I lifted the lid of the textured clay vessel up to my nose, closed my eyes, and inhaled deeply. A manicured garden of white flowers at dusk appeared behind my eyelids, plants covered in droplets from a quiet rain shower. The sun had just set, but the sky already appeared starry and the roses, honeysuckle, and primroses seemed to glitter in their dewiness.
“This one definitely has that ‘wet’ quality,” my guide said. “It’s meant to smell like the sea foam that Aphrodite was born from.”
Perfumarie is a conceptual fragrance boutique in SoHo, selling cult faves like Imaginary Authors and new niche lines like Jazmin Sarai, as well as other “sensory-forward” items like specialty honey and handmade chocolates. But high-end escapism isn’t the only thing this shop sells: For $20, you can enjoy a blind “perfume flight” of 25 curated, unlabeled perfumes, on tap and sprayed into small gray tagines.
Without knowing names and designers, seeing the bottles, or being provided with the notes, the scents could be anything from single fragrance molecules to expensive perfumes to Justin Bieber’s newest release. The goal is to discover what you truly like in a fragrance without the aspirational assumptions of wealth and status that are often used to sell perfume.
Starting from the lightest, simplest fragrances to the headiest and most complex, you sniff them all, select four favorites, try them on your skin, and leave with a complimentary (and anonymously labeled) five-milliliter vial of your top choice. Your notes from the experience are scanned and emailed to you the day after, and at the end of the month, the official names of all the scents are released, letting you discover the brands behind your selections.
When you begin this journey, you’re invited to take notes and make synesthetic connections to colors, flavors, and your own memories. One fragrance smelled of fine champagne and roses and inexplicably brought me back to a Macy’s on the rich side of St. Louis. Another transported me to my early childhood: a dusty drawer in my grandma’s kitchen, filled with cooking spices far past their expiration date. A cozy, incense-filled fragrance brought to mind a stately Midtown woman wearing a fine fur coat in shades of rust and copper. Another smelled like a plastic strawberry dropped into a tall glass of water. It was a $20 afternoon trip through my memory, with stops at imaginary moments I’d never experienced firsthand.
The experience is self-guided, so you can make it what you want. If you’re nerdy about perfume you can ask the staff members for the notes in each fragrance and muse about the scents together — they’re just not allowed to tell you the names or specific origins. If you just want to figure out what you like, you can smell all of the fragrances in 10 minutes and take your favorite home immediately.
I ended up selecting a scent I described in my notes as “sexy lolita pink bubblegum” — but rather than pink candy, its notes are curiously citrus-based, with sweet lime and yuzu on top of cashmeran and clary sage. That description makes it something I’d never think to try for myself, proving the delightful genius behind this concept.
Perfumarie’s scent flight is one of the coolest ways to stretch the creative side of your brain and allow yourself to solidify those synesthetic connections you otherwise might ignore in daily life —plus explore fragrances you’d never try.
When you remove the $150/oz brand names, the cold inaccessibility of traditional boutiques, and the counters with pushy salespeople working on commission, perfume becomes approachable. When we blindly lift scents to our noses, we become historians and artists, storytellers and dreamers, instead of consumers striving toward a celebrity-fueled fantasy.
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Photo by Dana DeVolk on Unsplash