Wednesday, 16 February 2011

More Tales From Makeupalley: My Bag (And Box!) Of Hell, And Going The Extra Vial...

The swap scene on Makeupalley has its own complex etiquette. One of my earliest posts on the subject (and there have been a few) focuses on the curious custom of enclosing a boiled sweet, and touches briefly on the subject of other freebies.

"As well as confectionery, swappers often pop in extra perfume samples - from your 'wish list' if you are very lucky, or from their 'wish-to-be-shot-of list' if you are not. Along with the sweets, some of these less aspirational samples commute regularly to and from America."

After just a few months on MUA, it is clear that I already viewed the calibre of these samples with a jaded eye, and they have continued to prey on my mind on and off ever since. Today, my collection of these "less aspirational" samples has achieved a critical mass - or an uncritical mass, more like - for their growing numbers in no way validates their existence. Rather, they have become the scent equivalent of a bloated albatross that oppresses me emotionally and occupies a disproportionate amount of space, split currently between a cardboard box and a tatty plastic bag under the bed. Out of sight, but sadly never far from my mind...

Now it goes without saying that I have tried to lose these samples by every means I could think of - I have gone through the motions of adding them to my Swap List on MUA, a laborious and largely pointless task. Seriously, who is going to be out there actively looking for a sample of FCUK perfume, anything by Joop!, or some very obscure (and to my nose, peculiar) scent like Demeter New Zealand or Index Pomegranate Anise by Fresh? I have also received quite a few vials that have leaked, evaporated or gone off, and others with labels that have run beyond recognition, or with the wrong name written on them to start with. Such errors are more likely to be due to a slip of the Dynamo than any deliberate intention to mislead, though one particular scent - a "faux-Ajne" - did give me pause for thought.

So no wonder no one wants these. Most swappers I do trades with are after decants of Roja Dove and Penhaligon's, high end Chanels and Guerlains. They like the same things I like, pretty much.

Now I know what you are thinking - those samples don't look at all bad in the photo there. Yes, but in the photo - crucially - you can't tell what they are. At that distance, a vial of Gucci Envy Me looks as niche as you like!

And you might also be thinking that I am lucky to have all those samples, and should just knuckle down and appreciate what I've got. How would it be if I was in prison, say? A more sensorily deprived environment couldn't be imagined, compounded by derisory rates of pocket money - how I might savour every last one of those vials under those very different circumstances! This is beginning to sound like my father's argument when I wouldn't clear my plate as a kid: "Think of the starving children in Biafra". It didn't work then and it isn't working now, I'm afraid - the darn things just upset me. Yes, I may be a prisoner after all, though not a grateful one. And this little lot is my chain and ball...

Yet I can't quite bring myself to throw any of these samples away, clinging to the forlorn hope that a male swapper might come along at any moment and snap up Davidoff Adventure or those posey new D & Gs. And there must be armies of Tweens out there who would bite my hand off for Black XS and that Avril Lavigne.

I have periodically tried using the Wish List search function on MUA to see if anyone out there is combing the site for these wallflower scents, but the "no matches found" message gets depressing after a while. And I also puzzle over the sheer scale of the problem and how it has come about. It may actually tip me over into reviewing my own extras policy. For the most part, I give people w/l extras in swaps where I can - one or two, say - and I may add a couple of non-w/l samples to that, which will usually be niche; these will be things I think they might like or could hopefully pass along fairly easily if not. Then if I am swapping with someone who has no w/l to speak of - or does have one, but not with anything on it that I own, such that I am a bit stumped as to what to send them - I tend to go off-piste in my choice of extras, sometimes descending into the realms of silliness, I freely concede.

The final trigger for this post was a chance inquiry by a swapper recently about a couple of non-w/l extras I had included - two different strengths of the same niche scent. She asked me in all innocence which I preferred, and I was immediately stricken with remorse, indeed I have yet to formulate a reply. For the truth is...I didn't care for either of them...that was why I was giving them away. Oh no - now I have gone and done that very thing of sending something from my "wish-to-be-shot-of-list"!

