Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Much Too Wild For Goutal

I’m pleased to add another name to my growing roster of Wonderful Sales Assistants In London Perfumeries. Today it’s Eric, the Parisian employee at London’s sole, standalone branch of Annick Goutal.

I realise it may be as calculated a sales strategy as any other, but I genuinely appreciate it when an SA is unafraid to express opinions not just about his/her wares, but about my own tastes and preferences. In other words, I love it when the person waving blotters under my nose is willing to engage in that rarest of things: a conversation. At a time when there are fewer and fewer reasons to shop in a bricks-and-mortar establishment, ‘non-virtual’ retailers would do well to cultivate and encourage the sorts of experiences that an online shop is not yet able to offer: ie a warm welcome, genuine human contact and a chat. And if they don’t know how to provide such courtesies, they could take a tip or two from Eric.

With what appeared to be heartfelt enthusiasm for the scents under his care, he took me through some of his favourites in the range, placing particular emphasis on Tubereuse (which certainly came across as richly buttery on paper) and Le Jasmin (far less indolic than I’d expected and more akin to the sensation of breezing past a handful of jasmine blossoms at the start of an evening).

He reckoned that I’d enjoy Encens Flamboyant, but his jaw nearly hit the floor when I told him that I’ve tried it and find it too clean.

“Too clean??” he said, “but… you’re wild!”… to which the only way I could possibly respond was by letting him smell what I happened to be wearing on that day: Dior’s truly sauvage Leather Oud.

He smelt it and smiled. “Okay. This is not clean.”

In the end, I decided that perhaps Musc Nomade was more my style, although I didn’t care for its sweetness. But that’s besides the point. I’d gone into a shop to do nothing more than re-familiarise myself with a few old names, but I left with the sense that I’d been allowed to share another individual’s passion for all things scented and perfumed.

So, as the son of someone who’s worked in perfume retail for several decades, I’d like to end this post by giving a shout out to all the SAs who make perfume fragrance hunting enjoyable and by leaving you with a question: when was the last time you went shopping and received an excellent service from someone who did more than just accost you with the latest fruity floral?



  1. The last time I entered my local beauty shop where I live, it was...a joy. Not only do they stock E-Scentric Molecules (exceedingly radical for this town, and I heard they even sell!), but they always provide a first-rate service, even for gawkers like me.

    I went there to enquire about no. 19 Poudré. Not only did the lovely Elise have it, she loved my comment when I sniffed. I believe it went something like 'they've fileted no. 19 - removed all the bones!". She knows her stuff, reads my blog, and was sweet enough to let me know about a Dior recall so I could rush to stock up on Dior Homme and Homme Intense.

    My kind of SA. So I always go here first! :)

  2. I must say I've been quite lucky - even, from time to time, in department stores (not so much in the States, I have to say), and have often had quite lovely interchanges with SAs. Most recently in Liberty where I had a great sniffing session with Gervese - I was working on iris - comparing/contrasting, as you do, you know, to learn. And we just had the nicest time. But I think that's it, buying or considering fragrances is much more like buying books than people might imagine - and is even more collaborative than book browsing. Inbuilt pensiveness is the key, I suppose. I enjoy your blog very much, by the way. Thank you for it, Kit

  3. Tarleisio, three cheers for Elise!

    Your mention of E-Scentric reminded me of the last time I was at Liberty and the SA was trying to convince a customer that Iso E Super combines with a person's individual pheromones. I came THIS CLOSE to interrupting their conversation with a few choice words.

  4. Kit, thanks very much indeed.

    I've never met Gervese, and I must say that I haven't been overly impressed by Liberty's own staff (the brand-specific SAs tend to be very good). In fact, the last time I was there, I spent well over half an hour browsing and sniffing and not one single person came over to say Hello. Maybe I look really scary...?

  5. I have a wonderful SA in my local Nordstrom (just in case - her name is Odette, Hillsdale Shopping Mall). She loves perfumes. She's not a big specialist in them (and doesn't pretend to be) but she likes what she's doing and is very helpful.

    One day I called her to place an order for Pure Havanne. She suggested I waited another 4 days (for some tripple-points I'd get if I buy it then). I told her that I would need it in three days after that tripple-event would start (it was supposed to be a gift) and I was affraid there wouldn't be enough time for the delivery (since my local store didn't have it in stock they'd have to ship from another store). I wanted to proceed with my order but she offered to pick up that perfume from another store and hold it for me.

    I do not buy that many mainstream FBs, but everything I buy I buy from her. And I buy all the cosmetics I use through her. Since prices for what I buy are the same at all department stores she actually won my business for Nordstrom.

  6. When you are in NYC and visit Bergdorf Goodman`s Fine Fragrances, please look up Tom Crutchfield!! He manages Goutal amoung other lines like Asprey and Etro, and has become a very dear friend... you don`t find nicer/kinder/better humored people than Tom anywhere, and man, he knows his merch!! :-) Thank you for letting me toot my horn!

  7. Undina, let's hear it for Odette! She sounds like an incredibly conscientious lady.

  8. Linda, now I have yet another reason to see New York. Let's hear it for Tom!

  9. I agree that Liberty's perfumery is hopeless, despite having some nice scents. I, too, have been ignored. Strange, as the rest of the store is great (best women's clothing selection in London, I think).

    The Annick Goutal boutique is delightful, as is the French assistant, even if the scents are not my favourites.

    Of course, the best staff are in Roja Dove's Haute Parfumerie - but then I am on kissing terms with them all!

  10. Fiordiligi, it's such a shame about Liberty, because they have a superb selection of niche scents. Lutens, Goutal, Malle, Le Labo, Byredo, Nez A Nez, Kurkdjian, Nasomatto, Comme Des Garcons, Parfums d'Empire, L'Artisan Parfumeur et al... that's quite a list! But their staff... well, they may as well not be there. And the few times when I HAVE dared to ask a question, I haven't exactly been given what I'd call attentive service.

    Having said that, there are many wonderful SAs elsewhere.


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