Sniffery in the “Big City”

By which I mean “the so-called big city,” with exaggerated finger air quotes and nudges and winks and elbows to the ribs, and it’s only big city if you live in Podunksville, as I currently do. This afternoon, I dropped off the rest of my family at the minor league ballpark and headed off for some mall sniffies. I enjoy revisiting the place where I grew up. Roanoke, VA is not big. Nor is it particularly citified, although it does contain several places I wouldn’t dare to drive through at night – especially not in my minivan with its “Virginia – Farming since 1614” license tags. But compared to where I live now, it’s “big city.”

Roanoke is approximately 50 miles from my house, and a good thousand feet lower in elevation. Consequently, it’s on average a good five degrees cooler here. Today, it was 93 F in Roanoke, and humid. The other thing about Roanoke is that it’s a valley surrounded by mountains, and the mountains hold the heat/humidity/air pollution in, so it can get really, really muggy. It was so today, with the mountains blue and hazy, and the air nearly wet enough to wring out.

Roanoke is where The CEO went once a year when he was a kid, to buy school shoes. His mother would bundle him and his sisters into the Plymouth in August, and they’d drive downtown to Thom McAn and buy one pair of leather shoes for each child. (Digression: Remember those days? I do. But I have weird feet, and my mother took me to Julien’s instead because they sold “corrective instep” Stride-Rite shoes. My first pair of school shoes I can see in my mind’s eye right now: dark red leather lace-up shoes, with a leather sunburst applique starting where the laces began and pointing toward the toe. I loved them. In first grade I owned a pair exactly the same, except in dark blue. I wore skirts to school, or corduroy pants, and was probably in third grade before I even owned a pair of jeans… I don’t think any of my children have ever worn anything other than sneakers to school. Ever. EVER.) The Thom McAn store downtown closed seventeen years ago. But Julien’s is still a going concern, catering to people with unusual footwear needs.

 

"Cross Creek Mall" from Wikimedia Commons

And there’s a mall; it contains a Sears, a Belk, a JCPenney, and a Macy’s. Belk and Macy’s have fragrance counters (oddly, Belk has a larger selection of men’s fragrances than Macy’s does). Bath & Body Works, where I’d gone to restock my sister’s bathroom shelves with Aromatherapy Lavender Vanilla body products, is closer to Macy’s. So I went a-merrily sniffing down the aisles at Macy’s.

The revelation: I’ve been spoiled by niche and indie perfumery. I’ve come to expect that the scents I plan to drop cash on be mostly natural-smelling, coherent, free of nasty chemical surprises, and interesting. That combination is difficult to find in many mainstream fragrances.

So the sniffery goes like this: I walk into Macy’s, right past the big display of Thierry Mugler Angel, the fancy lopsided star bottles. There’s no “fragrance counter” here, rather a little stand for the register and miscellaneous stuff the SA’s need, and several tall freestanding shelves, upon which are placed the stock of the fragrance department. These are the fragrances I see on the shelves:

Beyonce Heat and Heat Wave

Burberry Brit, Touch, and Gold

Bvlgari Omnia, Omnia Green Jade, Omnia Amethyste, and Blv II

Calvin Klein Eternity, Euphoria, Obsession, Beauty, and cKOne

Chanel No. 5 (in edt, edp and parfum as well as body products), Allure, Chance, Chance Eau Fraiche, Chance Eau Tendre, Coco, Coco Mademoiselle

Christian Dior J’Adore and L’eau Cologne Florale

Coach Eau de Toilette and Eau de Parfum, Coach Poppy

Dolce et Gabbana original Dolce et Gabbana, Light Blue, The One, and Rose The One

Donna Karan Cashmere Mist and Be Delicious

Ed Hardy Hearts and Daggers, Love & Luck, and something else I don’t remember now

Elizabeth Arden 5th Avenue and Mediterranean

Gucci Flora, Guilty, and Gucci Eau de Parfum

Guerlain Shalimar (only the EdT)

Issey Miyake L’Eau d’Issey, L’Eau d’Issey Florale

Jessica Simpson Fancy, Fancy Love, and Fancy Nights, as well as the new I Fancy You

Juicy Couture original Juicy Couture, Viva la Juicy, and Couture Couture

Katy Perry Purr

Lancome Tresor, Tresor in Love, Poeme, Magie Noire, Hypnose, Magnifique, and Miracle

