(Open)Sky is the limit?


Sometimes a small stupid thing rubs you the wrong way, you keep thinking about it and just can’t let it go. Usually I let it steep for a while and then just drop it. But sometimes I feel like I still want to say something. This is one of those cases.

Many popular perfume blogs published recently information about the upcoming Chandler Burr’s project, which he runs under the umbrella of a “social shopping” (whatever it means) site OpenSky.com. I won’t repeat PR information but if you somehow missed all the postings about this project I refer you to the post on Olfactoria’s Travels from which I learned about it first.

 Sky and palm

The idea

For anybody whose interests are in the perfume field the idea of a blind sniffing isn’t new. Basenotes monthly blind sniff threads come to mind (e.g. March Blind Sniff Orient Express – The Red Line). Earlier this year I read about Blind Sniff Roulette: pronti, via! Ready to go! project at La gardenia nell’occhiello blog (you can read also Christos’ story Pomegranate Noir: the joy of blind sniffing revisited about his participation and re-discovery of one of his favorite perfumes). I even ran my own blind comparison projects (Déjà vu, Episode 2: huge floral vs. abstract floral and Déjà vu, Episode 3: powdery fruit vs. peony oriental vs. sandalwood jasmine). And these are just off the top of my head. Why do we all it? Because we know that we’re susceptible to external factors (brand, packaging, LT&TC’s opinion, you name it) and are curious how we’ll feel about the scent if we remove any surrounding noise.


The implementation

“Definitely let me hear from you. Keep in mind, please: This isn’t about guessing what the fragrance is. The point is the experience of a work of olfactory art on your arm without a name or anything other than what the artist set, in its purest state, before you. So gives us that experience.”

Does anybody need a 50 ml bottle to experience “a work of art” on their arm? Let’s say it together: NO!

I usually complain about 50 ml of the perfumes that I know I like…Why on Earth would I want to pay $50 (+$3.75 S&H) for an unknown scent? To prove what? Chanel No 5 and Shalimar are extremely well made and beautiful perfumes – with or without the packaging and marketing hoopla. But I wouldn’t want to wear any one of them even if I got them for free – leave alone paid for an ugly decant bottle.

Just to make it even more real, would you want to pay $50 for a decant of Paris by YSL, Le De by Givenchy, Calyx by Prescriptives or Cologne by Thierry Mugler? I didn’t just come up with those perfumes – I got them from different Burr’s articles where he gave those very high ratings.

On Birgit’s blog the argument was made that Art can’t live without money. I completely agree that art requires investments! And I do not mind paying for going to a gallery or an exhibition. And I wouldn’t mind paying for a carefully curated blind sniffing art project: ten 3-5 ml unidentified sample bottles for $50-$60; plus an option to buy an actual manufacturer bottle of the perfume you liked for an offered price but still not knowing the name. I understand that a shopping site is supposed to generate an income to those who run it so actual names might not be revealed for some time (more than a month) to prevent people from going and finding them cheaper somewhere else. Something along these lines might have intrigued me enough to gamble.


“Don’t trust anybody. Trust me. “

I do not think Chandler Burr is in this project for money (we’re talking about $5,000/month revenue even if all 100 decants will be sold – it’s nothing). But it’s definitely not for the art. This probably is Art. OpenSky is commerce. And marketing. And publicity: see, we are talking about it.

So, buyers shouldn’t be influenced by brands’ ad copies, clips, packaging and names. They should doubt their own perception of a perfume because it’s distorted by “sensory noise”. But it’s OK to buy a 50 ml (sorry, I can’t get past it) bottle because Chandler Burr said that “it’s one of the few scents I know that smells like a state of grace” and that it is “almost unnervingly perfect. It has an astonishing olfactory texture, soft, cool, precise.” Because it’s not like he’s trying to sell them anything, right?



33 thoughts on “(Open)Sky is the limit?

  1. You seem to be very annoyed by the whole issue – I mean, it’s not that important, is it ?! Just let it pass, life is far too short to spend it annoyed over tiny unimportant fuss.

