Olfactif: Yay or Nay?


I’m constantly on a lookout for new perfume-related … everything: brands, lines, perfumes, services, media coverage and other events. Naturally I got curious about the new service offering a subscription-based access to niche perfumes samples.

There are many ways to obtain samples for perfumes you want to try. I won’t be covering here getting samples from B&M stores, swapping with other perfumistas or participating in splits, all of which are my preferred methods. I want to look into different options for purchasing samples.

Lorraine (Dear Scent Diary) has recently compiled a list of the brands that offer samples. But it’s always a good idea to look for an official website and see what their samples policy is. if I’m interested in the particular brand, all other things being equal, I always try to buy samples from the brand directly.

Sonoma Scent Studio Samples

There are many services and online perfume stores that offer perfume samples of your choice, sometimes in a selection of sizes. Some of these companies have been around for a while, others are relatively new.

So let’s take a look at the new kid on the block: Olfactif. Three dab vial samples (0.7 ml or 1 ml, I’m not sure and they don’t provide that information on the site), perfectly packaged, delivered monthly for $18 subscription fee. First month was offered free (I’m not sure if they plan to do that for future new subscribers). There is no obligation to keep the subscription for any minimum number of months. Steve (The Scented Hound) wrote about his experience with the first installment.

$18 for three 0.7-1 ml niche samples including S&H is neither an outrageous price nor a bargain. For $17-$19 you can get 3 samples of your choice (including the latest releases) delivered from Luckyscent, Surrender to Chance, The Perfumed Court or The Posh Peasant. Aedes de Venustas offers 7 samples of your choice for $20 including S&H ($5 of which is refundable with any full bottle purchase within the next 3 months). Luscious Cargo offers 7 samples for $25 including S&H. MinNY offers 5 samples for ~ $28 including S&H or sells individual samples for $5.

Perfume Samples

So what makes Olfactif different or unique?

A good deal? One month’s subscription fee can be applied to a purchase of a full bottle of one of the featured perfumes. Taking into the account that it’s a full retail price plus shipping charges it’s not too exciting.

Interviews with perfumers and information about perfumes? Look to the right: most blogs listed on My Reading List do it for free with a lot of passion and talent.

A surprise? You pay $18 by the end of the month and then for a couple of days might enjoy not knowing what you’re getting (until your package arrives or the reveal – whatever comes first since according to the site’s FAQ you’ll get the package “a day or two before the first of the month or a day or two after”). I saw some comments from people being excited about that part – not knowing. I remember thinking that there was something in Chandler Burr’s blind sniffing idea but I just couldn’t get past $50+ for a blind buy of 50 ml of a perfume and a chance to play guess games for a month on Mr. Burr’s say-so*. Olfactif offers a speed-dating: 1 ml# x 3 for $18 and you can close your eyes and still do a blind testing.

And that brings me to the last point. Curation. It’s an appealing concept. But who is Tara Swords and why would anyone rely upon her taste in choosing perfumes for them? She might be Turin, Burr and Coifan all-in-one but we don’t know that.

There must be something in the air: it looks like there is market for that type of service.

Last year there was a press release about MinNY launching Fragrance Flight, a Global By-Invitation Private Members Club with Privileged Access to Information, Luxury, & Curated Scents. Since then all I could find was a closed door and not a single mentioning of it. The first rule of Flight Club?..

Recently I saw on Twitter “bergamot: Curated fragrances delivered to your door. Launching Spring 2013.” You can sign up to get notified about the launch.

I have no real objections to Olfactif’s doing what they plan to do: it’s just a business, not worse than other businesses, and I hope that eventually either Olfactif improves: more customized approach, selection based on a user’s profile and previous months’ feedback, better deals, pre-releases, etc.; or there will be another service that does it better. In the end we, consumers and perfume enthusiasts, might benefit.

But if you are [still] reading this you do not need Olfactif in its current form: whether you know anything about niche perfumes or not, I believe you can do better. But if you see in that service something that I’m not seeing (other than nice boxes for storing samples) please share.


Images: my own.


* BTW, OpenSky is still running Burr’s project; there will be the ninth offering in May. I wasn’t following it after the third episode but from what I gathered now a year later they still haven’t figured out all the quirks.
# UPDATE: Now Olfacif offers 2.25 ml spray samples, which is a huge improvement.


48 thoughts on “Olfactif: Yay or Nay?