So this unwittingly rattling question has prompted a flurry of moral introspection as to the ethics of extras. If they are not from a person's wish list, should they be niche, if the swapper clearly prefers niche? And if they are niche, must you as the sender also like them? Is it okay to send things that you don't care for if you are pretty sure the swapper will love them? But hey, can you ever be sure? And are there ANY circumstances in a swap under which you can job off your niche OR designer dross that you don't think anyone in their right minds could possibly care for? Well, there must be, surely, or I wouldn't be in this position! : - ) But there again, one man's Dolce Vita is another man's Poison, so all the swappers I have ever dealt with may well have followed this unwritten code to the letter and only sent things they like - it is just that I don't happen to share their tastes completely, though we invariably coincide when it comes to the main focus of the trade.

Yet, surely the whole point behind swapping IS to match your rejects to someone else's lemmings? I'm afraid this remains an elusive ideal for me. I most commonly trade scents I already love but have spare capacity of, for other scents I like at least equally - or mostly equally. It's a slippery slope if you start agreeing to swaps for fear of causing offence, not unlike marrying someone just because they ask you to.

But I don't wish to paint too gloomy a picture, because I have refined and diversified my scent collection immeasurably thanks to MUA and the majority of thoughtful and generous swappers out there. Some of them with the most exquisite wrapping skills. Just this week I fell hard for not one but THREE scents that were extras in swaps that I would never have thought to try otherwise (of which more anon). At their best, those sorts of "random acts of kindness" on MUA are simply priceless.

No, I don't want to get things out of perspective here, for, on balance, swapping is a fun and low cost way to access a much wider range of perfumes than one otherwise might be able to, whether for reasons of cost or geography. But the bag - and the box - that I have somehow managed to acquire still haunt me. : - (

Now my 200th post is fast approaching, and I had always intended to hold a giveaway to mark that particular milestone. So what shall it be, I wonder? No, no, no, nooooo, I couldn't possibly...

Photo of bag from hell from, photo of furry bag from, photo of poultry bag from, other photos my own.


  1. Wow, this post opened my eyes to a whole aspect of the swap world that I haven't even explored yet. I generally send things I like to people I like in the hopes they'll like them too. Only once have I sent an unwanted sample to a friend, and only because she ASKED for it (she wished to see for herself whether it was as bad as all that). To balance the karma, I threw several cherished scents in w/ the dud (and if you're reading this, BF, I STILL owe you bigtime.)

    One way you could get your horror stash to shrink is to match the offending samples with fellow bloggers who are deliberately seeking something hideous to review. A bad perfume still provides good exercise for a writer... hilarity ensues! :)

  2. No you can't !!!

    I don't do swapping but will send samples if I have a fragrance I read a blogger wants to try. I have been astounded by some of the samples added to a parcel when ordering online . I can't think of the worst horrors but imagine you ordered Une Rose and they threw in the set of Harajuku samples. I have been known to scream after opening a parcel , ask Holly !

  3. I enjoyed that post very much, probably because I have a similar (large) bag in the nether regions of my closet that has no purpose other than gathering dust. But Olenska's idea to review a bad scent now and again is certainly an option. :)

  4. Hi Olenska,

    Do I take it you are not on MUA yourself, which is more of a "hard knocks school of swapping" than any private arrangements you might have entered into with fellow bloggers, say? I am intrigued...

    But your solution of offloading some of my bag of hell to someone specifically looking for scented frightwigs is ingenious!

  5. Hi Angela,

    Oh, all right then, I won't.... : - )

    Now conversely to you, I have not had the experience of receiving samples free with online purchases. Sounds like the retailers have stuff they want to get shot of too!

  6. Hi Olfactoriastravels,

    Olenska's idea is pretty nifty for sure! Alternatively, the next time my work takes me to your neck of the woods - which it does from time to time - I can bring my bag of hell over, and we can tip them both out on the floor and see if there are any of each other's samples we fancy swapping. A bit like the game with car keys at swinging parties, but only very slightly, obviously...

