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MILAN

My mother’s birthday is coming up soon, and I felt it was time for her to try a new fragrance, since she has been wearing the same one since I was born.

With summer breezing in, I thought it was the perfect occasion to find something new and appealing to her. Instead of going to my local perfumery store, I decided to try Desiree, a small perfumery store around the corner from the office.

First, I looked at the windows — over-filled with boxes and bottles in all shapes and colors — and at the stacks of perfumes, creams, gels, skin detergents, sun creams and deodorants.

In the perfume display, no particular one caught my eye. I finally walked in, and the only saleswoman stared at me as I approached the counter. Was I the first client of the day, or was I disturbing her?

In Italy, it is known that salespeople are not the most accommodating people around, and often you feel like they’re doing you a favor if you need help on a purchase. Maybe it’s because, in general, they don’t get commissions on their sales.

Even in times of economic recession, it’s really difficult to find a nice and helpful salesperson, except when you already are a well-known client.

That’s why I was well prepared for a hard time when asking the saleslady for some information on summer fragrances. I explained that I was looking for a perfume for my mother’s birthday.

“What about something new?” she promptly asked, pulling out Kenzo’s Parfum d’EtÄ. She automatically sprayed it on my wrist while I further inquired about the fragrance’s launch date.

“It’s new,” she confirmed. “It’s only one year old.”

She stood a few seconds in front of me waiting for my comment, and then informed me that prices ranged from 79,000 lire to 115,000 ($49 to $72).

My expression clearly indicated that I wasn’t satisfied. So, she whisked out Prairie, defining it as “really, really good,” and spraying it on my other wrist.

I made her understand I wasn’t too excited about being sprayed all over. She took it as a personal offense and told me not to worry because it was the second and last time she would do it.

I then tried to minimize the embarrassing situation by asking for more information on Prairie. All she was able to tell me was that it’s one month old and is produced by La Prairie. Not enough to convince me to buy it.

From the beginning, I had the feeling that I shouldn’t expect too much from her. But I decided to try harder, in the name of my mother.

I told her my mom used Fracas. It didn’t really interest her, so I mentioned that I had seen street posters for Sunflowers by Elizabeth Arden.

Since she didn’t have a tester, she slowly unpacked a bottle and made me smell it.

“It’s very floral,” was her sole comment.

I prompted her for more information because I felt I needed more help. She summed everything up by saying Sunflowers is summery and fruity, Parfum d’EtÄ is floral and fresh, and the longer it’s on your skin the better it smells.

At this point hopeless, I glanced around. The colorful packaging of Chloe Narcisse caught my attention, but I was immediately dissuaded by the saleswoman because it is “too wintery and too sweet.”

Then I noticed an unusual green bottle — Eden by Cacharel.

“If I were you,” the saleswoman said, “I would definitely choose Parfum d’Ete.” But she never gave good reasons as to why.

That was her final statement. She went back behind the counter and waited for my decision.I was very confused and unsatisfied. She never bothered to find out how old my mother was, what her tastes were, etc.

I had not received sufficient information on one specific fragrance. She never gave me samples or scented strips to help me choose. I guess that’s why nobody entered the store during my presence.

I finally walked out, empty-handed. My experience there was so negative that I think my mother will wear the same perfume for at least a couple of years more.

NEW YORK

I was walking down Seventh Avenue on my way home from a long, grueling day at the office and I was feeling a bit frazzled, considering that my final exams at college were fast approaching. The incessantly rainy weather didn’t make matters any better.

So, I decided to make a pit stop at my favorite store: Barneys. Anything to take my mind off reality, I thought, even if it’s just for a few hours. If Barneys couldn’t get me out of feeling down, then I don’t know what could. What could possibly make me feel better, besides scarfing down a pint of Hagen-Dazs?

After being greeted by the ever-friendly doorman, I stopped to think what could I buy myself, something that I knew would liven up my day.

I was running low on perfume and desperately needed more, which coincided with my assignment for WWD to seek out a summer fragrance. But first, I needed to replenish my supply of Fracas, my favorite scent.

When I made my way to the fragrance bar, the gentleman behind the counter enlightened me to the fact that Fracas’s distributor was having production problems.

What else could go wrong? The salesman, who actually has waited on me many times, was pleasant enough and not pushy as usual, but the fragrances Barneys carries are very limited. It didn’t seem that a summer scent was lurking among the obscure and unusual brands.

The salesman didn’t have much to tell me beyond the sad circumstances surrounding Fracas, so I wasn’t very enthusiastic to try something new or summery. Needless to say, I left the store empty-handed and a bit frustrated.

It was still very early in the evening, but now I was on a rampage, especially since I had a bit of money burning a hole in my pocket. I proceeded toward a meeting with a friend for dinner, but I was running very early, so I decided to take a cab up to Saks Fifth Avenue.

I hardly ever make my way up there, so I was looking forward to something different. The selection of fragrances at Saks turned out to be the opposite from Barneys; they offered a much wider range of choices.

Upon my inquiry about summer scents, the saleswoman immediately pointed out Sunflowers, a fairly new item by Elizabeth Arden.

While she had known precisely what to offer me, I decided that this particular product was not what I was looking for.

The next fragrance presented to me was Annick Goutal. What impressed me was that it was nice and light — very summery — but it also smells similar to my favorite fragrance, the much-maligned Fracas.

The only problem was, much as I wanted to purchase the perfume, I knew I would have felt much better if it had been carrying a Barneys price tag; the prices at Saks seemed a bit out of my range.

So, the following day on my way home, I stopped at Barneys to pick up my new summer scent, which the woman at Saks had pointed out so confidently.

I was excited enough about Goutal that I even bought a fragranced candle to keep at my boyfriend’s apartment. So, I guess this summer it will be Annick Goutal. Sorry, Fracas.