On Natalie Portman and Our Mothers’ Influence

What perfume or fashion habits have you picked up from your mother or grandmother?

“My grandmother will not leave the house without perfect hair and perfect makeup and her splash of perfume,” explained actress Natalie Portman about her “new mom” fashion style. Portman always seems to be well-put together and elegant. Her photos in fashion magazines usually appear in the best-dressed, rather than fashion disaster columns. Still, I liked the quote and the accompanying photos of the movie star in a trench coat and black pumps.

As I was flipping through the pages of various fashion and movie star gossip magazines—a guilty weekend pleasure!—I kept thinking about Portman’s comment that as she grew older, and especially after she became a mother herself, she started to emulate the women in her life. This is something that I have noticed too. As I grow older, I become more like my mother. The endless worrying and the obsessive attention to details—thanks, Mom, I could have done without those personality traits. But the ability to make a holiday out of the most mundane and to face problems with an unbeatable optimism is a gift for which I will always be grateful to my mom.

As far as fashion and perfume go, I definitely rely on my mom for inspiration. Some of the most complimented pieces in my wardrobe are the ones that my mom got for me. She is always beautifully perfumed, and this is something that many people notice. You might remember the story of her having a traffic ticket waived, because the police officer was so enthralled by her sillage of Serge Lutens Tubereuse Criminelle.  Her trick is to spray the perfume once she is already dressed, so that a tiny bit ends up on her clothes, or if weather appropriate, her scarf. This way, her fragrant trail is distinctive, but never overwhelming.

Image: Natalie Portman at the 2012 Dior photo shoot via zimbio.com, some rights reserved.




  • Elizabeth: I inherited my love of perfume and color from my mother. Some of my earliest memories are of sniffing her bottles of Shalimar, Cinnabar, and Fendi. But while she loves huge, strong perfumes (now she loves Angel and Alien) and bright, intense colors, I love gentler, powdery scents (L’heure Bleue, Heure Exquise, Apres l’ondee) and muted, warm colors. Now my mother thinks my style is “old ladyish,” which I find terribly funny! April 21, 2012 at 11:05am Reply

    • Victoria: My mom also doesn’t wear anymore the perfumes that I picked up from her–Diorissimo, Lancome Climat, etc. Plus, she complains that they don’t smell the same way. April 21, 2012 at 11:43am Reply

  • Ari: How funny- it must be the time of year for thinking about moms! I just wrote about mine yesterday (it was her 51st birthday!!) I have to say that even though I’m still not sure whether Natalie Portman is a particularly good actress, I really admire her. She stood up for her fellow Jews and denounced Galliano before he was fired from Dior, meaning that she could have been threatening her Dior contract. She’s like the Queen Esther of our time! April 21, 2012 at 11:26am Reply

    • Victoria: Hope that your mom had a great celebration. Best wishes to her!

      Mine had a surgery this week, so I wanted to write something to cheer her up. Plus, the Mother’s Day is coming up soon. April 21, 2012 at 11:45am Reply

  • Allison: In the past few years, I’ve been turning into my mother in terms of personal taste! I love her old clothes, especially from the early 1970s. She gave me her 40-year old Aquascutum cashmere coat. It’s cut beautifully and still looks fabulous. And I have her vintage Lilly Pulitzer full-length sheath dress with a slit up the side. We also like the same colors. The other day I was describing a new nail polish that I bought, and she had the exact same one! As for perfume, she wore Caleche a long time ago, but now she veers toward orientals. And now I find myself moving on from green and floral scents to more exotic fragrances such as Myrrhe Ardente, which smells amazing. April 21, 2012 at 1:04pm Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, I love the fact that you wear your mom’s clothes. It makes me regret that our nomadic lifestyle didn’t make it easier to preserve such things. My mom often sends me clothes or accessories that she would buy for herself, but I don’t really have anything old from her. Except for some jewelry, photos and books.

      But by a complete coincidence, I found a vintage coat that looks exactly like the one she wore in high school! April 21, 2012 at 1:45pm Reply

  • pam: Mother always makes sure she has her lipstick on–usually in a dark shade. I always do the same, although my lipstick shades are more muted. And we both love fragrance. April 21, 2012 at 1:53pm Reply

    • Victoria: That’s a nice habit, I discovered–a bit of color on the lips usually makes for a more polished look. Like you, I take after my mom, although my mom wears light colors, and I prefer darker ones. April 21, 2012 at 2:05pm Reply

  • Victoria: My mother didn’t wear perfume. Except for one and I can’t remember the name. It had gold flakes in it and came from Spain. that she never wore, but had it around.
    As far as fashion, my mother is very tacky. Caché is her favorite store. She dyes her lovely black hair blonde and tans on top of her already dark complexion. Her hot pink or orange lipstick always matches her nails.
    However, I’ve found that I emulate my grandmothers. The older I get, the more I get like them, a mix of the 2. April 21, 2012 at 2:02pm Reply

    • Victoria: V, was it L`Or de Torrente?

