I’m a New Yorker at heart, but living in the South and waking up to the sunshine every day can change a person in lots of different ways.
This time it was fragrance. I’ve been wearing spicy scents like Chanel’s Coco and Paloma Picasso forever, but down here they seem too heavy in the hotter months, so it was fitting that I had the assignment to find something light and summery.
My first stop was Parisian in Phipps Plaza, my favorite store in the South, mostly because it doesn’t charge interest on its credit cards.
The crowded Clinique counter was the first thing I saw. It was free-gift week, and I couldn’t resist. I made a quick detour and bought myself new makeup base and soap so I could get my present. Even on important missions, I get distracted.
Continuing onward, I saw the fragrance department. The main section consists of a circular counter with a second semi-circular counter around it. There are also a few neighboring fragrance counters.
I noticed that each fragrance displayed had a spray card right next to it and that everything was displayed neatly. There weren’t a million fragrances jumbled together to confuse me.
I spotted Liz Claiborne’s Vivid on a counter, and as there wasn’t a sales associate around, I helped myself.
As I was spraying my card, two ladies looking as if they came straight from church approached the counter. A sales associate materialized out of nowhere and approached them.
“Can I help you ladies?” she asked.
What about me? I wondered silently.
Feeling a bit ignored, I walked on into the circular maze. I was testing Sunflowers when Jody, a sales associate, appeared.
“Are you looking for something special today?” she asked.
“I want something light and summery,” I explained.
“I’ve got something perfect. It’s light and it smells wonderful.”
She took me over to Escada’s Summer in Provence. She explained that it was a special edition, available only in the summer, but that it would be “difficult” — yet possible — to get it after the summer.
“Are you wearing anything else?” she asked. I said no. She smoothed some of Escada’s body cream onto my arm and then sprayed the perfume over the top. “It’s exactly what you described,” she told me, and I had to agree.
I asked her if there was anything else new, and she said yes, but that the Escada fragrance was the best if I was looking for light and summery. I told her I was going to look around a bit more.
“Well, if you decide to come back, my name is Jody,” she said. I thanked her and walked on, thinking what a nice person she was.
I headed to Rich’s over at Lenox Square Mall next. It took a while to find the fragrance counter, since it is in the back, behind all the different makeup counters. It is clearly labeled “Fragrance” in big black letters, though.
I approached the long rectangular counter and saw two sales associates chatting together. I picked up 360° by Perry Ellis and smelled the bottle. The sales associate then approached me.
“May I help you find something?” she asked. I restated my mission. She looked at the bottle in my hand and said, “Well, that’s a good one.”
She picked up a spray card and sprayed some on it. “Too strong,” was what I told her.
The second sales associate chimed in. “I know, we’ve got something new for you.” She came back with both Escada and Escada’s Summer in Provence.
She explained that the first was a woodsy, floral scent while the second was a fruity, floral scent. “Since you are used to heavier scents, you might like the Escada better,” she said.
I took both cards that she offered me, and smelled them. I told them I thought Summer in Provence was perfect, but asked if there was anything else new. The first woman suggested Sunflowers.
“I don’t know much about it, but it’s very popular right now,” she said, giving me prices on Summer in Provence before directing me over to the Elizabeth Arden counter.
“Just let us know if you need anything else,” she said.
No one was at the Arden counter when I got there, so I started looking for a tester. A woman soon appeared, wearing a Rich’s name tag.
“You wanted to see Sunflowers,” she said.
How did she know this? I wondered — but not for long.
“The girl that works this counter is on lunch break, and the fragrance girls told me you needed help,” she explained.
While looking to the tester, she found cute little green and yellow tissue-wrapped cotton balls, tied with ribbons, that had Sunflowers sprayed on them. She offered one to me and I took it. Just then, the sales associate returned from lunch.
“What can I help you with?” she asked.
“I’m just looking,” I replied.
“Well, we are having a special: If you buy the fragrance and body gel, you get a body cream for free. They are wonderful together,” she said.
I thanked her and told her I might be back.
