Monday, February 18, 2013

Perfume Samples: Can't Live With 'Em, Can't Live Without 'Em

Perfume samples can feel like the blessing and the curse of the beauty world all wrapped up in one little glass vial. Though nothing beats the joy and excitement of receiving a good sample, our drawers can suddenly seem to overflow with various tubes and spritzers from companies seeking to promote their latest and greatest fragrance. I personally find fragrance samples thrilling and exciting as well as a bit annoying: must every order come with a different fragrance many of which are (lets face it) a bit unremarkable? After years of uncovering samples scattered hither, thither and yon throughout my house I've finally sussed out a way to make samples work for me.

As a bit of background I should add that though I've loved fragrance since I was a little girl, I would call myself a newbie to the perfume world. Some of my earliest memories involve the fragrances my family members wore (Chanel's universally adored Number 5, Givenchy L'Interdit and my Grandfather's signature Pierre Cardin). I fell in love with perfume and the bottles that house it at an early age starting my own perfume collection with a well loved bottle of Elizabeth Arden's Green Tea at the age of eleven or twelve. It's only been within the last few years that I've begun to appreciate perfume as more than a "thing," but as a sensory experience unto itself. Incredibly written perfume blogs, trips to Paris and various experiences with big names in fragrance previously unknown to me have opened my eyes to the fact that perfume is more like a symphony than a liquid in a beautiful bottle.

So what to do with the plethora of little vials we all have scattered about? How can you test a rare and pricey perfume without having to make the investment in the full sized bottle? Should we keep, or toss, a perfume that just doesn't sit right with us?

The first move I made was to gather all my perfume samples together in one place. Kelly of A Blog of Vain Pleasures shared that she keeps her samples in a hand shaped bowl from Urban Outfitters. I immediately grabbed an unloved container (a Chinese take away shaped porcelain dish meant for culinary use from Crate & Barrel) and gathered all my samples in one spot. I find that I'm more apt to explore the fragrances contained within when I'm presented with them on a day to day basis.

I've also learned how to make fragrance samples work for me:

Samples I receive for free go in the same place as those I purchase. I wear them two to three times, sometimes experimenting by mixing them with other tried and true fragrances in my collection. If it doesn't work after the third try I accept defeat and either pass it along to a friend or cast it out. Perfume is a funny thing: it could be a garden variety body mist or a high end fragrance but if you feel that it won't work with you're body chemistry it's likely not going to. Unless you feel that another season of the year or your life may bring out the finer qualities of a fragrance you don't get along with, my personal inclination is to bid that little vial adieu.

Samples I purchase from sites such as The Perfumed Court or Lucky Scent serve both the purpose of allowing me to smell and try scents that I don't have access to where I am, as well as expanding my perfume wardrobe without the cost of buying a full bottle. The Perfumed Court, for instances, offers decants anywhere from a 1 ml sample vial to a 15 ml glass spray bottle. In this way I'm able to explore far beyond the confines of my local perfume counters: I only just ordered a small sample vial of the new Serge Lutens release, La Fille de Berlin, for the incredibly reasonable price of USD $4.

So what's the take away from all of this? I think the most exciting thing about the proliferation of perfume samples is that whether you like those that cross your path or not they help you hone your palette and better understand your own tastes. Do you dislike a perfume sample you received? Try to articulate why you dislike the fragrance. Attempt to better understand which notes in the perfume disagreed with you and you'll find yourself better able to express what it is in other perfumes that you do like.

For my part as a fragrance enthusiast just starting my "perfume journey," as Bois de Jasmin would say, samples have become a bit of a hobby. I enjoy experimenting with various little vials, if only for the opportunity to get to know my own taste in fragrance and to understand which notes resonate with me. Though I've always known I adore oriental, woodsy fragrances I can now more precisely pin point which aspects of those fragrance profiles I most enjoy.

What do you feel about perfume samples? Are you overwhelmed by their availability or excited to play with new vials that cross your path?