Imaginary, fig-scented friends

Have you ever found yourself talking a lot of bollocks at a department store beauty counter?

I went to Harvey Nics to try some Diptyque Philosykos for the Perfume Project. The lovely Sali Hughes proclaimed her love for it in her perfume column last year (“figgy, woody and unique”), as did some of you excellent, perfume-savvy folks.

Now, I am no longer 21 years old and full of insecurities and inferiority complexes. So I’d generally say I stroll happily and assertively around fancy department stores these days, rather than skulk about unworthily. Generally.

I found the Diptyque area and scanned the shelves Terminator-stylee, while arranging my face into a casual, “I do this all the time and could quite easily buy one of each” expression.

The friendly sales assistant came over and said, “Have you tried the room fragrances? They’re really lovely.”

“Room fragrances!” I exclaimed. “Well! I did not realise they did room fragrances too.”

Oh fuck. She’s on to me. I must look too scruffy, like I can’t afford to buy the actual perfume! So she’s gently redirecting me to the cheaper stuff that you just spray around the house!

“I’m just looking at the perfumes today,” I said.

And then, for no good reason I added: “I always wear Philosykos but I’m wondering if it’s time for a change? Go a bit crazy and try something new?”

Why the bloody hell did you say that? You only came here to test Philosykos, a perfume you’ve never sniffed before, and now you can’t test Philosykos because you just declared you wear Philosykos all the time. Dickhead!

“Hmmm that’s a tough one,” she said, “Philosykos is quite unique, there’s really nothing quite like it is there?”

“It is one of a kind.”

“And it smells different on everyone else.”

“Oh totally,” I nodded, “Some of my friends wear it too, and it smells completely different on each of them!”

My imaginary, fig-scented friends.

“Well, I’ll leave you to it, but let me know if you need any more help,” she smiled and moved along.

I’m not in Edinburgh that often so it was a rare chance to try something outside the usual Boots/Debenhams suspects. I waited a minute and spritzed on the Philosykos. Then I scurried off, leaving a tell-tale fig fug.

It was a gorgeous perfume, although a bit too edible for me (I just needed a filo pastry case and a blob of marscapone on top).

I would like to know if any other perfectly intelligent and confident people ever turn into a gibbering mess when faced with a beauty store counter? Anyone?!

About Shauna Reid

Ahoy there! I’m Shauna, an author, copywriter and content mentor. I love telling stories about life and helping others to tell theirs.

Find out more about me and how we can work together – I’m now booking for October 2021.

19 thoughts on “Imaginary, fig-scented friends

  1. Raises hand. In fact, I had a terrifying encounter with the Chanel lady in the local department store last week. The degree of difficulty was high as I had to conduct the exchange in german. I’m happy to call it a win though – I got to try out some swanky make up and extend my vocabulary. That’s what I call cultural enrichment.

  2. Yes I have! At the MAC Counter in Bloomingdales in New York…..i wanted a yummy new lipstick to wear in a shade of reddest red and this little man kept bringing me samples to try that were all pink. After two or three pink tinged samples I timidly, but somewhat frustratedly, said: “I think this is too pinky for me??” at which he retorted in a disdainful way “it’s too PINKY??!!!” and huffed off to get another. Which was actually red. And then I bought it. But he definitely ruined my MAC-in-Bloomingdales experience. Idiot.

    I’ve never failed to have a lovely experience at Clinique though, I always come away with the product I wanted plus about twenty free gifts and a new face of make up! Hurrah!

  3. There is a man who works at my local Sephora store and when I tried to tell him what I was looking for, a simple moisturizer with no potentially-irritating ingredients, told me that what I really needed was a different cleanser and was very pushy about it. I wasn’t going to spend $30 on a cleanser that was mostly getting washed down the drain, but it rattled me and I ended up accidentally buying a posh sunscreen instead of the moisturizer I wanted. I wish I didn’t feel like such a dope when buying this stuff. Most of the time I would rather be left alone to browse and read the ingredients labels obsessively.

  4. It’s good to read that this happens to more than just me! Like when I went looking for make up. I don’t wear the stuff, really, so if it’s not something that was in my Mum’s make up bag, I don’t know what it is. But I had decided it was time to grow up (at 40-something…), so I turned up barefaced and asked for advice – and the girl just looked petrified, like I’d just said ‘I’m running away from the convent – make me pretty!’.

