THERE SHOULD BE a sign outside advising impulsive shoppers to just walk on by. When a young bohemian wearing knee-high boots and loads of scarves strolls into Knows Perfume (4536 California Ave, West Seattle, 206-397-3141; knowsperfume.com) looking for a new scent, Christen Cottam begins an investigative volley.
“Do you like lemon honey?” she lobs. “Try this tobacco honey.”
“How about horse-chestnut honey?”
Cottam scores with mimosa and pineapple fizz, and she portions out sample vials from the couple hundred fragrances—irreverently indie, ultratraditional, French, local, and otherwise—that line her neatly ordered raw wood shelves. The shopper might savor a few exclusive and vintage bottles in the perfumery’s romantic reference library (it’s actually Cottam’s personal collection) or flip through The Secret of Chanel No. 5, but before she gets away, Cottam—a former junior high science teacher and biotech sales rep—will assign her some homework.
“Wear these on your skin for about a week, and notice: Do they get powdery? Does the scent leave after an hour?”
Cottam is just too passionate about perfume to let you buy L’Artisan’s citrus-spiked, clean notes when your soul mate scent is a rose-colored, noirish composition from Juliette Has a Gun.
If Valentine’s Day has you considering your significant other’s aromatic match, Cottam can dole out some homework for them, too. She assembles themed samples—“Best of the Boys,” “Femme Favorites,” “Knows Adores These”—to include with gift certificates. After the two of you investigate matters properly, you can come back together to claim your destiny.