    1. You read parfume blogs so you for sure know that there are lots of people out there buying 100ml of unsniffed parfumes just becasue a trusted blogger said so, and paid much more than € 40.00 (GBP 32,50) for them. I’ve done it as well. It didn’t turned out well, and it was expensive, like multiply that 32,50…

    2. I’m often enough ashamed by the fact that when buying a decant in a plain bottle the coveted parfume loses it’s magic (or at least part of it)… I also understand Mr. Burr that he’s not going to make all that fuss for sending out 2-3ml sample vials. And what if I liked the scent and want to have it in the anonymous bottle with the anonymous name ? 30ml would be o.k. though.

    3. I rather see it as a funny game, which I would play if they’d ship overseas. It’s a pity though he doesn’t mention the notes of the scents. Did he really make the claim “Don’t trust anybody. Trust me” ? It’s odd (however I couldn’t find it anywhere).

    4. You argument that you wouldn’t give $ 50.00 for YSL’s Paris, or Calyx, etc. – but you know, that’s subjective, millions out there wear and like them. Then again, they probably would have never said the following: “On second thought, does it really matter how it smells? Nobody should be buying that bottle for the perfume itself. It’s a beautiful bottle to put on the dresser. People are paying much higher prices for decorative pieces. The fact that these ones also hold some liquid insisde is just an added… not even bonus – a quirk” (your words about Liquid Crystal). Hm, subjective, indeed.

    Chandler Burr is going to sell parfumes without brand marketing – but hey, that’s nothing else than marketing again. So it goes…


    • Lady Jane Grey, thank you for commenting, I enjoyed reading your thoughts.

      You’re right, it’s nothing at all but it bothered me so I put my thoughts in writing. Now I feel much better. If I had a more popular blog I would have thought twice about writing what I wrote but with just a handful of readers I’m not worried about making any impact on the project.

      My intention isn’t to argue with you – I understand and accept your position – but to clarify a couple of points which, I think, I wasn’t able to convey to you clearly. Though I do disagree about “he’s not going to make all that fuss for sending out 2-3ml sample vials.” Why not? If it’s for the Art, for the Idea – why not to involve much more customers into the proving the concept? I don’t expect him personally walking to the post office with those 100 bottles either, so I do not see a problem with creating sets of smaller decants and selling those. If we are talking about the Art, of course.

      (I keep your numbering)
      1. I’m against blind buys of full bottles or even decants bigger than 10 ml, I’m trying not to do it myself and whenever I have a chance I try to talk others out of doing that. That’s why I just cannot aprove when somebody who should know better actively encourages that behavior.

      2. I have many thoughts on perfume bottles and perfumes and would love to discuss that aspect at some point.

      3. I like the idea itself, I’m annoyed at the execusion. I wish it had been done better so I could participate in it. The quote about trust is just one of the known examples of an oxymoron, I didn’t mean that CB said/wrote those exact words – it was my summation. I should probably add a footnote.

      4. This one caused the biggest confusion. Twice – once here and once in my answer on Birgit’s blog.
      About examples of perfumes: those were given as examples not of bad perfumes but of actual perfumes that you could get from this game. The problem, in my opinion, is that if you like those perfumes (e.g. I like Thierry Mugler’s Cologne) you either have them already or can buy a real bottle – which is much nicer – for the same $50 or even less.

      As to the Liquid Crystal, I’m trying but cannot see the contradiction. My thought was that those bottles could be bought for bottles themselves (by those who can afford them) – you do not have to like or even use the content, you aren’t paying for the perfume, you’re paying for the beautiful glass thing-y for your dresser that just happened to hold a perfume.


  2. Hey Undina,
    I am seriously intrigued by Chandler Burr’s idea.
    I love your questions though, they have made me think where I would have followed the name Chandler Burr blindly. I am a lemming and a sheep sometimes.
    Thank you,
    Portia xx


    • Hi Portia,

      At this moment there isn’t a single blogger in my reading least with whom my tastes coinside enough for me to blind buy a full bottle – without knowing the brand, the perfumer and notes. There are a couple of perfume friends whom I’d believed if they told me they thought I would like some perfume. $50 believed? Definitely. Probably twice that. But they know my tastes.


  3. I’m totally in agreement w/you Undina. I’ll attempt to be ladylike and not say what I really think about all this. ;)


  4. I have to admit that I joined Open Sky after seeing all the fuss over this untitled project even though I had no intention of buying the project bottles just so I could see how the whole thing played out.