      You have gorgeous hair. Not sure whether it comes from your mom or your dad, but I can’t imagine ever wanting to dye it. April 21, 2012 at 2:09pm Reply

  • Nikki: Lovely posts, everyone! This is really what perfumes are about…the memories! I have Tosca, my grandmother’s favorite perfume here and I am wearing Nahema, the perfume I relate to most when thinking of home and my mother who, by the way, is also a Taurus like one of the other writer’s Mother. April 21, 2012 at 2:09pm Reply

    • Victoria: Nikki, you mean Tosca by Muelhens? April 22, 2012 at 11:15am Reply

      • Nikki: Yes, Victoria, Tosca by Muelhens, a fragrance introduced in the 20s/30s I think, a flowery chypre, quite beautiful. I love the posts on mothers/ grandmothers and their life styles. My grandmother got married in the thirties and probably wore Tosca then. Whenever I asked her what she wanted, there it was: Tosca! I gave her Paris by YSL once which she used, it smelled like clean soap on her. She died at the age of 95, still wearing Tosca, how is that for loyalty?! My grandmother lived through 2 world wars, in the center of it, the industrial region of Germany, so her memories of Tosca must have been a defiant statement to survive no matter what. I think that is what moves me most, reading other people’s stories about their perfumes and their maternal ancestors, this is really what perfumes are about, those memories. Love it! I recently started wearing “Dans tes bras” because it reminds me of my grandmother’s skin. April 22, 2012 at 11:42am Reply

  • Jorge: My mother’s signature fragrance has always been a dab of Coty’s Wild Musk layered by Calvin Klein’s Eternity. This cozy, powdery and warm aroma lingers throughout the house and makes us feel protected, even if she is not around. April 21, 2012 at 2:35pm Reply

    • Victoria: Your mother came up with such an interesting layering combination, and I can see how it might work beautifully. Eternity on its own is like a warm hug, and with a touch of musk it must be even more comforting and enveloping. April 22, 2012 at 11:16am Reply

      • Jorge: Yes, indeed. She dabs herself with Wild Musk perfume oil right after shower and then apply some sprays of Eternity on the top. When her body and clothes warm up this magnificent aura lingers forever. Victoria, I would like to wish your mother a quick and effective recovery, by the way. April 23, 2012 at 5:26pm Reply

        • Victoria: That sounds so good, I want to try it too!

          Thank you so much, Jorge! She’s feeling much better already and is pleased by all of these nice comments wishing her well. April 23, 2012 at 8:43pm Reply

  • Alityke: Well Shalimar is now in it’s 3rd generation of users. Mum wore her, I wear her and my eldest son wears her (or should that be him?)

    Mum also gave me the confidence to face the world with a naked face, giving me an extra few minutes sleep each day, which makes my naked face look better still.

    I never leave the house or car without a spritz though and now Mum is in her 80s I have the privilege of treating her to perfume. She recently fell for Guerlain’s Idylle Duet as I had, so I tracked a bottle down for her surprise birthday gift. She was so happy April 21, 2012 at 2:53pm Reply

    • annemariec: Oh I enjoyed your comment about the naked face. How very wise! April 21, 2012 at 5:47pm Reply

    • Victoria: This is a fantastic story! I love that Shalimar travels in your family and especially that your son wears it. Shalimar smells so good on men; it really makes me want to flout all of these conventional masculine vs feminine distinctions. April 22, 2012 at 11:17am Reply

  • annemariec: My mother became an adult and got married in the 1950s but by the time I came along, the third child, there was not much money to spare. The 1950s continued to be the fashion era she admired the most, I think, and she had some quite conservative ideas about dress. Never wear blue and green together, never wear stripes and spots together, sparkly clothes and jewellery are for night time, not day time … abd so on. She would be outraged at my wearing jeans to work – in a public service job no less! Never mind how beautifully cut the jeans are!

    As for perfume, it was nearly always Yardley’s April Violets and she loved it. This was one of the few luxuries she allowed herself and always had some, even when money was short. Not that AV was all that expensive by the end of her life; Yardley had been bought and sold so many times. Mum always swore AV had been reformulated in the 1980s and was never the same afterwards. April 21, 2012 at 6:03pm Reply

    • Victoria: My grandmother’s style is very much influenced by the 1950s, which to her was the most fun, the most prosperous decade. Also, in the USSR, the subsequent years saw more hardship–constant lines, basic things unavailable in stores. It is interesting to look through the cookbooks from the 1950s and then compare them with the same editions from the 1970s–most of the recipes would be simplified and pared down.

