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Never give perfume

I haven’t been blogging much because I have been on vacation, and, you know, relaxing.

I like to shop (OH BOY I LIKE TO SHOP) and I like to shop in Columbus, OH, where I like to visit my brother, and I did do some shopping while I was there. I went to Nordstrom to see if they had the new Burberry lipstick (they didn’t) but of course swung through the perfume section while I was there. I got a small rollerball of Kate Spade’s Twirl perfume (I really like this stuff) but also sold, apparently, a bottle of 24, Faubourg while I was there.

The woman who was shopping told the sales associate that her mother wanted something “stronger”. The sales associate wanted to know, what kind of perfume her mother liked? The woman wasn’t sure, just that her mother wanted something “stronger” than what she’d given her in the past.

I approached the shopper, because I am nosy and also obsessed, and pointed out that I’d tried pretty much everything along the wall we were looking at, and most of the scents were designed to be “fresh and clean” for 20-somethings. For a mature woman who wants to smell gorgeous, those were not the perfumes. And I recommended the 24, Faubourg as simply the most gorgeous perfume on the wall.

I’m not dead sure she bought it, but if she did I hope to hell her mother likes it. The bottle is $145 and that’s a serious gift.

Really, should one ever buy perfume? There’s such a strong likelihood that the person you’re buying it for won’t like it. You really cannot tell just from looking at someone what their style of perfume preference is, and when people don’t like perfume, they really don’t like it.

Unless you’re a perfumista and so is the other person, – actually, let me clarify: unless you have a collector’s wish list in hand for someone you know will appreciate more juice, why would you get them perfume?

I guess if you enjoy perfume and you want to give them something you will enjoy smelling on them, there’s a reason. (This is supposedly the reason husbands do it, right?) But how often does it really work out? How often do the bottles just sit there, unused? Only to end up, sadly, in a yard sale or in a thrift store, years or decades later, languishing there for the right perfumista to come along and snap it up for $20 and… oh hey, that’s me! You know what? Go right ahead and buy that perfume that your loved one is never gonna wear!

I personally consider it a huge triumph to give someone perfume successfully, which is my best proof that you should pretty much never do it, and I can list the three times I’ve managed it to date:

The naughty perfume lover who could be matched with a special and very naughty perfume.

The budding perfumista who appreciated a well-curated collection of samples.

And the person who never knew she liked perfume, and in fact insisted she didn’t, who benefitted from some samples of perfumes that didn’t smell at all like most perfume.

At this stage I consider it a challenge to try to find something for the person who’s looking for something specific – or insisting that she/he doesn’t want any perfume at all. But unless it’s a collection of samples, – or as in the first case above, a gift for a person whose perfume tastes you already know something about and whom you think may appreciate what you’re giving her – there’s so much room to go wrong.

I guess to close on an upside, the average perfume is made for the average consumer. In the U.S., the average woman wants to smell clean and fresh, and the average commercial perfume is made to smell clean and fresh. So in that sense you can’t go too far wrong no matter what you buy.

Seems a shame, though.

If you buy anything from Hermès that your friend doesn’t like and you can’t return it, be sure to advise them to sell it on eBay – and drop me a line.

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5 comments to Never give perfume

  • In general, I agree that giving perfume as a gift is a very strange idea (with a couple of special circumstances which you mentioned or I can come up with).
    If for whatever reason somebody was determined to buy a perfume for somebody else and consulted me, I recommended to buy it at Nordstrom (great return policy) AND ask them to make a sample of the same perfume so that the recipient would be able to try the perfume without making it non-returnable.

    I spend some time thinking what would I recommend in the same situation at my local Nordstrom (no Hermes, no Jo Malone). I could think of Chanel (No.5 original or Coco EdP), Joy by Jean Patou, Black Orchid by Tom Ford, Shalimar by Guerlain or one of the latest variations of Estee Lauder’s Private Collection perfumes. But that’s it. Sad.

  • Judith

    I agree about Nordstrom being a great place to shop for perfume – I love the stores and I love their customer service.

    I can think of some things that should be “unoffensive” for almost anyone. Shalimar is, I think, tougher for a modern sensibility than most perfume lovers think, but I think Laila is an overlooked pleasure and one almost everyone loves. Fortunately my Nordstrom (and the one in Columbus) have the Hermès garden scents which I think are easy for everyone to wear… You’re right, it’s tough to recommend! I wouldn’t wish Flowerbomb on a dog.

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