AT THE COUNTER
WWD SENT OUT REPORTERS IN A NUMBER OF CITIES TO SEE WHAT SALESPEOPLE HAD TO SAY ABOUT NEW SCENTS.
Trying to get out of the unusually hot weather in West Los Angeles, I visited the Century City Bloomingdale’s to check out the new scents.
At first, it seemed there wouldn’t be any shortage of sales help at the open-sell fragrance area, since there were five salespeople behind the counter — four men and a woman — in the midst of a lively conversation.
I began browsing through the fragrances, frequently glancing at the salespeople, who were apparently too busy with their chatter to notice me.
Feeling neglected, I asked a woman at another makeup counter if there was a manager for the fragrance section. Turns out the manager was the sole woman in the pack of five salespeople, who were still ignoring me.
Finally, I picked up a bottle of fragrance right in front of a salesman, smelled it and shook my head in dissatisfaction. A salesman asked me if I was looking for something in particular.
I asked him about new fragrances. He said Hugo Woman was new, but he didn’t offer to let me try it. Instead, he pulled out Donna Karan’s Chaos and said, “This is a wonderful new perfume. The scent changes as the day goes on, and it smells different on everyone.”
Considering that Chaos is not so new, I asked for something a little more recent. He ignored my comment and sprayed himself with Chaos.
“I’ll just try it and let you see how it changes as time goes by,” he said.
Next, he sprayed Givenchy’s Organza, Gucci’s Envy and Cheap and Chic by Moschino on pieces of paper and never explained anything about the fragrances. Even when I asked questions, he wasn’t too informative.
After a few moments, he told me to smell the Chaos on his hand and said, “See, the scent has changed. Isn’t it wonderful?” I wondered why, though, if the point was that it smells different on everyone, I was sniffing it on his wrist instead of my own.
I decided to leave and my next stop was Nordstrom at the Westside Pavilion, where I found the salesman involved in a quiet conversation with another sales assistant.
I picked up a bottle of Envy and took a whiff. Within a minute or so, the salesman came over and asked if he could help. I told him about my mission to find something new.
He grabbed the bottle of Envy and said, “This is new and it’s great!”
I smelled it again and liked the fresh yet subtle floral scent. He said it was a mix of “white flowers and some citrus.”
I mentioned that I wanted something that would last. He used this as an opportunity to pitch Envy body lotion since he didn’t think Envy has a lasting scent when worn alone. But together, the two “would last all day.”
There were no samples of Envy body lotion around, so he opened a new box. At one point, he confessed that he loves Envy so much, he wears it himself. I hadn’t thought of Envy as a unisex scent, so the idea of a man being able to wear it put me off a little. But it does smell wonderful.
He squirted my arm with Envy and suggested I wear it for the rest of the evening to see how I liked it.
I wasn’t disappointed with the service at Nordstrom, as I was at Bloomingdale’s. But I’m such a shopaholic that if the salesmen at either store had tried to appeal to me a bit more, he would have made a sale.
I expected some people might stare at my sweat-beaded forehead as I stepped out of the stagnant muggy Milan air into Garbo, the new marble-paved, three-story perfumery on Corso Buenos Aires.
No one even acknowledged my presence.
I had come to look for a new fall fragrance for men, or at least to find out what products were expected to hit the shelves in the coming months.
I wandered the fragrance displays hidden at the back of the ground floor for about six minutes before one of the four salespeople offered me assistance.
That’s when I got a look of surprised disbelief as I informed the saleswoman that I’d like to try a new fall fragrance for men.
“Now? You want a new fall fragrance now?” she asked, repeating my request incredulously.
Racking her brain to think of anything new on her shelves, she led me to Donna Karan for Men, claiming it was a “very particular” scent, surely due to the unique shape of the container, which resembles a George Lukas-inspired water pistol.
She then showed me Christian Dior’s Dune, which turned out to be my favorite, with a gracefully masculine scent, decidedly old-world, decidedly European male.