    I don’t get Open Sky at all and it seems that Open Sky doesn’t get me as my most recent email from them promoted a whole bunch of meat products (I’m a vegetarian!)


    • I joined them as well for the same reason. And I will tolerate their e-mails for at least a month: I want to see where this project goes. But, in general, I never buy online anything I’m not familiar with and most of their brands are unknown to me so I do not think I’ll be using them for anything but following this project. But we’ll see.


  5. You have stricken a very sensitive cord. I hate decants. I am one of those who need their bottle. Not for everything tried but for the ones I like I have to have a bottle to fully appreciate it. I consider it part of the perfume and I also need a lot of time to fully dissect a perfume. I own a bottle Black Aoud, I have worn it time and time again and still I do not feel ready to write about it. This is why I use the term “Quick Sniff” for the perfumes I write from a sample. Samples I like :). I consider this a shortcoming, not a privilege however.

    The idea of buying something unsniffed without any information on the scent is not something I would go for. As much as I love blind sniffs this sounds like a very expensive thrill and I have other places to spend $50. It seems like a luxury game but I appreciate the point Chandler Burr is trying to make: the nose knows better.


    • For me decants are in the category of their own: there are perfumes I like enough to want to wear several times (more than a sample allows) but do not see myself going through any part of a bottle. But I never buy decants larger than 10 ml.

      Those perfumes that I love I just have to have in a real bottle. I do not mind parting with some content (like earlier this year I splitted my Une Rose Vermeire) but I need to have a bottle itself.

      $50… I can see myself spending that much playing 25c video pocker machine (though usually I limit myself with $25) but I do not see putting a $50 bet on a single spin of a roulette or one hand of Black Jack.


  6. I really appreciate your points, Julia, and what I appreciate the most is that you are consistent in your opinions and practices when it comes to your perfume hobby. I knew this idea would not fly with you, because as interesting as it is, it is completely impractical (in my opinion) for all the reasons that you give. I read about it, wished Chandler and the other participants well, and promptly forgot about it. :) Like Christos, I have much better uses for $50.


    • I’m sure that for most people who decide to play it will be a good choice. What I’m even more interested to see is how sustainable the game will be. First perfume should “sound” attractive after it’s revealed (to those who didn’t play the first time) and there should be some positive response from the first group of players.
      But we’ll see how it goes.


  7. “I usually complain about 50 ml of the perfumes that I know I like…Why on Earth would I want to pay $50 (+$3.75 S&H) for an unknown scent?”

    This point really resonated with me – the basic unit is far too much. Also, as I mentioned over on OT, I am not particularly drawn to to the various anonymous samples I have accumulated in my collection – where the label fell off, say, or I made the sample up myself and forgot to label it. I definitely require the trappings to appreciate pefumes properly, shallow as that may sound. : – )


    • I wouldn’t want to test an unlabeled sample just out of the fear to like it and not to know what it was.
      My enjoyment from the perfume isn’t really connected to its bottle: I decant most of my favorite perfumes into 3 ml sprays to take with me on trips or to re-apply during the day, so I’m completely OK with plane decants of perfumes I like. For some perfumes I want to have a full bottle of that perfume. And for some – a bottle itself.


  8. I’m with Memory Of Scent and yourself.
    I don’t buy decants, but I’ll happily buy a sample – if I like the sample enough – I’ll buy the bottle (marketing or not I want the bottle that goes with it). I don’t care if the official bottle is a plain square piece of glass or a minature work of art, the marketing doesn’t have THAT much of an effect on me.
    However, I thought exactly what you thought – what is the value of the liquid? Is it more than an official bottle can be bought for?
    God knows why he decided to go this route (50ml) and set up this rubbish idea, rather than exactly what you said – 10 x 3ml samples. It seems he can’t be bothered to arrange that though…
    Anyway, a dreadful idea which is easy to forget about, I had already until I read this post.
    I hope writing this has put your mind at ease – and everyone it seems agrees with you (and us).


    • Freddie, thank you for chiming in. I’m fine, “back to normal programming” (meaning: writing a monthly statistics post).

      All 100 bottles are sold – just in five days, so it’s not such a “rubbish idea”. Now we should sit, relax and wait first for people’s impressions (somebody will write something, I’m sure), then for the perfume name revealing and then for the next round.


