Not a week goes by when I don't visit my local branch of a well known UK high street chemist. It dominates fragrance sales in the UK, capturing a third of the market in the latest published stats I could find (admittedly from 2004!). If there is a new scent tester on display, I will usually give it a squirt in passing, on my way through to the water filters or the paracetamol.
But all that pales by comparison with the fun I had on Thursday in a large out of town store down south, where my friend Gblue (from Basenotes) works as an SA. It was a warm, sunny day, so the footfall was correspondingly light, and in the two and a half hours I hung out with Gblue, at the merest hint of the hovering form of a potential customer I would melt into the background. Well, not completely melt, if I am truthful, as several people asked me if they could pay for their purchases at my till. But before getting into the nitty gritty of what we tested, I just wanted to say for the record that NO SALES WERE LOST IN THE INDUCTING OF THIS PERFUMISTA.
Indeed, I even made a modest purchase of my own: a bottle of Yardley Geranium EDT for my Swedish friend (the owner of Penhaligon's Elixir featured in a recent post). This is a simple, pretty, slightly sanitised geranium soliflore with most of the earthiness stripped out, yet it stays the right side of twee. By contrast, the Hyacinth EDT in the range was sweet and twee to my mind, while the Orange Blossom was bizarrely oily, like comminute. (I used to market fruit juice in another life, and for anyone unfamiliar with the term, "comminute" is the ground up pith and rind which forms the basis of orange squash). So when a label reads: "Made with whole oranges", they really do mean "whole", just as chicken nuggets are reportedly made with "whole chickens"... : - )
But I digress...
Here is a list of the men's scents we sampled: in each case Gblue was able to talk me through their general style, key notes, and other designer fragrances they resembled. And whilst I did not like everything I smelt, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there is stuff out there amongst mainstream brands that is far removed from what Tania Sanchez dubbed the "Saddam Hussein School of Perfumery", meaning those shouty, astringently citrussy, hairy chestwig types of cologne that refuse to sell out to the "hint of" school, with its metrosexual penchant for the muted and discreet.
Paul Smith Man - carroty iris: am thinking TDC Bois d'Iris and MH Terre d'Iris!
Gucci pour Homme II - one of the standout scents of the day: notes of bergamot, violet leaves, cinnamon, pimento, black tea, myrrh, tobacco leaves, white musk, and olive wood - soft and elegant.
Armani (original) - rather like Eau Sauvage: bold but not quite brash, classic, but a little dated.
YSL Nuit de L'Homme - too coumarin-y, so pass! Prefer the original L'Homme.
Hugo Boss Elements - honking hedione note, one of those vapid ozonic numbers, but not offensive.
Dior Homme Sport - completely mad ginger beer opening, but mutes down to a pleasant tingle.
Armani Code For Men - quiet woody / milky scent. Improvement on the sticky orange mess that is Code for Women!
Paul Smith Summer Man - intense lemon and lime like a really pleasant washing up liquid. Sorry, Gblue - I know you like this one!
Paco Rabanne Millionaire - peculiar sickly sweet, rather foody scent. Apparently a huge seller! I disliked it so much I didn't even keep the blotter.
Dior Dune for Men & Gucci Envy for Men - liked these quite a lot, but for the life of me cannot remember why...
: - )
The following I know I either disliked or was fairly indifferent to, but again cannot recall the specifics:
Euphoria Intense, C K In2U Heat, Armani Diamonds Summer for Men (no raspberry note, at least!), Dior Fahrenheit Absolute, Paul Smith Extreme.
Other things of interest we smelled in our sniffathon - from the women's range -included Chanel Chance Eau Tendre (Daisy-like grapefruit opening, musky iris drydown), Coco Mademoiselle Parfum (rather pretty), Chanel No 5 Parfum (No 5 on steroids) and old and new Opium (no discernable common DNA whatsoever!). There was also a new women's fragrance that smelt exactly like Jammy Dodgers, but sadly the name of that escapes me too.
And my favourite scent out of all those tested? Bvlgari Eau d'Ete - marketed as a feminine, but we both agreed it had unisex potential. Reminiscent of Jo Malone White Jasmine & Mint. Very cool and fresh. It is apparently aimed at a younger audience, but I don't think it has any obvious age connotations.
Notes: mint, Italian lemon, amber, iris, cinnamon, benzoin and fir balsam
So, that was a very enjoyable and instructive afternoon - with a bit of a blue theme, you might say, in terms of my host's screen name, and the scent highlights of the day! Yes, I would like to thank Gblue for taking the time to show me everything, and for his gift of a goody bag full of samples for me to take home.
Finally, I can't resist mentioning that on the day Gblue wore a name badge bearing the name "Nathan".
"But you're not called Nathan." I protested.
"I know, but I have to wear a badge when I am working. And mine has gone missing, but there were a couple of spares - it was either this or Wilma..."