Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Could This Be The Best Perfume Gift EVER?

Here's an idea. If someone says they'd like you to buy them a bottle of perfume for Christmas, then don't. At least not straight away. Do something different. Tell them you'd be glad to give them a fragrance, but on one condition: that 'the gift' is turned into an outing in which the two of you embark on a sniff-a-thon, resulting in a scent purchase. The reason for this elaborate escapade? Simple. It's to avoid that inevitable yuletide phenomenon: the unwanted perfume. You know the one I mean. The one that you accepted with a marble smile, wore once and then banished to the darkest realms of the back of the bottom drawer.

But how, I hear you ask, does one take a friend or family member on such an expedition? Well, I'm glad you asked that, because it just so happens that I've got a handy 7-step guide for you right here...

Make a proper appointment with your friend or family member, who shall henceforth be known as your FOF. Don't just say that you'll do this thing sometime when you're both free, because it'll never happen and the entire enterprise will collapse in a clutch of regrets and disappointments, which will then turn into resentments and poison your relationship for years. Don't say I didn't warn you.

If you can, try to avoid weekends; Mondays tend to be the quietest days in retail. If it has to be a weekend, go for a morning slot. Aim for optimum crowd minimalisation. And set aside at least half a day. Rushing is rarely fun.

This is where you have to do a bit research. Only you know the perfumeries around you. See if you can find 1 or 2 which offer customers a space for sitting down, spreading out blotters and chatting. (For those of you with easy access to London: this means Bloom, Harrods' Salon De Parfums, Les Senteurs and Fortnum & Mason, amongst others*.)

Consider cold hard practicalities. You know how much you're going to spend on your FOF. So don't take him or her to a place which stocks very few scents within your budget. That would be mean. And it might lead to resentments (see above). Oh, and do check opening times. Showing up at 9 on the doorstep of a shop that doesn't open until 10 is not the best way to start your endeavour. I speak from experience. 

This will be a vital component of the day as it will be used to store the blotters on which you'll spray all the perfumes you're going to try (see The Process below). Buy something hard-backed and, ideally, attractive so that it can serve as another souvenir of the experience. Make sure it isn't too thin: you want to be able to leave as many pages as possible between the blotters in order to avoid cross-contamination. Try to find something with relatively heavy paper. Write a dedication at the front, not forgetting the date. Present the notebook to your FOF at the beginning of the day with a grandiose flourish. Watch any latent resentments melt away. Oh, and don't forget to take a pen.

I could spend ages on this bit, but I shall try to give you the main points as succinctly as possible. Firstly, tell the Sales Assistant that you've arrived hoping to smell lots of things because you'd like to buy a perfume for your FOF. Then give the SA a subtle but unmistakable look indicating that you need to have a quiet word. Step away from your FOF who, at this point, should play along and pretend he/she did not notice the subtle but unmistakable look you gave the SA.

If your FOF is worthy of receiving perfume as a gift, he/she will, at this point, find an astonishingly fascinating spot on the wall at the other end of the shop, giving you plenty of space to have a whispered conversation with the SA. If your FOF does not do this, you may begin to develop feelings of resentment towards him/her (see above).

When this delicate configuration of bodies has been achieved, tell the SA, in no uncertain terms, what your budget is. Ask him/her not to suggest any perfumes which are above your budget.

[Note: if you happen to know the shop and/or the SA quite well, you could go through this rigmarole over the phone prior to your visit, thereby avoiding any potential resentment.]

Then you may begin. Tell your FOF that perfumes will be brought to him/her for consideration, ie he/she mustn't actually ask for any perfumes, as this could scupper your careful budgetary orchestrations. Use the SA to guide you through the relevant scents in the shop's collection. Explain the sorts of fragrances your FOF does/doesn't like. Spray the perfumes on blotters. Do not forget to label them! Smell them. Talk about them. Compare them. Tuck them into the notebook. Don't feel shy to ask for samples. Move on to the next shop only when you're completely ready to do so.

This must be used sparingly because there isn't an infinite supply of it. To start with, spray the perfumes only on blotters. However, if there is a scent which knocks your FOF sideways, causes his/her eyes to roll to their back of his/her head and reduces him/her to a dribbling child, then and only then, allow him/her to spray some of this scent on his/her skin. The mathematically inclined amongst you will have worked out straight away that this means no more than 4 (possibly 6, in the case of a long-limbed FOF) perfumes could usefully be applied to the skin in a single scent exploration session... unless your FOF isn't averse to disrobing in public and sniffing his/her shoulders, calves, knees etc. In such circumstances, walk away and deny all knowledge of the FOF.

Not to be avoided or side-lined. You must plan for appropriate rest breaks in your schedule. Ideal setting: a quiet cafe. Settle down. Sip your drinks. And, most importantly, peruse the contents of The Notebook. Smell the blotters again. Have a chat about them, away from brand logos, flashing lights, advertising posters, other shoppers and the no-doubt-well-intentioned-but-ultimately-pushing-for-a-sale SAs. Don't try to cajole your FOF into liking or disliking a scent according to your tastes. Remember: this is a gift for your FOF, not you. Any browbeating on your part may lead to resentment (see above).

When your FOF has identified 2 or 3 favourite blotters, allow him/her to apply the relevant perfumes onto his/her skin (assuming any unscented patches are available; see above). This may entail returning to one of the shops or using a sample vial, if you have one.

This may sound counter-intuitive, but you don't necessarily have to buy something on the day. Allow your FOF to take The Notebook home. Encourage him/her to keep smelling the blotters. Eventually, a final choice will be made... and if it isn't, you get to go back to Step 1 and do the whole thing all over again!

Above all: enjoy the day. Yes, the idea is for your FOF to end up with a perfume which will give them pleasure, but by going through my fool-proof, resentment-busting procedure, you'll be giving them gifts that are arguably more valuable than a bottle of scent: your commitment, your company and your time. Have fun! Oh, and feel free to print the voucher below and use it as you see fit.


* For more ideas, check out my London Perfume Shopping Guide.


  1. This actually sounds like a whole lot of fun. Thank you for the nice idea!

    1. Neva, you're more than welcome. Whenever I've done it, it's been great fun!

  2. What a great idea!! I'm going to do this with my daughter for sure. I can never seem to figure out which one she'd like, though I did introduce her to Fracas, which is her eyes-rolling- back-in-the-head scent. She keeps trying to top it and just can't find anything better. Anyway, thanks for this awesome idea! :)

    1. Celeste, please don't mention it. And if you do try it with your daughter, please let me know how it goes. Mind you, Fracas *is* pretty tough to beat!

  3. Love this post! I always urge pacing the expedition, taking home samples, using skin only if they are sure and not making a rash decision. Gift certificates are also a good alternative- that way the immediate pressure is off to buy. Sure hate to see that wrong choice being used as a bathroom spray!

    1. Ann... YES... no more turning perfume gifts into bathroom sprays :-D And gift vouchers are a great idea!


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