I didn’t plan to walk past the Barneys flagship store on its final day, but there I was on Madison Avenue, and there it was, windows papered with those garish “GOING OUT OF BUSINESS”-style posters.
I’d already visited last month, to take a turn around the beauty level and give my regards to my favorites sales associates at the fragrance counter, so there was no need for me to go inside and gape at the bare counters and scavenged shelves.
Still, it seems like the appropriate time for me to share a few fragrance memories in this post…
The Barneys perfume counter was (past tense!) located along one side of the lower-level beauty floor; in various remodelings, it was joined by smaller single-brand niches (e.g., Serge Lutens, Frédéric Malle) along the adjacent wall. The stairs from the main level led straight to the perfume counter, making it an easy and tempting destination for shoppers.
Here are six scents I associate with specific trips to the Barneys fragrance counter, in chronological order.
Les Parfums de Rosine Poussière de Rose
It was an early spring Saturday and I’d just presented a paper as part of symposium at the Dahesh Museum. Stepping back onto Madison Avenue, I decided to reward myself with a visit to Barneys before heading home. I was still slightly shy about shopping there at the time, but the temporary infusion of confidence from a successful presentation gave me an extra push.
I didn’t catch the name of the sales associate who assisted me, and I never saw him again, but I can still recall him clearly—wavy blond hair, British accent, low-key but skilled sales techniques. I may have shared my love of rose perfumes with him. In any case, I tried a few scents from Les Parfums de Rosine and ended up purchasing a bottle of Poussière de Rose.
I might not have tried it on my own, but once I sniffed it, I knew it was the right choice for me. That was my first Barneys fragrance purchase.
Keiko Mecheri Loukhoum
Over the following year, I became more and more active on the MakeupAlley.com fragrance board and made some internet fragrance-friends, so it was a natural step to attend some perfume meet-ups. The biggest was Sniffapalooza, which had just expanded from an intimate shopping day amongst friends to a larger event for MUA regulars and other scent-curious invitees.
Barneys was a mandatory scheduled stop for these early Sniffas, and we often met independent perfumers behind the brands stocked at the perfume counter. I remember being excited to see Keiko Mecheri, since I already owned her Damascena and Loukhoum fragrances.
(I was deep into my berried-floral and almond-gourmand phase at that moment. Then again, I never completely left those tastes behind me…)
Byredo Gypsy Water
By the time I had a small circle of frag-friends who would plan days out for perfume-shopping and lunch, a few more niche brands were being featured at Barneys. I remember pausing at the Byredo table to sniff its original collection with A., P, and the rest of our crew. Gypsy Water was our favorite, while Pulp also had a few fans. I turned out to be a Rose Noir devotee, but Gypsy Water will always remind me of that initial encounter with Byredo.
Meanwhile, I’d also started blogging at Now Smell This and attending more and more fragrance-related events. Ben Gorham was one of the speakers at a breakfast event held at Barneys (in Fred’s Restaurant) in Fall 2009, along with creative directors from Le Labo (also a young brand in 2009) and Antonia’s Flowers, so I had a chance to hear him speak.
I happened to be sitting next to an executive from Firmenich and I was delighted when she said that she was a regular Now Smell This reader. We were proto-influencers back then!
Greg Lauren for Barneys New York
By 2013 the celebrity-fragrance trend was beginning its gradual decline, but Barneys did something unexpected: they worked with several independent fashion designers on fragrance collaborations….and the perfumes themselves were excellent.
The first was L’wren Scott (2012), followed by Greg Lauren, Irene Neuwirth, and Maiyet. Greg Lauren’s fragrance was developed by perfumer Ralf Schwieger (one of my favorites!) and I happened to visit Barneys the night it was being celebrated as part of the beauty floor’s recent redesign.
I wrote about that party on my own blog and reviewed the Greg Lauren fragrance for Now Smell This. I remember that I hadn’t been feeling too well that evening (work stress), but while I was in Barneys, I forgot myself and had a great time (#retailtherapy). I still have a partial sample of this fragrance in my stash.
Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle L’Eau d’Hiver
I wasn’t exactly what you’d call an important customer at Barneys: my purchases were limited to the occasional bottle of perfume or makeup item (or two), never any clothing or accessories or home furnishings. And I’d try to sync my shopping with the biannual “Love Yourself” event, when you’d receive a makeup bag stuffed with samples of high-end cosmetics and fragrances as a gift with purchase.
I think L’Eau d’Hiver was my final purchase towards a gift bag, the next-to-final time they offered one. I’ve loved this scent for several years (or more) and even used up my original bottle, so I was a brand-loyal shopper (even a product-loyal shopper) after all these years. The Malle SA even made up some tiny sample jars of Iris Poudre body cream for me as extra treats. That kind of service wasn’t uncommon at Barneys.
Barneys Route du Thé
Speaking of those spectacular gift bags: they always, always included a sample vial or a small roll-on of the Barneys house fragrance, Route du Thé. It became something of an in-joke amongst our little scent-circle. Everyone had a few Route du Thé samples rattling around her sample cache. We’d add them to “swap” packages as “extras,” thus circulating them further around the fragosphere.
Does any Route du Thé remain in my sample drawer? I’m afraid to look. Just like NYC subway tokens and Metropolitan Museum of Art admission buttons, Route du Thé samples were once everywhere and are now extinct.
Although it had a different vibe from Henri Bendel (which I wrote about last year), Barneys was a similar touchstone and formative influence on my personal scent-growth. I’ll miss it terribly but I’ll always be grateful to the patient Barneys staff members who assisted me on my visits over the past seventeen years and I’ll always think of their counter when I smell these six perfumes, plus many more.
(Much gratitude and love to T.M., above all.)
Images: top photograph by me; perfume counter image via The New York Times.