    So then I went elsewhere and pretended I knew more than I did, and bought a bunch of stupid stuff I didn’t want.

    I think the hysteria sets in because you’re so panicked about looking like a fool, and the slightest slip up costs a minimum of £30!

  5. Absolutely. Those flawlessly made-up women scare the bejeezus out of me. I’m always sure they’re looking down their nose at me because they can spot cheap makeup from Priceline at a hundred paces. Also, I forget to apply lipstick all the time, so they must be sneering about my naked lips…

    I’m a makeup failure. 🙁

  6. I used to be freaked out my makeup/perfume counter girls. Especially since I’m generally without makeup and in jeans/t-shirt. They scare me less now that I’ve worked at a department store. Most of the girls who worked in our store hated feeling pushy but knew if they weren’t to some degree they’d get in trouble. It was also comforting to know that at least half of them *never* looked that made up on their days off.

  7. Over the Easter weekend, inspired by your perfume mission I went out to try some new ones; I found myself in a chic boutique and was being so ‘supervised’ spritzing the perfumes (found one that was interesting: warm cotton by clean) that I ended up ‘justifying myself’ by buying an OPI nail polish, in a colour I already own and don’t wear. *sigh*. Hot pink toe-nails for the next two-years methinks… Its got a cool name though: in the Dutch collection and called ‘kiss my tulips’ 🙂

  8. LOL! You silly lam, of course we do! I especially hate walking into dress shops. I hate shopping for clothes and try to compensate by wearing extra comfy duds… which results in me feeling (and looking 😉 like a scruffy cat in every bloody store I visit making the experience even more tortuous. When will I learn…

  9. I haven’t had this experience (ahem), but I’ve been using perfume all my life (it was practically a requirement back in the old country). I thought I’d share some of my favorite fragrances with you so you may try them:
    – J’Adore Dior
    – Organza (Organza Indecence is pretty … decent as well) – Givenchy
    – Un Jardin Mediterranee Hermes
    – Un Jardin sur le Nil – Hermes (these two are quite unique, esp. the Nil one)
    – Memoire Liquide: Soleil Liquide (this is more of a custom fragrance and harder to find, but worth it IMHO)
    – Diesel Fuel for Life (I was surprised too, but it smells REALLY good)
    – Quelques Fleurs Royale – Houbigant (oldie but goodie)
    – Rumeur – Lanvin

    I think you’ll have fun trying them, and maybe you’ll even like one of them!

  10. Oh Shauna!! You make me laugh and I love it! I hate these sale-chicks, always overstyled, always perfect. I think, they look at me, when I come through “their” door and they think about me: Oh hell, what does SHE want’s in here? I always feel fat, unpretty and like the farmers daughter. And I hate it, when I get some tips for my “unclean, elderly skin”. I always spend more money that I actually should in these stores. 😉 XX, Sandra

  11. I go about attempting to nick a spray of the expensive stuff in the manner of an adolescent boy attempting to ask out a beautiful young lady, e.g. by sidling up to my target in an insoucient fashion with my gaze elsewhere, then just as I am within spritzing distance losing my nerve and changing direction. Sometimes this is in response to being startled by an actual perfume lady, or sometimes I just become convinced that one is about to accost me and the misplaced shame is too great to persevere with the mission in hand. It is strangely embarrassing to admit to wanting a squirt of posh perfume and I think your cover-up was ingenious! Thank goodness the sales lady will never guess your true intentions!

  12. Ugh I do this all the time! I am horrible at makeup counters! I tend to just buy the stuff at your regular stores (i.e. Target) but once in awhile I try to go for something a little upscale (see upcoming wedding junk) and it never fails that they try to push some insanely expensive thing on me or look at me like they just know I have no idea what I am doing….thus I’ve moved on to birchbox who send me nice little samples of things without the nosy sales people….or I just run in to Ulta, grab what I’ve already spent two weeks researching online in the sample size and dash out through the checkout before they catch wise….

