One Thousand Scents

Friday, July 20, 2007

Short But Sweet: Demeter Gin & Tonic, Lilac, and Meyer Lemon

Here's my Demeter story, a tale of good customer service.

I placed an online order on June 16th. I had read on Now Smell This that Demeter made 11-mL bottles (that's about a third of an ounce) for the bargain price of $3 U.S., and that they were phasing them out at the beginning of July in favour of a half-ounce bottle for $5. Since Demeter makes something like 200 scents, and I owned about a dozen and had always coveted more, I figured this was my chance, so I went to their website and before I knew it had ordered twenty of the miniatures, some I was sure I'd love and some I wanted to try because at that price, if it's a dud, you don't feel too bad.

Two weeks later I still hadn't received anything, so I wrote them a nice inquiring e-mail. A week after, on July 5th, I still hadn't heard anything so I wrote another e-mail, still polite but a little more anxious, if not actually annoyed. Two days later I received notification that the package had been shipped that day, which did annoy me, because it shouldn't have taken three weeks to put together an order. I was at least happy that they were on their way.

Then later that day I got an e-mail from the CEO apologizing for the mix-up; the package had been lost in transit by UPS, so they had done it up again and shipped it out as soon as they figured out what had happened. They were also going to refund my shipping charges, and there was a $10 gift certificate attached to the e-mail.

Hey, suits me! And when the package arrived a few days later, I discovered that since the new package had been filled after they'd switched to the larger size of miniature, everything was the half-ounce bottles. (It makes me wonder what happened to all those smaller miniatures, though: did they ship them off to stores at the end of June, did they give them away to staff, or what?)

So despite the fact that I ought to have gotten a response right after my first e-mail, I have nothing but praise for the company.

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There are two things about Demeter scents. First, they hardly ever have any real lasting power. Some of them are gone in a matter of minutes, while others can last an hour or two--rarely ever more than that. Second, they're meant to smell like a very specific thing--a drink, a dessert, an object, a place--so there's generally none of the development we associate with created scents.

Still, within these limitations, there's a lot to be said for them. Most of them are an instant blast of delight, short-lived as so many pleasures are. They're generally very accurate, sometimes flabbergastingly so, as in Gingerale. And they're just plain fun.

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Demeter Gin & Tonic is spookily realistic for about ten seconds. It smells convincingly of juniper--the main flavouring ingredient in gin--and of the bitter sweetness of tonic water. Then the juniper mostly boils away, and what remains is pretty much sweetened lime (because there will be a wedge of lime perched on the edge of your glass), with a little of the bitterness of the tonic and of the lime's pith. It smells like a rather simplistic men's cologne; in no way unpleasant, but it's a shame that the G&T-ness of it is so evanescent. I'd like it to smell like one for longer than it takes to drink one.

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I have never smelled a lilac scent that was convincingly lifelike. Either the lilac essential oil doesn't survive intact the process of extraction, or the synthetics used in its creation simply aren't complex enough to capture the gorgeous summer freshness of the real thing.

When I first smelled Demeter Lilac, I was extremely disappointed, because it smelled as synthetic as all the rest. And then after a minute or two, a magical thing happened: as if a picture of lilacs had dropped away to reveal a bunch of real lilacs, the synthetic quality vanished and what remained was fresh, creamy, alive--the real thing. It is absolutely wonderful, a little splash of early summer in a bottle.

After a time, the freshness diminishes, and it begins smelling again like a synthetic lilac. But for that little while, it's just the best lilac scent I've ever smelled that didn't come from a handful of fresh flowers.

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I have never smelled a Meyer lemon, but, said to be a cross between a standard lemon and a mandarin orange, it is supposedly sweeter and less acidic than the usual supermarket version. Demeter Meyer Lemon starts out with a stunning blast of lemoniness; it's thrilling in its brightness and severity. And once again, as you have probably predicted, this lemon note burns away; it would have to, because something so ferocious has to burn itself out. What's left is the bitter aroma of lemon peel and pith and a surprisingly dark greenness, a camphoraceous leafy smell. I really love it.

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