Walking back out into the sunshine, I felt a little guilty. I got good service and would have loved to buy both Summer in Provence and Sunflowers from any of my sales associates, but I liked the fragrances so much, I had already bought them both last week.
Every summer, I switch my favorite drink from scotch on the rocks to a sea breeze or a margarita, but I never thought of rotating fragrances according to the weather until I got the assignment to visit store counters and ask for a summer scent.
I considered the concept briefly, visualized my vanity (cluttered with fragrances) and decided I was covered for all seasons.
Still, during a trial shopping expedition at Neiman Marcus in NorthPark Center, I very nearly added another bottle to my collection.
A saleswoman spotted me immediately as I scanned the open-sell wall of fragrances in the recently renovated and expanded fragrance department.
“Hi,” she said. “Is there anything I can help you find?”
“I’m looking for a summer fragrance,” I said dutifully.
She led me straight to a glass and matte gold table bearing Donna Karan products.
“This is a fresh new fragrance from Donna Karan,” she enthused, spraying it on her business card after I declined a spritz on my wrist. She waved the card and handed it to me to sniff.
“Isn’t it nice?” she asked. “It’s a wonderful fragrance for all over the body, very long-lasting. We also make the body products that go along with it, the bath and shower gel and the body lotion.”
“What’s in it?” I asked.
“It has a lot of white flowers…”
“It smells similar to the old Donna Karan fragrance,” I commented.
“The old one is totally, totally different,” she countered. “This is very, very light.”
As I sprayed a little on the back of my hand, she spied another saleswoman, whom I took to be a Donna Karan beauty adviser, and called her over.
“Do you know what exactly is in this?” my saleswoman asked. “She wants something light for summer.”
“It has the basic bottom notes of the original fragrance — casablanca lilies, jasmine, ylang ylang and honeysuckle,” the other woman explained. “What gives it the tinge it has is a very, very light suede. It’s undetectable, basically, but it changes the chemistry.”
“A very light what?” I asked.
“A very light tinge or something — some kind of word that I’m making up here,” she said with an embarrassed laugh. I laughed too.
Sensing disaster, the first saleswoman stepped in. “Are you familiar with the Annick Goutal line from Paris?” she asked.
“I’ve heard of that,” I replied. “They have pretty bottles.”
“They have pretty fragrances, too. Let me show you,” she said, and steered me over to an Annick Goutal display.
“This is an all-natural line,” she explained. “This fragrance is one of my favorites — Charlotte.”
She handed me the cap from the bottle to sniff.
I liked the fragrance and asked the price. The eau de toilette, which she showed me, was $45. Unlike some of the other Annick Goutal scents, Charlotte wasn’t offered in an eau de parfum, which I prefer.
So, thinking it might make a nice bath fragrance, I asked about bath oil. She informed me that bath oil, body lotion and body cream were available.
At this point, a well-dressed gentleman at the counter who had been speaking with someone else turned his attention to me. He seemed to be an Annick Goutal specialist.
He explained that if I layered the bath oil with the eau de toilette, the fragrance would last longer. He smoothed some of the oil on the back of my hand, noting it was scented with mimosa, lily of the valley and black currant. It seemed to have barely any fragrance at all, and I thought the $60 price was exorbitant.
They showed me two more fragrances from the line, but nothing appealed to me as much as Charlotte, and by this time I thought my nose was losing its ability to distinguish scents.
I spritzed some Charlotte eau de toilette on my wrist. The salesman sniffed it and told me, “You really bring out the mimosa.”
Even though I initially had no intention of buying anything, I liked the scent and was tempted to take a bottle of it home. Alas, the Mother’s Day rush had wiped out the stock of the $45 1-oz. size. The store had only a diminutive $20 purse flacon (too small), or a $90 big bottle (too expensive).
They said the $45 size should be in the following week, and I said I’d be back. The saleswoman offered to take my number and telephone me, but I don’t like salespeople calling me at home, so I declined.
The next time I want to treat myself, however, I’m going to pick up a bottle of Charlotte.