I wonder which perfumes these three women wore?

The aunts

You see, these women are not strangers to me, they are three of my grand-aunts, my father’s aunts.  Cecile Donato (top left) was my godmother.  Marie is top right and the eldest of the family, Mica, sits in the front.  I would date the photo to the 1920s.  Of the three, Marie would be the most likely to wear perfume, she was the most fashionable… at least from what I remember.

Whenever a wedding was planned, I can still remember my mother being greeted at the door by Marie and being dragged to her sewing machine, Marie exclaiming passionately, “Look at this material I bought!  I went all the way to St. Hubert Street.  And look at the pattern I chose!  I start tomorrow!”  Nobody seemed to care about who was getting married.  I don’t think it mattered much… attending a wedding was an excuse to make a new dress.  I remember looking at the design on the pattern cover and wondering how Marie would fit into a dress that appeared to have a 1-inch waist!  And because shoes were expensive, she would dye an old pair to match the dress.

Mica worked as a seamstress in a factory.  In those days, the women made the entire dress… no piece work.  It would have been demeaning to them to do only sleeves or only backs.  By the time she was in her 60s, Mica’s back was deformed.  It must have been a very hard life.  Marie was “une drapeuse” which I assume means she worked on creating the patterns with a dress designer.  Could you imagine making dresses all day and then making a dress for a wedding on your spare time?  Of course, this was a generational thing.  Today, I have to smile when I hear about the “maker” movement where young people are making things.  The pre-television generation made things out of nothing!  Another Donato sibling, François, made a violin… a violin, I tell you!  And then he taught himself to play it.  He and his brother, Joe (we called him ti-Joe), would sit on the balcony on Joliette Street in Montreal’s Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district and play music.  Joe played the mandolin.  I still wonder what the neighbours thought of those crazy Italians playing traditional Italian songs on the front porch after supper.

If all the Donato girls were to be photographed, my grandmother, Eugenia, would have been there as would Jeanne, the youngest.

So… when I look at this photograph I wonder if they wore perfume.  Perhaps not.  In the strict Italian-Catholic upbringing, perhaps perfume was not permitted.

I’ll end this post with my grandmother’s favourite song… the tearful Ernesto de Curtis waltz, Non ti scordar di me (1935), which has since been sung by every tenor I know.  It’s a favourite.  What does it mean?  Do not forget me.


Leave a comment


  1. Une eau de muguet 🧚‍♀️ Sujet original

  2. You know more about our relatives than I do! Good post!

    • Well… what I know is very sporadic… what I remember and what my dad told me. The story about Frank and Joe on the stoop playing the homemade violin and mandolin always stuck with me. I still remember seeing the violin.

  3. Andrea

     /  December 4, 2017

    A lovely story. Every family should keep track of their history and the interesting people who came before them.

  4. FiveoaksBouquet

     /  December 4, 2017

    Close your eyes and think back, back, back…to being greeted at the door…what were the smells emanating from the apartment? In earlier times full lines of fine perfumes were sold in small independent pharmacies and were not that expensive. They could have used any of the classic French perfumes. Maybe Guerlain… Maybe, too, someone might have brought them a gift from Santa Maria Novella. Or wait—how about Felce Azzura?


    • They might have reached for Italian brands. Absolutely! Whenever we went over it was to eat and so the smells of tomato sauce and parsley come to mind. If we went to my grandmother who lived upstairs, it would also smell like homemade chocolate later cake with jam between the layers. One of my cousins complained of the smell of moth balls depending where you were in the house!

  1. Younger women, older women and power | The Perfume Chronicles

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