Monday, 7 March 2016

'No-Name' perfumes - aka Fifty Ways to Lose Your Label

Truffle the kitten inspired this post - not by batting around a Christmas rosette and a milk jigger** purloined from a hotel, as the photo at the end might suggest, but unfortunately the item she was batting around which did inspire this post appears to have gone awol, presumed hidden under a wardrobe or chest of drawers. Yes, the item I would have photographed if I could have found it is a Dymo label bent in two, which Truffle managed to fetch off the spine of an old report the other day - or maybe it fell off without too much coaxing as the report dates from 1989. So now I cannot easily identify it at a glance, though at least with something like that I only have to look inside to remind myself what it is.

The same cannot be said of a perfume vial or decant without a name, and I seem to have been accumulating more and more of these lately. So I had the idea to make a list of all the ways in which labels can be absent and tease your nose into futile games of guesswork...(Um, I may have been exaggerating when I said 'fifty', but will plead the blogger's prerogative of poetic licence.)

Wandering Les Senteurs samples

Every perfumista worth their salt - or the ones in the UK certainly - will have a clutch of these distinctive petrol blue carded samples stashed away somewhere. I don't know if Les Senteurs still do a paid sampling service, but when I was starting out in the hobby it was a very handy way of getting access to lots of high end perfumes. Also, if you ever made a purchase, the store was generous on the 'samples with purchase' front. But the vials themselves were not labelled, the name being handwritten on the card to which they were attached.

And after years jostling cheek by jowl in tightly stuffed bags and boxes, you can be sure that some of your Les Senteurs vials will eventually detach themselves from their cards and go awol. And while I know that all you need to do to identify which is which, is to lay out all the cards and all the vials that have become separated, sniff them systematically one by one, and match each vial to its original card - assuming there weren't too many to choose from in the first place. However, I am nowhere near that organised, and my vial-less Les Senteurs cards are dispersed far and wide, and would take some marrying up, lost sock-style. And at least with a sock, you know it is a sock - there are far fewer variables involved in correctly reuniting them with their siblings.

Houdini wannabe PLL samples

One of my favourite disparaging sayings to denote a person's incompetence is to say that they 'couldn't fight their way out of a paper bag'. This put-down could never be levelled at the small atomiser samples you are offered at Perfume Lovers London events, which have elevated bag escapology into a competitive sport. For anyone not familiar with the drill, at the end of the night, you make your selection of a perfume you'd like to try, and organiser Lila das Gupta makes your sample on the spot and pops it in a brown paper bag, on which she writes the name of the scent. Now I don't have nearly as many escapee PLL samples as I do Les Senteurs ones - and this despite the fact that the Les Senteurs vials are notionally attached to the card where the plastic clip on the stopper slots into a hole - yet I am still blowed if I can tell which PLL sample is Coromandel from this small selection!

The 1ml vial and baggie conundrum

As it happens, I have been to the museum of extreme miniature things in Mijas, Spain (that's not its official name), where someone has written the whole of the Book of Deuteronomy on a grain of rice - you know the kind of thing. However, for most of us it is already a not inconsiderable challenge to be able to fit a wraparound label on a 1ml vial - hence the common practice amongst swappers of affixing a label on the little plastic bag instead. Only woe betide the owner who forgets to put the vial back in its correct bag...

An even sloppier variant of this (which may be unique to yours truly) is where you cannot even be bothered to write a proper label, stuffing a torn off bit of Post-It note inside the bag instead. In the photo below, I am astonished that this 'label' has stayed in the bag ever since 2012...assuming that sample really is Coco Noir, that is.

Age-related label loss

A classic fail is where over time the adhesive paper label simply works its way loose. I have even known the stick-on polythene ones on old Perfumed Court vials to peel off eventually, or at least develop a prominent side flange (photo on request).

Leak-related label smudging

How often have you received a swap, and after profusely thanking the sender for the package, politely pointed out that you are not quite sure what x and y vials are owing to the small matter of the ink having completely unforeseeably run on the labels, which are now but an elusive smear of their former selves.

Cryptic or overly abbreviated labelling

I am majorly guilty of this, a habit usually prompted by space saving reasons and/or mere laziness. 'Dahlia N' is a poor example of the genre, but you get my drift.

Hubris-related: 'Oh, I will remember what that one is'

One step beyond this in the complacency stakes is the conscious decision not to name a vial - or more often a decant - because you will be sure to remember what it is! Perhaps because you think the juice is a distinctive colour or the bottle a memorable design. Or because the scent itself is so unmistakable. Well, you might remember on that day perhaps, but three months - or even weeks - down the line may be a different matter...

