“Would Madam like to try that fragrance?”

 “Would Madam like to try that fragrance? Here, take this…”, the shop assistant says, as she hands over a small piece of card carrying droplets of the scent she’s just sprayed onto it. ‘Madam’ takes the card and holds it below her nose, fanning herself slightly so she can sample its coating, before dropping it into her handbag – an olfactory sensation to be experienced again later. 

It’s a scenario played out in shops across the globe every single day. And the entirety of this exchange is based around a piece of card – card which, despite being commonplace, hasn’t had an official name bestowed upon it since it was first introduced as a marketing tool in the US. Instead, over several decades, it’s picked up an assortment of names – most of them combining a word to denote scent (fragrance, perfume, aroma, cologne, odour), a word to describe the card’s function (tester/testing, sampler/sampling), and either the term ‘strip’ or ‘blotter’ as a reference to its form – for example, perfume testing strip. 

Yet a testing card (there’s another name to add to the list) is a fundamental part of the selling of perfumes. The fact the customer can sample the fragrance again later, and be reminded of its name by the branding or styling of the card onto which it was sprayed, means they know which perfume to buy, should they find it appealing. If the card includes a Quick Response code or NFC tag, they might choose go online to make their purchase instead. 

With thousands of perfumes on sale, many producers rely on these ‘calling cards’ for making sales. Not only do they inform customers about the perfumes they have tried; their design – which can take any shape or form and incorporate printing, foiling, embossing and die-cutting – can convince the more impressionable shopper that a scent is imbued with desirable qualities which have nothing to do with smell, and that these will be transmitted to them with just one dab. 

In short, these ‘things’ are big business. 

They’re a big part of the business of perfume making, too, with perfumeries and manufacturers taking advantage of this pH neutral, absorbent card to monitor the aromas they’re creating throughout the development process. The same can be said for companies specialising in the creation of other scented products, such as soaps, toiletries, candles, coffee, whiskey and, more recently, e-cigarette vapours. 

So what should we call this modest, yet highly useful little fragrance tool? 

It might be worth paying attention to the French, who, perhaps unsurprisingly, given their prominent place in the history of perfume-making, use a particular phrase to describe the small cards that make testing fragrances easier and more memorable. That phrase is ‘Mouillette de Parfum’, which all sounds rather lovely if you don’t make a literal translation – if you do, you end up with what are effectively soldiers of perfume, but not the military type, rather, the kind you dip into boiled eggs. 

Maybe that’s why the name didn’t fully catch on with English-speaking nations. Or maybe our inability to pronounce French words comfortably has more to do with it. Either way, the US and the UK are interchangeably using the other names listed earlier. And there’s further confusion, in the US the term ‘Scent Strips’ refers to a product which requires you to peel away a layer to release the aroma – the kind you find in magazines, not in the hands of an eager-to-sell shop assistant. 

You would think the companies producing fragrance/scent/odour testing/tester strips/cards/blotters (delete as desired) had a definitive name for them, but even they move between one term and another. Maximise, a business based in the UK city of York, is one of the world’s leading suppliers, and they make reference to Scent Blotter Strips, Fragrance Tester Strips, Perfume Testing Strips, 

Sniff Testers, Cologne Blotters, and Mouillettes de Parfum on their website’s homepage. A lesson in Search Engine Optimization, perhaps, but a reflection, too, of the way this established product has somehow managed to avoid being given a globally agreed-upon name. 

The fact they’ve been around so long without a commonly accepted name, does suggest that in the end, it doesn’t matter what they’re called. In fact, it’s rather fitting; like the art of making perfume, we’re invited to create our own concoctions by taking what we require from a menu of word-based ingredients – and as long as the top notes tell us we’re dealing with a fragrance, the mid notes instruct us in what to do with it, and the base notes linger long enough for us to make an informed decision, it’s a recipe for success. 

Article by Katy Wright at http://www.copykatywright.com

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