In her quest to encourage consumers to trust their noses, Ms. Yang decided to put perfumes on tap, labeling them only by number. She installed 32 identical fragrance spouts along the minimalist back wall of the space, removing any hints of branding, packaging or price information. Underneath each tap is a small gray stone tagine containing a white paper swan soaked in the mystery perfume.
Customers are encouraged to sniff in numerical order, taking notes on a clipboard about the scents that set their synapses ablaze. The scents begin light, with airy and citrusy notes, and get progressively stronger. Ms. Yang likens this to beginning with white wine and graduating to a full-bodied cabernet. The day I visited, I started with a scent full of delicate roses, moved onto one that reminded me of expired lipstick, and finished my tour inhaling a funky cumin concoction that smelled like a ripe armpit.
After selecting two favorites from the lineup, each visitor is encouraged to try them on the skin. They then make a final choice, and leave with a five-milliliter sample, decanted into a tiny brown dropper vial. Shoppers are not permitted to know the name of the perfume they’ve selected. Instead, the vials are labeled with numbers, looking a bit like prototypes stolen from a chemistry lab.
The suspense doesn’t last long. At the end of every month, Ms. Yang hosts a cocktail party to unveil the tap selections. She also posts the full list online so that customers can discover the truth about the perfumes they took home. Sometimes the results are surprising.
In November, for example, Ms. Yang filled tap No. 32 with Pitbull Man. Many of the scents on tap are high-end, including some that sell for as much as $5 per milliliter (liquid gold, in perfume terms). Still, Ms. Yang intends to add a few mass-market and celebrity scents to the mix in order to break preconceived notions about what constitutes a fine fragrance. After reading gushy online reviews of Pitbull Man, she bought a case of it to add, mostly as a cheeky provocation. She did not expect that it would become one of the most popular scents in the store.
“I have a friend who works in the industry, for an exquisite fragrance house,” Ms. Yang said. “She picked the Pitbull as her favorite out of all of them. She couldn’t believe it when she found out. But then, that is what this place is all about.”
The first “guided flight” through Perfumarie, accompanied by a clerk who acts as a kind of scent sommelier, is free. Afterward, sampling the taps costs $20. When customers pay for their first blind smelling, they have the option to become a Perfumarie Explorer’s Club member. Their scent notes are scanned into a database and saved for future reference. Other perks of membership include the reveal parties, a quarterly sampler box of store-exclusive scents, and invitations to events held around the “gathering table,” like a meet-and-greet with the master perfumer Christophe Laudamiel, who also serves as an official adviser to the studio.
Ms. Yang hopes that by offering membership and stressing the community aspect of the store, customers will return month after month. She wants them to treat their past smelling notes like a library, learning how their taste evolves over time. As of now, she said, the studio has more than 600 members registered.
“What we are really trying to create here is a kind of salon where fragrance lovers can go,” she said. “There are so many little cultures of pleasure nowadays. Chocolate, coffee, wine. But there is little of that in the perfume industry. This is a perfect activity to do with your friends after a few mimosas at brunch.”
Ms. Yang conceived Perfumarie using a “hybrid business model,” meaning that while she wants the storefront to be a fragrant playground for walk-in sniffers, she hopes it will be equally attractive to the industry as a street-level test lab. Each month she works with fragrance firms and individual perfumers to add a few unreleased juices to the taps, offering them a chance to gain real-time market research.
If customers fall in love with one of the fragrances they try, Ms. Yang said, the store will connect members to perfumers so that they can buy a bottle. Or, she said with a grin, you can simply come into the store and fill a large apothecary bottle with a scent on tap. That way, no one has to know that you keep Pitbull Man on your vanity. What your nose loves, after all, is your business.
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