The Scents of Self Guide to Barcelona’s Museu del Perfum

Don’t let that 2.5 Trip Advisor rating scare you away. Ignore the review calling the Museu del Perfum “one room you could walk around in 1 minute.” That lowly one room contains one of the most unbelievable perfume collections on earth, a spectacular 4,000 bottles ranging from ancient Egypt to modern day.

The museum starts off old-school: Roman clay urns from 500 B.C., gorgeous 18th century Italian glasswork, and even two bottles owned by Marie Antoinette. I somehow have only one picture from this section. Bad blogger!

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She’s totally judging my blogging. Major side-eye.

About halfway through the collection, the fragrances are categorized by national origin. It’s nice to know that Israel and Palestine peacefully coexist, at least behind a glass case in Barcelona.

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We’ve finally reached my favorite part! The end of the museum is a dazzling parade of long-lost, legendary fragrances from the last century.

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They had all the big names, but even more thrilling were the unknowns. Chanel Ivoire, Guerlain Fol Arôme, Meteor de Coty;  mysterious bottles that I had never heard of before despite their big brand names. Lost fragrances that no longer exist outside of the museum’s display cases. All you can do is stare at them through the glass and try to imagine what they would have been like.

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No museum is complete without a gift shop, and Regia Perfumería has one of the best selections of niche and high-end fragrances outside of France. If you can tear yourself away (I couldn’t without a bottle of the deliciously warm Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur), the magnificently whimsical Casa Battló is just a few Gaudí-designed tiles further down the street.

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A few more spectacular bottles that didn’t fit into any particular category:

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The original Amouage packaging!
The original Amouage packaging!
I really need more perfume bottles to be in the shape of bears.
I really need more perfume bottles to be in the shape of a bear.

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Disclaimers: This post does not contain affiliate links. Please note that the museum goes by both Museu del Perfum (Catalan) and Museo del Parfum (Castillian Spanish). All museum captions are in Catalan, which my high school Spanish was totally unprepared for.

Guerlain Terracotta Le Parfum

Finally fulfilling my fragrant destiny*, I’m Nordstrom’s newest Guerlain girl! After three delightful months in the fragrance department, I’ve been transferred to the Guerlain counter. You won’t catch me complaining about selling $54 lipsticks and $455 face creams, but our perfume selection is a little painful. Out of the dozens of iconic fragrances Guerlain has created over the last 200 years, we carry exactly one (Shalimar, of course). So imagine my excitement when I unpacked Terracotta Le Parfum last week, literally doubling our fragrance selection!

Guerlain calls Terracotta Le Parfum, their seasonal summer fragrance as of 2014, “a sun-soaked invitation to explore faraway lands.” It’s supposed to recall those oh-so-French, SPF -10 bronzing oils that beach bunnies of the past wore on their glamorous St. Tropez vacations. “Sun-soaked” or not, Terracotta is a less literal sunscreen fragrance than scents like Bobbi Brown Beach, Bond No. 9 Fire Island, or CB I Hate Perfume At The Beach 1966. Instead, Terracotta is one of those rich, sultry white florals that make me want to evacuate the room.

In all fairness, Terracotta is a very good example of the evacuation-worthy white floral genre! I might not wear Terracotta myself, but I’d happily recommend it to anyone looking for a summer fragrance with a little more depth than usual. It’s more polished than jasmine bombs like Gorilla Perfumes Lust (my nemesis!), and less heavy and thick than those very French white florals we all know and fear. Still a little heavy for the younger crowd, though, who usually declare it “old lady” before racing over to Flowerbomb. (Despite this crushing rejection, my first shipment of Terracotta sold out within the week.)

* Book of Apres L’Ondee, Chapter 8, Verse 2: “And thou shalt know her by her height, which shall be three cubits. Just really, really short, you guys.”

Guerlain Après L’ondée

At the mothership, the Paris Guerlain boutique. I’m trusting y’all not to stalk me!

Après L’ondée is probably my most-worn Guerlain. This is because Après L’ondée is more palatable to modern tastes than the other old-school Guerlains, by which I mean that it is much less likely than its contemporaries (Shalimar, L’Heure Bleue, Jicky) to elicit gagging noises from Perfume Muggles. Après L’ondée is a somewhat utilitarian fragrance for me, since it is what I wear when I need an inoffensive perfume. But of course, Après L’ondée is so much more than inoffensive.

Après L’ondée is an exquisitely gentle fragrance, a delicate composition that tenderly evokes the smell of sweet violets soaked in rain. Its anisic top notes evoke its sister fragrance, L’Heure Bleue, but the remainder of Après L’ondée is entirely original. Après L’ondée is said to have been inspired by the Impressionist movement of its era, and it does invoke the same wistful loveliness that one sees in Monet’s water lilies or in Renoir’s lush women. Après L’ondée is frusturatingly elusive: it can only be found in two places in the world (the Paris boutique and Bergdorf Goodman), and it has absolutely zero lasting power. It’s still worth it.

Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Jasminora

First, what’s up with the ad? Homegirl appears to be a mermaid android, and while that’s all well and good, where do the orchids fit in? Do mermaid androids have proms? There were definitely no proms in The Little Mermaid. I call shenanigans.

Oh, I guess they do have orchids. My bad. 

Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Jasminora is a lively, clean-scrubbed perfume that is really more of a lily of the valley scent than jasmine. It is completely non-indolic, and true jasmine lovers would most likely find it unsatisfying. I usually feel overpowered by the richness of traditional jasmine fragrances, so I find Guerlain’s latest Aqua Allegoria to be very pleasant. In the unlikely event that I would wear a jasmine fragrance, this would be a strong contender.

I think that Jasminora has the potential to become very popular with the young whippersnappers. It’s citrusy enough to be youthful, and it smells so much nicer than most of the current fragrances targeted towards the youth market. Between Jasminora and the recent Shalimar Initial, Guerlain appears to be doggedly pursuing the hearts and wallets of younger women. Personally, I have my doubts about the wisdom of this marketing choice. It’s been an awfully long time since it was scandalous to wear Shalimar. Justin Bieber’s fragrance was the top-selling perfume of 2011. Is an old-school brand like Guerlain really going to be able to attract all those Bieber-buyers? But assuming that they are successful (and God knows, I wish them well), I would much rather have to constantly smell Jasminora than Shalimar Parfum Initial.


Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Pamplelune

AA Pamplelune is a vibrant, acidic grapefruit fragrance with those herbaceous Guerlain underpinnings. Grapefruits are my favorite citrus fruit, and Pamplelune is the most accurate and enjoyable rendition of a grapefruit that I have ever come across. Its energizing and uplifting properties would make it an ideal summer scent, but for one little problem: I am afraid to wear it out of the house. Makeup Alley reviewers repeatedly declare that Pamplelune smells of “cat pee” and “body odor”. One review even states, “I personally loved the smell of this going on me… [but] it is clearly perceived as B.O. by others.” I am legitimately puzzled. How could such a gorgeous grapefruit scent inspire such revulsion? Does the same perfume that makes me feel happy and alert really remind others of a litter box desperately in need of cleaning? I would definitely still recommend Pamplelune, but obviously you wear it at your own risk.

As the (somewhat reluctant) owner of a turtle, I have to say that I’m not even really sure what “cat pee” smells like. Can anyone comment on whether Pamplelune is indeed urinous?