Audrey Hepburn : Scent, Spring, Rome

The other day I was reading through old issues of Vanity Fair and found an interview with Luca Dotti, the second son of Audrey Hepburn. He was reminiscing about his mother, her relationship with his father, her acting career, her dismissive attitude to her looks, her thoughts on aging and the things she enjoyed the most. Audrey Hepburn’s image is such a familiar one that it’s difficult to see the real woman behind the large glasses, little black dresses and Givenchy couture. Dotti’s interview, however, is refreshing, and those who find Hepburn fascinating should take a look at it.

Yet, one part above all others caught my attention. Dotti was describing the ways in which his mother remains in his life and the small things that remind him of her. He said that he and Audrey had a ritual of noticing scents–of flowers, food, any other aromas. Audrey had an acute sense of smell, and when Dotti is thinking of scents, he feels that his mother is near.

When asked in what way his mother remains most physically present in his life, Dotti says, “Through scent.” Not perfume, but “the light sensation of a smell,” Dotti says his mother preferred. “We joked a lot together about the fact that both she and I have a very good sense of smell. So there are certain scents, you know, a certain cake, or a flower, things like that. It’s not so physical, but it’s powerful. And every spring, especially here in Rome, you have this smell of orange blossom in the air. Spring is coming and it was her favorite season. It makes me think of her.”

I enjoyed this passage very much, and the whole idea of noticing scents is part of my philosophy, if you will. Scent is more than liquid in a pretty bottle. It’s about the whole complexity of sensations that we experience in our daily life, from the pleasures of food to the emotions of the changing seasons. I smell, therefore I am is my counterpart to the Cartesian “cogito ergo sum.”

Audrey Hepburn in Rome via Vanity Fair.

P.S. I just read Hubert de Givenchy passed away at the age of 91.  Givenchy and Hepburn were a partnership of two artists, who left a lasting imprint on fashion and cinema. I prepared this column earlier last week, but since I read the news this morning, I thought that since we started our conversation about Audrey, it’s a proper occasion to remember M. Givenchy, who gave us perfume gems like Givenchy III, Vétiver and L’Interdit.

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  • Kandice: Thank you so much for this lovely post and for sharing the link to his article which I also read. The link to Vanity Fair at the bottom of your post also had some wonderful pictures of her. I would like to read his book when it comes out. Even though today’s casual approach to life and style is probably easier in a lot of ways, I miss how people always used to dress elegantly and take great care with their surroundings and environment. I miss being surrounded by beauty-flowers, candles, artwork-that my parents surrounded us with in my youth. And I miss dressing up at least once a week when we went out somewhere. We weren’t rich, but mom always made sure our home was as warm and inviting as possible and we were presentable when we went to church, etc. I’m afraid it’s a time that will be soon forgotten once our elderly population is gone which is very sad to me. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. March 12, 2018 at 8:08am Reply

    • Brenda: Kandice…I very much agree with your comments concerning how people used to take such care before leaving the house. I remember my grandmother and great-grandmother fussing with their hair and applying fresh lipstick …just to take me for a walk through the garden! Not too long ago I came across a picture of the two of them striding arm in arm down the main strert of our mid to small size Canadian city. Hair done, pencil like skirts, beautiful tops and jewelry…my great grandmother with a lovely string of pearls. It would have been the 1920’s and I imagine them yearning for a Givenchy scent…though, surely not owning one. Many years later… in the 1970’s … I was saving up money to purchase a perfume I can’t recall & my grandmother smiled and suggested I should save a bit more and reach for YSL. ….. My daughter, in her 30’s, has a vintage poster of elegant Audrey Hepburn promoting Breakfast at Tiffany’s …and, it just looks lovely hanging in her entranceway. Funny how things work…this morning I decided to wear Amarige…a little tribute there, I guess. March 12, 2018 at 3:39pm Reply

      • Victoria: The outfits you describe sound so beautiful.

        I had a friend who wore Amarige perfectly. It’s a perfume that’s meant to be worn on skin. Such a lush, opulent perfume. March 12, 2018 at 4:43pm Reply

        • Brenda: Thank you, Victoria. I consider your words high praise. It’s lovely to look at such photos – and dissect the clues they give away …I wouldn’t, however, trade their era for mine. (Although, I do like a man in a fedora!). Til next time… March 12, 2018 at 6:34pm Reply

          • Victoria: Agreed! On the other hand, wearing a tulle skirt for no reason at all or dressing up to take a walk in the park is fun. But I’m glad that it’s not an obligation. The idea of glamour came with very rigid conventions. March 13, 2018 at 4:53am Reply

      • Kandice: I agree with Victoria. Their outfits sound so beautiful, and I bet they look amazing in that photo. I look at old pictures of my parents, and they look like movie stars just due to the way they were dressed and the care they took with their appearance. I think your scent choice was the perfect tribute today 🙂 March 12, 2018 at 6:29pm Reply

        • Victoria: Same with my grandmother’s photos. Of course, taking photos was already an occasion to dress up, but I do remember her always paying attention to what she wore even when at home. My mom is still the same way, but I’m much more casual. March 13, 2018 at 4:50am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s true that the lifestyle has gotten more casual, but working in places like Japan where it’s anything but (for men and women), I’m always happy to return back to Brussels and know that I can go out without makeup or wearing my jeans and t-shirt and nobody would think less of me. I do agree with you that it’s important to find ways to add beauty to our days, whatever way makes sense to us.

