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Mina Choi Tenison

Beauty Incognito: Spring Scents

Looking for Mother's Day scents in Shanghai

SHANGHAI, CHINA: A little fragrance shopping session for upcoming Mother’s Day sounded easy because, in truth, every day is a Mother’s Day in Shanghai, a city ruled by perfectly dressed ladies with serious spending power. I coaxed my local girlfriend to come along for the expedition because she speaks Shanghainese and knows all the top shopping locations like the back of her hand. We drove up in her SUV and glided into Shanghai’s top luxury destination—the Meilongzhen Isetan on Nanjing East Road—for a little look-see.

Isetan Department Store

Nanjing East Road

We stepped outside the elevator entrance into Isetan, where a small fragrance counter in the entryway showed off nearly a hundred different fragrances. Kenzo, Burberry, Bulgari, Ferragamo, Nina Ricci—you name it, they were there, neatly spaced out one by one in a three-tiered display. The very well-groomed girl behind the counter wore a nicely knotted silk scarf around her neck and politely sprayed little paper strips with scents as we pointed to the ones we liked the look of.

When we asked her to suggest a few that my mother might like, she immediately mentioned Nina Ricci’s L’Air du Temps and noted, “It’s a classic.” My friend pointed to Guerlain’s pretty crystal bottle containing Aqua Allegoria Mandarine Basilic, and she told us that it’s a fresh, clean scent. We were dazzled by the array and didn’t know which to choose. The young woman said her own favorite was a men’s cologne, Bulgari Pour Homme Soir. We then noticed a sleek purple vinyl bag on display, which was a gift-with-purchase from Kenzo, and were seriously tempted—however, Isetan has many more counters inside, so we bid the delightful girl adieu and told her we’d come back.

Inside, we passed by Kiehl’s, which only has one fragrance, but we did sign up for the member card so that we might get an announcement for members-only special offers. My friend noticed that the brand’s prices here were not much higher than the prices at the Hong Kong duty free and immediately bought an acne cream for her son.

We moved on to a dashing display of Guerlain, which was heavily promoting the youthful Idylle. We got confused by all the prices, however, because the store’s staff hadn’t put the correct bottles on display. When we asked about the difference between perfume, eau de toilette and eau de perfume, the sales associates couldn’t tell us that, either. The younger woman apologized, and said that she hadn’t finished her training yet, while her older counterpart just snubbed us. My friend told her off for being rude and away we went.

We passed an Estée Lauder display, where Pure White Linen Light Breeze and Pleasures Intense were very attractively displayed, but the sales clerk couldn’t be bothered to take her time with us. We then paused at the dramatic Giorgio Armani counter staffed by two men in suits who were promoting Armani Code. We were put off by the male salesclerks, however, and headed out.

Just as we were leaving, a very cheerful stand of Fruits & Passion attracted our attention. The sales associates explained it’s Canadian and showed us a special box on offer for the week that included a shower gel and a lotion. The set was very fetching, and the sales staff was extremely effusive—even offering to throw in a mango scent for free—but we decided to head elsewhere.

Sephora Huai Hai Road

After interfacing with too many sales people at Isetan, we were happy to hit the nonpressure, funky ambience of Sephora. A saleswoman came over right away offering to help. When told of our Mother’s Day mission, she led us directly to the boxed value sets on offer. Unfortunately, everything seemed geared more toward a young consumer, like the boxed set of Harajuku Lovers, over which a 20-year-old female customer next to us was agog.

All of the classic scents for older ladies were on the upper shelf and languishing away. A cheerful male salesclerk in his 20s greeted us in English and politely showed us his favorites, including Tous and Lola Marc Jacobs, noting his favorite choice for mothers is Guerlain’s Aqua Allegoria. He also told us that if we purchased 1,500 yuan, or about $220 at current exchange, worth of products, we would get a VIP card that offered a 10 percent discount during the store’s special happy hours. We left feeling well looked after.


Huai Hai Road

A few blocks down, we peeked into Watsons, our favorite drug store, to ask about fragrances, but learned that they don’t sell any. The only scent they sell is for men—Adidas. Both my friend and I bought some wet wipes (on sale for two for one) and called it a day.

WOMEN'S WEAR DAILY (WWD) May 12, 2010, Print & Web Edition

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