Close your eyes. Imagine a perfume. It smells like honeyed amber and smoky tonka beans, topped with a squeeze of bergamot oil. Perhaps you detect a hint of chalky violets and the dry prairie winds of vetiver grass. Inhale again: Now you get a slice of mandarin orange, a burst of cardamom pods and a fresh cake of Irish Spring. The scent is spicy and a little feral but still bright and clean. It’s the sort of scent that makes you want to go out dancing.
Open your eyes. Were you picturing Pitbull for men?
Would it change your mind if you knew that I was describing a celebrity cologne from 2013? If I told you that it sells for $20 for 1.7 ounces at Walmart and that it comes in a black lacquered bottle in the shape of the Freedom Tower, in a box featuring the image of the rapper Pitbull wearing a tuxedo, does that make you want it more or less?
This is the sort of playful thought experiment that propelled Mindy Yang to open Perfumarie, a new “meta-discovery studio” and “multi-sensory experience” in SoHo. The store, which opened in November, specializes in blind perfume shopping, allowing customers to smell fragrances with all the branding removed.
Ms. Yang opened the new space after departing from Min New York, a downtown fragrance shop that she introduced in 2010 with her then-boyfriend, Chad Murawczyk. For her new venture, Ms. Yang said, she wanted to completely reinvent the fragrance shopping experience.
In her quest to encourage consumers to trust their noses, Ms. Yang decided to put perfumes on tap, labeling them only by number. She installed 32 identical fragrance spouts along the minimalist back wall of the space, removing any hints of branding, packaging or price information. Underneath each tap is a small gray stone tagine containing a white paper swan soaked in the mystery perfume.
Customers are encouraged to sniff in numerical order, taking notes on a clipboard about the scents that set their synapses ablaze. The scents begin light, with airy and citrusy notes, and get progressively stronger. Ms. Yang likens this to beginning with white wine and graduating to a full-bodied cabernet. The day I visited, I started with a scent full of delicate roses, moved onto one that reminded me of expired lipstick, and finished my tour inhaling a funky cumin concoction that smelled like a ripe armpit.