  7. I had an account on MUA briefly, which I used almost as a precursor to my blog, posting brief reviews & reading everyone else's. But I never once dipped my toe into the swap forum pool.... I vote you launch Bad Perfume Week throughout blogdom! For seven days, we tell perfume horror stories, then we all scrub ourselves scentless in a hot shower that lasts yet another week. :D

  8. Hi Olenska,

    Bad Perfume Week sounds like a great group project in the making! We would need to ensure that all the participants are feeling very robust when it came to the time to take the plunge. That might be tricky, come to think of it, like the Premenstrual Tension Association in a town down south somewhere that couldn't decide what day of the month to meet.

    : - )

  9. I've got That Bag, too. I bet we all have That Bag. I think some of these swap vials have more miles on them than George Clooney did in "Up In The Air." I don't swap much any more on MUA, as it seems that the quality of the offerings ain't what it used to be, but for awhile I swapped a lot, and did get some nice extras. And some that I just knew the swapper couldn't get out of her own That Bag fast enough.

  10. Olenska, you don't own me anything!!! And love the idea of "Bad Perfume Week". HAHAA, the swingers party reference - Bonks you are too funny.

    Idea - do you have a local battered woman's shelter? Perhaps they would take those samples? I understand that England deals with their homeless population much different (and better I may say) than here in the I'm not sure if the UK has domestic violence shelters

    And Angela, I would love those Harajuku samples - I have many many nieces! ;)

  11. Hi Bloody Frida!

    I expect we may well have a battered woman's shelter now you mention it. I might have to make some discreet inquiries amongst my social worker friends, as I am sure the location of these establishments is a closely guarded secret!

    Now that swingers' party reference is an instance of my true Bonks colours coming out. Katie Puckrik left a comment to that effect in the L'Air de Rien post. See what you have started, in more ways than one!

  12. Hi Olfacta,

    Hahaha! I am so heartened to hear you have That Bag, and that you believe it to be a widespread phenomenon. : - )

    LOL re the George Clooney film. As it happens Mr Bonkers has just recorded that for me, thinking it might strike a chord with me because of my own business trips.

    And it is not just the vials that have been round the block a few times... I have known several particularly sturdy boxes shuttle between continents: one I famously sent to Melbourne, that was duly sent back to me with my end of the swap in it. And I think it may have ended up in Calfornia! Or that's the last destination I know of. : - )

  13. I think Bloody Frida has made a great suggestion if you truly wish to get rid of those samples.
    My city has a women's drop-in centre in our poorest neighbourhood that hosts a regular beauty day where volunteers (hairdressers, cosmeticians, masseuses)treat the women to some truly needed pampering. They're always open to beauty and grooming supplies, especially small items the women can take with them.
    I think it's likely that there are mechanisms to donate to shelters in your area without having to know the secret location.

    -- from Lindaloo

  14. Thanks, Lindaloo, for seconding Bloody Frida's idea. I would be glad to offload some of these - the ones I consider relatively less offensive, say - keeping back a few in case we did ever stage a Bad Perfume Week. : - )

    I think I would feel bad giving anyone, even someone in straightened circumstances who might be more appreciative than most, something I feared might put them off fragrance for ever! And as ever it is a very subjective matter, so perhaps to aim off for this, the samples I donated could be positioned as a "lucky dip". That could even be the fun part?

  15. The only person who I do regular swaps with is also my evil scent twin. I usually send the things that I absolutely cannot abide, or the things that I love so much that she's just got to try. For the "sake of science" she and I are willing to try and try again to see/determine what it is about things that we either love or can't stand...

  16. Hi Geordan,

    Thanks for stopping by! An evil scent twin - or better still, an evil scent twin with an open mind and a dogged disposition - sounds like the perfect swapping partner. : - )

    For a while there I thought I had found my own EST in Qwendy from LA, but she has come over to the light side lately, and started to explore feminine florals, so the position is currently vacant!

  17. Frida my friend if only they really had been Harajuku you could have them. I was just using the worst example I could think of. I nearly suggested to vanessa that she gives them to a charity shop . I thought this over and thought just because they might be poor they don't deserve that !!! The poor battered women have suffered enough. Maybe I should pop in a few niche samples and hope the oldish lady who roams the area in odd clothes , talking to herself smells Une Rose which is better than urine ( well to most people) . I know I should be in the hills giving up washing, changing my clothes , smoking cigars and giving my worldly goods away. I am not sure the people of the South Downs would really like it .

