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The appeal of the fanatic

fanaticsOne of my favorite writers growing up was James Herriot, and one of my favorite quotes was from a short story of his about getting accidentally drunk sampling homemade wine. “An enthusiast is appealing but a fanatic is irresistible,” is the way I remember the quote, and I think of it often as I pursue, for reasons that are not at all clear even to me, ever-new experiences of perfume.

I do so much of my shopping online or at perfume-fanatic oriented events like Sniffapalooza that it has only very slowly been borne in on me that not all salespeople love fanatics like me.

I’m starting to recognize a certain similarity in experiences. It isn’t just the standard spray-happy sales associates in department stores who don’t care for perfumistas, though they do get a bit shirty almost no matter what you say to them about why you do not want to smell the latest “greatest” perfume. (My favorite response – which I do feel is a bit rude – I save for when they are really persistent, as in when they won’t wait on me without trying to sell me something I don’t want. My response is to start tapping the tops of the bottles on the counter in front of them. “Got it, got it, hate it, boring, got it, really didn’t see the point of this one…” I’m not proud of myself but I do enjoy it.)

No, it’s a lot of different types of perfume folks, but they have some vaguely similar reactions. There are the folks who act disdainful of any perfume line but their own; don’t mention that whatever they’re smelling smells much like any other perfume, no matter what brand you mention, they don’t like it. There are the people who drop the whole thing, as if you aren’t going to buy anything because you don’t want to smell what they want you to smell. I’m more sympathetic with the ones who just act confused, as if they’ve never met a perfumista and didn’t know such people existed. In fact sometimes they seem as though they didn’t know other perfume lines existed. I find those folks more sympathetic if they’re very young.

Perhaps that’s why I’m more and more delighted when a salesperson really makes the effort to sell to me. I’m actually not that tough to sell to; they just have to listen to what I’m looking for, or what I like, and what I already have, and find me something new. It’s a question of working with me, like the wonderful fellow in Miami or the fellow in the Harrods parfumerie.

Of course what’s even more fun is a flat-out real perfume discussion with someone who loves perfume as much as I do. It’s surprising how many people in the perfume business aren’t that interested. I am very understanding when indie creators aren’t that familiar with vintage or commercial scents; it’s like authors, they don’t have literature degrees, they know what they like and they know how to write, they don’t have to be massive students of their genres. But it’s so much fun when a perfumer, distributor, or salesperson turns out to also be a big perfume fan. That’s when you can really have a good natter!

The perfume store Les Topettes in Barcelona is a small gem of a store where you can have such a natter, because they’re as interested in the current perfume scene as we are. What a pleasure to visit this little boutique in what’s becoming one of my favorite cities.

It’s a carefully curated collection. This little shop, about a block from Barcelona’s Museum of Modern Art, would appeal to people who are looking for perfume that’s a bit different. After shopping in high temples to perfume in other countries, it’s lovely to be in a shop without pretension but with a selective sense of style.

There were lines there I love (like Histoires des Parfums and Lubin), perfumista favorites (like L’Artisan and Diptyque), and quirky gems like Etat Libre d’Orange and I Love Les Carottes. Hometown Barcelona standout brand Oliver & Co. is also sold there, including their newest, Resina, which I quite enjoyed.

The neighborhood is on the rise; possibly not the place to go for a single woman after dark, but interesting and busy during the day, the sort of thing you often find in bohemian downtown neighborhoods. I highly recommend the Indian restaurant about a block south on the opposite side of the street. One of the best and least expensive lunches I had in Barcelona.

If you’re a fanatic, it’s the sort of place where you’ll be irresistible.


Top image is “fanatics“, by ~C4Chaos, via; used under Creative Commons license, some rights reserved. Bottom image swiped from the store’s website.

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6 comments to The appeal of the fanatic

  • SallyM

    “Got it, got it, hated it, boring…” – hahaha – this was a tea spitter to be sure. I have to go back to Macy’s – where I swore I’d never go again – just to try it out. The last time (the time before that was supposed to be the last time but I caved under pressure of a friend) I was there, the SA wanted to spray me with some hideously bright concoction and when I resisted and asked for the Guerlain counter, she looked at me with pity and said “Oh no one wears Guerlain anymore”… I suppose this was a step up from the previous visit where the SA didn’t even know who Guerlain was.

    There must be a class in Perfume School where SA’s have to practice turning their brightly smiling “Smell This Because I Have to Convince You To Buy It This Week” face into disdainful, scornful, dismissive “This Is What I Do For a Living, Fool” face in less than a nanosecond. I’ve seen it so many times, I almost expect it when I don’t bend to their MO. Fortunately, there are two places that I go that have absolutely fantastic SA’s which have restored my faith in perfume shopping – Sephora and the amazing Mayzie, and The Perfume House in Portland and the extremely knowledgeable Tracey. Both love what they do, willingly share info, spritzes and samples, and will spend as much time as needed gabbing on about frags with fellow perfumistas. No questions are silly ones, they don’t mind if you hate something – they’ve been there done that and appreciate that it’s all part of the journey.

    Your line: “a shop without pretension but with a selective sense of style” sums up the shopping experience I’m looking for when searching for new perfumes – its a shame it’s not the mission statement for more places. Great post.

    • Ari

      That Guerlain comment makes me LIVID.

    • Judith

      A good perfume shop is a haven! It’s surprising there aren’t more of them, that’s all.

      That Guerlain comment just stuns me. Does she think you’re 15? Like, what “everyone” is doing is somehow pertinent to you? I’m the biggest sheeple in the world and even I wouldn’t fall for that from a salesperson.

      Thanks! I like that line about the perfect shop myself. Yup. That’s what I want! Twisted Lily in Brooklyn is the New York version, I think.

  • Ari

    I was taught that “perfumistas don’t buy”. I imagine that many other sales people hear this as well. In my experience, this was somewhat true, partially because it takes a lot for a diehard perfume lover to buy a full bottle, and partly because of “got it, got it, hated it, boring” stock. Obviously, a customer has to be treated well regardless of whether you think they’re going to buy or not. As for myself, I certainly enjoyed talking to perfume-loving customers a lot more than I enjoyed the “So what’s your BEST perfume?” folks.

    • Judith

      And it’s true, I shop for more than I buy; but on the other hand, some of the most expensive outlays I’ve ever made have been *in* a store, where a sharp salesperson has pointed out to me something I didn’t even know existed.

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