There are a lot of perfume stores in Andorra. Too many, really. I was expecting the liquor and cigarette stores, but fragrances? Apparently, they're a big draw. Like alcohol and tobacco, the amount you're allowed to bring out of the country is based on volume, not worth. Doesn't it seem odd that non-addictive smelly stuff could be treated in a sort of sexy contraband way? Andorra's shopping is not about small boutiques and "finds," it's about having everything that there is to have for less. As I commented to Merlin when a salesman at the Intersport produced a manila envelope with a replacement tent pole for our 2003 North Face Tadpole 23, "this is shopping Nirvana!"
Well, in said nirvana, there are fifty-five perfume megastores. That's one per 3.3 square miles (about). To give you some perspective, McDonalds, Burger King and Subway combined have one location per 83.5 square miles of America. Twenty-one of the 55 stores are Júlia Perfumeries, whose white and green shopping bag is as omnipresent as a Century 21 bag in Manhattan. Júlia herself, Júlia Bonet i Fité, is considered one of the forerunners of modern Andorran commerce. She started her first hair salon/perfumery at seventeen years old in 1939. When the demand for foreign products became evident, Júlia found ways to get them into the country and into her store, traveling to France herself and making other deals - personifying the "buy foreign products here in Andorra" model.
The Júlia Foundation started Andorra's Perfume Museum in 2004. It has 25,000 pieces in its collection, of which about 1,000 are on display. There are perfume bottles galore, some of which seem particularly Andorran. There was the Lucky Strike scent and the Flor de Havana with a bottle shaped like a pack of cigars. The museum was lined with glass cases flecked with colors and shapes, all the myriads of marketing strategies used for fragrance over the centuries. We walked around with audioguides that explained a few numbered items. My takeaway - it's always been fashion before fragrance. Back in the day, it was about getting Dalí or Warhol or whoever else to make a bottle and then fill it with something. Nowadays, it's about putting a dab of Alexander McQueen, Tom Ford or Versace behind your wrist - all of whom make exclusive fragrances for Júlia Perfumerie in Andorra.
There were also a number of items for sale. "12,000 euros," our guide said while pointing to a bottle shaped like Buddha. Well, the border cops sure would be fooled! You're not allowed to bring more than 525 euros of goods out of the country, but you are allowed to bring 75 grams of perfume indiscriminate of price. We sat in a room, darkened by a pulled curtain, to watch an informative video. As it went through various eras and profiled certain icons in perfume's history (Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette, Napoleon, etc), items in the room were lit with a follow spot. They really do have a cool collection of paraphernalia. The narration was only done in French, Catalan or Spanish, so I can't relay any tidbits.
The front room was dedicated to the science of fragrance making. This is precisely what deterred us from visiting initially. Neither of care much for scents and the idea of an olfactory museum experience wasn't very enticing. We went around, uncorking scent tubes to smell the aroma being highlighted. Vanilla, coffee, patchouli, cinnamon, musk, lavender, etc. After the go around, we were encouraged to play a computer game in which we smelled fragrances and identified its notes. Another option was to create our concoction from ingredients. We've never seen anything like the wheel of vials that powered the game. At the end of it, Merlin had a headache and my recently ailing sinuses were cleared - - but it was fun.
Perhaps the most intriguing fixture in Andorra's perfume culture is the perfumerie near the border town of Pas de la Casa. I couldn't find any information about this place. I can only tell you that it's next door to an Andorran product mall and a distillery that specializes in Pastis. You walk in and see & smell fragrance culture galore. There are huge copper stills lining the roof and these glass jars along one wall - it's the homemade stuff, labeled by aroma. The rest of the store is filled with soaps, cream, incense, bath salts, etc. It was the smelliest place we'd been to on our self-guided perfume tour - because, luckily, as Merlin remarked, "we escaped attack by atomizer."