Educating Ava

Educating Ava

By Deborah Fulsang

I was born the youngest, and the only daughter in a family of four kids. Having been surrounded by boys my whole life, I have always been comfortable as “one of the guys” and lean naturally to tomboy style. Imagine my surprise then when I gave birth to a girl. A plump, pink, beautiful girl named Ava. That little girl, now 8, is a feisty, clever, unpredictable tomboy with flowing chestnut-hued hair, green eyes and a quick wit.

It is a responsibility this raising of a daughter. Not only does one need to be a good parent, of course: support, love and provide; but one must also educate on issues pertaining to the realm of womanhood. Yes, the facts of life: all things Judy Blume but more magical stuff, too, like how to take care of your skin, groom your nails, express an opinion, use good manners, be a good friend and wear good perfume.

Yes, wear good perfume. You see, for me, fragrance is a metaphor for life, and I believe it should be understood, used and valued as such. It is the essence of la dolce vita.

“No elegance is possible without perfume.” It was the imitable and chic tomboy Gabrielle Chanel who said that, and it’s a truism I wish to impart to my grade schooler.

My earliest fragrance memory was the smell of my mother’s L’Air du Temps. But it’s not just that iconic spritz that has etched itself on my brain, but the experience of that bygone moment: my mother dressed up for the evening, hair done and lips lipsticked, sitting in the front seat of the car, the air smelling of perfume on her leather gloves, the smoke of cigarettes and car fuel on a cold winter’s night.

My father bought L’Air du Temps for my mother on special occasions—for her birthday, for Christmas, for Mother’s Day. That cloud of flowers and spice was my first indicator that my mother was a being beyond motherhood, beyond a stay-at-home-mom with four kids, a dog and a simple house in the country.

I am reminded of my recent conversation with American designer Vera Wang, who talked about learning the rituals of perfume from her mother. “My mother wore everything—she changed all the time. L’Air du Temps from Nina Ricci… Chanel No.20, No.5,” said Wang. “She was a real fragrance buff. But women were in those days. You have to understand, it was part of the art of seduction; it was as important as putting your gloves on, or your hosiery. Today, it’s once again a part of a woman’s beauty ritual.”

To me, it is the best compliment when my Ava says, “Mommy, you smell so good.”
I want my daughter to know the pleasure in smelling beautiful.

“Because I’m worth it.” I’m co-opting the confidence-boosting L’Oréal slogan of 1973 (later changed to “Because you’re worth it”) as I believe it particularly relevant in discussing a woman’s relationship with her perfume.

I want my daughter to understand that she should treat herself well and indulge her individual passions. She should value her self, and demand that others respect and value her too.

When it comes to fragrance, I want her to know that she can and should buy herself that most amazing, nuanced, five-star perfume that speaks to her and that makes her feel like a queen. (Don’t worry, I recognize that my kids need to know money management too, but that’s another story to be written.)

So, yes, I want her to understand that it might take some time to save for that one luxurious potion, but it’s definitely worth investing in. Perfume, after all, has the priceless power to make one feel more like yourself. Stronger. Sexier. More confident.

I can vouch. Several years ago, after losing my job, I celebrated. I took a few days to get my bearings and then went straight to the Chanel counter to buy my $240 bottle of Coromandel. Yes, it’s true I had no paycheck, but I knew that would change, and what did I need to feel like a million bucks? My favourite perfume.

I want my daughter to know that she is worth it.

Good food, good perfume. My Ava loves sushi, kale, broccoli, olives and perfectly grilled rare steak. She loves lobster and fennel. I am proud of her beyond-chicken-fingers palate. And I think teaching a child to enjoy food—to introduce them to the bright pepperiness of arugula, the earthiness of Portobello mushrooms and warm aromatic herbs growing in the sunshine, is not unlike educating a person about fragrance. My approach: Start with good stuff, the best quality ingredients, and then stop and savour the moment. It’s all about educating little noses and minds. And stopping to smell the roses.When Ava was about three or four, I offered up two miniature bottles for her to sniff: Chanel No.5 and Miss Dior.

“What do you like best,” I asked.

She paused. Sniffing both in sequence and then, in a split second pointed to the tiny Dior flacon.

My girl knows a good chypre when she smells it.

Trust your gut: Whether one is navigating the realms of relationships or fragrances, it is a wise modus operandi for living.

One Saturday morning, Ava and I skipped over to a neighbourhood Shoppers Drug Mart to browse its large, well-stocked fragrance area. We were looking for a scent for Ava. One that she would choose, one that was very Ava.

We sniffed a lot that morning, from Cartier to Calvin Klein, Gwen Stefani to Prada. The sales associate wasn’t sure what to do with us: What’s with the too-indulgent mother and precocious child who had such definite opinions about the many tester strips?

But there’s something refreshing about a kid’s gut reaction to a smell: From “yuck,” to “hmmmm” to “No, too girlie,” which I believe our saleswoman did start to appreciate in the end.

My daughter does not waffle. She knows her mind and I love her for it.

The scent Ava settled on: Live by Jennifer Lopez—a fruity-floral toilette concocted by the talented perfumer Dominique Ropion (the A-list nose behind Frederic Malle’s Carnal Flower and Thierry Mugler’s Alien) with lemon, bergamot and pineapple; red currant, peony and violet; sandalwood, tonka bean and caramel. It’s a sweet and sparkling perfume, fun but elegant and warm.

Nice one, Ava.

“A woman’s perfume tells more about her than her handwriting,” said the legendary designer Christian Dior.

From Ralph Lauren’s Lauren, the scent I wore in high school, to Must de Cartier which I saved up for and splurged on in university, to the Chanel No.5 I bought in Paris in my early 20s to the Comme des Garcons spritzes I wore while a fashion editor travelling the international runway circuit, my perfumes have indeed always expressed me—who and where I was in my life.

I want my daughter to understand and enjoy that unique, expressive ability of perfume; that power: How it can communicate so much about who she is as a person—about her intelligence, her own mystery, her eccentricity, her confidence—when not a single word is spoken.

That would be my number-one Mother’s Day wish.

A few of Ava’s favourites: Super-G by Gwen Stefani, a dark oriental spritz picked up on her father’s travels in Bahrain, Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Figue-Iris, Live by Jennifer Lopez, Miss Dior and Prada Amber.


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Deborah Fulsang has spent the last two decades as a journalist covering news and trends in the worlds of style—in fashion and beauty, design and décor, food and entertaining. Her long-held love of fragrance led her to launch The Whale & The Rose, a destination for all things perfume-related. Now, when she indulges in a crazy-expensive bottle of fragrance, she can do so guilt-free. Well almost. It’s all in the name of research after all.