Marc Jacobs Lola and Daisy, and Daisy Eau So Fresh (gag me with a plastic SPOON, words cannot possibly express how much I hate that name, even though I still have a fondness for Daisy)

Paloma Picasso

Paris Hilton Siren, Just Me, and CanCan

Prescriptives Calyx

Queen Latifah Queen and Queen of Hearts

Ralph Lauren Romance and Romance Always Yours

Thierry Mugler Angel, Angel Innocent, Alien, and Cologne

YSL Parisienne and Opium

It’s been, oh, ten months or so since the last time I was in Macy’s fragrance department, and it was surprising to see what was missing: L’Air du Temps, Poison, Dior Addict, and Be Delicious Fresh Blossom, all of which I’d seen on my last visit.

The Clinique fragrances are an aisle or two over: Happy, Happy Heart, Happy for Men, and Aromatics Elixir.

Also, there’s a whoooooollle long counter full of Estee Lauder, with testers for every single flankered thing: Estee. Beyond Paradise, BP Blue, BP Men. Pleasures, Pleasures Sheer, Pleasures Intense, Pleasures Exotic. White Linen, Pure White Linen, PWL Light Breeze, PWL Pink Coral. Beautiful, Beautiful Sheer, Beautiful Love. Cinnabar. Youth Dew. Knowing. Azuree. Bronze Goddess, BG Soleil. Private Collection, the original only. Tuscany per Donna. Intuition. Spellbound. Dazzling Silver. Sensuous and Sensuous Noir. (No Dazzling Gold or Youth Dew Amber Nude or Alliage or PC Tuberose Gardenia, though.) I had a nice conversation with the older lady staffing the Lauder counter: she was surprised that I knew what the bottle for Cinnabar looked like, even as I mentioned that I was smelling it because I wanted to know if I still hated it. She likes Estee and Beyond Paradise, herself.

 

Macy's from Wikimedia Commons

The young man who was so enthusiastic about perfume and helpful to me on two prior visits to Macy’s wasn’t working this afternoon, but there were several SA’s floating around, with offers of help. “Are you looking for anything in particular, ma’am?” And when I said no thanks, I was just browsing and smelling, each one smiled and told me things like, “Oh, enjoy!” or “Feel free to sniff, and if I can get you anything or answer any questions, please just wave at me.” Maybe it’s just in Really Big Cities that the SA’s are snobby… The Belk SA’s are clueless but very pleasant. (I know nobody trains those poor people adequately. I spent a summer and two Christmas breaks from college running a cash register at Sears, and nobody ever told me a dang thing about what I was selling, whether it was lingerie, women’s wear, or children’s wear. Or belts. I once had a customer scream at me because I asked her in which department she had found a belt which had no tag, so I could find out how much to charge for it.)

I sniffed nearly everything. I’ve already smelled the Juicy Couture things, and I think they’re hideous. Ditto Cashmere Mist, ugh. The Ed Hardy packaging just annoys me, so I didn’t pick up any of those, either. I was shocked that there were a lot of testers missing. I didn’t ask about them, so I suppose it’s possible that the SA’s had hidden them, but the testers were AWOL for several things I’d have loved to have smelled: the original Dolce et Gabbana, Paloma Picasso (do I hate it as much as I used to?), Mugler Cologne (does it really smell like steam?), and that new Justin Bieber thingy. Actually, I’m not surprised that the tester for the Bieb’s fragrance was under wraps; they ought to have one chained to the counter.

What I made an effort to smell were largely scents I’ve not intentionally sniffed before: Angel Innocent (chemical custard), Fancy Nights (which would have been better with less restraint – it should have been a big trashy thing, I’d have liked it more), I Fancy You (glorified shampoo), Beauty (rather nice, an inoffensive lily scent with a nice woody cast), and Euphoria (berry-candy-vanilla, somehow not as good as the superbly-trashy Dark Kiss at Bath and Body Works). Also, I laid nostrils on some Lauders I’d not tried, and even that thing that Musette over at the Posse calls Aromatics of Dooooooom (yes, I find Aromatics Elixir hideous). Azuree is just ashtray-nasty, and Spellbound is not as sweet (“cloying” as PTG calls it) as I’d thought, but still it’s fairly synthetic-icky. I also smelled Poeme, which I was unfamiliar with – and I have to say that I was happier not knowing what it smelled like. Tresor in Love was not dreadful, but not interesting either.

