January 15, 2017
Diana Ross, Photo: Richard Avedon, 1970
What Fun! My latest order of perfume samples has arrived. So many 1ml vials – but no worries. I'm a pro. I've dealt with countless little tubes like these and have perfected my wiggle/pry technique. I can open just about any vial and rarely spill the contents. But, even with my experience, there are times when I can't get the damned stoppers off and in despair simply throw piles of discarded vials into the "sample sea".
I can see for vials and vials (Photo; Gail Gross)
Sadly about three percent of the thousands I've opened over the years have splattered all over the place. I've twisted my fingers, the tubes have cracked open and cut my hands, I've broken nails. And how is it that the samples I can't open manage to leak in transit? These days, when the little packages arrive, my family is prepared for the vile expletives that fill our home with local color. They know that opening perfume samples drives me into "wrap rage", the same anger I experience when dealing with clamshell packaging. Even though the "kids" stay clear of the action, I've had numerous complaints and requests to shut-up and stop the verbal violence.
Perfume Sample vials (Gail)
Stop the violence? Yes, and stop the VIAL-ence as well! That's easy to say, but hard to put into practice. 1 ml vials are often the only option provided to sample a fragrance. The more I think about vials the angrier I get. Not only do they spill, crack, and injure they also hold a miniscule amount of fragrance (.7 ml if you're lucky), so little that it is often difficult to form an opinion from a single sample. Also I have yet to figure out, aside from decanting, a useful repurpose for the empties. Then there is the controversial issue of "Dab versus Spray"!
More Perfume sample vials EDPS and EDTs
Many of the samples we receive in vials should NOT be dabbed. The EdCs, EdTs, and to some extent the EdPs are more accurately evaluated via a spray or a very lavish splash. These concentrations are best appreciated "air-born". As the perfumer's alcohol wafts through the air it releases notes and nuances, smells that are hard to detect when just a tiny dab of fragrance is applied to the skin. Like wine, the higher the alcohol content the more the fragrance needs and deserves to breathe! Dabbing actually does violence to some of these volatile beauties! Don't get me wrong, "dabs", and their related "smears" and "rolls", have their place in testing and are the preferred modes of application for many pure perfumes, extraits, essential oils, CPOs and other concentrated formulas. Sometimes I wonder how many samples I've relegated to the "Meh" bin just because I had not applied them properly.
That being said, I suppose I shouldn't complain and simply be grateful that I receive any samples at all – even if I have to pay for them! Too many companies today won't go to the trouble and expense of creating samples for anyone. They expect that their ad campaigns, websites, scented magazine strips, blogs and vlogs will be enough to generate all the blind buys they need. Some of the more prestigious houses imagine that their customers in the hinterlands will be willing and able to make the pilgrimage to the brick and mortar flagship stores just to experience (and hopefully purchase) quality perfumes in atmospheres of luxury and glamorous excess. One of the reasons I own so many indie fragrances is that many of these small companies do the majority of their business online and know how important it is to provide samples. They are usually savvy enough to package their samples in small sprayers as well as in roll-ons and vials, giving customers a choice of application resulting in a better understanding of the perfumers' wares.
Perfume sample "Nips" (Gail)
To be fair, perfume sampling has evolved over the years. Today's vials are, I my opinion, a vast improvement over their predecessors – the perfume nips. From the 1920s through the 1950s a variety of businesses used perfume nips not only for sampling but for targeted advertising and corporate gift giving as well. The nips – closed, sealed, pointy glass tubes – held even less product than today's 1 ml vials. To release a single application of fragrance, the ends of the nips were broken or nipped off.
I may be a bit of a Pangloss, but I'm convinced that someday someone will come up with a better, low cost, user friendly sampling system (no "smell phones" please) and that all of us will understand when best to dab or spray. I am aware that perfume vials are far from the biggest problem we face on the planet, but I'm hoping that, in this best of all possible worlds, the same stingy companies who now lure customers to blind buys will themselves evolve – after all, corporations are people too! I am looking forward to the day when these big players will learn to share the love, even if it means a lower profit margin, and provide much needed fragrance samples, in vials, roll-ons and sprayers, to perfumistas everywhere – for free – including shipping!
What is your take on sample vials? Would you rather all EDP and alchohol based fragrance samples be sold as sprayers. Have you experienced perfume Vial-ence? Do you dab or do you spray? Do you blind buy for lack of samples? Perfumers, if you are reading this, what's your point of view? Readers, let's talk about it!
Gail Gross – Sr. Contributor
Editor's Note: Happy birthday to Gail and to Elise Pearlstine; fabulous Capricorn women