These days I am more likely to be greeted with a blank look when I inquire about the availability of a sample, or the news that: 'We had some right after (insert name of perfume) came out, but they are all gone now'. Boots - that stalwart of the designer perfume retailing scene - stopped stocking samples some time ago. Whether this can be correlated with Nick Gilbert's departure to pastures new and more deserving I cannot say... ;-) And when I popped into a large M & S in Preston last March, keen to try the new line created for the store chain by Lyn Harris, they only had a 'scratch and sniff' card for one of the three female scents, and none for the men's range. The staff there couldn't have been more helpful, however, hastily fashioning decanting receptacles for me out of tester pots for face cream which they sealed with sticky tape.
Then in Paris in June, the Frédéric Malle stand in Printemps had no samples of Denise Van Outen (sorry - Dries Van Noten) - had never had them I think - but didn't bat an eyelid when I asked to make my own using one of my snap-on ink pots Freddie of Smellythoughts got me into. Ormonde Jayne once made me up a sample of Tiare after I sent them my own vial in an SAE, ditto Fortnum & Mason's when I was after ones of the Comtessa di Castiglione scent I spied in Sidmouth this summer. Actually that isn't strictly true - they mislaid my envelope with the empty vials in it and decanted a bit into two screw top Dior pots that may also have been destined for make up samples by the looks of them.
|Manufacturers' carded samples - an endangered species?|
Which reminds me that Dior - in Selfridges, and possibly generally - have now stopped giving out those generous 4ml pots of their Privée range that a certain perfumista friend of mine used to routinely snaffle for me every time she was passing... ;-) And the Chanel Exclusifs 5ml ones are of course as rare as hens' teeth. You would probably have to queue up the night before the launch with a sleeping bag to score one of those coveted 5ml bottles now. I missed the 1932 mini in Glasgow, for example, which was gone in a blink of an eye apparently. And don't get me started on Le Labo - let's just say that when I think of them in this particular connection, the words 'blood' and 'stone' spring to mind...;-)
So you get the picture...a general backing off from the provision of samples for in-home trial, a general fobbing off with bits of card - sometimes enormous oversized square bits of card! Or ribbon, or some other scrap of silky cloth if you are lucky, which in fairness do retain the scent quite well, though it is not the same thing at all as being able to apply it on skin. Or we are invited to sniff scrumpled bits of tissue squashed into votive glasses, or stick our noses down metal trumpets, or inside perspex tuboid things - it's all rather strange...And on the basis of this we are meant to know if we wish to spring for a full bottle or not.
But....at the other end of the scale there are still some houses which are generous - perhaps too generous - with their samples. Take Hermès, for example, who give out 4ml samples in long glass-stoppered vials slipped into those distinctive orange card cases. Hermès has to be the most forthcoming with samples of all the luxury brands I know, and I am borderline ashamed of the times I have sauntered in (invariably wearing my good, sample scoring coat or its summer frock equivalent, depending on the season), spun some line about a friend / husband / relative with an upcoming birthday / wedding / anniversary, and walked out with not one but two of the 4ml vials. For two fit better into the card case than one - one just rattles around, quite frankly - so the SA usually cracks and sticks two in there, one for me and one for my imaginary friend. In my defence, I have genuinely given away a number of the Hermès samples I have procured using various ruses - my old English teacher did wear Vetiver Tonka at her wedding (er...the sample, not a full bottle) - but I cannot pretend not to have squirrelled away a few vials for my own nefarious use. Though some of the ones pictured above were gifts to me by friends and relations on similar morally questionable foraging missions.
|How 'grand' is my Grand Bal sample?!|
Then there was my super tall grande(!) Dior sample of Grand Bal, which should have been a gift with purchase, but which the SA in a branch of Dior in Paris gave me for no good reason at all, other than that I complimented her on her Swarovski crystal-encrusted lips. And this despite the apparent clamp down on even the 4ml Dior pots. Then in Germany once, in a small niche perfumery in Wasserburg, the assistant showered me with a fistful of carded samples, plus a large mini of Micallef Hiver, and that was just for shooting the breeze with her. So there are still some great instances of unprovoked generosity, which as I say remains positively systemic within Hermès. ;-)
|Micallef mini bag - you'll have to imagine the bottle!|
But the problem with large samples is that you may never need to buy a bottle, for if you have a few of those 4ml-ers away they will quickly accumulate to nearly 15ml, the size many perfumistas agree is the ideal for a 'full bottle'. I have just bought a bottle of En Voyage Perfumes' Zelda, for example, which is of that order I think. So Hermès may be shooting themselves in the foot there, and Dior too, though they seem to have caught themselves on now pretty much.
So I would be interested to hear about your experiences in terms of sample scoring...specifically:
Are manufacturers' samples becoming more scarce generally?
Is a 4ml sample too generous for the brand's own good?
Are you also a wee bit sheepish about your own sample scoring forays?