The Occupy Wall Street movement has spilled over into the streets, and during a time when movements to address disparities continue to become a lifestyle in New York and throughout the world, I went out for a perfume lovers' meeting where the wealthy women of New York might be thought to gather. The name of the event group was 'Sniffapalooza,' which alludes to a large perfume-indulging party in which scents are smelled enthusiastically and it sounded like playful American behavior, once-in-a-lifetime type of fun. It did not fit with the image of a wealthy woman and I was looking forward to seeing what type of people would come.
It started at the cosmetics sales floor in the first basement level of the luxury department store, Bergdorf Goodman, which is patronized by wealthy women but at most, 10 percent of the people there seemed like women of leisure. Other than that, the majority consisted ample-figured middle-aged women from the suburbs. Members are recruited and they gather for the 'Ball' over a two-day weekend in the spring and in the autumn. People don't remain in one venue talking endlessly about perfuming and smelling scents, but rather, they navigate the town, changing locations and changing products. The breakfast meeting allowed a limited number of people and unfortunately, I couldn't attend, so I was granted admission at 10:00.
Let's look at one day's schedule. 8:00 - 10:00 Breakfast meeting in the basement café of the department store. There is more than just eating. Just glancing in during the last five minutes, I could see everyone nodding as 17 (or so I was told later) perfume manufacturers introduced product after product, discussed this year's trends, and passed out cards with the scents. It was a full study session.
10:00 - 12:00 Sniffing and sales exhibition. People who purchased something are eligible to enter into a raffle and whoever won would receive a basket filled high with perfume. Even those who didn't win received a gift bag with 20 samples, including cologne and hand lotion. I love perfume, so I stopped agonizing over not being able to find 'the one,' while purchasing cheap cologne and began to sniff every single one in an effort to find my own scent for the day. By the time it was 12:00, I was already carrying three bags. The questions of the woman sniffing next to me were astute with regard to perfume mania. Responses ranged from explanations that the main ingredients were plum, rose, and patchouli oil, that the initial 30 minutes is whimsical and light, then the fruity scents of flowers is sustained for five hours, and then the base woody scents is sustained for 12 hours, and the scent attached to clothing leaves a lingering memory for several days according to the percentage of oil in the perfume. The knowledge of perfume, the sales pitches, the turn of phrases and techniques to elevate the guests' moods were first-rate (perhaps because this was Bergdorf Goodman) and I agreed each time to purchase the products. For good measure, three or four samples of new products were put into my bags and I left the sales floor with the sense that I had benefited greatly.
12:15 -- 2:30 Luncheon with presentations from 7 people at a French restaurant that was a 5-minute walk away. It started with a self-introduction from a fragrance designer who had experienced a career change and we heard stories connected to perfume from a book author, an online shopping founder, as well as a testimonial from a young, beautiful perfume lover who had survived uterine cancer. We were able to get to know each other from conversations at our 6-person tables, which were the right size for friendly talk. This is just speculation from the luncheon, but it seemed that of the approximately 300 people attending the luncheon, half were on the creation/sales side and half were customers. Those in creation and sales participated as a means to find out what the customers want and the customers were able to take home the newest trends and products, so it was an advantageous gathering for everyone.
The next location was Henri Bendel from 2:45 to 4:00. The festival-like spectacular lobby and second floor had been transformed into a promotion floor for all of the perfumeries, and colorful macaroons and cookies had been prepared as if at a salon. All of the people purchasing products received gifts including samples, just as in the morning. Following that session was a store visit at the Plaza Hotel from 4:15 - 5:15. Champagne and snacks were prepared with sophistication. Finally, there was one more store visit on Madison Avenue that ran until 6:30.
The following day started with a breakfast study session at a downtown hotel with the same gist as the first day, then downtown perfumeries were toured, and there was a variety of presentations. There seemed to be a lot of people who were participating throughout the two days.
Incidentally, this was the first time I had ever participated. I learned from asking around that there were a considerable number of people who were also participating for the first time. I met one woman who was attending for the third time. Barbara had spent the morning getting a makeover at Bobbi Brown while I had been sniffing all of the perfumes. After casually talking to her, we sat together at the luncheon and ended up being together until the evening. She told me that she had woken up at 5:00 a.m., had taken the 2-hour train ride from Poughkeepsie, and had attended since the breakfast session. She teaches children with learning disabilities and is a long way from being a woman of means. Perhaps she was already used to the Ball, but she was not carrying several bags like I was. She already knew how to get the most out of one day's participation fee. Even without purchasing anything, it is possible to obtain 2-3 months' worth of perfume samples. The makeover was free and the package included even her Japanese acquaintance (me). I was surprised that she responded to all of my questions and concerned for me from 'have you signed up for the raffle?' to 'That window table is good in this luncheon room.' Everywhere that I went, my purse strings were loosened, but when the clerks asked her, 'What about you?" she categorically turned them down, saying that she was a school teacher and money was tight. However, she knew a lot about perfume. In our way to the next stop, she asked me, 'Would you go with me to Chanel on 57th Street?' She said that the new perfume called Jersey had just come out and Chanel was on the way to the Plaza Hotel from the restaurant, so I was happy to accompany her. I thought she might buy it, but she just sprayed the tester and sniffed, saying 'I like this better than Beige.' When I asked her if she was going to buy it, she just made a face as if to say, 'Are you kidding?' In the evening, I noticed that there were not that many people carrying several paper bags. Most of them had accumulated their samples in one goody bag, just like Barbara. It seems to be one of the few annual events that these women, who are not wealthy women, look forward to with anticipation.
The intention of this perfume lovers' gathering is to introduce those who love perfume to new products and new trends, to provide a place to meet others, and to make them feel like ladies who lunch. But that is not all. It provides suggestions of trends to those who would like to become fragrance designers and to those who have already made a start, and more than that, it provides a chance to sell products while those who love perfume are surrounded by good fragrances and are feeling like ladies of leisure. There is always an entrepreneurial spirit behind any event planned by New Yorkers and comps are gathered from people who understand this and a significant amount of money is involved. This is the hidden strength of New Yorkers.