  18. Great reading, as always.

    I passed a bag of my "overflow" samples to a friend with a 9 year old daughter. The samples were adored unreservedly and used without restraint.

  19. This was great fun to read! I loved when you said, "It's a slippery slope if you start agreeing to swaps for fear of causing offense..."
    That has happened to me, and it's an uncomfortable position to be in, especially if it's with someone you've done it with once---

    I've had okay luck with my extras, and the balance become "Things I Hate" post fodder! I love the idea of a Bad Perfume Week project! Sometimes it's fun to hate something :)

  20. Hi Angela,

    Fear not, if I can track down a local women's refuge I would give them a decent assortment of "least worst" samples, which might turn out to be even "less worse" than I think!

    And plesae don't you think of taking to the hills - or if you do, stay within reach of a wifi hotspot on the White Horse or wherever - for we would miss your zany humour!

  21. Hi mixedbabygreens,

    What an inspired idea! I have only ever given away a single vial of a violet scent to a child called Violet, and she did indeed cherish it like the Elixir of Life. I even blogged about this small triumph, before promptly forgetting all about children as a target audience! Thanks for the reminder...

  22. Hi Dee,

    That's exactly the sort of circumstances in which it is hard to refuse, yet I have steeled myself to keep saying no if there really is nothing I want, or if it would be a long distance swap for 1-2ml or something silly. And just occasionally I cave in, and those swaps where your heart isn't in it do not sit well at all.

    From now on I shall try to view any further rejects (that are too ghastly to be earmarked for the women's refuge) as blog post-fodder. The more hideous, the more kudos!

  23. Though my swapping days are still ahead (I was contemplating the idea for the past 6 months but kept postponing it out of fear that I would not have anything anybody wanted), I really enjoyed reading your story. I liked the idea of giving those samples away to a women center. Now it would be great if anybody could suggest what to do with those unwanted men samples - I have my share of those and I cannot just through them away :(

  24. Coming (very) late to this party, and not being part of the swap community, I say we round up the horrors and do a group Bad Perfumes Week - reviewing all the whiffs unfit to waft! Because Olenska is right - hilarity will ensue! Can you imagine? As for those unloved and unwanted masculines, we could do a "He-Man Horrors" section - guaranteed celibacy or Your Money Back! Or something..;-)

    I don't have any swap samples, but I hesitate to tell you what my local perfume store has thrown my way, especially since they found out I was a perfume blogger. Oh. Deah.

    This post made my (very crappy and hellish busy) week! Thank you!

  25. Hi Undina,

    Thanks for your commment! And I have exactly the same problem as you do with men's samples. It occurred to me that I would have to be careful to take any masculine scents out before giving a package to the women's refuge. Those could be painful reminders!

  26. Hi Tarleisio,

    Am glad this post - nothwithstanding its talk of horrid 'fumes we want to be rid of - managed to brighten your week. The "He-Man Horrors" idea is excellent. I think a group Bad Perfumes Week is definitely on the cards some time.

  27. Ah, this reminds me of the swapping days on MUA. You are right, one can try a vast number of fragrances this way! The generosity of MUA ladies that I've encountered has never failed to amaze me.

  28. Hi Victoria,

    The pluses definitely outweigh the minuses, and I would recommend swapping to anyone.

    But the minuses remain, and as with bad news in the papers, they make better copy... : - )

  29. Bad perfume week sounds great!

    I had much luck as a perfume novice to swap with experts (@Vanessa) and even more luck to find true love by chance.
    In germany you do not get a lot of samples. I refuse to take the mainstream stuff, and in perfume stores they do not serve you with vials. Get a paper and buy or get out.

    Sigh. Somehow I hopped you have this hell bag.

  30. Hallo Andreea!

    You were never a perfume novice in the time I have known you! : - )

    There is half a bag of hell left and I can happily put your name on it. I may well be over in Germany again soon and able to deliver it in person...

  31. I love the fist bag, it looks very cool, nice post here. Thanks for sharing.