Mystery Vials usually bring to mind something intentional, something part playful, part edifying, like a group chat-and-sniff pass-around, or Chandler Burr’s current Untitled project. But today I’m inhaling from a different set of mystery vials, the ones that infiltrate my sample drawer, no matter how carefully I organize: vials that have lost–or never had–a name.
Some of them, last-minute additions to the one-quart ziploc bag, were decanted in mindless haste, moments before I headed to the airport. They’re easy to ID. Others left their names scribbled or taped on the long-lost plastic pouches they used to call home. A handful of identities were revealed in carefully written notes from swappers. They gravitated toward paper–not liquid–archives. A few inked names had already blurred by the time they reached my doorstep. I vowed to relabel them right away. To my surprise, vials with the nattiest of labels managed, unceremoniously, to molt. Too often, regardless of their original condition, the vials were victims of travel companions in close quarters, other liquids and gels that, unwilling or unable to withstand the pressure of flight, blew their tops.
Each nameless vial poses the challenge of a mystery sniff with no answer key. It’s like playing Name That Tune in an empty room. You know you have become an insufferable perfume geek when being able to identify a scent from this motley line-up feels like winning the lottery (fourth in from the right: Une fleur de cassie!). But what a letdown when one of those vials does not contain a perfume tried and true, or when the decant was obviously a purchase (second on the left). If you’re lucky, you can intervene in the nick of time (the blue one: After My Own Heart). In a worst case scenario the mystery vial unfurls an aroma you know that you know, but that you just can’t place; a fragrant Rosebud, a half memory, a word on the tip of your tongue, a scent all the more desirable for its elusiveness.
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Photos of sad little vial line-up and snow globe my own.