  1. I would sooner stay in the more alternative scene …….. which does not include someone sending me company samples. If I pay, which I do sometimes, then I want to KNOW what I am getting. Then I start enjoying the thrill of the wait!!! Never heard of this. Probably too busy baking! ;) That is a definite “nay” from this end. At least not for me.
    CQ xxx


    • Yeah, I agree: waiting for a sample I think I might like is exciting enough for me. Knowing from the experience how many perfumes I ended up NOT liking after sampling – at a store or from a vial – I’m much less optimistic about new samples.


  2. Interesting Undina!
    I did participate in the Burr first scent only…the mystery did indeed keep my bias at bay as I knew nothing of the notes or the perfume…but I did not continue to purchase the rest of the series nor did I follow it.

    Truthfully, If I am going to purchase samples I would much rather do it from the artisanal or indie line directly. I prefer supporting directly without a middle man.

    Some other companies (like Ineke) deduct the cost of a full bottle after purchasing their sample pack (and may I add that the Ineke sample pack is stunning!!!). I think this is a great idea and definitely encouraged my Ineke sample pack purchase which was followed by three full size bottles.


    • I would have totally done it (Burr’s project) if he had been doing something like 10 bottles x 5 ml (one bottle/month) subscription – just for the fun part of playing and guessing.

      Middle men might be useful, especially when you want to sample perfumes from multiple brand. But even then buying just 3 samples and paying for shipping seems a little wasteful. I usually go for at least 5 samples.


  3. Usually I buy samples from the lines I’m interested in or someone I trust on the fragrance blogosphere likes. And sometimes, I buy based upon the name of the fragrance (I know, I’m bad) so how some samples actually smell like ends up being a surprise anyway.

    I agree, why rely on someone else to pick my samples for me? Part of the enjoyment of sample hunting for me is discovering new things on my own. Maybe useful for someone else, but I think I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.


  4. I think this would only be useful for newbies – how likely is it that the 3 samples they send going to be a) things I would like to sample and b) things I haven’t already smelled? And if you want to mix up samples from brands, Luckyscent, Surrender to Chance or Aedes make much more sense. I just ordered the sample pack from Olfactive Studio – $8 for 4 1.2 ml samples, shipping included!


    • odonata9- How did you order these? when i went to the website I only saw the full bottles being sold…it was a bit confusing navigating the site…had to find my continent and then the country…unless I am doing something wrong? I would very much love to try these and the price is fantastic!


      • I actually got them today and they sent 5 (including the newest Flashback) so it was an even better deal! OK, that is weird – I just went back to the site and can’t figure out where they were now. I wonder if they aren’t doing them to US anymore since it’s so expensive now – they came from France! If you go to the main page, you can see the pic of the sample pack at the bottom right, http://int.olfactivestudio.com/ but then when you choose US, it’s only the bottles. I see if you pick France, they are still there so that must be it. Bummer.


        • I tried doing it through the search, found the set and was able to add them to the shopping cart but then I found out that they didn’t have the U.S. (or UK, Germany or France, to that matter) in the Country drop-down on Ship to form.


          • So annoying!!! Really wanted to try these! and if they are willing to ship full bottles overseas why not samples? Wonder if I could contact the stores that carry them in the US for possible sample purchases? i will have to explore this further!


    • I thought about newbies… But then won’t they be better off going through TPC’s or STC’s sample packs? I always thought those were great ideas (though I’ve never used those myself).


  5. Olfactif is a nice try and I totally get what they/she is/are trying to do, but I think I am doing a pretty good job procuring my own samples and at a much better cost. if I get a sample that totally stinks, then oops my fault and thats only $3-$4 down the rabbit hole. No biggie. You are correct, I think I’m a bit too advanced for this type of service. I know too much. LoL

    The only problem I have is keeping up with all the samples I have. I lost 3 of them and I have no idea where I put them, so I’m going to have to order them again. But when the new ones arrive, the lost samples will mysteriously appear. LOL Isn’t that how it always works out anyway? Great article.


    • Let’s hope you’ll love those perfumes and will be glad when your duplicates are found.

      How did you manage to loose them? Where do you store your samples? Any special system?


  6. Thank you for breaking this down, Undina. It confirms my knee-jerk reaction to the service. $18 for three samples I don’t know I want and don’t know if I already own sounds like a bad deal. Really, I think samples should be viewed purely as a marketing lure by the retailer, not a money-maker – and should be priced that way. We all might be a little more inclined to throw caution to the wind if it were a $5 service.


