I can't believe I'm starting a review with the words, "I was sitting at the hair salon, flipping through a back issue of Cosmopolitan magazine..." but there's a first time for everything, so: I was sitting at the hair salon, flipping through a back issue of Cosmopolitan magazine, and I stopped short at an article titled "Click...Then Sniff."1 Apparently "tech is turning fragrance on its head," and the way we shop for fragrance — which is "ultimately an emotional purchase," in case you didn't know — is being revolutionized. How?! I needed to know.
The explanation was pretty dull and familiar to anyone who has been interested in perfume for the past decade-plus: through approaches like sample programs, visual imagery and exclusivity. (To translate that back into 2005 terminology: swapping, illustrated blog posts and Serge Lutens bell jars.) One of the article's featured brands was Pinrose, which started as a "try-at-home" perfume line but has since branched out into brick-and-mortar stores. Pinrose helps prospective customers target their scent preferences through a quiz, which (again) is nothing new — I'm sure I took some goofy free online quiz titled "What Perfume Are You" back around 2005. Pinrose's real innovation is its seamless synergy between interactive features, social media and commerce: the quiz, Pinterest boards, music playlists, and (last but not least) the actual fragrances.
So, I made a post-work stop at Sephora and took the Pinrose quiz on my phone while standing in front of the Pinrose display. I was presented with a series of seven paired images — colors, shapes, landscapes, even two styles of bathroom decor — and my choices led me to a trio of recommended scents: Merry Maker, Pillowtalk Poet and Tambourine Dreamer. I later found that these three are grouped together on the Pinrose website under the heading "The Prophet": "Your intuition is your guiding light. Your right brain responds to warm hues, round lines, and ethereal aesthetics..."
Fair enough: that doesn't sound unlike me, in any case. How about the perfumes themselves? I went home with samples of all three (thanks, Sephora!) and tried them in the order they'd been listed for me. Merry Maker, the first one up, is a blend of nectarine, grapefruit, cassis, violet, rose, plum, musk, moss and tonka developed by perfumer Christelle Laprade. It starts off with a flat rose note, then seems to disappear briefly, then returns as a linear synthetic-smelling peach. Basically, it's a cheerful, simple fruity floral that evokes some familiar shampoo or scented hand soap, and maybe even reminds me a bit of Clinique Happy.
The sales associate who filled my sample vials at Sephora told me that Pillowtalk Poet is her favorite. It's a composition of powder, geranium, clove leaf, ambergris, musk, amber and sandalwood developed by perfumer Vito Lenoci, and if Merry Maker loves punchbowls and picnics, then Pillowtalk Poet is home lounging between freshly laundered sheets. Again, it's pretty straightforward: white musk, baby powder and a hint of vanillic heliotrope. It's very sheer and stays close to the skin. At the risk of dating myself, I'd call it "Love's Baby Soft for millennials."
Third on my recommendation menu was Tambourine Dreamer, which sounds like a character in the film Almost Famous, but is actually a blend of lily of the valley, orange blossom, violet leaf, lemon verbena, musk, jasmine, ylang ylang, cedar, and peony developed by perfumer Nathalie Benareau. I actually really liked the Pinterest board for this one, plus the beverage comparison with an elderflower martini on the Pinrose website. (Merry Maker is a Bellini; Pillowtalk Poet, a hot toddy.) On my skin, however, Tambourine Dreamer is a slightly plasticky mix of muguet, ylang and green notes that dries down like some gift-shop brand of jasmine-scented soap. It's not likely to woo me away from Diorissimo.
All in all? Pinrose's scents are youthful and unpretentious, with fun names and packaging, and the price point is quite reasonable ($55 for a 30 ml bottle). I'd recommend them over the over-hyped and over-priced Derek Lam 10 Crosby collection any day. This system could provide an low-pressure entry point into fragrance shopping for the uninitiated, although the fragrances probably won't hold much interest for more seasoned perfumistas.
Lastly, although we all love quizzes, we're aware of their flaws. Looking back at the complete list of Pinrose fragrances, I was surprised that I'd missed out on the eponymous Pinrose, a spicy rose scent that should be paired with a "rose-infused Manhattan." Now, that really sounds like me. And that's the problem with even the most clever quiz or algorithm: there's just no accounting for taste. We are who we are, and we love what we love. Sometimes there's no explanation, and that's why fragrance truly is a constant adventure.
Pinrose Merry Maker, Pillowtalk Poet and Tambourine Dreamer are available as 30 ml Eau de Parfum ($55) and boxes of 20 single-use "petals" (shown at top, $24) via Sephora, Nordstrom and the Pinrose website.
1. Jessica Matlin, Cosmopolitan, November 2016.