Interview with Robin K of Now Smell This

28th April, 2014

If you like fragrance and hang around the internet, then you probably will have come across Robin K's Now Smell This. The site is one of the longest-running fragrance blogs, and next year will celebrate its tenth year. We spoke to Robin at the end of last year to find out how she got started, how she keeps going, and plans for the future.

So, Robin - how did your perfume story begin?

I discovered Diorissimo, and then Coriandre, when I was a young teen. I adored both of them, and looking back, I'm pretty sure I was an egregious over-applier.

But I thought of perfume as part of my daily routine of getting dressed, and nothing more than that, until I was much much older. I stopped wearing perfume altogether when I became pregnant, and when I decided to find a new scent a few years later, I stumbled into the fragrance board at MakeupAlley.

It only took a couple of sample orders (perfume! in the mail!) to get me hooked on perfume as something more of a hobby, or maybe an obsession.

How Now Smell This looked on its launch in 2005

When you first started the site, what were your favourite fragrances?

I can't really remember what my favorites were in 2005 when I started Now Smell This, but I do remember that when I started hanging around MakeupAlley in 2003, the first two niche scents I bought were Parfums de Nicolai Balle de Match and Diptyque Philosykos.

A few other favorites that I reviewed in my first month of blogging: People of the Labyrinths Luctor et Emergo, Hermès Un Jardin Sur Le Nil, Serge Lutens Tubéreuse Criminelle.

Now Smell This, 2006

What was the impetus that made you decide to start a blog?

The biggest impetus was to make my own life easier. It was really hard, in the beginnings of my love affair with perfume, to find basic information: what new scents were coming out? What was new at all the niche stores I liked?

Nobody was blogging about perfume at the time, and you had to scroll though pages and pages of information on message boards -- at some point, I was reading MakeupAlley, Basenotes and Perfume of Life on a daily basis -- to keep track of the latest news.

I thought there had to be a easier way, and that there must be more people like me who had a serious interest but lacked the time to go searching for information, or people who wanted news but weren't necessarily interested in engaging with others on a forum. So Now Smell This was an attempt to create the site that I wished had already existed when I got started.

In the beginning, access to information was a huge problem. Now it's the opposite: there's more information than I can deal with. I look back now and I can hardly believe I used to write 4 or 5 reviews a week in addition to covering new releases and shopping tips. Now if I'm very lucky, I might manage 1 or 2, and there are more weeks than I like to think about in which I manage none at all.

The absolute best thing that happened to me as a blogger is that I found a core group of contributors -- Kevin, Angela and Jessica -- who have stuck with me since 2006. If it were not for them, I really couldn't keep Now Smell This going at all.

Now Smell This, 2007

I used to quite enjoy the fact that your sites design used to change nearly every year. It's remained quite consistent since (I think) you moved to Wordpress - are you now happy with the site's look, and what was the reason behind the regular site redesigns?

(Since we did this interview, Robin did find the time to redesign the site, this response is based on the previous design!)

Early on, I redesigned it regularly in the hopes of making it look better and more inviting: it's really never looked the way I wanted it to. I absolutely hate (HATE!) the way it looks now, but since moving to WordPress in 2009, I just haven't had time to mess with it -- the industry has changed so much since I started in 2005, and there are just too many new releases to cover to leave time for administrative tasks. I would love to find a really good web designer -- twice I've hired people who created designs uglier than the ugly job I'd already accomplished myself. Some day I'll find a nice block of time and get back to visual issues. Right? We're all looking for that nice block of time, aren't we?

Now Smell This, 2008

Running NST must be a full time job - what's your daily schedule like?

It's close to a full time job. On weekdays, I generally spend several hours just gathering information, and then writing up new fragrance releases, and the daily online shopping post. Then I might write a review, or edit a contributor's review, and then there's answering comments, and of course responding to email. And looking for lost samples -- that's nearly a full time job in and of itself!

While I'm doing all that, I'm probably testing a handful of new fragrance samples, so the mornings tend to be smelly, sometimes in a pleasant way and sometimes not. And there is always some chunk of the week that has to be allocated to administrative things: keeping the software and plugins and databases functioning properly and whatnot.

Really, it's one of those sorts of things where the work will expand to fill the hours you give to it -- it's never done. I'm sure it's exactly the same with Basenotes.

Now Smell This, 2009

Has your taste in fragrance changed since you started the site? If so, how? And has the fact that you've been blogging about fragrance affected that.

It has changed quite a bit. My tastes were pretty narrow back in 2003, now I'm much more open to different fragrance families, and there aren't many kinds of fragrances that I don't like. But my core favorites probably aren't all that different: I still love jasmine, and iris, and vetiver, and incense. And a really good citrus fragrance still makes me very happy.

Blogging has probably changed my attitude just in that trying to write reviews that are at least vaguely objective -- especially reviews of fragrances that aren't really to my taste but that I want someone reading to recognize as something they might like -- makes you really think about quality and workmanship over your own preferences. Because of the blog, I also just try more fragrances, and more kinds of fragrances, than I would otherwise. In some ways, the sheer number of fragrances I try probably also makes me less forgiving towards a really badly done fragrance, and more appreciative of an adequate fragrance from a brand that doesn't always manage adequate.

What frustrates you about the fragrance industry, and what could they do better?

The obvious answer, of course, is the ludicrous pace of new releases. There was a time when I hoped the economy was going to force the perfume companies to back off, but at this point, it seems fairly obvious that it isn't going to happen. Given that, it's hard to say what they could do better. If there are going to be 1300+ new fragrances a year, it stands to reason that many of them are going to be crappy or derivative or just a waste of time, and that's about how it turns out, right?

But I also have to remind myself, frequently, that most fragrance brands aren't trying to cater to the preferences of perfumistas, and there is no reason they should. Most consumers aren't after genius when they shop for a perfume, they just want to smell nice.

Now Smell This, today.

What recent fragrances have you enjoyed?

I think it's been a pretty good year for fragrance so far. A few highlights: Marni, Dries Van Noten par Frédéric Malle, Le Labo Lys 41, Aedes de Venustas Iris Nazarena, Comme des Garçons Black.

Any future plans you'd be happy to share?

Really, no idea. I'd like to make it to 10 years if I can -- that would be in 2015. Or I'll just keep going as long as Angie, Kevin and Jessica are willing.

Lastly, you used to write on MakeUpAlley with the username LastTrainHome. What time *was* the last train home?

Ask Pat Metheny! My early screen name on the forums, LastTrainHome, came from a song on his Still Life (Talking) album.

* * *

Robin's blog is at and you can find her on twitter at @nowsmellthis

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About the author: Grant Osborne

Grant Osborne is the founder and editor of Basenotes. Grant has two children, and a dependence on tea, haribo and bacon.


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    • Kiliwia | 30th April 2014 14:04

      Very interesting interview and fun to see how the site has changed over the years.

    • furrypine | 1st May 2014 15:24

      NST is the first port of call to find out what's new, and the reviewers are great. Here's for 10 more years!

    • BergamottoeBenzoino | 5th May 2014 15:39

      Thanks for this interview, Grant! I wish Robin will keep NST running like these last 9 years, at least for the next 20!