By and  on September 9, 1994

NEW YORK -- As the men's fragrance business continues to grow in the department store arena, more attention is being paid by retailers to the quality of service and level of promotional activity within the category.

To gauge how in-store beauty advisers treat potential buyers of men's scents, WWD sent reporters to stores in Europe and across the U.S. to gather first-hand accounts.

The results were mixed: Some shoppers were greeted with enthusiasm, while others were disappointed by the salespeople's lack of knowledge, especially when compared with their counterparts at the women's bar.

The reporters did find one thing in common: light, clean and fresh are the consistent buzzwords when it comes to men's products.

PARIS

With a new boyfriend often comes a new scent. But what do you do when you don't like his choice of eau de toilette? Well, I decided to give mine a new one as a present.

The men's fragrance bar at Printemps -- my favorite department store in Paris -- is well stocked. But when I got there to try to accomplish my mission, the salesperson was busy with a different customer, who was near to making a purchase.

I tried to find out what he was buying, as I was curious as to what men bought these days. Unfortunately, he left before I could see. The salesman then walked toward me with a friendly smile on his face.

I trusted him instantly, as his attitude was very professional. I asked him what he recommended as a new scent, and he immediately suggested Eternity from Calvin Klein.

"Is there anything new, exciting and fresh that came out for summer?" I asked, already aware of Eternity.

"If you want freshness, Eau de Rochas is nice. Would you like to smell it?" he volunteered.

I agreed. I found it to be a pleasant scent, but I wasn't going to let him off that easily.

"How about XS from Paco Rabanne," he continued. "It is an exciting fragrance. Do you know it?"

In fact I did know the scent, and explained that I found it a bit overpowering. Further pursuing my quest, I told him I liked YSL Pour Homme, but that I really was looking for something new."Very classic," was his comment to my YSL story.

He was patient and tried hard to come up with my ideal eau de toilette. After thinking for a moment, he suggested that I smell Gucci for Men and sprayed some on a scent card.

It was obviously the one -- discreet, sophisticated and sensual. He pointed out that Gucci was priced at 350 francs ($64) for a 250-ml. bottle, but quickly noted the difference in cost as compared with Eau de Rochas, which goes for 250 francs ($45) for a same-size version. Obviously, he personally liked the Rochas better.

While I had a good lead, I was so taken by scents for men after this visit that I decided to go on with my search.

I journeyed to the nearby Galeries Lafayette. It was the first time I had looked for the men's fragrance bar there, so it took me a few minutes to find it.

Three salespeople were standing behind the counter, but none of them seemed interested in helping any customers. It was a bad start. I had to ask for help in order to get some.

"Can you help me find a new and exciting fragrance, please," I said.

The look on the saleswoman's face indicated that the word "exciting" was not part of her vocabulary.

"No, we don't have anything new, but you may want to try Roland Garros. Do you know it?" she responded, spraying some on a scent card.

She then suggested Monsieur Balmain, because "it has a lemon scent which is pleasant for summer."

Faced with my indecision -- her lack of enthusiasm must have been contagious -- she said, "1881 from Cerutti is nice. When I want to offer a present, that's what I give because I know I can't go wrong; people usually like it."

I thanked her for her help and walked out...with Gucci on my mind.

LONDON

Harrods, the famous London department store, prides itself on being one of the major launch pads for men's and women's fragrances.So the store seemed the ideal target for me in my quest for new and fresh men's fragrances to give as Christmas gifts. For one thing, Harrods has recently launched Givenchy's Insensé Ultramarine exclusively. Bypassing the special promotional desks, I made a beeline to one of the regular counters where it was displayed and asked which fragrance was the newest.

"This one was launched just a week ago," said an assistant, pointing to Ultramarine. "It's very different to most men's fragrances. It's fresher and greener than Insensé, which is more floral," she said and sprayed it on a card, writing Ultramarine next to the Insensé box.

She told me the bath and body ranges weren't yet available, so I asked what other scents were similar to Ultramarine, and she mentioned Cool Water by Davidoff.

Later in my search, I tried to find out about Davidoff Cool Water and its counter partner, Jaguar. But it was apparent that the assistants were too busy discussing salesmanship awards they had won to notice my interest in the fragrance bottles displayed on the counter, even as I picked them up and sniffed the spray mechanism.

Back at the Givenchy counter, the assistant tried to find the prices for me, turning packages upside down to see if the price was printed on the bottom.

Picking up one of the display bottles, I began to help her, when suddenly an Insensé promotional assistant bore down on me.

"Can I help you?" she said quickly, glancing first at the bottle and then at me. I felt as though I was suspected of shoplifting. I tried explaining that everything was okay; the counter assistant was trying to find the prices for me.

The promotional assistant ignored me and reeled off the prices.

"The eau de toilette is 34.50 pounds [$53] for a 100-ml. bottle, 50 milliliters costs 24.50 pounds [$38] and the aftershave is 26.50 pounds [$41]," she said.

I found her butting in terribly rude and the original assistant very patient for putting up with it. I'm sure the promotional assistant was only trying to help, but her overbearing attitude put me off.I moved on to the next counter and explained to the assistants about my search. Both women were delighted to help me and tell me about their products.

