A few weeks ago, I was in Barney’s prowling for comfort. Looking for Mr. Goodbar in the shape of a bottle of perfume. In my purse was the reason for the sudden urgency to lose myself in a new smell: a plane ticket home to visit my family. In the fragrance equivalent of all the nervous eating I did as a child to smother household tensions, I found myself compulsively spraying and sniffing scent after scent.
Mind you, I have any number of fragrances already in my hoard that trigger puppy-wiggles of delight (currently,Yves Saint Laurent Kouros, Chanel No. 5 Eau Première and Amouage Homage Attar). But this urge to splurge was not about need or even want. “Need” and “want” suggest thought processes, comparative analysis of the stuff you hope is going to make you happy when you finally possess it.
But there was no concrete thinking here, no putative new shoes or computers dancing in my head. Instead, this was primitive brain stuff. A survival mission. A mission to acquire an olfactory smoke screen, a pretty-smelling invisible shield behind which to retreat and reboot while back at the old homestead.
As I continued to methodically squirt Lutens and Malles on numerous blotters, I tried to reason with myself. I wasn’t 16 anymore. I knew better than to take the entire weight of loved ones’ unhappiness on my shoulders. Family dynamics had changed since I was young, and mostly for the better. Nevertheless, early imprinting to be “ready for trouble” meant that anxiety was already swirling in my gut. My main worries now concerned my elderly parents, whose frail health has necessitated the uncomfortable role-reversal of their adult children taking charge.
But all that was “blah-blah-blah” in the background as I stalked the perfume department. I hovered over Serge Lutens Chergui - you will be mine, you smoky, honeyed hay beauty, but not today. Lingered near Lutens Datura Noir, but its tropical voluptuousness seemed a bit much for nights in watching Lawrence Welk reruns with my dad. Pondered Heeley Sel Marin, a woody cologne with a surprising seaweed accord. Another shopper sailed over to pluck it out of my hand.
“This is AMAZING with Une Rose. By Frédéric Malle? Amazing. I spray them both on. Not in the same places. Mostly the Sel Marin with a little Une Rose. Try it. You’ll see. It makes a beach rose.”
I admired her certainty. I was getting tired of my uncertainty. Time to make a decision. I summoned the salesman and reached for a bottle on the other side of the counter.
“I’ll take this.”
That’s how I ended up back on the east coast with Byredo Gypsy Water. This eau de parfum starts off like a grown-up version of Fresh Sugar: bright lemon with a little vanilla sweetness. And that’s the beginning and end of any chirpiness, because then begins a long, soft-focus parade of peppery evergreen and ambery sandalwood.
The overall effect is that of a really muted masculine, kind of old-fashioned. Like you live in the 1950s and you’re wearing your boyfriend’s sweater during a walk in the woods, and catch traces of the cologne he wore the day before. Even the name "Gypsy Water" is retro-corny. Boy, it sure was fun in the 50s!
And it’s pretty fun in 2009, too. I saw my family and wore my Gypsy Water. And as I relaxed and eased into the quirks and love of those who’ve known me the longest, Gypsy Water went from being an invisible shield to just a pretty smell.