    • With bigger companies I’d expect getting samples for just S&H or at least with sample’s price redeemable against a FB purchase.

      With small niche and indie companies I expect samples “at cost”.

      With decanter services the idea is that you’re buying a service and not a manufacturer’s sample. I do not mind paying for the possibility to order samples from several brands that I want to try at the same time. But 3 samples per package seems like a wasteful rate of samples cost/shipping cost. Even when I exchange things with friends I’m trying to have more in one package.


  7. That sounds like too much lucky dipping for my taste, even if I was back in that phase of monthly sample buying, as I was 4-5 years ago – on Ebay and The Perfumed Court, with a bit on LuckyScent. I think your post was a very informative summary of sample pricing, though, and will be very helpful to anyone in more of an acquisition mode.

    “The first rule of Flight Club?..” That made me smile…we have the same rule for our local Cake Club. And that is all I am saying on the subject!


    • :) I vaguely remember seeing some cakes’ pictures on FB… but probably those weren’t your pictures, right? ;)

      I thought of mentioning eBay as one more source of samples since recently they seem to change the policy and allow those to be sold again but I do not trust eBay sellers in general so I decided not even to mention that avenue.


  8. Good Afternoon Undina!
    Happy to see a new post is up on your blog.
    I totally agree with what mr. Hound and with what you say.
    18$ is a high price for 3 samples seriously, for this amount of money you can buy something for yourself. Maybe there’s no thrill in not knowing what you’ll get but at least you don’t risk the disappointment when it turns out that the next set contains three perfume you already tried years ago and didn’t like. What then?
    I would say “go for it” if it was cheaper and if I was ensured that the samples will be one of the newest releases or at least something picked by a perfumer or a well known blogger. That would be better.

    I’ll stick to my methods of getting samples.


    • Newest releases, pre-releases or deeply discounted samples would make more sense for the subscription-based service. The same price as other sampling services offer but without a choice or a guarantee of those being at least something you haven’t tried yet (20 years old, not discontinued L’Artisan – really?) – seems as not a very interesting proposition.


  9. I concur with what you and most everyone else is saying, Undina. My excitement in ordering samples is getting my hands on a perfume that my favorite bloggers have written about and that I think might be a good fit for my tastes, and since samples are so expensive in general, I really want more of a sure thing (than a surprise) in this case.

    Hey, your photos are really lovely! I love how you laid those SSS samples out on the rose petals, particularly as I always associate the most gorgeous of roses with Laurie’s line.


    • I was glad that Sonoma Scent Studio got some additional exposure through this project but I thought that her own samples presentation was great (as well as the scents selection), so I want to urge newbies to order samples from her directly.

      Other than trying almost anything from several favorite brands, I also get my excitement from testing something you, Birgit, Natalie, Lucas and other friends liked and wrote about (or disliked – in case with Kafka ;) ).


  10. I have to admit that Olfactif does have a bit of appeal to me (though I haven’t actually signed up), mostly because I’m still relatively new to this hobby so it’s somewhat unlikely that I’d have previously smelled the samples that they/she pick out. I would be more likely to pull the trigger if the samples were sprays because I really hate having to fight to get samples open (and I prefer spray dispersal for really getting a sense of a scent)


    • I’m also in the spraying camp: most perfumes are meant to be sprayed so I’d rather have 2 spray applications than 4-5 dab – evenfrom the same volume of perfume.


  11. Dear Undina

    I must confess there is a certain seductive quality to the surprise element – after all I don’t exactly know day to day what I’ll be wearing – but, you are right, this will stand or fall by the curation.

    I predict it will be hard to sustain a mix of overlooked classics, new blockbuster releases (why pay for them anyway?) and bleeding edge novelties long term – if indeed that is what they intend – so I wonder whether this will move in the direction of either promoting niche producers or becoming a pull out and keep lexicon of fragrance.

    Neither would necessarily be for me, but would be admirable enterprises if done well.

    I wish them all the best.

    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy


    • One of the questions raised during Burr’s project discussions was an actual selection: since a perfume owner had to agree to producing those special bottles for OpenSky, people predicted the limitations to what could be offered.

      With Olfactif project since it’s a very small business they will be limitedeven more: there will be small indie brands with a very limited exposure and perfumes without limited distribution (those that they can get at some reasonable cost to offer for sale). Until their volumes become significant I don’t think they’ll attract “big players”. But we’ll see.


