They know I want to see whatever just came in. I have no idea who their sources are, but they're always getting something I might have trouble tracking down on my own. I like the blonde woman the best. The place is cramped--they keep over half of their inventory in a storage unit they rent from the mall--but she'll dig through it without complaining. She'll open however many perfumes I want to smell. She'll even let me repackage them when she's particularly slammed.
Lately, the celebrity scent du jour has been Beyonce Heat. The kiosk generally stocks no more tan two or three bottles of the most popular sellers. They have ten bottles of Heat on hand at any one time, and they move quickly. Latifah didn't move anything near that. The most popular scent overall seems to be Light Blue. They don't move much Chanel. But Heat has spiked the chart in a way no other fragrance has. This seems to surprise no one but Beyonce, who, based on a recent quote, wasn't apparently paying attention.
I haven't found too terribly much at the kiosk these last several months. They do have a big bottle of Armani Onde Mystere, and having revisited it a couple of times I see it's a little more interesting than I originally thought, but I haven't seized it. I can get it fairly easily online. They got a bottle of Armani Gio in several months ago. I ignored it at first--it seemed like a pretty standard spiced tuberose to me--but after spraying it on a card and carrying that around for a while I realized how unusual it is. The real bonus with Gio arrives about an hour into wearing it, when the fruity green components bridge more fluidly into the tuberose and orange blossom. I'm guessing they still make this and sell it in Europe, because the box is not old and the list of ingredients is distractingly extensive. I imagine it smelled even better back in its day.
Yesterday, I had a curious conversation with a vendor at Macy's. I asked to smell Organza Indecence--not the tester, which was a much older bottle, but the Parfums Mythiques version, which is what they were selling. The vendor looked at me as if I were some kind of eccentric. Mention of the other Mythiques, none of which are available at the mall, opened up a parallel dimension for her. It was as though I were talking about alien sightings at Roswell. She might have told me what sales associates usually do, that there wasn't a tester for that and anyway they're the same, if not for the sales associate standing with us, a woman who told her, "He's a perfume connoisseur." I don't think she thought much of that--why should she? It still translates as "eccentric"--but she seemed curious where this was going, so she opened a bottle of the Mythiques version and sprayed it on a card for me.
They tell us there isn't a difference, she said. I'd just been through this with the SA at Dillards, where I returned a bottle of the new, allegedly unimproved, Opium. I'd bought it to spend a day with it. It was a boring day, like a date who keeps ordering salad. The SA asked me what the problem had been. Normally, I would say, "She already had it," as if I'd purchased it as a gift. But having just written a review of the changes to Opium's formula, I was interested in seeing what her reaction would be to an assertion something had been altered or tweaked. Oh no, she said. You should tell her it's exactly the same. They just changed the bottle. It has changed, I said. It's been reformulated. She looked at me like I was crazy for a millisecond, then her face relaxed into Stepford SA mode, if you can call that relaxed, and she chirped how pleased she would be to reimburse me.
It's fascinating to me that a vendor, as opposed to a sales associate, wouldn't truly know about or at least sense these reformulations. The idea that anyone could mechanically move through the tasks of a job having to do with fragrance is like the idea of a unicorn. Surely such a thing can't exist. Even so, it seems to me that customers would have to be making the changes known to her, if she can't tell or isn't bothering to pay attention herself. I'd just smelled Hypnotic Poison, and, sure enough, as the blogger Ambre Gris pointed out, it's no longer the same--maybe even eviscerated, to use Grain de Musc's term. Indecence too smelled altered.
The vendor assured me she wouldn't be able to tell the difference. I asked her to spray the old version on a card. Like the older Opium, older Indecence smelled deeper and richer, with a boozy bottom line to it. It was as if I were detailing the intrigue of some other industry when I told the vendor about the regulations and restrictions, the changes, the eviscerations. Isn't that something, her expression said. I think it's just difficult for me to imagine having a job in fragrance and not wanting to know all about it: good, bad, ugly, and otherwise.
These newer formulations seem much shriller to me. They're louder. And for all that shouting, they peter out more quickly, as if they've exhausted what they have to say before they even get going. They lack subtlety. Hypnotic Poison has none of the nuanced softness it did. Pure Poison has changed a lot too, but in a different direction. Gone are those wonderfully pungent, over the top contours. I found an older bottle at a discount store here in town, and compared it to a newer bottle. The newer version comes out with a whimper and stays there. The older Pure Poison is like a speed freak chatterbox on the skin. I happen to like a chatterbox with something to say, especially when, as with Pure Poison, orange blossom is a big part of the one sided conversation. I'll give orange blossom the floor any time it has something to say. This is what it really comes down to for me: even at their best and most sensitively done, the reformulations are one dimensional.
All of this makes me appreciate one of my favorite SA's, the woman just a few yards away from the Givenchy vendor, at the Estee Lauder counter, who very openly told me that Beautiful has been so drastically reformulated she can't stand to smell it anymore. She and her co-workers have been instructed to accept exchanges from disgruntled customers without acknowledging that anything has changed, presumably from women who have been wearing the stuff for decades now. The idea that the early onset of dementia in their elderly clientele is being hastened by the cosmetics counter is really disturbing to me.
Speaking of Lauder, I found box sets of Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia at the discount outlets for about a third of their retail price. The underbelly of this is the implication that the fragrance, like Opium and the Poisons, has been or is being reformulated. This fragrance was released in 2007. I put a positive spin on this by considering myself lucky to have found a bottle I can afford before they "change the packaging".