A "blind buy" in perfume parlance is an unsniffed purchase, a bottle you buy based on whim or reputation without smelling first. At better stores, naturally, you can always smell the perfume from a tester before buying, but often the best deals are to be had on the Internet or in discount stores like TJ Maxx, where you often have to go on description and instinct alone. Some deals are just too good to resist, though anyone who succumbs to temptation will inevitably wind up with some duds in her closet. Wizened perfume veterans will wisely advise you never to buy unsniffed, but bah. Bah, I say! Some of my favorite perfumes were unsniffed purchases, so no regrets! I've always been able to unload unwanted bottles eventually, often in swaps that were satisfactory to both parties. Here are some of the blind buys I've grown to love:
Moschino Couture! - No one ever talks about this wonderful perfume, so I'm not sure what compelled me to order it, except that I was already ordering Moschino Funny! (yes, the exclamation point is part of both names) and they were both silly cheap, under $20 a bottle IIRC. It's simple but perfect, a sheer fruity oriental if you can imagine such a thing. The fruit note is some red, tart berry whose real-world analog I can never put my finger on; it's not as green and hissy as blackcurrant buds but it's not as sweet as rasp- or strawberry. It kind of reminds me of those awesome three-layer popsicles from Trader Joe's, the raspberry and lemon sections. (The official notes list pomegranate but I can never figure out what pomegranate is supposed to taste like.) The base is a slightly creamy, woody-resinous vanilla, but at summerweight. Couture! -- exclamation point aside -- is a dumb name for this fragrance because it's essentially lighthearted, and "couture" makes me think Serious Glamour. Similar perfumes include Clarins Par Amour, but with less rose and more vanilla, and, even closer, Armani Sensi, but without that weird buttery lime thing up top that feels like you're wearing beurre blanc.
Cuir de Lancome - Quite possibly my favorite perfume of all time. It's very hard to do a leather fragrance that actually smells like leather, while still feeling refined and feminine. This has just enough smoke (via birch tar), without that nasty animalic edge some leathers have that makes you think of meat on the barby. It's the exact olfactory equivalent of that shade of nice luggage or handbags called caramel. Cuir starts off slightly sharp, almost medicinal, even Scotch-like, with saffron and bergamot, then it's smooth, smooth, smooth all the way into the long, mega-delicious styrax drydown. Criminally, this perfume is discontinued. I have one backup bottle; I hope it's enough.
Donna Karan Gold - Possibly my second favorite perfume of all time, this was an early discovery, on close-out at the Marshall's on Boylston, near my old gym. I remember rushing home to open it and spray it on paper, and cracking this huge smile because it was so delicious. DK Gold is a lily perfume, but most lily perfumes (see the recent Baiser Vole from Cartier) are usually almost rubbery in their freshness, meant to evoke the air inside a flower shop or the front of the church on Easter. I love the smell of lilies in a vase, less so interpreted literally into perfume. But Gold takes a very realistic lily accord and places it in front of a backdrop of amber; the warmth almost cooks the lily, so it's like a dessert version of a bunch of flowers. It reminds me of salted caramel, but the lily reigns in the sweetness in such a way that it feels appropriate at any time of day or year. Truly, no other perfume smells anything like this.
Belle en Rykiel - This shit smells SO GOOD. Like Couture! above, it's also seriously underappreciated. I never hear anyone talk about it. How can I describe it? It's definitely in the Angel family of patchouli-inflected gourmands, but it's much more subtle (not that I insist upon subtlety, by any means). The top notes are slightly fruity, but in a kind of concentrated way, like a fruit liqueur, and combined with lavender so again, the effect is a bit medicinal. But that burns off pretty quickly and you're left with this awesome, warm, slightly smoky concoction of heliotrope (almond), patchouli, vanilla, incense/amber/woody stuff that is just one of the most wonderful, addictive smells in the world. I tend to wear this when it's gray and drizzly (in Boston, that was a lot) or when in need of comfort. When I do, I regularly press my arm to my nostrils and inhale deeply, like I'm getting high off a mimeograph. GOOD STUFF.
I've also obtained lots of unsniffed winners via swaps -- trading bottle for bottle with another perfume collector -- but the risk there is somewhat less, since you're trading something you know you don't want, versus money, which is always pretty cool. My best blind swaps include Serge Lutens Cuir Mauresque (I wrote about layering it with Chergui here) and Donna Karan Black Cashmere (maybe the subtlest use of clove in perfume history, but Tabac Aurea is up there too).
If you're not into perfume, the closest equivalent to the "unsniffed" blind buy is probably buying music that you haven't heard. Do you play aesthetic Russian roulette with your paycheck?