  12. I’m in the nay camp, Undina. Looking at the website and the reveal of the inaugural set, I already have the Imaginary Authors Soft Lawn sample, a 5 mL travel spray of SSS Fig Tree and L’AP Voleur de Roses was meh when I smelled it at the L’AP Boutique at Henri Bendel. If I paid $18, I would have been seething mad, no matter how beautiful the presentation.

    I won’t spend any time researching or digging further, but is it possible that Olfactif is actually acting like a Niche Perfumery Collective? Perfume companies (niche or otherwise) pay a nominal fee to be part of the collective and the sole purpose of the collective is to promote niche perfumery. When a subscriber ends up buying a full bottle, the fulfillment is probably done through the perfumery vs. Olfactif. I can’t see how it makes sense for Olfactif to keep an inventory.

    So, while the concept is not for ME, its purpose may be for the greater good of niche perfumeries.


    • The more I think about it, the less I like it.
      A subscription is supposed to be something that has a better value than what you can buy one at a time. Wine club, book club, dvd club – they all offer, in return for the commitment, discounted items that you can’t buy at that price without a club. In this case we’re paying premium for… what?


  13. I could see myself doing this kind of service with a few alterations:

    1. Spray samples, not dab vials. I don’t care for dab vials and try to avoid them if possible.
    2. More than 3 samples (as nearly everyone else has said). If it were 5-6 samples for the same price, the value would seem good enough that I’d be willing to get some things I already had. As everyone else says, 3 samples/$18 is the same price you can get at the sample sellers.
    3. If it were focused on very new samples, the newest stuff that is available.

    I know Birchbox has had a lot of success with their sample service. The key there is that they include quite a bit of stuff for the price. And they do tailor to your tastes by having a quiz/profile. (With perfume I like a broad range of things so I personally don’t have to have it tailored but I know that would be important to many.)

    I will be honest and say when I buy samples from Luckyscent, Aedes, Surrender to Chance, etc., I usually feel it is a moment of weakness. I don’t think it’s a good deal. I realize that these are businesses and I don’t begrudge them making money but it doesn’t “feel” like a good deal to me. I can get a better price by purchasing sample sets directly from the brands usually, if offered.

    If there was a service that sampled things and beat the cost of Surrender to Chance and the like, I would consider going for it. I do subscribe to nail polish boxes.

    The thing I would *really* like to see is a flash sale site that has good perfume deals. I shop at HauteLook a lot. They sometimes have deals on perfume but almost every time it is really mainstream stuff (Juicy Couture, etc.) The only niche or indie brands I’ve seen them have are United Scents of America, Crazy Lilbellule (unfortunately because that brand went out of business) and The Different Company (which was cool). If there was a site that could manage flash sales for niche it would be bad news for me.


    • I think that Birchbox (and similar services that deal with cosmetics) works because companies that participate there actually produce samples for marketing purposes not planning to sell them. So having a base of people who actually pay for the chance to test those products makes a lot of sense for them since it’s even better than just giving those samples away in stores. So I think that Birchbox acts in this case like a marketing venue.

      When your service is decanting and you make money on reselling parts of the product for which you paid MSRP (or close to that), to get a profit you have to sell it for the higher price than sum of all parts, right?

      We’ll see how this (and the othersimilarto it) service develops.


      • Yeah. So it may be hard to create a niche perfume service on the order of Birchbox because most niche or indie perfume companies can’t afford to give away tons of samples for free. And what’s the point of a mainstream perfume sample service? You can just go to the mall to try those on.

        Intellectually I agree with you about decanting services, totally. Emotionally, I don’t want to pay the markup, or maybe it seems too high. I guess it’s irrational, maybe. I definitely do use those services sometimes.


        • Those months when I do a lot of swapping I feel more understanding towards all those services: once you add the cost of all the supplies – vials, pipettes, label-maker and labels, bubble wrap, envelopes and then postage cost… If you add accidental costs and cost of time for making those decants, labeling and packing, you’ll see it doesn’t leave a huge profit for anybody who starts from the retail perfumes price – even if everything else bought in bulk.


  14. The first rule of flight club … :) I like this joke!

    Olfactif – no thanks. I love a surprise, and if I wanted to throw away money, I would definitely consider a service like Birchbox or something like that. But fragrance is, for me, not like lipgloss or shampoo. I am too picky about fragrances, and just know there would be 80% of those samples I didn’t care for at all.


