Seattle Sniff Spree Part 2: Nordstrom (Sample Heaven)

Dear Scent Diary,

As a Canadian, I’m realizing now that we northern fume enthusiasts are slightly crippled compared to our neighbor to the south. I had no idea perfume samples were doled out with such abandon in the US. I haven’t travelled abroad since my perfume affliction took hold so I can’t speak for the sample situation anywhere else, but man – you Americans have it good. I was bowled over when I spied these containers at practically every counter during a scout of the Nordstrom fragrance section:


As you can probably guess by my reaction, we have nothing like this in Canada. Samples are given out stingily or at special events only. And they are generally never offered.
A little giddy and not really knowing the lay of the land, I picked up one of the empty spray sample vials and started making myself a sample of the exclusive Guerlain L’Art et la Matière fragrance, Cuir Beluga, which to my surprise and delight was sitting oh-so accessibly on a shelf with every other Guerlain perfume.


Guerlain (L’Art et la Matière testers, top right), Annick Goutal.

An SA instantly appeared and offered to label it for me. “Uh, sure,” I said as I handed it to her. She hurried off and rushed back with the sample carded. In the meantime, I’d started on making a sample of another L’Art et la Matière fragrance, Angelique Noire. “I’m happy to make samples for you.” she said. Oh. Is that how it works? I handed it to her and asked for some Mitsouko as well for good measure. “Right away,” was her answer.

DSC03389The Bond No. 9 counter was right next to the section we were in so I asked if I could try New Haarlem. I was immediately handed off to another SA who actually seemed excited to help me. New Haarlem has practically reached mythical status in my mind since I’ve read and heard about it for so long without the opportunity to try it. I was cruising for a let down but remarkably, I was impressed. It’s actually more refined than I expected. The lavender top notes keep it fresh and inedible even as the coffee note swoops in. This isn’t a frappuccino dumped on your wrist as I’d feared, but an aromatic frag with a warm, unexpected coffee aroma. Undoubtably encouraged by my oohing and awing, the SA practically fell over herself to make me a sample.

I may have to move.


Chanel Les Exclusifs



As I cruised the rest of the section, I reminded myself of Chanel Sycamore and Diptique L’Ombre Dans L’eau with a spritz to each wrist (I either already have or have had samples), made notes to come back and try some Creeds and some Annick Goutals. As I was leaving, I found a lonely bottle of Tonka Imperiale (another L’Art et la Matière) on a Guerlain makeup display. With no SA’s in sight, I made the most of the baskets of samples and helped myself to one.

I’ve read that Nordstrom has plans to expand into Canada (though unfortunately not to the West Coast where I live). I look forward to it regardless, as their sample policy will most likely force other retailers in Canada to do the same.

I will live in hope.


12 responses to “Seattle Sniff Spree Part 2: Nordstrom (Sample Heaven)

  1. Das

    Thank you for the pictures so I can plan my next visit! I haven’t explored this Nordstrom very much because I always seem to attract the wrong kind of SA…or maybe I look like the wrong kind of buyer :-). As I’ve mentioned before, they push Chanel Chance on me every chance they get. Or Cashmere Mist. But I’ll stop complaining because the generous samples really are the best! If it wasn’t for Nordstrom, I’d never get to try several lines such as Annick Goutal, Diptyque, Creed…

    Speaking of New Haarlem, how does it compare to Ava Luxe’s Cafe Noir? Anything similar? When I tested Cafe Noir today from the sample you gave me, I detected two very distinct layers: a yum coffee candy layer on top of a freshly floral layer. It seemed like the coffee layer ‘burned off’ somewhat quickly leaving behind the light, pretty floral base. I had expected a sweeter or more gourmand base so it was a pleasant surprise.

    • Hi Das!
      Very annoying when SA’s pigeonhole you – been there, hated it. But I have to say, you’ve got an incredible resource on your hands. It wouldn’t be right not to take advantage of it. 🙂
      Yes, there are similarities for sure between the two. Cafe Noir is darker on me and more coffee-centric. It also projects more than New Haarlem. I put one on each wrist and CN drowned out NH. NH has an aromatic base and the coffee is sweeter than CN. I like both!

      • Das

        I was at Nordstrom today, walking towards the wall in your picture to try a Guerlain or two. Before I got there, I ran into a small table in the Guerlain cosmetics section that had ALL of their perfumes. Wooty woot! I tried Mitsouko parfum and Encens Mythique d’Orient on skin, several others on paper. And the friendly SA made me not one, but two samples of Spiritueuse Double Vanille, saying that ‘you really don’t get very many sprays’ out of each vial. Nice!
        At the Bond counter, no one was around, but that’s ok. I tried New Haarlem on my last remaining spot of skin and its been the one I’m most drawn to. Very tempting…
        Nordstrom is one of my favorite stores for their great customer service and policies. 🙂

      • Nice Das! Maybe they fired the crappy SA you had that other time. I am pretty jealous that you can visit this place whenever you feel like it. Thanks for the update 🙂

  2. First of all, I want to say that I’m happy for you scoring all those samples: when it happens to me I feel ecstatic.

    Next I want to tell that 1) that “make your own samples” program is Nordstrom-specific, other stores don’t have it and it’s much harder to get samples anywhere else; 2) Nordstrom you went to isn’t a regular store, it’s their flagship one; in a regular Nordstrom store you won’t see Guerlain or Chanel exclusiffs, or Bond, or Creed.

    • Hi Undina,
      I just read today that Nordstrom is a Seattle based chain. I had no idea I was visiting the Nordstrom mecca – lucky me. Now that I know, I may make pilgrimages more often. 🙂 Regardless, I’m impressed by their sample policy and noticed that even Sephora is more ‘sample generous’ than they are up here. Seattle perfumistas are very lucky.

  3. Lindaloo

    Re: “I’ve read that Nordstrom has plans to expand into Canada (though unfortunately not to the West Coast where I live).”
    Good news — the old Sears store at Granville & Georgia in Vancouver is being converted currently to a Nordstorm’s (just 3 floors, the rest will be office space). There is still some debate whether it will a regular Nordstrom or a Nordstrom Rack (great sales, but not as much high end merchandise).
    I too am looking forward to their generous, open sampling policy. Sephora is generous with making samples too, but that hasn’t seemed to influence other retailers here in Canada yet.

  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this article. I’m in Canada too and had no idea that Nordstrom Seattle was such a sample heaven. Must check it out next time I’m there!

    (By the way I had a wonderful experience at the Chanel Les Exclusifs counter at Holt’s in Vancouver recently – was offered 3 samples without asking! – but then again I did march right up to the SA and said unflinchingly that I wanted to buy a bottle of Bois des Iles. So maybe that was a rare experience for her, too 😉

    • My pleasure, chamekke (and I do mean that). Here’s hoping that the Vancouver outpost will live up.

      Re Holts, I have a feeling your purchase had something to do with it. I’ve had a great sample experience at Chanel there too, even without buying anything (though intending to and strongly suggesting I would in the future). Gold star, regardless.

  5. This is Nordstrom’s flagship store and it is breathtaking in size and selection.

    A funny anecdote: I was just a novice into this whole fragrance thing when I visited. I sniffed the entire Tom Ford Private Blend line. The SA gave me a sample of Amber Absolute. I left, went back to my hotel, took a shower, and put on about 4-5 sprays before I went out for the night for a fun night of trivia at a dive bar. On the drive over, I could tell the smell was overwhelming everyone and with the car heater on full blast it made Amber Absolute reach nuclear proportions. Next thing you know, everyone else in the car rolled down their windows and were sticking their heads out for fresh air. Oh man, the embarrassment. Lesson learned.

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