of perfume sprayers descend on holiday shoppers
By MEGAN ROSENFELD
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON -- Like the jingle of the Salvation Army collectors
and the thrum of Muzak carols, the spritz of perfume sprayers is
abroad in the land. A little Giorgio? A splash of Shalimar? A snoutful
of Opium, perhaps?
"No!" retorts a shopper at the Hecht's, a department
store in downtown D.C. It is peak shopping time, the hours between
noon and 2 p.m., when busy downtown workers are hustling through
the rows and racks of beckoning merchandise. Shoppers are still
choosy at this point in December, pausing to consider and reflect.
A gift boxed set? Plaid or striped? By Dec. 24, the desperadoes
will take their places, waving credit cards and willing to buy almost
anything as long as it can be wrapped and returned.
The perfume sprayers -- that would be "fragrance models"
or "promotional assistants" to you -- line the aisles
like flight attendants at the start of a trip, smiling and eager
to introduce you to the nuances of their particular scent. Where
normally there would be one or two promotional assistants, now there
Floral. Musky. Vanilla. The scents waft around and into each other
like invisible paper airplanes.
"We're not supposed to stand too close to each other,"
says Brenda LeCompt, laughing and nodding at her friend Joyce Wall.
LeCompt has Pleasures by Estee Lauder, and Wall is offering Paul
Sebastian. Wall, a military wife who has done this seasonal work
for five years, moves farther down the aisle.
"I never spray unless they agree," says LeCompt, "And
only on the wrist. Sometimes they offer their neck, but I let them
do it because I'm afraid of getting their eye."
Oscar? Adrienne Vittadini? Chanel? Please sniff. A spray on the
wrist may woo you forever.
"This is fun work, but you have to have a thick skin,"
says LeCompt. "You get rejected all the time."
Fifteen people pass by her in 30 seconds. Nobody wants to whiff
Pleasures, either for men or women, except a pair of young men who
speak only Spanish. One holds out his palm for a spritz. He sniffs.
His friend sniffs. With difficulty, one asks the price. Forty-five
dollars! They look surprised.
"This is a tough time and a tough store," says Sherri
LaReaux, a tall blond actress, writer and model who gets perfume
modeling jobs through the Beaute Agency. "See those Chanel
girls over there? They just stand there, and people see this row
of us and think they're going to be assaulted. At least I can move
The average customer thinks there is only one kind of fragrance
model. How wrong! The ones wearing Hecht's badges (like the "Chanel
girls") work for the store and can use the cash registers.
They get commissions. The ones with "visitor" or perfume
company badges are independent contractors or agency hires, don't
do any sales transactions and are generally paid a straight salary.
Some -- like the Estee Lauder and Tommy Hilfiger teams -- have uniforms.
Others are just supposed to look sharp.
Nor are they alike in their methodology. Some are bold and gregarious,
some are quiet and smiling. And a lot of them don't really believe
there is such a thing as an allergy to perfume. "People just
say that to get away from us," says Jeanne Crow, dispensing
sniffs of Oscar and Opium. But most fragrance models now hand out
cards embedded with scent rather than spraying people -- unless
they get permission.