And I sniffed some old enemies as well: Opium, Obsession, Youth Dew, White Linen. Obsession seems lighter, and so does Opium, but I still hate them. White Linen still smells to me as if it should have been named Mildewed Laundry: sour, squinty-eyed, suspicious. (Mind you, I like aldehydes!) I resmelled Private Collection, and actually sprayed it on skin. It is wonderful for all of an hour, and then it tries to kill me with that Lauder base. Surprisingly, Cinnabar smells rather nice to me now, very cinnamon-spicy and sweet and warm, but that Lauder balsamic thing is in there so it was also a complete bust.

Youth Dew I still despise to the depths of my being, so I suppose the world can go on turning. If I ever mention on the blog that I like Youth Dew, somebody is going to have to come down here and check my body for signs of alien invasion.

 

Collection of panterachik at Fragrantica.com

There is very little available at the mall that is rich, distinctive, and wonderful-smelling. It’s depressing as heck. Aside from Shalimar and Chanel No. 5 (and okaaaaay, fiiiine, toss some of the Estee Lauders in there too if you like), it’s kind of a desert. Way too many fragrances smell like other fragrances: Gucci Guilty smells an awful lot like Coco Mademoiselle; Coach EdP smells sort of like Calvin Klein Beauty. Worse, too many fragrances simply do not smell good.

I came home and put on some vintage Caron Parfum Sacre, and I felt better. I sniffed my Mary Greenwell Plum, and my Parfums de Nicolai Le Temps d’une Fete, and felt better still. I sniffed my DSH Oeillets Rouges and felt positively euphoric.

Perfumery is not dead, no matter the state of the mall.

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27 thoughts on “Sniffery in the “Big City””

  1. Cashmere Mist smells like deodorant.

    It’s so tragic that you don’t get on with the Lauders. If I was trapped in your Macy’s and had to apply something, I’d certainly go for one of them, or Angel Innocent, which I find strangely pleasing but don’t own a drop of.

    1. I almost went for the Shalimar, and I don’t even like the edt. I would probably have been fine with Chanel No. 5 edt.

      SEE?? a wasteland. I am very jealous of your access to stuff like F Malle…

      1. Yeah, sounds pretty bad. I’m lucky to have easy access to a Saks and a Barneys. I’ll miss them when I get to Denver, but I know they at least have a Nordstroms, which tend to have pretty decent perfume counters.

        1. You’ll be near Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s store in Boulder, but the department store offerings are pretty basic.

      2. I hope your move goes well. I’ve only been to Denver once… well, really, I would have to say, THROUGH Denver.

        Nordie’s is pretty good for sniffery. I think the closest one to me is… lessee… Charlotte, NC, three hours’ drive.

  2. A couple of years ago, I worked in a small-ish town for three months and had the same sad situation. Even worse, no testers were out at all at one of the department stores. I wasn’t nearly as “interested” in perfume as I am now, but I’ve always loved perfume and didn’t pack anything. Being a little homesick, I was looking for a scent to kind of “ground” me, if you will. Even at the “better” stores, I couldn’t find anything at all. There was Chanel and Dior, I remember, but not the full lines. I ended up buying something from a company like Aveda – natural, not interesting, but better than nothing. I left it there when I returned home! I admire your dedication to scent – and what you must go through to sniff things that I can just drive down the street to test. Thanks for a day in your life.

    1. Oh, no, Kym, you were in perfume exile!! It is really dreadful.

      I’d have been okay if I got along well with the Estee Lauders. (They SMELL fine, but there is something in the base that makes me nauseous. Two hours, tops, before I go scrub them off – even Private Collection, which should be totally up my alley.)

      Thank goodness for swap friends. And TPC and Posh Peasant. And eBay…

  3. No Chanel No 19? Tsk tsk. For me, no matter how trashy the offerings, if there is Chanel No 19, I feel that all is right with the world. But you saw Private Collection, and that makes me happy.

    I get ash tray from Azuree as well, just a little, but I dab it every now and again, even if it is just to remind myself how interesting a mainstream fragrance can be (or once was, I should say). I’m glad you saw it. It seems to be getting hard and harder to find. If you know someone who loves it, let them know!

    1. No, AM, there was NO No. 19. It’s just sad. No Cristalle, either. I was surprised to see only the two Diors (J’Adore and its flanker), too, since Dior has such a large line.

      Estee Lauder’s line is by far the most interesting of the available scents there. Too bad I don’t get on with them.

