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.