Over the winter holidays, I put in a handful of days at Scent Bar in Los Angeles in what they billed as a "residency", a fancy way to say "Saturday girl". Whatever, this Saturday girl was in her happy place: playing with all the perfume and confabulating with the customers. (By and large, fumeheads are an intriguing bunch whose inquiring minds and multidisciplinary backgrounds turn Scent Bar into an instant salon.)
A young Russian couple came in, and the husband let it be known that he wanted to ease his wife into niche. I asked the wife what she already wore and loved, and the answer was Chanel Chance. Easy-peasy, I thought, as I moved toward the fruity-floral shelf and began to select a few options.
Clocking the "fruity-floral" sign, lady protested, "Oh, I don't like flowery perfumes!" "But..." I began, bemused, "Chance is all about jasmine..."
This is a scenario frequently encountered with people seeking my advice on finding a new perfume. They are absolutely certain they despise patchouli, even though it turns out to be in all the fumes they love. Or they can only wear fresh scents, with "fresh" curiously defined as cotton candy and berries.
And a vociferously-stated aversion to florals is a popular stance. I remember once helping a "flowerphobic" friend find a new scent, and was stumped when she rejected all of my proffered woods, spices, herbs, citrus, musk, and marine blends. Fed up, she began randomly huffing bottles from the perfume counter.
"Now this is something I like!" she announced triumphantly, holding a bottle out to me. I sniffed. It was a huge gardenia tuberose.
Sometimes, the miscommunication is solved by a renegotiation of scent definitions, finding a terminology we can all agree on. Other times, it's a matter of opening our minds -- and nostrils -- to a new way of looking (smelling) at things. But back to the Chance-loving lady. I handed her bottles, she sniffed, and we allowed her nose to follow the perfume breadcrumbs to her new favorite fragrance. Which wasn't a fruity floral. It was Lubin Black Jade, a beguiling spicy oriental. There are flowers, yes (rose and jasmine), but the overall effect is subtly steered by incense.
It just goes to show you: perfume profiling never fails to surprise -- both the profiler, and the profilee.