At the Counter

<STRONG>LOS ANGELES</STRONG><BR><BR>I must say that when it comes to perfume, I am a creature of habit.<BR><BR>Chanel's Cristalle has been the only fragrance bottle to sit atop my dresser for the last three years, and shopping for a new scent does not...


I must say that when it comes to perfume, I am a creature of habit.

Chanel’s Cristalle has been the only fragrance bottle to sit atop my dresser for the last three years, and shopping for a new scent does not entice me. But even with this frame of mind, I set out on quest for a summer perfume.

After entering the cosmetics section of Robinson’s-May in the Westside Pavilion, I was shocked by all the smiling faces and gregarious greetings I was receiving. Personally, this store had always been a self-service venture for me.

I was immediately handed a pamphlet advertising Elizabeth Arden’s Sunflowers. Knowing three people who have the fragrance, I was quite familiar with it and had already decided it was not for me. The smiles continued when I reached the main fragrance counter.

“Can we help you find anything?” asked a saleswoman.

I began telling her that I was looking for something new for summer.

Immediately, she took me to the display of Gale Hayman’s Delicious. She handed me the bottle and I sprayed it on my wrist. It was a bit too strong and musky for my taste.

“I don’t care for it,” I said. “Do you have anything not so strong?”

“How about Givenchy’s Amarige?” a nearby salesman offered.

I smelled the butterfly card that he handed me, discreetly getting rid of the Delicious card. I had never heard of the scent, and I kind of liked it. It had a woody, floral aroma.

Seeing my interest, he asked if he could massage some into my hands. I let him.

“Sure, why not?” I replied.

“Everyone I know who wears this gets a ton of compliments,” he said, massaging my hand.

The store was offering a gift this week and you could get the scent plus an assortment of other goodies for $65, he said, which is usually the price of the fragrance alone.

I then asked him about Escada’s new scent.

“I’m sorry, we don’t have that one, but you can get it at Nordstrom’s,” he said.

I told him I was going to check out Escada, but that I would keep Amarige in mind.

I then headed down the mall to Nordstrom’s. When I walked into the cosmetics section, no one greeted me. No one smiled. I went to the fragrance counter, where three salespeople were standing, absorbed in paperwork and on the phone.

I lingered at displays, still holding all my samples from Robinson’s. I lifted bottles, sprayed cards, stared at displays, finally stopping to stare at the sales associates.

Considering Nordstrom’s reputation for customer service, I began to wonder if Robinson’s-May and Nordstrom’s had swapped employees for the day.

Finally, one man noticed me looking and asked if I needed anything. I told him I was looking for the new scent by Escada, which I could not locate anywhere on the counter.

Too busy to help me himself, he turned me over to another salesman. I followed him to the Escada section. There was no display; everything was hidden behind the counter.

I took the card he timidly handed me. It smelled like a melon.

“I think it’s a bit too fruity,” I said. “I am looking for a new scent for summer. I wear this [I picked up the Chanel bottle, conveniently in front of me] and I am looking for a change. I don’t want anything musky or strong. Nothing too floral.”

I think I scared him. He nervously suggested Calvin Klein’s Escape. I told him I don’t like it, explaining that I wanted something new. He then showed me a fragrance called Cabotine de Gris, which I also declined.

“We don’t have too many new things right now,” he said, shifting his weight from one leg to the other.

I wanted to ask him if it was his first day.

“This is a scent which is not in a lot of stores,” he said.

The card said Byblos, and the scent was not bad. In fact, I liked it more than Amarige. It was a very light, sweet scent. He showed me the pretty bluish-purple bottle, looking relieved to see that I actually liked something. I inquired about the price, and he said it was about $55.

I asked him if he had a small sample tube, so that I could wear it for a day, but he didn’t. Liking it, but not totally sold, I ended my adventure with a handful of sample cards and so much perfume on my hands that they could smell me for miles.


My summer fragrance journey to Marshall Field’s State Street flagship a few days before Mother’s Day proved even more esthetically pleasing than usual.

The store was blooming with floral arrangements galore for a special Field’s show, enhancing the spring weather outside.

First, I stood at the counter waiting to be noticed as a breathing, potential customer. Five minutes later, the sales associate asked if she could help me.

“I need a Mother’s Day gift,” I said. “What fragrance would you suggest for her to wear during the summer?”

“What’s the price range?” she inquired without missing a beat.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said.

She recommended a scent by Boucheron, also known as the royal family’s jewelry designer, having created Princess Diana’s wedding ring. The ring-shaped bottle immediately caught my eye. The bottle top is blue, the sales associate said, since the company is known for its sapphires.

While she explained the family history, her eyes constantly scanned the store and avoided making contact with me. What did she have to hide? Were there any Boucheron family scandals I should know about?

Still wondering, I asked about the parfum. She brightened up with a large smile and said, “This is my favorite,” pulling a plush box out of the case. She carefully peeled it open, revealing a bottle similar to the eau de toilette’s, but more elegant.

Instead of the ring hole, the parfum was encased in gold, and inside the holder was a refillable bottle.

“This is well worth $115, because it’ll last longer,” she said.

Impressed by her knowledge and wondering if she planned on penning the Boucheron family memoirs, I left to find a scent just as intriguing.

A sales associate handed me a sample of Alexander Julian’s Womenswear.

“Is this a summer fragrance?” I asked.

“Yes, and it’s very light,” she said. “With any purchase, you get this free garment bag;” she pointed to the brown bag on the counter.

She explained that Womenswear was made of citrus and vanilla. It smelled light and fresh, but it left me interested only in the garment bag. For a $100 value, retailing at $50, I could buy body lotion, body satin spray and a 4-oz. fine spray and receive the gift bag.

I grabbed a sample from her and made my way over to the opposite end of the store. As I filtered through the crowd, a male consultant stopped me in my tracks to show me the brand new fragrance at Field’s.

“This is called Lalique,” he said as he sprayed a card and then handed it to me. “They make crystal and now have their own fragrance. Lalique is made by the same maker as L’Air du Temps, First and Van Cleef.”

I smelled the white floral fragrance, and I was surprised at how light it was. He continued to jabber about it, telling me the 1.7-oz. glass bottle of eau de toilette spray costs $75. “Parfum lasts longer because it’s stronger.”

My assumption that I looked like a working college student who couldn’t afford anything over $50 diminished when he showed me the $500 crystal bottle. “Is it refillable?” I quickly asked.

“Why, of course,” he replied.

I failed to tell him that I don’t make that in a month. But he acted very sincere, not pushy and not desperate for a sale. Armed with samples of my new scents, I made my exit onto State Street and didn’t look back.