"Boucheron for Men hasn't been out for very long," said one, spraying some on a card. "The eau de toilette costs 29 pounds [$45] for 50 milliliters, but the 100-ml. is a much better value at 39 pounds [$60]," she told me.

Meanwhile, her colleague, who looked after the Hermès fragrance display on the same stand, ripped the scent patch off a promotional card for Eau de Cologne Hermès and wafted it under my nose.

"This is a cologne," she gushed. "It's very fresh, very light and very good value for your money at only 35 pounds [$54] for 100 milliliters."

I moved on to the small Tiffany display. As I stood in front of the pale blue boxes, nobody seemed prepared to help me, so I guessed it was my turn to accost someone.

"Do you have a scent card?" I asked an assistant. Rummaging around behind the display, she came across scraps of card no bigger than my little finger.

But then again, Tiffany's wasn't the only counter to have minuscule spray cards. The Ralph Lauren counter had them, too -- and they appeared to be cut-up Drakkar Noir cards.

The Tiffany sales assistant told me the fragrance was quite new.

"The 100-ml. spray eau de toilette costs 49 pounds [$75] and the 50-ml. costs 30 pounds [$46]," she said, explaining that men like to use the spray rather than the splash nowadays.

"They're using scent more as a perfume than as an aftershave," she explained.

At the Ralph Lauren counter, the assistant informed me Safari had been available for only eight months, and that bath and body lines were also available.

I felt the Tiffany and Ralph Lauren assistants weren't very forthcoming about their respective products. Neither could describe the smells to me.

My doubts about the Harrods men's fragrance sales assistants were allayed, however, by the woman at the last counter I went to.As Harrods was on the point of closing, I approached the counter with trepidation. But the assistant couldn't have been nicer.

"XS by Paco Rabanne is quite new, but it's spicy rather than fresh," she told me. "It costs only 35 pounds [$54] for the 100-ml. spray or 33 pounds [$51] for the nonspray. So it's quite good value for money, really.

"If only women's fragrances were this cheap," she sighed, and then eagerly requested I try Herrera for Men by Carolina Herrera, which retailed for 31.5 pounds [$49].

In the end, though, I left feeling none the wiser after my search for something new and different to give at Christmas. There was a plethora of new and fresh men's fragrances, but unfortunately a dearth of detailed knowledge about them.

Few of the assistants could give me ingredients, which women's fragrance sales assistants normally reel off without a problem.

Furthermore, I thought it peculiar that nobody offered me a sample to take home for the man in my life to try for himself.

I know gifts are meant to be a surprise, but it would be awful if I'd bought something the recipient hated. Looks like it's going to be handkerchiefs again this year.

MILAN

August vacation for the Italians has arrived. The city is empty, the outside temperature is incredibly hot and humid, and worst of all, I must leave the air conditioned office for a hard task: find a decent birthday present for my beloved older brother.

With this goal in mind, I find myself walking down a deserted Via della Spiga, in the heart of Milan, at the pace of a pachyderm.

During August in Milan most stores shut down with no mercy, and two-thirds of the population leaves the city. The only humans walking the streets are ingenous Japanese tourists wondering what kind of a strange city Milan is.

Before hitting the central Piazza San Babila, I see Mazzolari, a high-end perfumery, and stroll in. The store has been recently expanded and its men's department has been recently renovated, making Mazzolari one of the better-stocked places to shop for fragrances and treatment products in town.It also happens to be one of the few places that stays open most of August, becoming a real shopping oasis for the poor Milanese obliged to stay put for the summer.

The window and the interior displays are extremely well organized and elegantly decorated, and it's also easy to find the desired counter.

In the men's department, I'm cordially welcomed by the smile of a mature man standing behind a magnificent vase of fresh flowers.

I'm so glad that this time I don't have to deal with the omnipresent usual salesperson, who's young and cute but unprepared. I begin to walk around, touching some of the products.

I'm pleased that he's not following me around or asking anything, because it's my belief that the client needs a breath of fresh air to make his or her decision.

I finally decide to ask his help. I explain about my brother's birthday, and say I want a fragrance compatible with this summer's weather.

His first suggestion is Eau de Rochas, "a refreshing and not disturbing scent, perfectly suitable for a young man."

He sprays a card with it, writing out the name. After a few seconds he passes to another counter and shows me Cool Water by Davidoff, offering me another scented card.

"The name says it," the salesman comments. "It's a very light and cool fragrance, I would suggest it if your brother is a sports person."

I then ask about something new. The man shows and gives me cards of Escada pour Homme ("just arrived"), Olimpios by Missoni ("I believe a bit too strong for the summer,") and Eternity for Men by Calvin Klein, which he explains is "very successful among young and fashionable people."

Determined to test his patience, I ask instead for something classic and traditional. He promptly makes me try Caron Pour Un Homme, and the two versions of Mazzolari for man, fragrances exclusively produced and sold by Mazzolari stores.

He suggests in particular one of them, which has an unusual but very delicate and sensual scent of almond.

I finally ask for a few prices, and he accurately writes the ones I am interested in on the cards. All my questions have been satisfied, but I am still undecided.I decide that maybe it's better if I think about it at home, smelling my cards with no hurry. I thank the salesman and step out of the door.

Once outside the heat assaults me, but I'm glad anyway, because tomorrow I have a good excuse to come back to Mazzolari, a real oasis of kindness and quality.

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