In 2008, C
Mr. Burr is entertaining and witty, and one of my favorite fragrance writers and these honest statements are always met with a round of applause.
Meet my friend-in-fragrance from across the pond, Nick Gilbert. who earns his living selling fragrance 8 hours a day. He has a lot in common with Mr. Burr, both smell hundreds of fragrances a week, That is the good news. The bad news is that Nick earns his entire living by selling mainstream fragrances and unlike Mr. Burr, he must keep his feelings to himself; a witty comment or snarky remark would get him fired.
Now,with so many American epartment and specialty stores moving towards a vendor supported fragrance counter, I beliieve you will understand why salespeople like Nick are invaluable to our industry. How else can we get an unbiased opinion? Who will help consumers with hands on education?
Nick please introduce yourself and chronicle a day in your life? What is your pet peeve?
NG: I work as a Perfume salesperson in a British Chemist chain. We mostly stock designer fare – certainly no niche lines. Our customers simply wouldn't buy them.
I'm not like most SA's. I love perfume. I'm obsessed – I find it fascinating. I spent most of the last year researching the subject through books and blogs. So I'm not “one of them”, who hordes the samples or knows nothing about fragrance. I'm just as passionate as you are and happy to share my knowledge or let people get on with sniffing.
Today I saw something absurd:
– 9 sprays of Armani Code – syrupy/honeyed orange blossom
– 4 sprays of YSL Opium – spicy carnation
– 17 (yes, 17) sprays of Dior Addict Shine – sparkling grapefruit & gardenia
All of which were sprayed onto the same spot on the wrist of a “just browsing, thank you!” female customer. The combination was a strange plasticky and spicy weirdness which is pretty difficult to describe. All I can say is that I'm glad I wasn't going to be stuck in a confined space with her.
The smell of Opium still lingered in the air a good 45 minutes later. (Opium and Youth Dew are fragrances that seem to have some special power that penetrates the perfumed air around the counter and leaps straight into your nose, extinguishing every other scent for days).
That isn't the strangest thing I've seen done with testers.
Some people shake them vigorously as if there is a layer of sediment in the bottle that needs to be separated before it can be sprayed, like some unmixed fragrant cocktail.
Several male customers spray their hands until they are drenched then pat the fragrance into their face, drying their skin out in the process.
Others press the nozzle of the tester against their skin or the blotter, shooting a jet of the fragrance onto their wrist which they shove towards their nose and inhale all at once. These are the same people that complain every fragrance smells the same. When I spray a tester onto a strip or a customer, I try to do so from about 20 centimetres away. It leaves less of the alcohol and allows the top notes to evaporate quicker from the fine mist that ends up landing on the skin, and makes it easier to distinguish between fragrances, and your sniffing session is extended.
Why are your clients so spray happy?
NG: People seem to spray a lot more when it is a tester in a shop. It's “free” perfume, so why not? I have no issue with people using testers to top themselves up. I just think that they spray excessively. It tends to be fragrances that have monster sillage as well – things such as Jean-Paul Gaultier Classique or Joop! Homme
And once they've sprayed enough to create a fragrant fog around themselves, I look at them with astonishment or shock as they proclaim “This is my favourite perfume! It smells better than everything else!” (why it always seems to be people spraying things like Britney Spears Fantasy that say this is beyond me).
And I invariably get asked what my favourite perfume is. When I grasp Guerlain's Shalimar and my eyes light up, I don't think people expect it to smell as it does. Because I'm young, they assume I will love some saccharine fruity-floral. Then they smell the Civet-Vanilla-Lemon they may as well run scared for the look in their eyes. Civet terrifies some people – they aren't really sure what they are smelling and when they find out what it is, they are shocked, and I'm sure I have same sadistic pleasure written over my face. So I tend to tell them I enjoy Thierry Mugler Alien and Gucci by Gucci EdP (I wear these fragrances) and try to explain what they are smelling. If they ask what my favourite masculine is, it's Dior Homme or Prada Amber.
Of course most men are terrified of the idea of wearing a 'ladies' perfume or something that doesn't smell outright 'manly'. Which, I'm sure, is why many mainstream designer launches end up smelling like shower-gels or deodorants.
What are your favorite niche perfumes?
NG: CdG 2Man, Le Labo's Vetiver 44, Editions des Parfums Vetiver Extraordinaire & Miller Harris En Sens Des Bois.
You take your job very seriously… how do you educate someone who really doesn't know a fine fragrance?
I educate my customers by demonstrating differences and similarities in scents. When with a customer, after asking a few questions to get an idea, I tend to spray a few things to get an idea of what they like to make sure we are on the same wavelength, and then focus on the notes that they like. For example, if I have a customer that liked Paul Smith Man I would steer in the direction of Dior Homme and explain the similarities they are smelling – from the iris (powdery dryness with an austere quality), but if it's the violet note (bracing green bitterness) that they prefer it might be a case of Fahrenheit, Gucci by Gucci or Dunhill Black. I don't like selling to someone based on how it smells on the card and try to get customers to try it on first because everyone has skin that behaves differently and just because something smells fabulous on one person doesn't mean it smells as grand on them.
What do you love best about your job?
NG: What really excites me is when someone comes along that knows a note they like and wants to find something they love that contains it. A recent example is a customer that loved patchouli, and walked away enamoured with Midnight Poison after sniffing Prada Amber and a host of other patchouli scents. You can have a real conversation with them about fragrance.
What's the most important lessson someone who doesn't understand perfume can learn?
i try to teach my customers to smell things. Beyond "I like this" and "I do not like this". Learning notes is useful but I know how hard it is to try and remember the notes for just one houses fragrances, let alone an entire departments – as I don't work for one brand I don't know many off heart so I rely heavily on my nose – I just sniff the fragrance first and explain the mood, and some of the notes I can smell. And customers do not always want to hear a list of notes ie: "it's got apple, lemon, orange blossom and melon in!", because very often – especially in the mass market – the notes listings are misleading or irrelevant. So learning to smell is important because if you can recognise the similarities in things, you can really recommend things that might suit the customers taste more and by explaining what is similar or different, you help to educate the customer.
Any other thoughts?
Being a Perfumisto amongst a mainstream audience is really interesting. You know what sells, because you are selling it, but you also knows what doesn't sell and that's what made me interested in perfume in general. I wanted to understand why some things that I thought were beautiful didn't sell as well as things I didn't like (for example YSL M7 & Nu, which disappeared into the netherworld not long after launching, compared to things like DKNY Be Delicious which sells in spades!) If I really really love a new perfume, it's likely to die a death at retail.
Thank you Nick, I typed this interview with tears of laughter and gained a new found respect for dedicated fragrance sales associates like yourself.
Anyone know a publisher; there's got to be a book in this..
Follow Nick on Basenotes as 'nickgblue' and on twitter @nickgblue
– Michelyn Camen, Editor in Chief