When pressed to name any hot new fragrances for men, the now tiring young woman told me to wait until September for the release of Moschino’s Uomo and Tommy Hilfiger’s Tommy, both of which she assured me were fantastic.
Yearning for a more pleasant experience, though not expecting it, the following morning I stopped in at Elvy, a small, unassuming perfumery on Via le Piave. I was greeted by a genteel, middle-aged woman with dark red hair. Once again, I requested a new fall men’s fragrance, awaiting another shocked expression.
Moschino’s Uomo and Tommy Hilfiger, she told me, would not be out until mid-September. However, she showed me Lanvin, a fresh French scent that came out in Italy last holiday: relatively new, but more appropriate for the summertime.
Noticing my interest in lesser-known names, she sprayed my wrist with Kiton. The scent was modern, subtly masculine and decidedly distinguished.
Another exciting scent, which the saleswoman swore had the power to immediately revive and reinvigorate the wearer, was Bulgari’s Extreme, which she sprayed into the air.
“It first acts on the sense of smell, then on the brain and finally on the heart,” she noted. I thought the fragrance was uplifting and would be perfect as a body soap or shaving cream, neither of which is presently available.
While filling several sample bottles with all of the various scents I’d tried, the owner of the store engaged me in conversations about the fragrance industry, the untimely death of Gianni Versace and Jean Paul Gaultier’s obsession with tin cans — a far cry from the usual restrained chit-chat exchanged between shopkeeper and customer.
The saleswoman then took my name and address so she could alert me as soon as Tommy and Moschino’s Uomo arrived.
10:35 a.m. The heat and humidity of August hang over this city like a wet wool blanket. Pedestrians move along the sidewalks like a video in slow motion, already melted by the heat of the day. All they want to do is find some cool shade, curl up and take a nap.
I’d like to do the same, but I’m on a mission. The assignment came in to the office to find some new men’s fragrances. I had no choice but to accept it; after all, I have to eat.
The taxi pulls up outside the entrance to Selfridge’s on Oxford Street and I dash across the sidewalk and through the doors into the cool sanctuary of the air-conditioned ground floor.
Weaving my way through the men’s shirts, knitwear and underwear, I come to the store’s four-counter men’s fragrance area. Plucking up my courage, I step to one of the counters after first examining a self-service display stocked with Gianni Versace’s new fragrances Black Jeans and White Jeans, Chrome by Azzaro and others.
I circle the counter four times hoping someone will notice me, but the male sales assistants are busy talking among themselves. “Are you early or late today?” one, apparently a manager, asks another.
The manager walks by as I pick up the tester for Kenzo Pour Homme and rub my fingers across the tactile, leaf-embossed surface. As I try to spray it into the air in the hope of catching the scent, he stops and offers to spray some on a card.
“Is it new?” I ask, feigning ignorance. “Not really, no,” the manager says, spinning on his heel and walking back to his underling. “Are you sure you aren’t on late today?”
I stand there stranded. Switching to the largest of the four counters, I circle it to scope out my quarry.
It sells a mixture, with prominent displays for Polo Sport, Thierry Mugler’s A*Men, Chrome and Claude Montana. Again, the staff stand off to one side talking.
“My strategy is never to approach a customer. I let them ask if they want help,” one female sales assistant explains to her male counterpart — an interesting view of customer service.
I stop in front of a display for Monsieur by Balmain. A sales assistant approaches, her atomizers blazing. “Would you like to try some?” she asks. I do.
“It is very lemony,” she replies to my observation, wrinkling her nose slightly.
I ask if there’s anything new and she replies, “What type of fragrance are you looking for?”
“I’m looking for a fragrance for my son, who’s going to be 16,” I lie. “So it has to be something cool.”
She’s stumped for a moment, then brightens as her eyes alight on a display for Voyageur from Jean Patou. “This might be okay. The fragrance isn’t young, but the packaging is cool.”