  13. Funny how we’re all so intimidated by the cosmetics industry! I can never gather the strength of character to turn around and say whatthebloodyhell is a room fragrance/ highlighter / masque? The last time I let a saleslady give me a makeover was over ten years ago – needless to say, I still have the virtually unused eyeshadow lurking in my bathroom cabinet…

  14. Aah. They are just women – and men – being paid to sell you something. I always act disarmingly bright as a button, say something like “Oh yes, the [brand] stuff is FANTASTIC, but I’m happy to explore a bit for now” and then browse the shelves and quiz stridently later. This confident approach puzzles them and makes them think you may actually BE Elizabeth Arden or at least an heir. When I had someone try to sell me a $250 eye cream, I said “I’ve just bought another house! What’s a more economical version you can show me?” They came up with an alternative.

    Admittedly, I did not use the “house-buying is my hobby approach” when I was < 30.

  15. I have worked in Jenners and John Lewis Edinburgh and can assure you that most of the perfume ladies are thinking more about getting out of their heels and putting their feet up than anything else. One of the girls I used to chat with told me that their huge heels were part of the uniform requirement and were torture to stand in all day.

    I never wear makeup or have any style – especially compared to people in the UK – but found most of the perfume ladies were lovely and non-judgemental. Which actually surprised me quite a lot as they all look so bloody perfect themselves. Stationery people were the ones you had to watch out for! Encountered quite a few strange ones there…and toys – think they were just sick to death of yelling at kids all day.

  16. Yup. I pretty much only wear makeup these days if it is a job interview or a party, because I am lazy and not all that convinced I know what to do with it. So I am generally totally bare-faced when in town and rarely engage the beauty-counter people in conversation.

    I did once have a very good experience at a makeup counter – in the Body Shop in Brussels. It was pouring down and the shop was empty, and the (male) assistant offered to give me a makeup lesson. I came out looking fantastic (I thought) and it gave me more confidence with how to do makeup in general. Though since I was in Brussels for my gap year, that means this was fifteen years ago… Maybe I need a refresher course!

  17. Hmm, now, I’ve worked in a bookshop and the thing is, we love a challenge. So you will always go up to a customer, well, basically to make sure they aren’t lost or anything, and if they give you a challenge – oh, it’s just lovely. Fab, you think to yourself, no shelfstocking or dusting for me, I am in the very realm of the stuff I am selling. If it was a tricky subject or they had read loads, then you call over colleagues and someone is looking up the computer and some else runs off to check if that other book is in and the whole bunch of us would be almost weeping with joy and we raced round the shop bringing IDEAS to the customer. It’s what you want to be doing. If they bought something: brilliant. If they didn’t well, they’d come again because our customer service would make them tear up if they tried to tell anyone about it. So when I had to go shopping for a bridesmaids outfit (argh!) my pal told me to go round the shops in her town first and narrow it down for her. It was actually really fun, because I went in and when the assistant came over I’d put myself entirely in the hands of their expertise: tell them what I was doing, that I knew NOTHING, was willing to try anything and what could they suggest? It was brilliant. You could see some of the folks’ faces just lighting up. I remember one shop where all the assistants all went what I can only describe as ‘bookshop’ on me – running round bringing all sort of stuff, asking me to try on something that had just arrived because they hadn’t seen it on anyone yet and that would help them help other customers, writing down what sort of shapes I should go for, telling me what I should avoid, telling me other shops to try… So take pity on the shop assistants, and when they come over and ask what you are up to, you are in the position to give them a QUEST, to make yourself the most enjoyable customer they’ve had all day. Take your perfume notes you’ve been making along, tell them what you are up to, what you have tried and not enjoyed, what’s been good, etc. I swear, Shauna, if they have halfway decent customer service you will make them wet their pants in joy and gratitude. Also, some of the perfume shops have….THE BOOKS. Have you seen THE BOOKS yet? Big things, hidden away. They are like perfume dictionaries and list ALL perfumes according to maker, what their basenotes and stuff are, what are similar etc etc. A dedicated perfume shop should have these and if you are lucky they will whip them out and you have have a look. I got a look at these in Hull, because I still ask about for a perfume LOOOONG gone that a friend like called ‘Enrico Uno’. Little known, wanted something similar, so they brought out THE BOOKS. You might ask if they have them…? Maybe they don’t. Or if that makes you nervous, ask what is similar to ‘Enrico Uno’!
    Do not fear: tell them the truth and give them a quest. If they are not into it, they aren’t a good perfume shop, leave and find a decent one.
    That’s my thought for the day…I’ll go now.

  18. Oh Shauna, nothing like trawling through pussycat to give myself a treat. But Donalda comments…they are just brilliant. So true! Love it. Hope you are well…xx

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