I Remember My Sin (Lanvin My Sin)

In my earliest memory she is pulling me on a wooden sled through the soft, wet snow. I watch her black leather boots trudge before me, her long brown velour coat dusted with white along the bottom. It is still snowing, and as she walks the wet flakes drift down from the gray sky and melt on my cheeks. I watch her boots, and her brown coat as it swings. I can remember this moment of utter happiness so vividly that it still stuns me to realize she died almost 20 years ago.  She wore LanvinMy Sin.

She was brilliant – she read anything and everything. She graduated from boarding school at 16. She received a special citation when she graduated from college, Phi Beta Kappa, for the grades she earned in her combinedLanvin My Sin major of chemistry and mathematics. Then she married my father and stayed home and had children and became a 1960s housewife. She read. She drank tea. She talked on the telephone. She volunteered at the PTA and fed the dog and made us dinner. She didn´t drive. She was restless, and sad, and bored senseless. She balanced the checkbook and used her mathematical gifts to wow the cashiers at the local grocery store by keeping a running tally of what we were buying in her head. She had the total figured, with tax, before the items were rung up.

I used to look at her picture and and wonder: Did you ever love me? What were your dreams? Were you ever happy?

Long after she died I held my firstborn daughter in my arms, the daughter I had named after her in spite (or because) of everything. And suddenly I understood how it must have infuriated her to love us. Because at its core, there is nothing more terrifying than the knowledge that you have given your heart so completely, and you will never, ever get it back.

I visited my father before Christmas. We talked about her. I mentioned her perfume. He told me he had kept her bottle of Lanvin My Sin all these years. She was not a frilly person, completely unsentimental, and it was the only perfume she´d ever owned. I thought he was referring to the empty bottle he kept in his bureau. But he surprised me by giving me an almost-full bottle, opaque black, still in its box. I put it under the tree.

I was afraid to try it. Because I wanted it to bring her back to me, the smell of her, warm and comforting.

“Lanvin My Sin Perfume was created by the Parisian house of Jeanne Lanvin and has top notes of bergamot, heliotrope, neroli, aldehydic accord and carnation. Middle notes of ylang-ylang, lily of the valley, violet, iris, rose and jasmin. Dry down notes of musk, vetiver and sandalwood. My Sin Perfume is a classic, sensuous beauty.” — nellbutler.com

I smelled Lanvin My Sin again today. The top notes are somewhat damaged, no great surprise after so many years. The bergamot is gone. On me it dries down sweet and floral, with a hint of spiciness, what I think is the heliotrope-carnation dynamic, and it is as well-mannered as a strand of pearls. It´s beautiful – a consummate 1950s powdery floral, although it was created in 1925. But on her…. my God. It was stunning. She brought out its musky darkness, rich and spicy and vaguely sinister.

I can find out very little else about Lanvin My Sin, but here is another opinion cribbed from Vintage Vogue at basenotes.com, who clearly gets a whole different side of the scent:

“If you like Chanels´ Bois des Iles, you´ll like My Sin, and vice versa. Bois des Iles is very close to My Sin, which makes me wonder how much the Houses of Lanvin and Chanel drew from each other. Lanvin My Sin is a classic aldehyde, but sharper than Arpege or Chanel No 5. It has a major sandalwood kick coupled with an animalic tang in the drydown. It´s supposed to have florals in it, but on my skin they tend to get lost. I smell mostly lemon, sandalwood, civet, and musk. This is like a triple martini, extra extra dry. An acquired taste.”

Lanvin My Sin is available fairly regularly in vintage bottles on eBay, and in a well-regarded dupe from longlostperfume.com. I haven´t compared it to my bottle, but given that my bottle of Lanvin My Sin must be at least 40 years old I´m not sure I could judge which is closer to the original.

And now, with apologies to Marina, here´s something from one of my mother´s favorite books, Baudelaire´s Fleurs du Mal. There are many translations, but this is the one I remember.

