Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Perfume decanting supplies - the UK perspective revisited

Every perfumista reaches a point when they wish to share their collection with a fellow fumehead. This may be in the form of a so-called 'care package' or a swap - whether private or via the lively swap board on Makeupalley.  I have racked up some 75+ swaps on MUA, and have sent perfume as a gift (I narrowly stopped myself there from saying 'I have gifted'!) to many of my friends, both corporeal and virtual.  To this end, I have bought and rebought decanting supplies (atomisers and small stoppered vials mostly) many times over the past five years.  In a recent post on Bois de Jasmin, Victoria takes an in-depth look at the whole business of decanting.  I gazed in awe and wonder at the photographs of her spraying 'commando' (ie straight from the nozzle, without the safety net of a funnel) into a perfectly behaved receptacle.

She also canvassed opinions about the best place to buy decanting tackle in different parts of the world.  Undina of Undina's Looking Glass has also compiled a very useful post on this subject, which Victoria referenced in her feature.  Undina's top choice is BestBottles, which has a superb selection of atomisers at very reasonable unit costs.  BestBottles is appreciably cheaper than Accessories for Fragrance, also based in the USA, with a pretty good range and ultra-friendly service.

But here's the thing - last night I had a jolly good trawl of the top perfume bottle websites and UK Ebay.  I placed dummy orders on both BestBottles and SKS Bottle & Packaging, another site that was mentioned in Victoria's post.  Hey, they would have been actual orders, were it not for the fact that the shipping in both cases - for a $50 minimum order approximately - topped out at $148 via UPS!!!  And there did not seem to be any other postal option.

Accessories for Fragrance, meanwhile, has international shipping costs that are vastly more proportionate, albeit its unit product costs are a lot higher.  So I ended up buying a large quantity of plastic atomisers from them in a selection of sizes - I really can't afford more than the occasional purchase of the glass ones on there (beyond the 1ml stoppered vial kind, that is) - and my shipping total was something like $22, ie much more in the ballpark.

I had never investigated the BestBottles site before, though I recognised many, many of the glass atomisers pictured!, which American swappers have sent to me over the years.

For a small-scale decanter like me, the only other overseas site I clocked with reasonable prices and decent international delivery rates - as in included in the price! - is Proud Style, which also gets a name check in Victoria's post, and which (sadly) I only explored after I had placed my Accessories for Fragrance order...however, I may venture there next time.

It is a while since I last looked on UK Ebay, which is a near total desert where cost-effective glass or plastic atomisers in the 2 - 5ml range are concerned.  Where it does score is in knock-off Travalos, ie refillable atomisers of the Travalo style but very much cheaper.  I even saw one seller called Max Trading offering them at £1.99!, compared to a normal retail of about £8 for the branded version.

Source: Ebay

Ebay also sells a lot of those burnished metal purse spray atomisers - some quite cheaply - but having had a bad experience with a seller in the Far East (where many of the cheaper ones hail from), I would be a bit wary again, tempting as their candy colours may be.

Lovely but leaky!

Ebay is also good for these odd little graduated snap top vials to which Freddie of Smellythoughts introduced me.  They hold about 1.5ml or so, and though the lid is very secure when snapped shut, and they are easy as anything to fill commando, I do get splashback issues with them ie as the vial fills up - the impact of perfume hitting what is already in there causes the next squirt to ricochet out again.  So unless my technique is totally to cock, I'd say these are only good in practice for a 1ml fill level at most.

So my assessment today would be: if I was an American I would use BestBottles in a heartbeat.  As a UK-based decanter, I will try Proud Style next time, with Accessories for Fragrance as an expensive but faithful fallback - for plastic anyway, and for 1ml glass vials, which don't strike me as being all that expensive from them for a big bag.  And then Ebay comes into its own for one-off fancier items such as Travalo-type atomisers.

Now I know there is a general preference for glass over plastic in the perfume community - partly for reasons of longevity, and partly on aesthetic grounds - but whilst I have had a few plastic atomisers turn in the past four years or so, it has only been the odd one.  To be honest, I much prefer the look and feel of glass myself and would only ever use glass for decants of 8 or 10ml, say, because it is a much nicer way to present a larger decant, but up till now I hadn't figured out anywhere cost-effective to buy glass atomisers in any quantity (as in 12, for example!).

1ml glass vials with plastic stoppers (somewhere in this bag!)

I mention this fact about my plastic decants not going off because I have got...ahem...about 100 of the things on their way to me as I blog!, so anyone receiving a small decant from me between now and the foreseeable, is likely to cop for one or two of this less desirable variety... ;-) ;-)


Tara said...

Thanks for sharing us this research with the rest of us, V. I was hoping you'd report there was now a UK seller but that would be too much to ask for!

I have bought from Proud Style in the past without any problems. I thought they were Hong Kong.

I have been buying from Ebay recently which probably isn't cost effective but less hassle for just a handful.

I'll be more than happy to receive a plastic vial decant from you at any point in the future :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

Thanks for the info on Proud Style's location - I have amended my post accordingly from 'US' to 'overseas'. ;-) And I am encouraged to hear that you have bought successfully from them, and will definitely give the company a whirl next time I am stocking up.

Yes, I will migrate to glass one day, but it is good to know that you don't mind plastic. They're not pretty, but they are quite robust and easy to fill. The ones I have had real issues with on the glass side were those 2.5ml vials with the snap on tops. That was such a tricky knack to master I was even moved to devote a whole post to it, and how I ended up taking a geode to the blessed things!