      So, a lot of what you describe reminds me of other women I know who lived through the same era. But there was no skimping on perfume. It was the most coveted gift and the one accessory for which women would save up. And jewelry too, of course! April 22, 2012 at 11:32am Reply

      • Nikki: I found the same in German cookbooks, after the war there was such famine in Germany for years to come, and the cookbook I have which is from the 50s, reflects that. Everything is used and a lot of “fillers” are used to. It is quite tragic what the survivors of the wars had to go through, both in Germany, the USSR and other affected countries. The face of war is the same everywhere, suffering of people and animals, no matter whether they are the “victors” or “defeated”, war destroys all. My grandparents went to the USSR often in the 60s and 70s for international games and such. Do you remember the perfume “Black Velvet” made in the GDR (German Democratic Republic, East Germany)? It was something always brought back from travels to see relatives. I don’t remember it well but it was not as good as Tosca! April 22, 2012 at 11:48am Reply

        • annemariec: Both these comments remind me how lucky I was growing up in Australia. A treasured cookbook of my mother’s from the mid-1950s was limited only by the imaginations of its authors, not by availability of ingredients (the Australian taste in food was very dull until migration started to perk it up in the 70s and 80s). The 1950s and 60s were decades of great prosperity here.

          Octavian at 1000fragrances has posted a few times, I think (unless I’m imagining it) on fragrances in made in the GDR. April 22, 2012 at 5:00pm Reply

          • Victoria: Somehow as a child I don’t remember a lack of anything in particular, although the lines and constant shortages were common. Maybe, it was because we didn’t know what we were missing or that things could be different–the access abroad was blocked for most people until the 1980s.

            On the other hand, today the situation in many post-Soviet states is quite dire: the economic crisis, various social ills, unequal income distribution, etc. No wonder, the older generation feels that the socialist government did at least some things correctly. April 22, 2012 at 5:22pm Reply

        • Victoria: Nikki, I don’t remember Black Velvet, but I do recall something call Chat Noir, a perfume made either in Bulgaria or Poland. My aunt has a small bottle of it, but I don’t remember what it smelled like. April 22, 2012 at 5:25pm Reply

  • Andrea: I’m sorry to hear that your mom just had surgery! My 9-yr-old had an appendectomy this week, so I can relate. I’ll pray your mom heals well.

    As for my mom’s fragrance influence, I can never forget the lovely crystal L’Air du Temps with the birds on it. Lovely! And she also had Fracas, which I used to test when she wasn’t there. Her habit of caring for her skin with Lazlo products in the 1970-1980s is similar to my daily layers of facial products; it worked for her!

    My most potent memory, however, is her keeping Halston spray in the door of her car and spraying clouds of it as we tore off to school in her diesel Mercedes. The smell of the diesel fuel, leather, perfume and the heat of Miami made me so very carsick! I still cannot ride in a
    heavily leather-scented car without that feeling… April 21, 2012 at 7:57pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’m thinking of your little one! Hope that the procedure went smoothly and your baby is on the way to good health once again.

      My mom is feeling much better. She was tripped as she was jogging and broke her arm. But unfortunately, she didn’t go to the doctor right away, so it turned out to be a bit more complicated. She is already surfing the web and reading the blogs, so I know that she is on the mend. 🙂

      Argh, I get carsick very easily, and the smell of new car, the one that car manufacturers spray liberally over the new models, is the worst smell for me. I can relate, Andrea! April 22, 2012 at 11:35am Reply

  • Undina: Victoria, I wish your mother a quick recovery!

    From my mother I’ve got my love to Diorella and Miss Dior. And my grandmother is “responsible” for my all times favorite Climat by Lancome.

    But beyond specific perfumes I think I have to be thankful to older generation of women in my family for bringing perfumes in general into my life. I liked (and used when I could) perfumes from my early childhood – thanks to them. April 22, 2012 at 2:00am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you! She’s going to be so thrilled reading all of your comments. 🙂

      I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie “The Irony of Fate,” but whenever I think of Climat, I remember the scene where the main character received a bottle of Climat and the look of delight on her face. Now that you mention your grandmother loving Climat, I am starting to wonder if my mom may not have taken her bottle of Climat for her own collection. I remember my grandmother’s vanity table (a lovely, old-fashioned one with a framed mirror) with several bottle of Lancome on it. April 22, 2012 at 11:37am Reply

      • Undina: You know, I can’t believe I’ve never realized it was Climat! I saw that movie probably not less than twenty times. I remembered the dialog itself, the fact of the gift giving – and I stopped there. Today I finally fast-forwarded to that scene and actually saw that it was Climat. Though I must say I can barely remember this box (I think I saw it on my grandmother’s dresser) – “mine” is the later one, blue but without golden square yet.
        Thank you 🙂 April 28, 2012 at 4:02am Reply

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