  9. Very well said; this is clearly a marketing gimmick, whereas I do think the museum Burr is curating has pure(r) intentions.

    It seems that the target market for this service is rich people who are interested in perfume insofar as it’s a symbol of status and taste, not perfume lovers like us who already know what we like. To put it bluntly, I don’t think Burr himself would buy into it if he weren’t the one behind it.

    Seems clear the perfume he’s talking about this month is a Malle; my guess is L’Eau d’Hiver.


    • I know that this game wasn’t intended for those of us who tries something new almost every day and is far beyond the point of making a purchase based solely on a press release BS, packaging, brand or an SA’s pitch. But I wish it was. I agree that it’s important to convey the idea that perfumery is an art and should be treated as such. But, in my opinion, the message could be much louder with a wider participation. Oh well…

      I can’t see how it can be L’Eau d’Hiver and still make any profit for the platform but we’ll know in four weeks.


  10. I agree with most of your points, Undina. Blind sniffing is a wonderful and very informative experience, but I wouldn’t want to spend $50 to do it — or maybe I should say that if I was going to drop that amount, I’d prefer to have a range of scents to blind sniff (as in your suggestion of a number of much smaller samples or decants for that price, instead of one 50-ml decant).


  11. I’ve hosted and participated in blind sniffs on BN and Fragrantica, and with a vial here and there included in swap packages for fun. And I love the idea of discussing an unlabeled fragrance with other perfume-lovers, and with CB, whose writing on perfume I admire. I’m also eager for the MAD fragrance wing to open. So I joined OpenSky fully expecting to join in the fun. But I just didn’t get it. I couldn’t see acquiring a 50 ml bottle of what sounds like an easy-to-get perfume, that I may not like or wear, when a 10ml decant would be more than sufficient for a blind sniff. I guess, as others have said, it is about exclusivity. The large decant justifies the price, but what is really being sold is the conversation with CB. If the decants were smaller, and the price lower, the hoi poloi (me) would have joined in a flash. These odd logistics weed out participants with wavering conviction. Like me. It does sound like a lots of fun, though! I haven’t had a chance to follow the discussion yet.


    • (Adding to the above) I just reread the blurb on OpenSky . I had missed this:

      “Mr. Burr donates all after-tax profits from OpenSky to the Department of Olfactory Art at the Museum of Arts and Design, NY.”

      In the context of fund-raising, the whole project makes sense. Much more fun and more connected to the “cause” than many other types of fund-raising. In fact, if this had been announced as a a fund-raiser for the MAD (and not a new shopping opportunity), I probably would have bought in.


      • I would have paid $100 for 10 x 3-5 ml bottles selected by CB even knowing that extra $50 goes to museum on top of the actual price of perfumes – just for fun, to play the game. When I want exclusivity I buy limited edition bottles of my choice.


  12. I’m very suspicious of the OpenSky endeavor too, Undina, and waiting to see how it plays out. I have no interest in participating for a different reason: how likely is it that he’s going to be able to distribute a perfume I don’t already have?? I don’t think for a second he’s got anything as exclusive as a Malle up his sleeve; I think he has the department store mass marketers if he’s got anybody, and I’ve already smelled or bought everything I’m interested in in that category. (Now, he may well have an “undiscovered gem” – but I doubt it.) If he were working more with indie or handcrafted perfumers, I would be more interested, sheerly on the chance that whatever it is, I wouldn’t already have smelled it before – probably own it.

    Perfumistas everywhere are questioning the 50 ml bottle, but he seems to have a price point he has to work to and anything smaller would make NON-perfume collectors think they hadn’t got their “money’s worth”. It’s a toughie. I agree, a “tasting flight” or smaller bottle would make more sense; but the distributor too probably wants a per bottle sale price, otherwise it isn’t worth THEIR time. (And these have to be specially packaged.)

    Bottom line: I’m not sure it’s going to work either, but I’m also staying tuned.


    • “how likely is it that he’s going to be able to distribute a perfume I don’t already have??” (or tried and didn’t like) – was my thinking exactly.

      We’ll all be able to see how it goes. Maybe the next “season” (not episode) will be different and more involving. After all, with 1,000+ new perfumes per year it shouldn’t be too hard to keep the game going.


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