5-18 Powell's City of Books, World's Largest Indie Bookstore by Judith Ashley and Sarah Raplee

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Confessions of an Ex-Spritzer Chick

Mining your old jobs for writing gold

Once upon a time, I was nearly twenty years old and studying Communications (PR) at university. In other words I was a cash-strapped student looking for a part-time job. I came across an ad looking for casual perfume promotions people for a cosmetics group. This sounded like much more fun than telemarketing and other student-appropriate jobs in fast food, so I applied.

After a couple of interviews taking place in the promotions company office and then a meeting with cosmetics managers at a large department store, I got the job! This was the start of my career in perfume and cosmetics. I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d stick with this career path for about five years until I got my first full-time PR job out of uni.

Spritzing my way through university

I worked in various promotions gigs in many stores, including the largest stores in Australia – Myer and David Jones department stores at Chadstone shopping centre (actually the largest indoor mall in the southern hemisphere) and the grand old stores in the Melbourne CBD.

When I first started work on the Fine Fragrances counter at Myer, it was the 1990s and there was a major campaign running in store. It was the launch of Calvin Klein’s Eternity perfume, with a famous ad featuring model Kate Moss. The ad ran over and over on the TV monitors in store until I nearly went bonkers. 

I spritzed and pimped that perfume almost all day, every day, for an entire Christmas season and into the summer. I must have spritzed thousands of customers and sold hundreds, if not thousands of gift sets.

After a long shift, I went home exhausted after standing and walking in high heels. We wore all black or stylish white shirts and pencil skirts always with well-groomed hair (mine was dyed dark cherry red and tied back with a black ribbon) and black pantyhose/stockings were standard. There’s a certain glamour to the job, at least once you’re there among the lovely perfumes and gorgeous shop displays on the cosmetics floor.

It didn’t always feel so glam when I was riding the bus to get from the uni campus to the store, rushing to get to work for a noon or five o’clock shift after class or eating in the food court. Not to mention being nice to customers. A few were incredibly rude and treated us retail workers like slaves. 

Don’t even get me started on the drunk men shopping at the last minute on Christmas Eve, who thought they were hilarious with jokes like, “Do you come with the perfume?” or “Can I stick a bow on you?” Don’t worry, I also perfected my scathing glare as well as my beaming smile during this time.

It was worth it for all the free samples I scored from the perfume company reps. And the pay was pretty good if you worked on weekends.

Learning the world of perfume and cosmetics

I actually learned a lot from the job in the perfume department, from the top notes to base notes, the differences between eau de toilette and parfum and the various tricks to make perfume last longer.

After a couple of years I moved to makeup. I worked a little for Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) on contract. I loved their makeup and perfumes! Seriously, it was a perk of the job to make yourself up to look glamorous in the style of the supermodels of the time.

Then I started work as a Revlon Beauty Advisor. For the American readers, Revlon might not be a department store brand. But in Australia, it’s one of the most popular counters and customers would line up to buy the blockbuster gift sets at sale time. And I learned makeup application from professionals, including Cindy Crawford’s personal makeup artist. I didn’t get to meet Cindy though, although my manager did. Jealous!

I learned all about applying makeup, the business side of the job such as ordering more stock, recording sales figures against budget, branding and promotions, learning ‘product knowledge’ including ingredients and shades of hundreds of products. Back then, if I looked at you I could have told you exactly what foundation shade to buy to match your skin tone. And I always had perfect lipstick.

Learning about women

While working retail, I also gained an understanding of customers, mostly women, who were treating themselves to cosmetics products. Some just loved makeup or nail polish and collected all the new season colours, for fun. I was happy to help them spend their money.

On the other hand, some told me they didn’t deserve to spend money on themselves. Some women said it had been years since they’d worn makeup because their husband didn’t like it. A few said they were dating again after a bad breakup and wanted a new look. These customers made me sad, but I tried to help them feel better about themselves, if only in a small way.

A few customers still stand out in my memory, such as the teenager going to her high school formal, who had terrible eczema on her face and body. She said she was ashamed to show her face at the dance and just wanted to look pretty for once. I gave her such a great makeover that her mother had tears in her eyes and took photos in store. That was a magic moment.

Old jobs as writing fodder

The reason I’m writing about this job for Romancing The Genres now, is because my old job has become the inspiration for my current writing. After the idea struck me a few months ago, it's been quite easy and fun to create a story based on my past career. My new Christmas romcom novella, Heart Note, will be released on 6 November 2017.

The story revolves around Lily Lucas, a funny, vintage fashion and 80s pop music loving perfume counter manager, and a band of ‘spritzer chicks’ or promotions staff. There’s more than a bit of me in the character of Lily, although her backstory and family are quite different to mine.

I found that once I started thinking about writing a story set at a perfume counter, a whole range of experiences came flooding back. There were heaps of funny memories which are great romcom fodder, but also the more emotional moments of working with a band of women.

I hope to write more in the Spritzer Chicks series and continue mining my past work experience for gold. For the other writers out there, I recommend thinking about your old jobs and considering them as research. You never know what ideas might pop into your head.

Note: In case anyone from the Melbourne retail scene is reading this – I’m writing fiction, not real people. I won’t name names! 

About Cassandra O'Leary
**Winner of the global We Heart New Talent contest, HarperCollins UK. Nominated for BEST NEW AUTHOR in AusRomToday 2016 Reader's Choice Awards for excellence in Australian romance fiction**

Cassandra O’Leary is a romance and women’s fiction author, communications specialist, avid reader, film and TV fangirl and admirer of pretty, shiny things. Her debut novel, Girl on a Plane, released in 2016 and Heart Note: A Christmas romcom novella will be published in November 2017. 

Cassandra is a mother of two gorgeous, high-energy mini ninjas and wife to a spunky superhero. Living in Melbourne, Australia, she’s also travelled the world. If you want to send her to Italy or Spain on any food or wine tasting ‘research’ trips, that would be splendiferous. 


Sarah Raplee said...

Your experience and knowledge of the industry will shine through in the Spritzer Chicks Series, Cassandra. I love the way Rom Coms give people an escape from the everyday world, with belly laughs and a happy ending to boot!
Your books are on my to-be-read list for winter.

Diana McCollum said...

Great post! Fun learning about the Spritzer chicks jobs you had.

Cassandra O'Leary said...

Thanks for the comments. I was just thinking of book 2, starting to remember some of the other funny things that happened in store. There was the I'll save that for the next novella! Anyway I'm grateful I'm no longer working the long hours right up to Christmas.

Maggie Lynch said...

What a great idea for a series. Just picturing the spritzer gal makes me smile. I can imagine both humorous and embarrassing things happen in that job. Thanks for sharing this nice insight into a different world.

Judith Ashley said...

Cassandra, I totally agree that our previous careers can offer up stories, emotions and characters for our current works of fiction. I have something in common with each of the heroines in The Sacred Women's circle series. Now is a great time to be a rom com author. I for one, need the humor and the HEA in my reading more than every.

Cassandra O'Leary said...

I agree with needing romcoms and lighthearted stories right now. I hope readers will discover some fun authors who try to balance the romance with humour.