Charlie Byrne | Fashion Editor | Friday, 19 December 2014

Things Your Only Know If You Work On A Perfume Counter During Christmas Mayhem

The Debrief: From customers drippng 50k on one spree, to the celeb perfume we're all desperate for...

Illustration by Marina Esmeraldo

Do you freak out when you walk through the perfume halls in the run up to Christmas? All that rogue spritzing, plus stressed out mums with kids grabbing glass bottles and confused blokes wandering aimlessly from Eau de Festive Cheer to Parfum de Christmas Tree and back again just too much for you? Well imagine working there during the Christmas rush.

We spoke to Kiran Patel, a perfume advisor at Harvey Nichols, who has 12 years experience selling fragrances and has survived over a decade of panic buys on Christmas eve, to find out what it’s really like in that glamorous, glitzy beauty hall once the festive frenzy kicks in.  

So Yes, It Does Get Ridiculously Busy
'Especially on Christmas eve, as many people haven’t got around to buying their gifts yet,’ says Kiren. ‘It’s usually young men, who have busy lifestyles and lots of stress to juggle - they tend to think there’s plenty of time but then they realise they’ve left it to the last minute.’ We know the sorts. We’ve all received a perfume from one of them that seems strangely insightful given that we dropped tonnes of hints for other stuff and all of those went unnoticed. Their secret? People like Kiran. ‘I make a little joke about how last minute their shopping is, reassure them that there’s no need to panic, and once they’re comfortable, we pick the right perfume.’ So you should probably thank her for those nice smellies from last year.

It Isn’t Impossible To Buy Perfume For Someone You Don’t Know That Well
Not got a clue what to buy for your BF's mum? It’s not as hard as you might think. ‘If a customer doesn’t know someone they’re buying for that well, I ask whether they’re male or female and their age group - that gives me the starting point,’ says Kiran. ‘I pick three or four fragrances for them to try, giving them the strongest scent first, leading to the lighter ones, so you can find the strength they like.’ Simple.

You Will Never Know What Someone Likes Just From What They Look Like
‘You can never predict by looking at someone what fragrance they’re going to prefer or how much they will spend. It’s like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman,’ says Kiran. ‘One client recently came in and spent 50k on make-up and perfume to fill her various houses, but you can never judge based on what they’re wearing.’ So reassure yourself that when you show up in converse and ripped jeans, the perfume lady isn’t silently judging.

READ MORE: Confessions Of A Perfume Snob: A Week In Supermarket Frangrances

The Most Popular Perfume Is Your Natural Smell
One of Harvey Nichols most popular perfumes is Molecule, a perfume range that is based on a pheromone concept and smells differently on person to person.

Indecisiveness Is Rife
‘Buying perfume is like going to a restaurant, some people will be very decisive and others far less so,’ Kiran explains. ‘Many people like to smell lots before they buy, and now people have a lot of knowledge about brands and perfumes, the internet allows them to do their homework before they purchase.’ If you’re a stickler for buying the same scent year on year, you’re not the only one. ‘People become very attached to brands and don’t go out of their comfort zones because it can be scary, and we would rather stick to brands we feel safe with.’

Packaging Makes A Huge Difference
We all remember the scene from Love Actually where Rowan Atkinson takes ten minutes to wrap a necklace in a fancy bag. ‘Packaging makes a huge difference, it’s like buying an Aston Martin vs a Ford,’ Kiran continues, ‘it’s all about first impressions - your mind is deciding even before you smell a perfume whether you like it or not.’ That might be why we always drift towards certain bottles like Dory in Finding Nemo, before we see the price. It’s important not to be sucked in, though. ‘Some brands have lovely packaging, but you’re paying for that, so it depends if you’re bothered about what it will look like on your shelf. Many of us have friends come over and we want to display our perfume because there’s a prestige attached to it.’

You Should Have More Than One Perfume
‘Personally I wear my work perfume, and a going out perfume, which I never mix together, because my work perfume makes me feel like I’m at work!’ says Kiran. ‘Perfume has to be season appropriate too, winter and summer scents should be different just like our food is.’ So you need to find yourself a salad perfume for summer, and a spicy, comforting perfume for winter. There’s science behind it, too. Light perfume stay on the skin longer in summer, but will be lost during winter.

There Are Good And Bad Ways To Test Perfume
‘A card won’t give you the true fragrance,’ Kiran explains. ‘Spray it on your right wrist if you’re right handed, it needs to settle, and then over the course of the day you will get continual exposure to the scent.’

You Hear Some Pretty Awesome Sentimental Stories
‘We often have people coming in to rediscover a scent that a loved one wore,’ says Kiran. ‘Fragrance is memory, and it can remind you of a place in your lifetime.’ Probably why we can’t shake the scent of Hugo Boss from all those blokes we dated in uni, but also how we can remind ourselves of people we’ve lost, through bygone fragrances. ‘People often come in looking for fragrances like Tweed or Lanvin’s Arpege, wanting to remember the smell of their mothers,’ says Kiran. Awww.

There’s A Filter To Stop The Perfume Hall Stinking
‘We have a filter in our air conditioning system, so my clothes don’t smell at all of perfume by the time I get home,’ says Kiran. And what about when bottles are dropped? ‘We don’t actually mind when accidents happen, you end up with liquid everywhere, but the whole room smells brilliant!’

People Come In To Use The Testers Before A Night Out
You heard it here first, it’s totally acceptable to head to a perfume hall before your date so that you smell ten times more expensive than usual. ‘It’s a really normal thing for people to come in before meetings or dinner and use the perfumes, but we don’t mind at all - if they receive compliments on it then they come back and buy it, which keeps us happy!’

There’s One Celeb Perfume That We Always Receive Requests For
‘We are often asked for One Direction’s perfume, but we don’t stock it. We also get asked for Justin Bieber’s perfume too.’ 

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Illustration by Marina Esmeraldo

Tags: Beautification