  4. Hello Mals!
    I received my DSH Chypre and find it very interesting.
    On me it smells like Paloma Picasso with a dollop of rosewood on top.
    Very little sillage but when I sniff it up close, wonderful!
    Have you ever smelled the original Coty Chypre or the 1993 re-issue?

    1. I haven’t smelled Paloma in at least a couple of years, so I might have to go find a bottle (where??) to compare. I know I hated it in the 80s.

      I have smelled the reissue of Coty Chypre (I think that was rereleased in about 1982?) but not the original. The Coty is much brighter than the DSH, and also more powdery – sort of halfway between the DSH and vintage Miss Dior.

      I wish I had gotten hold of the DSH when she still had it in EdP. Perfume oils really don’t have much sillage at all, do they??

      1. “I wish I had gotten hold of the DSH when she still had it in EdP. Perfume oils really don’t have much sillage at all, do they??”
        Me too, it becomes a bit strange when I am constantly sniffing the back of my hand!!
        I know that Boscov’s still sells Paloma, Boscov’s being an un-hip Macys with an older clientele. Don’t know if they are located out of the PA-DE-NJ area.

      2. Never heard of Boscov’s! It must be a regional chain.

        Macy’s had bottles of Paloma, but no tester. I hear the the old bottles of parfum, the white ones (I hadn’t known it came in white!), are the thing to get if you like Paloma.

  5. It really sounds like a wasteland and I can almost feel your joy upon coming home and smelling all your wonderful perfumes. Thank God for the internet! 🙂

    1. Oh, I KNOW! I’m so grateful for online perfume.

      One of these days I’ll go visit my brother in Richmond (five hours’ drive), and go sniffing at Nordstrom and Neiman-Marcus and Saks…

  6. Although I feel your pain at the lacks of the perfume counters, reading this gives me my own feeling of “all is right with the world” because where you live is so different from where I live. Sometimes I feel like everywhere in the world is becoming like everywhere else. When I travel, it is mostly to big cities, and although there are differences in cities there are more and more similarities. I crave foreignness. And a Macy’s where the SAs are nice *and* content to leave you alone? That is foreign, indeed! 🙂

    1. Well, it is nice that the SAs are pleasant. However, they are mostly ignorant in terms of what they’re selling. That nice Lauder rep did not know the difference between Cinnabar and Estee, except that she liked Estee.

      I do know what you mean about everything seeming to be the same – my sister in law lives in Northern Virginia, which is largely a suburb of WAshington, DC, and everything in that area seems to be a clone of everything else: houses, schools, shops, doctors’ offices, you name it.

  7. I could relate to all of your mall report, as we are if anything even iller served in our small town of 60,000 or so. And some of the testers in the sad apology for a department store look hot and bothered.and decidedly long in the tooth to boot…

    “Beauty (rather nice, an inoffensive lily scent with a nice woody cast),” Yay! I am a champion of this, wore it yesterday, and felt instantly calm when I put it on.

    And am glad to meet another Yeughth Dew hater! One of my top nemeses. I find it tingly embalming fluid all the way…sorry if anyone is a big fan out there.

    1. Well, I did have to drive about an hour to get to the mall. There is a Belk within a half-hour’s drive, but they have even less than the Macy’s.

      Beauty was quite nice! Youth Dew, though… gah, kill me now. Smelled it on a woman at Wal-Mart this afternoon, where I had gone to pick up some milk, water softener salt, and a new bike helmet for Gaze. Had to go down another aisle to avoid her.

  8. You know, the Lauders are looking better than they used to, chiefly because of what’s out there now in the upscale mainstream area. I really do like the Tuberose Gardenia, even though it’s super-strong — although the store you went to not having it make me wonder if its days are numbered.

    1. Well, I don’t think they ever stocked either of the Private Collection flankers, so I wouldn’t worry on that account. And I do wish I could wear the Lauders – they are so well made, and my aunts always smell lovely (Beyond Paradise and Knowing).

  9. Your post reads like a typical sniffing day in my neck of the woods. I generally feel depressed when I return from a mall sniff. When I feel that way, I do what you do: I spritz on my favorites.

  10. Mals, I enjoy your stories. This one makes me feel grateful to the place where I live. I won’t complain any more that Saks is 40 minutes drive and an expensive parking…

    1. Ooh, you have a Saks!!! Lucky you!

      (It all depends on your frame of mind, doesn’t it? I do still have internet… and I’m not lacking for good smells… 🙂 )

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