Confessions of an Ex-Fragrance Model - Part 1 {Fragrant Reading - Writing}

The Women, 1939, by George Cukor via Nicorama

Today, TSS brings to you the first part of a story in four installments, that of one time fragrance model Christina Warinner who is now engaged in vastly different pursuits, doing archaeological work in Central America. In the one year in which she operated as a fragrance model, she managed to make enough of an impact in the industry to be honored as "Stardust's national Employee of the Month for highest sales." Here is her story, unadorned, and delightfully non-PC.

Confessions of an Ex-Fragrance Model
by guest contributor Christina Warinner

November 1998:
"Stardust is our newest winter fragrance. It has a warm, rich, floral scent that is perfect for the holiday season."

February 1999:
 "Stardust is one of our new spring fragrances. It has a light, clean, fresh scent that is perfect for the upcoming summer months."

Part 1: Stardust

For one year in the late 1990s, I was a fragrance model for Parfums Llewellyn at a now defunct department store in Leawood, Kansas, a wealthy suburb of Kansas City. I was a college student at the time and needed a job with minimum hours and maximum pay. At $16.50 an hour and 3-10 flexible hours a week, becoming a fragrance model seemed ideal.

Admittedly, it was an odd marriage - I have terrible allergies and I hate perfume. But money was money, and I was willing to suffer - Claritin and tissues in hand - in order to save up for  a study abroad program in Belize. In fair disclosure, I had previously worked in the fragrance industry. In high school, I briefly held a holiday job in the Victoria's Secret fragrance department at the local mall, only to be transferred after two days to the lingerie dressing room. Apparently, bloodshot eyes and incessant sneezing were not desired traits in an employee. At least my math skills were put to good use in my new hypoallergenic capacity as a "bra fitter."...

"Qualified" is not a word I would have used to describe myself when I embarked on my brief career as a fragrance model. I had never bought perfume before (or makeup for that matter), and the closest thing to a beauty product I had in my medicine cabinet was Powder Fresh Secret. I was hired because I liked to swing dance and through that had made friends with an older woman who happened to be the fragrance department manager. She liked my dancing and offered me the job. Unlike Victoria's Secret, where we had to watch dozens of videos before we could even step on the floor, I had absolutely no training as a new fragrance model. I was just told: "Here is the fragrance you will be representing.  It is called Stardust. Here is the back room where we keep the stock. You don't technically work for the store so you can't ring up purchases - take those instead to the makeup counter. Give away samples to people who ask for them, but not too many. Your job is to sell as much Stardust as possible, but you don't earn commission and you get paid even if you don't sell anything."

It seemed simple enough. But then I realized that I didn't know anything at all about fragrances. What's the difference between eau de toilette and eau de parfum? No idea. What is an atomizer? Blank stare. I generally worked alone, dodging these pressing questions and the customers to whom they belonged, but when the Angel and Creed reps came in, I mined them for information. The Creed rep stripped me of my vulgar language. She taught me that fragrances do not have a "smell;" they have a "scent." Also, I should always say fragrance and not perfume (apparently, anglicized French words are not allowed). The Angel rep demonstrated how to pre-spray cards with the fragrance to hand out to customers and also how to spray the fragrance in the crook of my arm so that they could "experience the scent" without the harsh alcohol overtones. Most importantly, however, the other reps taught me how to hunt. You see, the Angel and Creed reps worked for commission, and they were out for blood.

Tomorrow: Part 2: The Hunt

Christina Warinner is now a Ph.D. student at Harvard University and spends her summers excavating at sites in Mexico, looking for traces of past epidemics. She spends the rest of the year teaching tomorrow's best and brightest in the classroom for far less than she made as a Stardust rep. She still keeps Powder Fresh Secret in her medicine cabinet and doesn't own a single bottle of perfume. However, she will admit that when she gracefully dodges the fragrance counters at the Cambridgeside Galleria mall, deftly cutting left and right, she's tempted to slow down a bit, let herself be caught, and bathe in a fine floral mist.

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