I don't mean professionally this time (although it has been done); this is about a spontaneous and completely monetarily-disassociated consultation with a young woman I casually met at Sephora. (Contrary to my uncanny instincts and my hard-earned experience I continue to do this sort of thing when I see an aimlessly wandering soul amidst the aisles of department stores: When will I learn??) But it's a fun little story and worth mentioning in detail to illustrate a point or two.
Sephora happened to have a 20% sale for select VIP (?) customers and yours truly was invited through a post-office delivered mail:"Only for you and only for two days, everything 20% off, blah blah blah". My default question on examining such a proposition up close is "What ISN'T discounted?" I reckon eliminating all the non-possibilities makes for an easier list than trying to retain all the discounted brands info. The one brand that features on each and every one of those "Isn't-on-sale-despite-all-others-being-so" lists is Chanel (along with -brace yourselves- Mugler and Miyake: I attribute the latter two to the extreme popularity of their bestselling perfumes in my local European market). This time the reply from the SA was rather suprising; and probably borne out of a meaningful roundtable discussion concerning the economic recession and the repurcussions on the average Sephora-maniac's purchases at some central branch office of the esteemed firm. "EVERYTHING is discounted at 20% for you, EVEN Chanel!" she emphasized. Hmm...it was getting rather interesting!
Intent as I was on securing any batch of older Chanel's fragrances I could find still tucked away in some of those deeeeeeep drawers full of old stock they have at Sephora I came across her: She was a slip of a girl, a very young woman in her early 20s, skin to paint a Boticelli with, natural honeyed curls in a messy cute updo, casual attire that showed some care (a military pair of trousers with a neat, khahi T-shirt and a nice white denim jacket on top). The "wall" of Chanels above me loooked particularly enticing to her and I don't really know whether the VIP invitation reverberated in her pocket as well with the dire command "use me for something good!" or not, but she seemed intent on finding a Chanel for herself. Usually I don't really pay attention and I only notice such things as an inward nod to the power of successful marketing. Someone who is obviously ignorant of how things smell at Chanel, is clearly being led by her eyes, not her nose...This time was different, though and I was soon to find out how.
Spraying a bit of Chanel No.19 on those paper strips, she instantly exclaimed "Ewww, that's AWFUL!" with such passion in her grimace that it was hard not to take notice from 10 paces away. I feel such occurences literally beg to be addressed (and not just because I love No.19 to bits) if only to show what a profound difference the whole testing experience makes when one actually tests things the proper way. So lo and behold I stretched my crouching self and replied confidentially "Oh no, that's their very best" with a tone that implied I was at the very least sharing Pentagon secrets. It was completely understandable that she belonged to a generation who had been raised on Light Blue and Burberry Brit, while her mother would be probably still wearing L'eau d'Issey, so embarking on a diatribe on the matter of good taste or art would be sorely wasted; plus it was plainfully obvious No.19 was as completely alien as if she was given to taste Pluto-dust-laced dirt-balls. After all, I don't believe good taste is a generational thing and art is too often non quantitative. So I chose not to embark on such diatribe.
Apparently the trick of laconic pronouncement caught on: She paid attention and looked at me with quizzical eyes. "You just need to give it lots of time on the skin to mellow out the bitter start, it becomes very sensuous...", I quipped with almost a wink. Thus appeased she showed some signs of recognition of someone who really appreciates perfume.
Confidences then gust forth with all the gusto of Perfumistae Anonymous. She was emotionally tied to Bulgari Omnia Amethyste (I'm afraid she got a blank stare from me at this profound confession despite my best effort to look deeply engaged), but she was "so bored with all the perfumes on the shelves", she liked to change perfumes all the time, never sticking with anything for long because "they often got on her nerves". Clearly the customers are not complete morons, do note, dear perfume companies; by the end of a bottle of current juice they come to realise just how bad and utterly trite it was, not wanting to replenish ever again!
Sensing she was desperate for iconic black-and-white austerity, bearing cross-stiched glamour CCs (aka Chanel) I suggested Cristalle Eau de Toilette (this is usually a perennial safe bet on blind tests I conduct with friends from time to time; no one seems to hate it) , as well as hastily suggesting No.5 Eau Premiere, when I saw her tentatively reaching out for that bottle of No.5 Eau de Parfum. (I swear I didn't want to embark on that "old lady" conversation this time, I have heard arguments from both sides so many times and I disagree with each and every one of them). My recs rested on two salient -in my humble opinion- points: 1) Summer is coming and 2) Modern tastes like lighter juices. "This is quite modern, young, optimistic", I said. Although she showed signs of mild interest, I couldn't see her too impressed by either and she did test on skin this time. I fear that teenagers and people in their early 20s have been sadly conditionned to expect instant gratification that surpasses even the speed of making an instant Nescafe (that is nanoseconds to pour cold water on the granules, btw)! How low can you go, right?
Still, as a dare, I suggested Lolita Lempicka L Fleur de Corail, a floriental variation of the original and lovely salty-sweet L de Lempicka, which nevertheless left me rather cold personally, but which I could use as a litmus test regarding sweet-teeth-factor. I even mentioned how it is a "gourmand" with a nod to gustatory delights. Foody is a big word with very young people judging by what they buy and I was honestly curious to see if her tastes ran to the sweet-and-fatty despite her lithe physique. Apparently, there's hope yet. With a disenchanted look she dismissed it as "too sweet for her", almost apologetically, changing stance however when her eyes lighted up upon recalling "But I adore Lolita Lempicka in the purple, apple-shped bottle for the winter!". Brava Annick Menardo, I inwardly thought, but time was ticking away for me and we left it at that.
She didn't seem like she found the Chanel she was looking for on that day. But I came out feeling that young women are not complete airheads and just because they don't know how to properly test fragrances (and who is there to teach them anyway?) and they often can't seem to find a Chanel to claim as their own, doesn't mean they should be relegated to wearing something by Paris Hilton. Perfume people, present them with something really good to wear for a change!
Emma Watchon photographed by Karl Lagerfeld from Crash magazine. Photo by Steven Meisel (2007) via fashionmag.com