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Thursday, March 03, 2011

Back to Manhattan: Barney's New York Route du Thé

By Tom

There are I suppose a lot of current perfumes that could be considered New York since the perfumers are indeed New Yorkers (Chris Brosius, and Adam Gottschalk come to mind). But the one that I first thought of when Marina mentioned this project was one that popped up when I was actually living in New York City: Route du Thé by Barney's New York. Basenotes writes that it was introduced on 1986, back when the flagship store was on 17th and 7th and there was no apostrophe in "Barneys". I'm actually thinking it was earlier, more like the spring of '85. Lets get into the Way-back machine and and travel back to the mid 80's, k?

New York in the 80's. Pre-Giuliani Times Square had movie theaters you could get rabies from. The meat-packing district was still packing meat (in more ways than that can be discussed in a family blog) and NoLiTa was still Little Italy. Clubs like Area (where I once lit Fran Lebowitz' cigarette) were the hot spots; club kids like my friends and I would stop by The Bar on 2nd Ave for a few cheap drinks before going to "Gnarly" or "Surrealism". I remember spending election night in 1984 shuttling about telling the bartenders and coat check people who were away from the TV about the increasing certainty of Reagan's election. We were not drinking in celebration. Andy Warhol might have been an elder statesman, but the Factory was still on Union Square as was the ruins of Klein's. Andy would have shopped at Barneys, as would any wealthy, hip New Yorker who lived or dared to travel south of 23rd. Even though there might have been some product overlap with the uptown stores like Saks and Bloomingdales, Barneys was the epitome of downtown cool. Of course I couldn't afford much in the place; no Armani or Yamamoto for me. One of the things I could afford was Route du Thé.

Some of us who lived through the 80's remember that time with little nostalgia. Style-wise it was dominated by excess: a few hours on SoapNet will remind you that the decade featured big hair, bigger shoulder pads, and make-up that could be seen from space. Scents were pretty big as well. Giorgio was the Ne Plus Ultra womens scent of the time and Lagerfeld was on the guys. God forbid you should be going to the 78th floor Sky Lobby with a elevator full of these.

Route du Thé came along as the anti-perfume 25 years before Uncle Serge and was marketed as unisex years before CKone. It's basically lemon peel, lily of the valley and a clean, light amber. It's fresh and clean and bright and most likely as dated as the Chippendale Highboy top of Philip Johnsons AT&T Building. But I don't dismiss it. I can still see on one of those godawful sweaty-humid New York days when you exit your cold shower only to feel the immediate need for another that one would reach for this. Short of strapping an ice-block to your head I can't think of anything more refreshing. Sitting some 25 years later I test drove in a rainy LA week and while it wasn't as much of a tonic, it was a simple joy and a reminder of my reckless, feckless New York youth. (in some ways, New York is like growing up Catholic, you can move away, but decades later in your heart you're still a New Yorker..)

I was told by the SA at Barney's (now with apostrophe) that it was being discontinued and only the BH Store has it now. I think she might have been blowing smoke, since it's still listed on the Barney's website at $55 for 3.4 oz. Perhaps some of the NYC PST peeps could check the Madison Ave store? In any case, the BH store has it for $50 and I had to buy one. 100mls of my youth and a snapshot of New York City at that price can't be passed up..



Blogger popcarts said...

Since when does Barneys have an apostrophe? This will not stand! This will not stand, man!

12:59 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed that trip into 80ies NYC. Great read, wonderfully written.
P.S.: May I ask as an uninitiated foreigner, what is the BH store?

3:17 AM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...


since about 1989. I'm ignoring it myseld

11:16 AM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...



It's the west coast flagship, a big honking bespoke built pile on Wilshire Blvd in Beverly Hills.

11:17 AM EST  
Anonymous Marian said...

Tom- what makes it dated?
Just phoned- they still carry it on Mad Ave as their "signature fragrance"

2:58 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...


It has a sort of post-modern vibe to it that could be considered dated.

Thanks for looking up the Mad ave store; I thought it was a line..

3:56 PM EST  
Blogger popcarts said...

Wow, I have had my head it the sand! They don't use one online, and I guess I've never paid attention in the store. But now that I know, I'll pretend I don't.

4:03 PM EST  
Blogger Daly Beauty said...

Amazing 80s flashback. Make up you could see from space! Giorgio was my fave, bless me, I knew not what I wore.

It's been so long since I sniffed Route du Thé that I barely have the scent memory. I like the idea of a cooling summer scent. Bet my teenage daughter might like it.

7:10 AM EST  
Blogger pitbull friend said...

Thanks for this lovely review, Tom! I have a roll-on of RdT around somewhere & now must go pay it some attention. I don't remember it from that far back, so I don't associate it with that dreadful time when Reagan was declaring ketchup to be a vegetable in school lunches and gay men were dying left and right.

Never been to the NY Barneys, but recently got to test out the scent booths at the Scottsdale one. Hardly another shopper, so I had all the Malles, L'Artisans, Byredos, et al., to myself!

9:56 AM EST  
Anonymous maggiecat said...

This scent sounds delightful, especially since Dallas summers often have days where the temps go over 100. I'll have to try to find this - I love unisex citrus-y scents in the hot weather!

2:56 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There were two Barneys scents, one for men, one for women. The one you are talking about is the one for women & it is indeed still available.
The far superior (IMO) mens version has been discontinued for at least a year or more.
My source is the mgr of the fragrance counter, Tyler, Barneys NYC.
Plus, my nephew LOVED the mens version & I can't get it anymore.
C. Lewandowski

3:56 PM EST  
Blogger brian said...

Weird. Route du The must be in the air. After not thinking about it for a year, I got the urge to smell it again and wrote about it too, on Saturday. I guess I never thought about it being dated. It seemed at the time and still seems so fresh and original. Many people have done this kind of scent since but few if any I can think of have this kind of persistence and truly beatific vibe. Funny, too: when I titled the post I thought, hmmm, apostrophe or no apostrophe? Thanks for the post. I enjoyed it.

10:12 AM EST  

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