      I’m very happy that the article resonated with you. I very much enjoyed it and I also look forward to reading his book. March 12, 2018 at 4:29pm Reply

    • ChristineM: I agree with your comments Kandice and feel the same way. When I look at photos from the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and see how people dressed including my own family members even those not very well off made an effort. I am very disappointed to visit Sydney Opera House in recent years to see fabulous performances including The Merry Widow, operas and concerts, and see the way many people dress as if they walked in from working in the garden, some in shorts or jeans and T-shirts, especially when the performers dress so beautifully and so much goes into the costumes. If I attend a special show it has always been a part of the evening for me to dress up and see how others do the same, less so now. It is not a matter of money either, but a change in attitude. March 12, 2018 at 6:05pm Reply

      • Kandice: I agree. It is a change in attitude and I feel shows a certain lack of respect. Maybe I’m just old. I felt the same way the first time I went to a more contemporary church and the kids showed up in shorts and flip flops. I think that’s wonderful you dress up to attend such functions. That’s also part of the fun! The others don’t know what they’re missing out on 🙂 March 12, 2018 at 6:33pm Reply

        • Christine M: You are absolutely right! It is funny because Audrey Hepburn and others of her era are so admired still for their elegance and beauty and the clothes and perfume are part of that, so you would think people today would still want to emulate that. I refuse to believe it is because we are old that we think like this…… March 13, 2018 at 5:50pm Reply

  • chez Marzipan: Thank you for this post. Audrey Hepburn is a woman that my middle child admires very much and I can now see why. She was a classy and altruistic individual and very much an icon and beautiful person both inside and out. March 12, 2018 at 8:25am Reply

    • Victoria: She left too soon. Luca’s comments about her were really moving. March 12, 2018 at 4:30pm Reply

      • ChristineM: Dear Victoria

        A lovely post. Funnily enough it was reading Audrey Hepburn’s biography a few years ago that brought me to discover Bois de Jasmin and your lovely articles and blogs. Whilst recovering from flu, I read her biography which inspired me to rediscover L’Interdit which I remembered from years ago. When when returning to work it was not on sale any more in the main department stores, did some searching and discovered your blog and to my shock all the changes to perfumes I had loved. Luckily I did find a bottle of L’Interdit in a specialist perfume shop in Melbourne and whilst reformulated I love it (unlike some on your blog) and can only dream of the original. Givenchy was also such an inspiration, and I am sad he has passed away this week. March 12, 2018 at 6:21pm Reply

        • Victoria: Somehow I remembered the reformulated version as bland, but after we chatted yesterday, I took my bottle out, and it’s charming too. It’s less aldehydic and floral than the original, with fruit being more accented, but it’s not too far off from the first version. March 13, 2018 at 4:51am Reply

  • Romy: Thank you for this! It lifted my mood on this tough Monday (new job!) March 12, 2018 at 10:16am Reply

    • Victoria: Good luck with your new job, Romy! March 12, 2018 at 4:30pm Reply

    • Kate: Good luck Romy! The first week in a new job is always the worst. Wear a calming scent – or better still, treat yourself to a new one for successfully getting through the week 🙂 March 14, 2018 at 6:41pm Reply

  • therabbitsflower: I can’t agree more with your last paragraph. That is the role scent plays in my life. It brings another dimension to everything. I don’t only want to smell the good things, the pretty things. Even the ugly smells are worth smelling, as they tell you more about the thing that they belong to. It’s so nice to read about this with Audrey Hepburn and her son. March 12, 2018 at 10:23am Reply

    • Victoria: Absolutely! All smells are fascinating, and “good” smells are often made up of “bad” ones. Chocolate and jasmine are good examples. March 12, 2018 at 4:31pm Reply

  • KatieAnn: This such an beautiful post, Victoria. I really want to thank you for sharing this. Like so many others, I admire Audrey Hepburn very much. She radiated beauty from within and it really shows in this gorgeous photo of her. It’s interesting to learn how much she enjoyed subtle smells. I think this probably does apply to so many of us who are drawn to your beautiful blog. Where would we be without scent?! It would be like a world without flowers or birds. March 12, 2018 at 11:06am Reply

