Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Perfume Paparazzi

Whiling away some time before meeting a friend, I ended up browsing in an upmarket department store. I admired the socks (how much?), drooled over the handbags, and then found myself on the brink of an area I usually avoid. Yes, it was the perfume section, a place where sprayed scent forms a dewy mist in the air and staff eye shoppers with the keen intent of hungry lions spotting antelopes. I hesitated on the threshold, uncomfortably aware that hesitation attracts lions quicker than anything else, and then took a deep breath, choked, and breathed again. I was going in!

The reason I avoid this section comes from a fear of being shown up for being clueless, and a shyness of being pursued by staff dogging my faltering footsteps. I want to be left alone to get to know perfume, not randomly sprayed by every scent under the sun and then glared at for not parting with my hard-earned cash. But I have been gradually getting more interested in pleasing scents by reading the delightful evocative perfume descriptions by Rose in her lovely blog A Rose Beyond The Thames. Rose has a special flair for matching perfumes with their real life or literary figure equivalent – see her blog post here about Eowyn in the Lord of the Rings. Gorgeous.

And so, into the perfume den I slunk. I stopped at the first counter, and looked with interest at the little cards laid out. Were they pre-sprayed, or there for me to spray what I please and then wander around flapping it by nose? Were they free? (I sadly have to think of things like that). Will someone pounce if I…

‘Can I help you Madam?’

Damn. I shake my head and put down the little card, that clueless feeling starting to waft up from nowhere (or perhaps from a cunningly disguised bottle). I back away smiling, and scurry around the next counter. Phew. Coast clear, I then examine the collection of gleaming potions. I hold one to my nose, but am too scared to spray it on my wrist, into the air or onto the shelf like I may sneakily do in Boots with Impulse deodorant. Somehow I suspect different rules apply over here, so I just sniff at the bottles, hoping to get an idea of what lurks inside. Water, I decide, as I smell nothing. Potpourri, I cough, backing away from others. I clearly have so much to learn. My nose is uncultured, I decide sadly. (The rest of me is fine of course.)

‘Are you interested in (insert name of famous expensive perfume)?’

Darn, another one popped up from below the counter. Alarmingly, the smart-suited man leaves his side of the fence and walks quickly around to mine. I smile and demur, hoping to put him off as I again back away.

‘Can I ask what perfumes you usually are interested in?’

Agh! Another one has trapped me in a pincer movement. The strong aroma of Eau-De-No-Clue is making me panic – what perfumes do I wear? I wear whatever anyone buys me, which is probably why I don’t particularly invest my attention in any as none are quite ‘me’. But now there has been a question asked, and annoyingly the only perfume I can remember is when I begged my mum for ‘Exclamation!’ when I was fourteen.

‘Just browsing!’ I cheerfully say, and then do a feint to the left that would leave footballers proud. I quickly scurry onwards, but am now aware that more and more sales staff seem to have clocked my existence, their gaze following mine with a slight condescending expression. ‘Look at ze poor uncultured one go,’ that expression says to me, somewhat surprisingly in heavily accented French. ‘She cannot afford ze prices, she should ‘ave stuck to ze tat zey sell in Boots.’

I pick up another bottle out of sheer desperation by now, happy to give anything a try if it smells nice – perhaps like lemon, or apples, or light and fresh and appealing – but instead choke on a scent that is so heavy it robs my breath. I concede that perhaps it is time to call it a day, before the lurking perfume paparazzi hunt me down any further to get their sale. Next time if I am brave!


music obsessive said...

Ha ha! And you're a woman (I presume...) Just think what it's like for us poor males in the present-buying season. It's only one up from the lingerie department where many a man has entered never to be seen again.

God, I hate department stores. Now we know why on-line shopping was invented.

Rose said...

Ah thank- you so much for being so kind about my blog!

Now I will let you in on a secret, most (although certainly not all, I would say 95%) of the staff in perfume departments don't know anything about perfume either. They might think they do but as soon as you ask them an even vaguely tricky question they look confused.

They just try and blind you by spraying something terrible at you and saying it's so lovely isn't it- with a note of sky blue pink melon or something- if you show any interest they will then probably tell you it's new from x house and very classy and then try and force you to buy it.

The best option is to go to places that let you browse, Liberty is very good as is the John Lewis on Oxford St.

You also just have to learn to say I'm looking sternly. Failing that say you are letting the perfume settle on your skin and you never buy fragrance without waiting for the dry down- if they know anything about scent they will know there is no answer for that except to let you wait and leave you alone!

Kit Courteney said...

I used to be exactly the same... until I went perfume shopping WITH A FRIEND.

Makes a huge difference. I was self-conscious about spraying from expensive looking bottles on display and having a good sniff when on my own, but when you're with a friend you can legitimately take lots of time and spray-and-sniff...AND it's easier to avoid the pincer movement when there's two of you!

Jayne said...

Hi Martin! Oh dear, you poor blokes! (And yes, am female!) Online shopping is your way forward (or to be given a list, perhaps). I actually love department stores - although I am sure they use deflective mirrors to keep me in there all day, and slowly subliminally steer me to the tills.

Jayne said...

Rose, you are a star. Thank you so much! Brilliant advice – I shall memorise that line and use it verbatim. Interesting to hear that perhaps the staff are not as clued up as I thought. I really know nothing of scent, so they can say whatever to me and I’d feel I was in the presence of an expert… and yet I have worked in a shop, and was definitely not an expert in paint, zips, or children’s clothing (although was rather gifted at pick ‘n’ mix!).

I was actually in Fenwicks, the store near New Bond Street. I felt desperately hurried in their perfume department, and rather overwhelmed. Next time I shall try the stores you recommend (any excuse for Liberty’s!). Cheers!

Jayne said...

Hi Kit! Very good point… yes, I would definitely feel happier browsing in a duo. Much harder to breach our defences! So it looks like I shall drag a friend with me to Liberty’s next time I fancy an adventure in the perfume department!