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A perfume for Deirdre

Having found the courage to tell the story of the loss of both her parents when she was just a little girl, Nuala Davies needed more - a way of capturing her memories of and love for her mother, Deirdre. She found that by creating a perfume with the help of Lush perfumer, Simon Constantine. Here’s the story of how and why that perfume was made...

When I was 11 years old, both of my parents died within six months of one another.

Loss lingers. It hangs in the air like a thick, dark cloud. With the passage of time you can start to see the blue skies on the other side… But it isn’t as simple as waking up one day having dealt with it. Years pass. Fourteen to be exact, and I now live in a world in which I’ve existed longer without my parents than with them.

I’d kept this experience locked up for a very long time but I’ve always believed in the power of storytelling. How sharing connects us and allows us to feel like we are part of something much bigger than our own fear.

I don’t know why I felt like I am now ready to share this story but the time just feels right.

I have been in conversation with the Lush Audio Team about recording my experience for their Quay Words podcast for nearly a year. In hindsight, I don’t know if it really was my hectic schedule that had really made me miss those calls, or if I was petrified that I wasn’t strong enough to get up and do it. To say what had happened out loud would make it real.

Regardless of hesitation, I stood up in a room full of people in Storm restaurant on the 25th of January 2018 and told them the story of losing my mother.  

The reason I recorded the Quay Words podcast with Charlie Moores (Lush audio producer) was in the hope of inspiring other people who had been through the same experience. But I had also hoped it would be a type of therapy. All of sudden, those words were out into the world and everybody knew what had happened to me.

Relief washed over me. People knew. I’d shared my experience. I’d inspired other people. But something still didn’t feel right. By sharing this story I felt like a part of me was left feeling open… And empty. It wasn’t something I had anticipated at all and I didn’t know what to do next.

Having worked as a freelance creative for the last seven years I often throw myself into my work at times of dismay or discomfort. The distraction of action allows me to put my focus into something and keep some sort of discipline in the chaos of my mind. I decided to do what I do best and create something. So I reached out to Simon Constantine, the head perfumer at Lush.

Having worked for Lush for three and a half years in the Belfast shop I had been immersed in the world of product. Perfume always had a special place in my heart as our scents stood out uniquely from any other on the High Street. Lush perfumes are strong, laden with essential oil to evoke emotion and tell stories and I thought what better way to try and tell mine than with a bespoke perfume made from the memory of my mother.

After an initial chat from Simon, I realised that this wasn’t going to be an easy process. In fact, it would probably be one of the most difficult things I would ever do. We would need to rummage through memories. It was time to open boxes packed full with glasses, cards, old perfume bottles, bits of makeup and all of the last memories of my parents that had been cobbled together to take with me.

I’ve always had the fear that the memory of my parents is through the lens of a naive child and that it isn’t the actual memory of how they were as people. It petrifies me that I can’t really remember what they were like. I don’t know if this is because I’ve blocked out the memory of them as it’s too painful to carry the loss or because I was simply so young. All I know is that I desperately want to remember as much as I possibly can.

Remnants of my mother’s perfume sat stewing in the bottom of a cheap bottle and I knew that Simon could help collaborate to bring all these bits of my life together to make something that I could smell, hold and love dearly.

The day came. The 20th of April 2018. Simon asked to meet in the Lab at 10am. Excitement propelled me… But I could sense my fear in the back of myself… probing. Begging me to make sure I knew what I was embarking on. Would I crumble under the emotional subject matter?

There are no words to describe how gorgeous my experience of working with Simon in the Lab at 29 High Street was. From the second I walked in, the dynamic in the room was welcoming and sensitive. I felt like I was in a safe place to share my experiences with support.

A perfume for Deirdre

We began by playing some of my mum’s favourite music. The Beatles. Leonard Cohen. Old classics… Then we opened the box which was packed to the brim with bits and pieces of bric-a-brac that I’d salvaged from handbags and boxes over the years. Simon asked questions. I answered. Information poured from my soul that I didn’t even know I recalled about my mum.

We smelt her perfumes, looked at photographs of her as a child. Her broken watch, her reading glasses that had no arms... I felt inspired by the memory of a woman who had had so much impact in creating who I am today yet with whom I have very little connection.

Simon got to work. From the memories I talked about, he blended together essential oils in a bid to conjure the past. As he worked he asked me of smells that reminded me of my mum. Tobacco. Liquorice. Gin and Tonic. Boiled Sweets. Patchouli. I rustled through my filing cabinet of memories to see what I could retrieve for him.

The moment came. After 15 years I’d finally plucked up the courage to share and here it was. A physical thing in front of me. Deirdre, a perfume that aimed to encapsulate a little girl’s memory of a woman that meant the world to her.

There are no words to describe how I felt. Overwhelmed. Elated. Reminiscent. That moment was all encapsulating. I do know why. I don’t know how. I don’t know if it will ever happen again in my life but for the split second that I smelt that perfume a thousand memories flooded back to me and I felt like my mum was there beside me holding my hand.

Perfume is powerful.

You can listen to Nuala's story here.

Nuala Davies is a content creator and audio producer for Lush, freelance actor, musician, cabaret artist and poet. Previously based in Belfast as a Sales Assistant, her new role within Lush has led to her relocation and she is now working between Poole and London.

 

Comments (3)
3 Comments

angeladallat_6886903

about 8 months ago

Awh Nuala. What a truly beautiful piece!! I'm choked up reading it. Just such a beautiful way to remember your Mum. You are an incredible young women

simone.gwyn_6252536

about 8 months ago

Oooh, I can’t wait for this one to be released and to smell it, knowing the back story. Well done!

about 8 months ago

Beautiful story! Thanks for trusting us enough to share it. To me, the tale of how your special scent was created encompasses everything that perfume is in our lives.