    • Victoria: My pleasure! I found it moving, and I thought that others would too. March 12, 2018 at 4:32pm Reply

  • Trudy: Thank you for this. I’ve always thought Audrey epitomizes grace and style as well as that bygone era. I agree that scent can stir a memory like nothing else. For me the best fragrance memory is that of real roses. When I smell real roses (not perfume or candles) I always think of my mom who grew beautiful roses and gave them in jars or simple vases to friends or family members as a hostess or birthday gift, or when they were recovering from an illness. Oftentimes she would cut the roses, wrap the stems in wet paper towels and then in tin foil, and take them to a neighbor just because. Nothing brings back her memory like the fragrance of a fresh cut rose from a garden. Humble, thoughtful and beautiful. March 12, 2018 at 11:27am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for sharing this beautiful memory, Trudy. You made me think of my great-grandmother, who used to do the same thing. She had a big garden full of flowers, and my most vivid memories are of her working in it. March 12, 2018 at 4:33pm Reply

  • Filomena: Audrey Hepburn was an icon the likes of who doesn’t exist today unfortunately. She was a very good actress, elegant and classy and did her part for people in need in the world. L’Interdit was my signature perfume in my younger years. Thank you for the lovely photo and wonderful post. March 12, 2018 at 12:01pm Reply

    • Victoria: L’Interdit in its original version was such a beautiful perfume, wasn’t it? Another Givenchy perfume I used to enjoy was Le De. March 12, 2018 at 4:38pm Reply

      • Phyllis Iervello: Yes L’Interdit was beautiful and Le De was nice too. I’m sorry they are no longer around. March 13, 2018 at 2:25am Reply

        • Victoria: Me too. LVMH has done a great disservice by discontinuing them, but I suppose that they were not selling as well as Ange ou Demon or Very Irresistible. March 13, 2018 at 4:55am Reply

  • na124: Thank you for the piece on Belgian-born Audrey Hepburn and how ironically it coincided with Givenchy’s passing. Years ago, L’Interdit and Le Dix were a staple in my fragrance wardrobe.Her unique style and charm came across on the silver screen of a bygone era. Luca’s comments are not unlike so many of us when scent remains a keepsake of our memories of our loved ones. March 12, 2018 at 1:25pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s almost eerie. I originally planned to post this last week, but due to the last minute change of plans I scheduled it for today. And then I heard the news. There is so much to say about Givenchy, of course, so I will save it for another column, but since he was made as a couturier by Hepburn, it’s fitting to pay a tribute to him as we talk about her. May he rest in peace. March 12, 2018 at 4:41pm Reply

      • Austenfan: One of the Dutch papers republished a very nice interview with Givenchy yesterday which I read. He comes across really well in it. And he clearly cared a lot for his muse in particular and for women in general. March 13, 2018 at 7:04am Reply

        • Victoria: His designs from the 50s and 60s are flattering and so beautiful. I visited the Givenchy-Hepburn exhibit in the Hague two years, and it was fascinating to see his clothes up close. They also had lots of interviews footage, and he came across like a person who thought above all about women who would wear his designs. Seeing him in his late 80s talk passionately about his collaboration with Audrey and their friendship was also moving. March 13, 2018 at 9:49am Reply

  • Karen: Thank you for this bright post – I have always loved Audrey and this made my day! I, too, recall my mom often through scent memories when I garden or smell flowers that I know she loved.

    I wish I’d had the opportunity to experience the original L’Interdit (1957); however, when they re-introduced a newer version some years back, I enjoyed wearing something I think Audrey would have liked. Is it still possible to obtain the original fragrance?

    Sad news indeed about Givenchy’s passing~ March 13, 2018 at 11:13am Reply

    • Victoria: Perhaps on Ebay. I haven’t seen it for a long time, though. I don’t think that even the new version is still available. March 13, 2018 at 11:21am Reply

  • Aurora: This makes me want to revisit Rome. That little dog in many of the photos is the perfect fashion accessory and I love the photo where Audrey is talking with Anthony Perkins, I think. March 19, 2018 at 1:30pm Reply

    • Victoria: Have you seen photos of Audrey Hepburn and her pet deer?

      And yes, these photos really made me want to go back to Rome. March 19, 2018 at 3:06pm Reply

      • Aurora: Indeed, I recall it’s being connected to her role as Ondine somehow but might be mistaken. Audrey’s eyes are very doe-like too. She is listed in most beautiful eyes of the world, but the incontestable winner is to my mind a little Afghan girl, haunting green eyes from a National Geographic photo. March 19, 2018 at 3:17pm Reply

        • Victoria: I think, you’re right. She was preparing for the role and training the deer, and the animal really seemed to be taken with her. Some of the images I’ve seen are very touching. March 19, 2018 at 3:41pm Reply

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