Ever wondered what goes on in the mind of a fragrance model and what happens behind a perfume counter? Christina Warinner tells her story. See Part 1: Stardust, if you've missed it.
Confessions of an Ex-Fragrance Model by guest contributor Christina Warinner
Part 2: The Hunt
So, it turns out that "fragrance model" is a euphemism for "predatory perfume pusher." You might think that having annoying women chase you around with fragrance sticks would make you less likely to buy an overpriced bottle of floral extracts, but quite to the contrary. In the fragrance world, the philosophy is that once you catch a whiff of that magical scent you will be unable to resist the purchase. It's the fragrance model's job to track you down and spray. The problem is that our prey knows the ruse and goes to great lengths to avoid capture.
The customers were deft and devised all sorts of clever false starts and fake-outs to skirt our counter. The seasoned ones entered and immediately ducked right, into the baby department. From there they could circle around through the children's section, then through scarves and handbags, and eventually emerge victorious behind us at the foot of the elevator. These clever trophy wives were fast and couldn't be caught. They shopped every day and knew the store inside and out. They mocked us with their pouting botox lips and perky silicone breasts as they ascended to the second floor...
Occasionally, some customers would decide to take us head-on, right arm outstretched, ready to block our approach if we got too close. But we didn't make it easy for them. We set up mobile tabletop displays that forced them into a pinball-like path where we had several opportunities to trap them. We'd usually start with something colorful, like boxed fragrance and lotion sets packaged in unusual bottles (Lolita Lempicka worked particularly well). The color and the shape of the bottle would catch their eye and their gait would slow. At this point, we'd make a dummy approach. Caught off guard, they'd clumsily speed up again in a vain attempt to escape and march straight into our next trap - an overburdened table of Angel products. To avoid knocking over the display, they'd come to a full stop and search about frantically as they realized we were closing in. Panicking, they'd thrust right, thinking they could still make it to the children's department, and that's when the Creed rep would suddenly appear, pinning them to the display. There was no escape; they were trapped against a 10 foot wall of Creed products, each bottle costing $200 or more. There were dozens of fragrances, and every one had a glossy story and textured box. They didn't like the smell of flowers? How about mint? Patchouli? Bergamot? Fresh-cut grass? No matter what they declaimed, there were still more Creed fragrances. The Creed rep was ruthless. Their spirit now broken, she'd spray them down, hand them five or six samples and release them.
One day, while we were plotting the capture of the elusive silicone demographic, we realized that, since we weren't employed by the store, we weren't tied to the fragrance counter. That's when we began making raids on the second floor women's department: first Stardust, then Angel, then Creed, roughly on a half hour schedule. Bottle in hand, scented left arms, and pockets stuffed with fragrance sticks, we'd casually break away from the counter and glide up the escalator. Horror. That's the only word to describe the reaction of defeated botox beauties. Then we'd triumphantly descend the stairs and await the return of our victims, who dutifully made small purchases or requested samples as they exited the store.
In the end, it didn't really matter if I sold any Stardust, since I didn't make a commission, but the hunt did help break the boredom, and I enjoyed plotting and scheming with my new Angel and Creed friends. Eventually, Stardust was discontinued, and I was hired as an ordinary fragrance counter sales girl. My pay was halved, my hours doubled, and my second floor wings were forever clipped. Stuck inside the fragrance counter cage, I was forced to find other ways to amuse myself. I began to read the bottles and wonder what it was exactly that I was selling.
Tomorrow: Part 3: Jargon
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.