How to Smell Like a Very Sophisticated Lemon Cupcake

I'm not on board with the name of this gourmand fragrance, but I love its layers.
Publish date:
March 28, 2016
perfume, Byredo Parfums

Like Allison, I'd say fragrance is at the bottom of the list of beauty things I feel comfortable writing about, but the more I get into perfume, the more I want to talk about it.

I've been wearing perfume most of my adult life, but my decision on what to wear was based solely on what smelled "good," with no particular attention to fragrance notes or categories. If I look back at the fragrances I've owned and that have been my daily scent at some stage or another, there's no pattern to them. I wore Elizabeth Arden Green Tea because my mum gave it to me, and bought Paco Rabanne Black XS for Her after I was handed a free sample vial in the street and decided I liked it.

After discovering Marc Jacobs fragrances thanks to their fun packaging, I found myself inadvertently committed to the brand, limiting myself to the Marc Jacobs section of the fragrance counter. When you know nothing about top notes, base notes and sillage (which until very recently I pronounced as sill-idge) the whole counter can be overwhelming.

I had to learn about fragrance quickly when I got a job in a department store, where I was expected to be able to sell someone a perfume as easily as I could sell skincare or makeup. Since then, it's like a whole new world of things for me to get excited about smelling.

My latest fascination is with gourmands. As the name suggests, a gourmand fragrance is one whose notes are largely "edible" scents, like vanilla and candy. Black XS for Her falls under this category; although it's meant to be a fruity-floral, to my nose at least, the vanilla sweetness is dominant. I don't wear Black XS very often anymore because of its heavy sweetness.

For a lot of people, gourmands bring to mind the overwhelmingly cloying sweet vanilla notes of so many celebrity fragrances. Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Mariah Carey's perfumes, among others, hit you with a wave of candy. I'd put Viva La Juicy in this category too, with its sticky caramel berries. They're the fragrances in bright, ostentatious packaging that we'd sell to kids in school uniforms, or as a gift for a teenager at Christmas.

These aren't particularly sophisticated fragrances. I say this for a few reasons, and they're not necessarily criticisms. Their notes are simple, and direct. Taylor Swift's Wonderstruck has top notes of berries, mid notes of vanilla and base notes of peach and musk, just as the brand says it will. There's no complexity that develops with your body's heat, no hidden notes to catch whispers of throughout the day. You spritz it on and then you smell like Wonderstruck.

My current favourite perfume is a gourmand, however, and it actually snuck up on me. It's Byredo Gypsy Water.

Shame about the name — the brand describes the fragrance as "a glamorization of the gypsy lifestyle," which I'm not on board with. The thing is, I don't think Gypsy Water even evokes what they're suggesting it does: I get no "fresh soil, deep forests and campfires" at all. The dominant notes are vanilla and citrus.

A certain warmth, perhaps, remains in the base notes of sandalwood and amber that temper the vanilla in there, although it's much more of an indoor warmth than a woodsy outdoors. It's like a kitchen with an open fireplace in winter — and that's where the cupcake thing comes in.

While there are top notes of bergamot orange, the strongest citrus scent is lemon. I read someone disparaging Gypsy Water as smelling like lemon Pledge, but the lemon settles quickly. Balanced with the vanilla, the lemon gives a fancy cupcake scent. There's a hint of juniper berry in there too, which brings it out of sickly-sweet territory into some kind of fusion cupcake version of a gin and tonic.

I find the sillage of Gypsy Water to be minimal, further setting it apart from Lush-style gourmands. I can smell it on myself, and anyone who comes close can pick it up. I've put it on in the morning and had friends hug me at the end of a night and ask me what I was wearing, but it doesn't bother the people around me at work.

Now the world of sophisticated gourmand fragrances is opened up to me, I'm excited to see what else is out there. What are your favourite gourmand scents?