Having plunged into perfumes a little over two years ago, I now have dozens of samples of fragrances that I haven’t yet explored beyond the initial spritz at a store, let alone written about them. So I’m going to try to clear some of that backlog by posting short comments on at least one scent sample every Sunday, and posting longer reviews or essays on a Fragrance Friday once a month. Let’s see how it goes!
To get started, here is a great article about how to get perfume samples, from the website lovetoknow.com: Places to Find Free Perfume Samples. Many of the leading perfume bloggers have also posted at least once about getting, using, and storing perfume samples.
My favorite ways to get perfume samples: 1) from department or specialty stores; 2) choosing one or more as a gift with purchase; 3) buying discovery sets from a single brand, or ordering a group of related samples from a service like Surrender to Chance. I have even found some great sample lots on ebay, though I rarely look for samples there. A Scentbird subscription is another great way to try new fragrances, although the monthly travel sprays are much larger than the usual “sample.”
Shout-out to the stores that have been particularly generous with samples and where I try to direct my business when buying fragrance (or other items) in person: Sephora, Nordstrom (where they put out ready-made samples, even of Tom Ford, on the counter with a note that says “Take one, it’s yours!”), Neiman Marcus, among department stores. My local Nordstrom even puts out empty spray vials so you can make your own samples from their testers! Saks has been a bit more stingy, but if you find a nice sales associate and communicate that you are serious about fragrance and may actually buy something, you can get some very nice ones, like the By Kilian samples I was given last weekend, after a failed trip to buy Guerlain’s Terracotta. I’ve also had good luck at some, but not all, Jo Malone counters in various department stores, and purchases have followed! (I don’t actually understand why these stores don’t give out manufacturers’ samples more freely, as they are provided to them by the manufacturers for the express purpose of encouraging people to try their fragrances, and maybe buy them).
Among independent or freestanding perfumeries: Les Senteurs, in both of its London locations, have been generous both with samples and with information. Their staff are clearly knowledgeable and passionate about fragrance, and their stores are lovely. Go visit if you can! I may be asking my husband to stop by to pick up the new Papillon Perfumes Dryad for me on his next trip to London, as one of their sales associates spent quite some time with me two years ago describing Liz Moores and her work (and yes, gave me a couple of samples); and last fall’s visit to their Belgravia location was equally pleasant.
In London’s Burlington Arcade, the Penhaligon’s boutique staff kindly offered several samples, both of their newest, high-priced line and of my beloved, late lamented Ostara. The sales associate also insisted that I take a sample of Blasted Heath, the more masculine companion fragrance to another of my favorites, Blasted Bloom.
The Perfumery, in the old Barri Gotic, or Gothic Quarter, of Barcelona, is a charming store not to be missed, often staffed by one of its owners, who is happy to share his knowledge, passion, and samples with purchase. The fragrances carried there are very unusual, although I recognized brands like Aedes de Venustas, Making Of, and J.F. Schwarzlose. I bought a full bottle of the gorgeous Orquidea Negra, by the perfumer Daniel Josier, as a souvenir of our trip, and also brought home some lovely samples of Ziryab, Kaleidoscope, and Santa Eulalia.
A local perfumeria near our hotel, the source of a heavily discounted bottle of Serge Lutens’ Chypre Rouge, also gave me manufacturers’ samples of L’Orpheline and Bapteme du Feu. I had not expected to find so much Serge Lutens in a little neighborhood store filled with celebrity and designer scents!
A note about samples: once you have a more educated olfactory palate, you can likely understand much about a fragrance from just one small sample, and that is by far the most affordable way to go. My nose isn’t that well educated yet. I often need to try a fragrance more frequently, in larger amounts than the usual 1-2 ml sample, to learn the fragrance and its notes, its development. Each one I try is a lesson. One current solution is to look for small travel sizes of various fragrances, in a wide range of types, notes and prices, for as reasonable a price as I can find. Some manufacturers sell sets of their fragrances in sizes from 5-15 ml, which is ideal for me. I’ve been able to try several from Miller Harris, Annick Goutal, Penhaligon’s, Byredo and others that way. Among cheaper brands, good for learning though not longevity, Yves Rocher also has very reasonably priced miniatures and frequent online sales.
Scentbird is another good option for me, because I can choose from among their offerings for the fixed monthly subscription price, and recent choices have included scents from Amouage, Arquiste, Histoires de Parfums and other high-end brands. If I want serendipity, I can explore local discounters like T.J. Maxx or Marshall’s and see what they’ve got for, say, under $15. Case in point: a 1.6 oz bottle of TokyoMilk Dark No. 28 Excess, for $7.99. It has notes like amber, patchouli and oak that I’m curious about but don’t want to spend a lot on before I know more about how they strike me. I can happily spritz away with this one without guilt, and maybe even cajole my daughters into trying it! Honestly, at this stage, I’ll try anything, because I am enjoying the learning curve. I don’t have to fall in love with each one or even like it much to appreciate the lesson it offers.
Featured image from: makeup.lovetoknow.com
Enjoyable post! I’ve been enjoying samples for the past few years and have learned so much; what I like and what I don’t care for. I totally agree with your statement “I don’t have to fall in love with each one or even like it much to appreciate the lesson it offers”. So true!
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You too! Thanks for stopping by, and feel free to comment about your own discoveries!
Hello! Thank you for the tip about the perfume shop in Barcelona. I will seek that one out on the next trip. The discounted Chypre Rouge sounds like a discovery. If you ever were in Zürich, I would be delighted to show you the perfumery shops here!
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Thank you! Believe it or not, I was in Zurich with my family this past March! What a lovely, lovely city. I visited Parfumerie Osswald and Suskind; wonderful stores, and very helpful staff. We enjoyed our visit so much! And yes, I brought home some perfume souvenirs, including Tauerville Rose Flash.
Oh wow! I guess you know most of my favourite perfume stores. Another trick to Osswald is that they have more ranges in the woody columns that turn out to be cabinets when swung open. One can even ask for decants, which the staff will make in a mini-spray glass vial. I love to catch breakfast with my friend at Sprüngli and walk over to sniff something at Osswald for this reason. Süskind’s owner, Mayumi, is very kind as well and she gives great advice and a lot of samples.
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I bought a lovely fragrance by a Zurich perfumer: Gisada Donna, created by Andreas Wilhelm. It is beautiful! I must write up some thoughts on it.
I had sniffed his old line, but they did not quite make for a memorable perfume. They were decent, but somewhat derivative. I look forward to your thoughts on this new one.
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