Jul 11, 2014

Harrods fixing the Perfume Counter - Clive Christian, Roja, Royal fragrance !

Your department store fragrance floor has a problem. There are simply too many people trying on too many scents for a customer to know what he's buying.

"Everyone just sprays the perfume around," says Emmanuelle Pages, a fragrance consultant based in Hamburg. "There's no way to neutralize each fragrance after it's been used, so there's no way for the customer to smell any one thing."

Then there’s the logistical muddle to get through: shoppers have to navigate makeup counters, deodorant displays, and bath and body products as they search for the perfect scent.

It's not so bad if you're looking for an established perfume like Chanel no. 5 or the ubiquitous Odeur 53 from Comme de Garcons: you know where to find it, and what it smells like -- you've smelled it a million times before.

But you're out of luck if you want something more unique, which, lately, is exactly what people seem to be after. "There used to be independent perfumeries where you'd buy upscale perfumes, and retailers would carry mainstream fragrances," says Marian Bendeth, a fragrance consultant based in Toronto. "Since around 2000, retailers began to take on brands that are more niche, more upscale, and more expensive."

That means that people in the market for something special have to take the time, and have the olfactory space, to figure out if they actually like the new thing that they’re smelling. And that brings us back to the perfume counter problem, and what the British department store Harrods is doing to fix it.

Alcove Appeal          
First, they're pulling their best perfumes from the makeup-oriented beauty hall altogether. Then they're building a separate, "Salon de Parfums" on their sixth floor, where buyers will be able to wander through hushed marble halls and sample perfumes from 11 stores, each in its own alcove. (Brands include Roja Dove, the celebrated bespoke perfumer, and Clive Christian, who has "the world's most expensive perfume" written on his bottles.) The 5,090 square foot space will have neutral colored walls, crystal chandeliers, and a domed glass ceiling.

In a sense, Harrods is playing catch-up. Frederic Malle, the famed French perfumer, has special"smelling columns" (which look eerily similar to money-blowing machines) where shoppers can test each scent in a totally neutral space. Le Labo has glass domes over their candles, so that patrons can uncover them to breathe in an unadulterated scent. So Harrod's (or any store trying to sell "the world's most expensive perfume") probably wants to differentiate that perfume’s pricey scent from notes of CK One wafting by from an adjacent counter. The alcove structure in Harrods’ new space will go some way to preventing scent pollution.

It’s somewhat surprising that Harrod's seems to be the first big department store in the UK to make the change -- in fact, the only other department store with a similar layout is Printemps in Paris, who shifted their strategy three years ago. "I can't think of a single German department store with an isolated perfume section," say Pages. Similarly, Bergdorf’s and Bloomingdales in the US seem stuck on the cavernous, one-scent-fits-all beauty hall.

Bendeth welcomes the change. "It's the difference between hearing music at lunch in a crowded restaurant, and listening on your headphones at home," she says. "It lets you connect, truly connect, to the scent."

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