4160 Tuesdays The Lion Cupboard - saved by the diamond facets and brown colour!

Swappers only sending you one thing

I am pretty sure I have sent people larger decants without a label, on the basis that I am only sending them one thing, a thing that they are expecting, no less. As in the example above, my omission to add a label is again fuelled by laziness coupled with a belief in the ability of the other party to recognise the scent. In this case, however, there may be additional aesthetic reasons at work. Given that I have yet to go high tech with my labelling, I feel my handwritten ones detract from the look of a larger decant, especially if it is a gift. But I am of course simply storing up identification problems for the recipient - and putting the onus on them to sort out a label themselves on receipt!

Taking part in blind sniffing challenges

Now I have done this a few times - in an exercise for Undina (exactly four years ago!) and also for Ronny of Scent and Sensibility. In such cases the vial must of necessity remain nameless, but me being me I never remember to stick one on after the big reveal...;)

It's the blue one! (I can always look it up...)

So tell me, have I thought of all the ways in which vials become unidentifiable? 

To which of them can you most relate, or have you got all your samples well and truly taped?

Two of Truffle's trophies

**Trust me, this is a technical term, or was in 1984 when I briefly managed catering products at St Ivel.


Undina said...

Out of all described circumstances I have experienced "Leak-related label smudging" and a variation on "I will remember what that one is" while making myself samples at Nordstrom: they have empty plastic vials and allow customers to make their own samples but do not give anything to label those. So whenever I make several samples at once I try to put them in different places in my purse - and then label them at home. More than once I would forget those vials by the time I got home and then days later would wonder which one was which. And since I weren't even familiar with those perfumes that I made samples from, there was no way to figure out what I had there. I didn't want to test unknown perfumes - so I threw them away.

Unknown said...

Wow, Victoria Lee likes your blog, but doesn't even bother to read it.

I am guilty of most of those label losing ways, and can add the "Cutting off the enormo labels from Bloom" to the list. The nice people of Bloom have a sample service like all other perfume shops, but their labels are gigantic, because they are printed with an entire note list. I usually either wrap them around the vial and tape them, or cut them off. In each case information will ve lost, often the vital bit: the name.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

That's a great example about making instore samples, which I had forgotten. In my case it would be a slight variant again in that I will have brought my own vial and asked the SA whether that would be okay. Occasionally at airports where the relevant sales assistants are often hard to find, and to save time, I have been known to surreptitiously make myself a little sample anyway. But only 0.5ml or so. In one case - Gucci Bambo - I later wrote a cryptic label that fell off. ;) The vial also leaked, so that was the end of that, though I did remember what it was in that case. :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Sabine,

Victoria Lee is out of here!

Those Bloom labels, yes indeed, very good point. When I was looking for vials to illustrate the various categories, I found a few from Bloom with big wraparound labels - one or two hanging by a thread. They reminded me of that 'flange effect' you can get with the Perspex labels from The Perfumed Court some years later. So maybe the labels would eventually have freed themselves of their own accord even if you had not been sufficiently bothered by their vastness to have taken pre-emptive action in the first place. Then I have been known to cut off the labels from clothes that have been way too long and flappy (the labels!), only to regret it later because I am now unsure about the washing instructions.

Ines said...

Oh, I have some of those escapees from their cards. Then I also have some decants (I decanted for myself to have after letting go of some perfuems) that I purposely didn't name because I thought I would always remember or be able to recognize them.
Unfortunately, my brain is not that good... :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Ines,

Glad to hear I am not the only one to have mental blocks about what things are - making decants for oneself is another good example. :)

Tara said...

Great post which resonated a lot with me, V. I have samples that have managed to bust out of the front of those PLL envelopes. I am also guilty of the hubris of thinking I will remember what is in an unlabelled vial.

As for abbreviations, I found a decant on the weekend with the letter G written on it in black felt-tip pen which I reckon is from Val. I'll have to ask her if she has any recollection.

Oh and I loved this line about the leaky vials - "now but an elusive smear of their former selves".

Tara said...

P.S. If you need a sample/decant of Coromandel just say!

Asali said...

I need to add the one sample which for reasons unknown has no label and you have now fallen in love with its contents :-(
Otherwise, I'm guilty of all of the above in some some or other. Sometimes, I decant the larger manufacturers dab vials into spray atomisers, and obviously don't label them, ahem...

Asali said...

Oh yes and for cryptically named vials, how's Autumn tube? It turned out to be Tuberose d'autunno from I Profumi di Firenze... Even my Sherlock tuned brain, had to give up on that one ;-)

crikey said...

yes, yes, yes. many of these, including one small variant: lightly tormented by a cat so soggy and shredded.

Also: foolishly storing a handful of current samples in the glass jar of a finished candle. Without cleaning out every last scrap of old wax. And the labels going smeary-like-a-leak AND translucent.

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

Am pleased so many of my mishap scenarios struck a chord with you - I feel better the more that people can relate! The example of a decant from Val with G on it made me smile. Val being quite select in her taste might narrow the field of contenders, at least.

I would love a sample of Coromandel sometime to use as a control and help me reallocate these PLL atomisers to their (rather tatty!) envelopes. But no rush on that as you have only just sent me a parcel. ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi Asali,

Ooh, that is a painful situation to be in - not sure it has happened to me, but I can feel for you.