She points to a display of the blue bottle inside a silver ocean liner as she sprays the fragrance on a card. I tell her it’s a bit too old. I then finger a bottle of Booster by Lacoste.
“That is quite strong, as well, but it might work,” the assistant says.
She sprays some on a card and explains there is a gift-with-purchase offering a small size of the fragrance and a shampoo.
“But is this new?” I ask.
“No, not really. I don’t really have anything new on my counter,” the assistant says disappointedly.
I move to the Polo Sport counter and a male assistant approaches and sprays some on a card. To my query about how recent it is, he replies that it’s not really very new.
I thank him and walk over to the self-service display, where a sales assistant is straightening bottles of Black Jeans and White Jeans. I pick up a tester and spray it, but he deliberately avoids eye contact.
10:55 a.m. Frustrated, I set out to explore new ground. The heat hits me as I walk out the door and I’m blinded, although I’m not sure whether it’s the sun or the fog of fragrance that surrounds me.
I zigzag my way through some of London’s most fashionable streets as I head to Fenwick of Bond Street.
11:05 a.m. I walk through the door of Fenwick and search the fragrance department for the men’s section. It’s not there, so I assume it’s in the men’s fashion department and take the escalator to the lower ground floor. No fragrances. I head back to the perfumery and search again. Fenwick doesn’t sell men’s fragrances!
11:15 a.m. Back on the street, the sun is now almost directly overhead, like an inquisitor’s lamp. Walking back toward Oxford Street, I come across the department store John Lewis, which is famed for its customer service because it’s a cooperative owned by its employees.
11:27 a.m. Two elderly men stand in front of the men’s counter while a sales assistant fumbles in a drawer at the other end. She looks up at the three of us as she pulls out a folder. She then shuts the drawer and walks away. No one else is around. The cash register sits sleeping.
11:30 a.m. I stand there for a few moments, rubbing testers like a man searching for a magic genie. Then I turn, walk out of the store and hail a taxi. I lean back in the seat and watch the pedestrians slog by. I’m hot, sticky, tired. Defeated.
I have a difficult time with fragrance.
It doesn’t bother my nose, but anything stronger than eau de toilette makes me break out in a rash.
Given that, coupled with an eternal aspiration that my fragrances shall be bestowed by others, rather than bought by me, it’s not surprising that I am an infrequent scent shopper.
However, a friend’s approaching birthday inspired me to go gift-searching the fragrance counters of Nordstrom and Macy’s in the Dallas Galleria. What I found was a wide selection of scents and a disinclination to sell me any of them.
Admittedly, I don’t like a hard sell, but most of the sales staff at these two stores had a distinctly “take it or leave it” attitude.
“What’s new?” I asked Nordstrom’s Estee Lauder sales associate, who offered me two cards, sprayed with White Linen Breeze and Pleasures.
No further information was offered, but the titles were repeated. “They’re both very light,” I stated. “Yes,” she agreed. “Why’s that?” I persevered.
“It’s the style now; you know, people returning to the simple life and the love of things outdoors,” she explained.
No inquiry as to whether that would suit my friend. No wider selections were proffered. I decided to approach a different Nordstrom sales clerk, who picked up the phone as I entered his domain.
“I’m looking for a new fragrance as a gift. What might you suggest?” I inquired. “Boss,” he stated categorically.
“No, it’s for a friend,” I jokingly clarified, but the pun went over his head and, as he was studiously avoiding eye contact with me, he didn’t see me smile.
The Hugo Woman-sprayed card was flicked in my direction — no comment, no neatly written name.
I retreated to Macy’s, where one sales associate peeled herself away from a group of five to suggest that my friend would like Pleasures because it was a bestseller. “It’s lilies and…something else,” she offered.
I approached another associate at Macy’s who was much more forthcoming and blitzed me with several fragrance choices. I wrote the names of his choices on a card along with key ingredients, which he recited.