Invitation to the Voyage

My child, my sister, dream
How sweet all things would seem
Were we in that kind land to live together,
And there love slow and long,
There love and die among
Those scenes that image you, that sumptuous weather.

Drowned suns that glimmer there
Through cloud-dishevelled air
Move me with such a mystery as appears
Within those other skies
Of your treacherous eyes
When I behold them shining through their tears.

There, there is nothing else but grace and measure,
Richness, quietness, and pleasure.

Furniture that wears
The lustre of the years
Softly would glow within our glowing chamber,
Flowers of rarest bloom
Proffering their perfume
Mixed with the vague fragrances of amber;
Gold ceilings would there be,
Mirrors deep as the sea,
The walls all in an Eastern splendour hung –
Nothing but should address
The soul’s loneliness,
Speaking her sweet and secret native tongue.

There, there is nothing else but grace and measure,
Richness, quietness, and pleasure.

See, sheltered from the swells
There in the still canals
Those drowsy ships that dream of sailing forth;
It is to satisfy
Your least desire, they ply
Hither through all the waters of the earth.
The sun at close of day
Clothes the fields of hay,
Then the canals, at last the town entire
In hyacinth and gold:
Slowly the land is rolled
Sleepward under a sea of gentle fire.

There, there is nothing else but grace and measure,
Richness, quietness, and pleasure.

  • marchlion says:

    V, she was complex, and bookish, and did not suffer fools. She stood out from the other mothers in our vanilla-suburban neighborhood. At the time it embarrassed me, as much as I loved her. I am so grateful now, though. Parenthood forces one to make some choices, and it is interesting to me to see the areas in which I have followed her, at least to some degree.

  • marchlion says:

    K — thanks for your comments. Some of my worst memories are of her trying to tutor me in trigonometry. I was pretty average, math-wise, but to her it was all so obvious and simple, so 2+2=4, I made her crazy with my stupidity!

  • Victoria says:

    March, what a beautiful post! Your mother was stunning, and I could just envision the images you painted with your words. I am glad that you were able to find such a lovely memory of her.

  • Katie says:

    Oh this was a beautiful, touching post to read M. After reading it the first time I had to scroll up to read it again. What an interesting inner life your mom must have had at times. I seriously cannot imagine for the life of me having that kind of technical skill to do math on the fly like that. This was a really, really great post – thanks.

  • marchlion says:

    Kristen, thanks. It was interesting to write. I do wish the ‘fume smelled the way I remembered it on her…

  • kristen says:

    March, what a gorgeous post! This brought tears to my eyes.

  • marchlion says:

    Cait — thanks. Losing Mom is a big one, that’s for sure. I will try to get some vintage My Sin in your package this week.

  • marchlion says:

    Robin, thanks. I’m going to call the gals at NM today about Songes… another perfume to love.

  • marchlion says:

    Marina — welcome back! Will have to pop over to your blog for a visit. I think every perfume blog should run a Baudelaire poem, don’t you?:thumbsup:

  • marchlion says:

    Patty — Ava got my mom’s dark coloring and that fabulous widow’s peak, which of course she doesn’t appreciate. Re: Baudelaire, I read that book for the first time in college and thought it was wonderful. On that one thing, at least, I was right.

  • Cait says:

    Dear March,
    As I lost my mom a few years ago, this really hit home. I have the last bottles of perfume my mom was using in safekeeping. I also must say that when she passed away, I had the first true urge to reproduce and to name a child after her. Still working on that. I would love to try My Sin. Also Scandal. I send you hugs.

  • Robin says:

    Lovely post, M, thank you!

  • Marina says:

    This is such a beautiful and heartbreaking post. And thank you for the poem too!

  • Patty says:

    I’m going to have to break down and get some Baudelaire poetry, which would make it my second book of poetry.

    Love this post, March, your mom was beautiful. Does she and one of your daughters look a lot alike? I’m trying to remember from the picture you sent me, and I’m thinking yes. It is wonderful that you got this one thing so personal to her, it has to feel almost like reaching back in time.