother wanted to buy herself a 45 rpm record.  I thought to myself, “they have records for adults?”  We only had children’s records at home.  When my mother played the 45 on our portable record player, I was disappointed.  Edith Piaf sang, “Padam, Padam, Padam…”  I didn’t know what the word “padam” meant!  I never thought about it much until a few weeks later when I tried the flipside.  The first words were terrifying, “Le ciel bleu sur nous peut s’effondrer, et la terre peut bien s’écrouler.”  Woah!  I thought, I’ll stick to Bibbidi bobbidi boo from Walt Disney’s Cinderella.  Of course, later in life, after having loved and lost, I understood the meaning of the words of L’Hymne à l’amour and today, it is my absolutely favourite French song and it always reminds me of my mother.

My mother was very much ahead of her time.  Although she probably wouldn’t have called herself a feminist, she had very little regard for male authority.  When a school principal threatened to give me the strap because I had forgotten to do homework, she threatened to call the police (click here for details).  She instinctively knew that the state had no business disciplining her children.  That was her job.  As for the men in red cloaks who lived at the Vatican, they weren’t about to tell her how to conduct her personal life.  She was Christian and she believed in God but the rules from Rome?  I don’t think so.  Closer to home, she would even tease my father about his work as an administrator at CN hinting that more time was spent at the office water cooler than at desks actually working!  He would just laugh it off.  If nothing else, she could ALWAYS make him laugh.

As for competing with men, she would have thought…. why compete with men when I can manipulate them?  It’s much for fun!  When I think of my mother, I think of hair, lipstick, cleavage, legs, high heels and perfume!

pierrette3

My mother’s official engagement photo.

My mother’s choice in perfume reads like a hit parade of 20th century perfumery.  When the above photo was taken in the early 50s, she would have been wearing Fleurs de Rocaille by Caron, the 1934 version when it was a classy, soapy-clean floral… perfect for a doctor’s daughter.  Later in the early 60s, she wore Crêpe de Chine by Millot (1925), the first perfume I remember her wearing.  Then, L’Air du Temps by Nina Ricci (1948) when it was still great followed by Fidji by Guy Laroche (1966), when IT was still great.  I can also remember Calandre by Paco Rabanne (1969).  So, as you see, my mother was constantly updating her perfume to suit the taste of the day.  Later in life, she wore Muguet des Bois by Coty (a drugstore marvel) and my sister kept her well stocked with Happy by Clinique (1998) eau de toilette and handcream, which she loved.

When my father and I had a falling out, my mother extended the olive branch.  She coyly disguised an invitation for supper to myself and my first boyfriend, Clément, challenging us to ride our bikes from our downtown apartment to my parents’ house in Saint-Laurent, perhaps an hour’s ride.  “If you can get here on your bikes, I will provide the steaks.”  My dad cooked them on the grill in our backyard.  The reconciliation with my father started on that day.

There is so much more I could write, it would take a novel but suffice it to say that she raised 4 children and when the kids were grown up she volunteered 2 days a week for over 20 years at a local hospital, no doubt with lots of perfume trailing her down the corridors back when wearing perfume wasn’t a felony!

In her last days, she refused to eat.  My sister and I knew the end was near… without food how can we sustain life?  I thought of Frida Kahlo’s last painting of the luscious, juicy watermelons (1954).  She painted the fruit cut open exposing the red and pink flesh and the seeds, suggesting more watermelons to come.  Eight days before she died, Frida signed the painting with red paint and added the words “Viva la Vida”.

Long live life.

Watermelons

 

 

 

 

Lorenz Hart : Spring is here, I hear

Living in Montréal, we often need a calendar to tell us which season it is because we can’t always rely on the weather.  For instance, it’s spring here now… today is April 15th and they are announcing snow, ice pellets, freezing rain and rain for tonight and tomorrow!  Winter is certainly dragging its heels.

To make things worse, I tested a perfume this week that made me think of my childhood beach holidays in North Eastern US… Wells Beach, Cape Cod, Wildwood and beautiful Cape May, New Jersey.  My cousin, also a perfume enthusiast, told me that she wears Replica Beach Walk by Martin Margiela and so I ran out and tried it and it automatically brought me back to suntan lotions of the 70s and 80s but with a beautiful ylang ylang note which reminded me of Fidji by Guy Laroche, or at least, what Fidji used to be.

Now… I don’t think that the name itself would have attracted me much before I met FiveOaksBouquet and Tara.  I was very lucky to have met these two soon-to-be friends who taught me many things about perfume but one piece of advice informs my approach to perfume every day.  NEVER judge a perfume by its name, its price or its notes.  That single piece of advice is responsible for me wearing some of the most beautiful perfumes I own today… Stetson, White Diamonds by Elizabeth Taylor and, yes, even Old Spice.  AND, wear the perfume for a few days before you decide whether it’s for you or not.  Scent strips are a good start but the only true test is on your skin over several days.

And so, I put my preconceived notions of a beachy perfume behind me (I’m not a Calone fan) and I tested it on my skin and I thought it was just lovely… definitely worth going back for a sample so I can try it again.  What caught me off guard was the opening floral note… so, so pretty.  I’ll come back with a full review after I’ve tested it more.

And so, the next morning I reached for my traditional spring fragrance, Premier Figuier by L’Artisan Parfumeur… as I look forward to warm spring days.

I just heard that Nina Simone was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  This reminded me of a song that makes such complete sense for this Montrealer… Trouble in Mind (and, it’s a sing-along).

Trouble in mind, I’m blue
But I won’t be blue always,
‘Cause that sun is gonna shine in my back door someday.

Trouble in mind, I’m slow
My poor heart is beating so slow
I never had so much trouble in my life before.

I’m going down to the river
Gonna get me a rockin’ chair
If the Lord don’t help me, I’m gonna rock away from here.

Who was the greatest perfumer of all time?

Darwin

Charles Darwin

If you and I were to go out for supper and share some wine and an after-dinner drink, we might get on to some of my favourite “parlour games”.  For instance, I’m likely to ask you who you think were the two geniuses of the 19th century and we’re likely to agree on at least one… Charles Darwin.  But my second choice is often controversial.  For me, Sigmund Freud would be the second, hands down! But a girlfriend of mine was shocked by my choice.  “Freud?  No way!  He was so anti-woman!”  Her choice?  Karl Marx!  Of course, the great German egalitarian.

Most of my friends are not interested in perfume and so to speak about the greatest perfumer of all time would not likely generate much conversation.  For so many years, I would have said François Coty.  He, singlehandedly, was responsible for the creation of two perfume families… the chypre and the amber families.  And, his Coty empire revolutionized the sale of perfume.  Yes, he made mistakes in his private life but for the most part, he was the great innovator, but far from the perfectionist.

Jacques_Guerlain

Jacques Guerlain

However, on any given night (and with enough wine), you could convince me that the greater perfumer was his rival, Jacques Guerlain.  His creations read like a hit parade and most are still available today having withstood the test of time… Après L’Ondée, Shalimar, L’Heure Bleue, Mitsouko, Mouchoir de Monsieur and Vol de Nuit.  And even as I write this post, I’m convincing myself that Jacques Guerlain really deserves the title.  I still wear his creations today.

But what about Ernest Daltroff?  Fleurs de Rocaille, Narcisse Noir, Nuit de Noël and Pour un Homme!  Or Edmond Roudnitska?  Or Ernest Beaux?  Or even, Germaine Cellier?

It’s a tough one.  I’d love to hear your opinions.

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