Yes to the decanting from a dab vial to a spray atomiser. I also sometimes consolidate several small spray or dab vials into a larger decant, then fail to label that, even though the manufacturers' ones were nicely identifiable, obviously. ;)

Vanessa said...

Autumn Tube is priceless! Glad you figured out what it was in the end... ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi Crikey,

The introduction of wax into the label-smearing equation adds a novel twist!

Truffle did bat some of these vials around as I was preparing this post, but no major damage was inflicted. I am missing a 'Freddie vial' though that had something I considered so powerful and unique I never bothered to label it. Several years ago. Not even Freddie would remember, I don't suppose, as it was his perfume. Though maybe he would!

odiferess said...

Hi Vanessa,
Sorry I haven't been around for a while, my house purchase hoo haa has relegated perfume joy somewhat!

Regarding labelling, in some parts of the world will be vials labelled Coromandel Facial Toner etc which is my way of attempting to fool customs. It appears to have worked thus far.

I too have a little stash of label free unknowns, my favourite smells 'a bit bergamotty'. I've given up trying to work out what it is!

Anonymous said...

Hiya Bonks!

Curious as to what the gibbing flump a "milk jigger" is, I looked it up. It's one of those titchy one-dose portions of UHT milk! Do you know why it was named "jigger"? (One portion doesn't provide as much milk as a standard jigger measure so I can't fathom the thinking.)
To veer back to the proper topic, I try very hard to keep everything labelled properly because there's nothing as infuriating as finding a scent you like only to learn that you can't identify it. The thought of labels wandering gives me the heebie-jeebies!

Anna in Edinburgh

Pats said...

Hi Vanessa, Like you i also did some 'blind sniffing' for Ronny from Scent & Sensibility back in the day and was left with a few which i thought i would remember the name of. Nope - i had to go back over my posts to her and see if i could marry them up - i did manage to figure it out in the end. Apart from that, i think i can ID all my other samples - thank goodness!

Thinkingmagpie said...

I certainly have experienced all of the above except for the blind sniffing. Just yesterday, I finally found out one of the no-label vials was Anubis. I still have a few vials separated from the card, I haven't got a clue how to go about finding out the identity. This can go under your age-related-label-loss entry; I have 2 official samples, perhaps from 80s or 90s, and the gold letters printed on the glass vials have been more or less scratched off and became unidentifiable. I picked them up in a jumble sale so I feel their IDs are forever lost.

Vanessa said...

Hi Odiferess,

Don't worry - I know you have been busy with the house, and what great news!

Love the story about your vial that smells 'a bit bergamotty'. Reason enough to keep it, I'd say!

Vanessa said...

Hi Anna,

Good detective work on the jiggery pokery! I have no idea why it is called that but in my first week at St Ivel, I was inducted into the lingo pertaining to catering portions by the manager of a cash and carry in Batley, and have been using the term every since!

I am impressed at your high degree of organisation on the label front. I really could do with taking a leaf out of your book!

Vanessa said...

Hi Pats,

Oh, what fun to hear you also did some blind sniffing for Ronny. ;) I am past knowing which are the samples I was sniffing in those mystery exercises, so am unable to work out which they are by elimination. If I had kept them separate it wouldn't have been too hard, I agree! Glad you have no other anonymous samples - it really is a curse, haha.

Vanessa said...

Hi Yukiko,

Oh, I do feel better for knowing that you have had a bunch of similar labelling malfunctions, and am pleased you managed to ID the Anubis sample! How exactly did you do that, given your difficulties generally with nameless vials?

Sorry about your illegible vintage samples - can you still enjoy them? It definitely takes the edge off my sniffing enjoyment if I don't know what a sample is.

Blacknall Allen said...

You were quite comprehensive, but I'll add the, "Oh it's going to be such a boring trip I'll just decant a bunch of things into 1mls vials! No, I won't have to label them, because they're so distinctive who could forget what they are?" Six months later, take a handbag out of storage and wonder, wonder, wonder what is rolling about in the cell phone side zip?

Vanessa said...

Hi Blacknall,

Oh, I did include that scenario - the 'hubris-related' one illustrated by The Lion Cupboard, except I did remember that. ;) Bears repetition though, as it occurs with annoying frequency!

Sun Fontaine said...

Teeheehee, I've definitely made samples (for others) and just threw a slip of paper in the bag... All of my sticky labels got stained by something (??) in the move, and quite frankly I'm lazy. :)

But I've spent many a moment googling the ends of perfume names because the rest of the name has been lost to smearage.

Ah, what a fun post Vanessa!

Vanessa said...

Hi Sun Mi,

Good to hear you are less than ultra methodical in your labelling habits - I have felt heartened by all these stories! Good for you for doing that googling - I don't think I have been that persistent in my quest to find the missing names. ;)