“Givenchy’s Organza has gardenia, honeysuckle and a vanilla base,” he explained. “It compares nicely to Elizabeth Arden’s 5th Avenue. You might also like Gucci’s Envy.” When I asked about prices, he pointed to the notices posted on the counters and abruptly rushed off to accommodate new customers.
Returning later in the day to Nordstrom’s, I had the most pleasant encounter of the day. A charming sales associate immediately approached me to offer her assistance.
“I mainly sell Lancome, but I’ll show you anything we have that you’d like to try,” she said, indicating the whole department with a sweep of her arm.
Popi Moreni was stressed as a Nordstrom exclusive, and Lancome’s Poeme was extolled as being made with two rare and exotic blooms, one hailing from the Alps and one from the desert.
I know it’s all hype, but that’s the kind of thing I want to hear when I go shopping for a new scent.
I am a shopper who likes perfume to match my personality, and I usually rely on magazine ads that project my image.
Judging from Donna Karan’s ads, which were subtle and natural, I thought one of these scents might be my new signature scent for this fall. However, my excitement dimmed when two of the three department stores I visited at Lenox Square had never heard of it. When I finally found the collection at Neiman Marcus, I didn’t like it.
My search began at Rich’s. I was met by an aloof, mousey sales attendant who had to be prodded. She met my request to see Donna Karan’s Watermist Collection with a glare and a negative response.
“I’ve never heard of Water…did you say mist?” the sales clerk asked.
She did show me Karan’s last fall’s scent, Chaos. It was a nice subtle mist, but it just wasn’t me and I knew I wouldn’t wear it if I bought it.
I asked her to find something I could “splash on heavily without having a bug-spray repellent effect on people.”
Taking my cue, she said, “Let me show you Davidoff’s Cool Water Woman.”
We moved to the adjacent counter where she sprayed a sample on a blotter. I wasn’t familiar with it, but I fell in love with the light, airy smell. But in retrospect, it was really too summery, too tropical for fall.
I asked for something close, but sheerer and greener-smelling. She brought out Gucci’s Envy and spritzed some on my wrist. This was my favorite yet. I asked for samples of Envy, but she had none. I liked the transparent green floral smell, but wanted to test it out for a few days.
I left Rich’s, and continued my quest for Donna Karan’s newest fragrance line. At Macy’s I was met by a pleasant saleswoman who was more knowledgeable about Watermist, despite the fact Macy’s didn’t have the complete line. She was optimistic that they “would be getting it soon.”
I told her I still wanted to smell other new fall fragrances — something sheer, very Nineties; tailored, yet feminine. She showed me Hugo Woman.
I praised the clever marketing idea — a bottle that resembled a small canteen. I held out my wrist for her to spray and she said, “Wait 10 minutes and you’ll really like it.”
Smelling it, I said, “It reminds me of being outdoors in a mountainous region, yet there is something classic about it.” She told me that all the new fall lines are following this light floral base, accompanied with a citrus smell.
Ten minutes passed and I smelled my wrist again. I thought I had found my signature scent, but to be sure I kept smelling and shopping.
She showed me Chanel’s Allure next. It was too strong and bold for my personality. I still liked Boss’s fragrance idea and pleaded for a sample of Hugo.
She sympathetically said, “We don’t have any, but go spray your wrist before you leave.” I went back to get one last spray and added, “You must sell a lot of this.”
“Yes, but nothing like if it were Calvin Klein; he markets his products so well, ” she said. I agreed and walked on to Neiman Marcus, where I got help immediately and was led by a sales clerk straight to Karan’s new fall fragrance collection.
I was disappointed by both Petal and Leaf, the only two in the collection Neiman’s had. Leaf was too green-smelling and Petal, which is “extracted from damask rose,” according to the salesperson, was too earthy. I left the mall promising myself never to have preconceived notions of scents ever again.