    • Thank you :)

      I considered Birchbox and even with cosmetics I’m too picky to rely upon what can be gathered for such sample set monthly. With perfumes it’s probably even worse (based on my testing experience).


  15. It is worth mentioning that it doesn’t matter how many months of Olfactif you “order” – they will keep charging you for subscriptions until you e-mail them to cancel your subscription. I found this out only after they continued to charge my card past the three month “subscription” I had purchased for my mother.

    Needless to say I was pretty unimpressed with this, particularly as you do not have an account set up once you order – you need to e-mail them with your e-mail address to cancel the “subscription” (which they do not make clear will continue after the number of months you initially order).


    • I agree that this is really annoying, especially taking into the account that you need to cancel before 16th of the month. And, of course, they should warn you when you’re buying subscription bundles that they will automatically extend them after the initial subscription is over.
      And I must say: managing your subscription over e-mail is sooo 20th century…


  16. I got the first free month with the intention of canceling. However, I absolutely loved the whole experience. The packaging is so nice in person. It’s little spray vials with a card describing the fragrance notes in a cute black box. The first was good but not really me. The next fragrance was from a natural perfume company which won me over. I bought a bottle and got $18 off plus free shipping. The third was a super expensive perfume that smells divine but I can live without for now. I found it all very delightful. I would never have known about these perfumes and I appreciate being exposed to them. Olfactif has a great nose & high-end taste. If it keeps smelling this good, I don’t see how I can cancel. They mailed it very quickly after charging which is great since other subscription boxes aren’t so timely. The only thing missing is the website needs a “my account” where I can go in & change things, cancel or skip a month. I have spent more on samples of fragrance that I have heard about only to be disappointed, I felt like I was more successful finding something through this service. I love natural perfumes and two of the scents were from more natural companies. I highly suggest if you are looking for more natural companies that smell expensive & chic. I wanted to add my thoughts since this was one of the reviews I looked at before signing up. Thanks!


    • Hi trinity! Thank you for sharing yourexperience. I’m glad it works for you. I hope you’ll find many great perfumes. Most likely, Olfactive will improve theirwebsite at some point so it will be easier for users.
      You should also consider swapping those samples that you tried and didn’t like.


  17. While all your points are valid, I’ll share why I like the idea of Olfactif, Bergamot, etc. I know that I can choose samples from various websites at a similar (or better) price point. However, for me, the sheer number of perfumes to choose from is overwhelming. I don’t know where to start. A subscription service solves this problem, and it makes me try things outside of my comfort zone.


    • This is actually a very valid point! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      I guess, for a while it might be really a good help for somebody who’s just starting their perfume journey.

      Not to persuade you to drop the subscription but just as an idea: have you looked into the packages from different services to which I linked in the post? They all have collections that might help you in making a decision of what to try.


  18. I’m new to buying perfume samples, but an old hand at understanding fragrances. I joined Fragrantica for fun, and Olfactif because I hadn’t really explored sampling to any great extent as yet; the idea seemed alluring. Alas, I would count it as an abject failure. Now I’m very open minded about scents except for a very few which cause me to gag, just a reaction I can’t control. Even those horrid few I can tolerate or even enjoy when well blended. The sample of Grand Cuir I received listed the second ingredient as birch tar: a hot summers day in the city may have been the inspiration. Words fail to adequately describe how loathsome “it” was for me: I won’t dignify it by calling it a fragrance. My nostrils felt burned, and EVERYTHING I smelt for hours and hours afterward smelled like ashes: to say nothing of the headache. I really tried, but after several hours and a couple tiny sniffs it was clear that even a little exposure was too much to bear. To be fair, the other two scents were good for 1) a very very young girl who loves sweet fruit and lots of it, or 2) someone who adores vanilla to distraction. I’m canceling my subscription before March 15. That being said, I welcome feedback about sampling with reputable sites and indie companies.


    • People’s tastes are different. I read many positive reviews and opinions of Grand Cuir. For me it starts not that great but, lightly applied, it develops rather nicely. Not nice enough to want to buy and wear it but definitely not a scrubber either. But that’s why I prefer to know what I’m getting – at least not to waste my time and money on something I’ve already tried or notes that don’t work for me. Other people, especially who do not have access to niche perfumes in stores, might find it helpful if somebody else decides for them what to try this month.


  19. Pingback: Frafrance Republ!c through the eyes of Plebeian | Undina's Looking Glass

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