Undina said...

I find it surprising that there are no local (well, at least European) distributors of those bottles. But I think that by the time you're done with your plastic supplies (or, maybe, after one more order) somebody will open that business closer to you.

In addition to the drawbacks of plastic atomizers that you've mentioned, I want to add 1) at least with some of them I noticed the problem of evaporation through the spraying mechanism - it's wider than in glass ones; 2) they are unscrewed easier in transit so you need to fasten tops with electrical tape/parafilm.

And the last point (I keep going around and repeating this suggestion :)): if you use disposable gloves while spraying you'll save your manicure (if you have one) and it's much easier to wash the scent off (at least partially) from the gloves than from your skin in between making samples of different perfumes.

leathermountain said...

Commenting on Accessories for Fragrance, from the US: a big plus is that they include appropriately-sized ziploc-type baggies for all the glass vials I ordered, plus a bunch of labels. (I don't know about plastic.) An enormous minus is that my order contained a notable percentage of vials whose tops don't seal properly. Yikes.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

I am baffled by the dearth of European stockists - and even toyed with the idea of setting up in business myself! - but quickly thought better of it, as I wouldn't know where to begin... ;-)

I do hope someone starts up by the time my large stocks of plastic bottles are exhausted! I did notice a competitor in the UK to Surrender to Chance had popped up, rather amusingly named 'Decantica'. Actually they are not a competitor at all really, because they only seem to stock a small range of designer stuff, but there probably is a market for someone else in Europe as well as First in Fragrance/Aus Liebe der Duft.

I take the point about plastic atomisers unscrewing more easily - I have had quite a few glass atomisers evaporate as well as plastic so I can't say I have noticed a particular proclivity of plastic in that regard. ;-)

The gloves is a good point though I don't have nice nails, personally. That does sound a clever way to prevent being drenched in Eau de Decant, mind.

Vanessa said...

Hi leathermountain,

That is very true about the ziploc bags - I received loads of little ones with my last order of 1ml glass vials. The labels are also handy, and they even popped in an extra sheet once when I asked them nicely! I like all the friendly smiley faces and stickers too. ;-)

I wonder if the vials that didn't seal properly for you are the same ones that I once bought from them that also didn't snap shut - these were the smallest size of atomiser - 2m or so at a guess. I think the bottoms were glass and the sprayer mechanism plastic but I couldn't get the darn things to go on properly, and ended up throwing the whole lot away! And as the post to which I linked above demonstrates, I have become a bit of a pro at putting these things together. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I've bought glass vials from Ampulla because they are in the UK, and they have aluminium, glass and plastic bottles (and pots for your cosmetics, V!) and caps and sprays and droppers etc galore.

You'd need to figure out what combinations you wanted, of course, but that might be half the fun:-)

It's £3.75 p+p for parcels up to 1kg in weight, since I suspect they might not get many non-business orders, but they were quick and hassle-free when I ordered.

cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh

Vanessa said...

Hi Anna,

That is a massive site, wow! Finding it a bit tricky to locate small vials and spray mechanisms that would be compatible - there are obviously a lot of categories of jars and pots on there. My friend Clare might find the pickling ones of interest! I saw a 2ml 'specimen' vial with stopper - is that the sort of thing you mean at the small end? I am interested in up to 8ml, say? Would the sprayer work with any of them? I guess I might ring them up to be sure of anything I was considering buying being a match. That is the beauty of the likes of the decant specialists, I suppose, though even there both leathermountain and I had issues with vials not being fit for purpose. :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi V,

Yes, I bought their glass vials with black screw-top lids. They might sort out options for you if you email them and say what you'd like.

Good luck!

cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh

Vanessa said...

Hi Anna,

Thanks for that. It is spray atomisers I am always after, but Ampulla may well be able to advise on a mixing and matching approach of its various bits and bobs. Well worth a phone call, certainly! :-)

leathermountain said...

Hi Vanessa,
Yes, those 2mL atomizers are difficult. My wife can snap them together in dishwashing gloves. Lots of perfume lost in the process. I can't get them together at all. But at least they warned us that these "require significant force" to put together, or something like that. The major disappointment was some of the tall skinny vials for 1 or 1.5 mL. Some of the caps go in just fine, too easily, in fact, and come right back out whether you want them to or not. That is not cool.

Vanessa said...

Hi leathermountain,

Rubber gloves - ha! That is an interesting idea and would give extra purchase I imagine. There is definitely a particular knack to this whole thing, one which I keep managing to lose...;-)

Either that, or maybe the quality of the vials actually varies within the same batch - I swear I am doing the same action each time, yet sometimes the blessed things come quietly and sometimes quite the opposite! And yes, lots of perfume lost in the process...

I haven't experienced the particular problem you mentioned with the tall skinny vials, but something tells me it is just a question of time!

Natalie said...

I think some friendly US bloggers (like me!) could send European bloggers supplies if something is needed that's too expensive to ship. There's absolutely no way that shipping needs to be that expensive. That's highway robbery!

Now if only I could outsource my decanting, I'd be in heaven.

Vanessa said...

Hi Natalie,

D'you know, that very thought occurred to me too. After all, US blogo-pals have acted as perfume mules for me in the past, so why not for decanting supplies? With purchases of perfume it is all about availability and shipping costs, while in the case of decanting supplies there are substantial savings to be made on the product itself...