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 punkdimage.com, photo of furry bag from thefashionpolice.net, photo of poultry bag from retailhellunderground.com, other photos my own.