When you visit Andorra, remember to visit the Perfume Museum located on the first floor of the Júlia d’Escaldes-Engordany Centre.
You will have the chance to discover and dive into the fascinating world of fragrances and learn about the way they are created. The history of perfumes is not limited to only an artistic analysis, but falls within the social context of each historical moment. In other words, it not only reflects the creative trends, but also reveals the needs, beliefs and tastes within society. The history of perfume and cosmetic products represent a true reflection of values, trends and social changes within people.
A fragrance can embrace us in a way that we never forget it, becoming one with a memory, a song or a special person. The smell envelops and takes us into a dream world or into other historic times. The museum’s space allows us to go through the history of perfume, which goes beyond Chanel or Gucci.
This kind of museum was the idea of the Juliá family, famous for its traditional cosmetic products. You can see the history of perfume, including a varied collection of containers, starting from the Egyptian styles until the present moment, with the last innovations in design.
A Journey Through Fragrances
If we do a little research, we find that different fragrances can serve as a guiding thread through the history of different continents. I invite you to follow us in this wonderful trip!
Let’s start by explaning that “fragrance” means smoke, a sign that perfumed essences were born closely linked to religion, as a way of communicating with the Gods. In the second part of the XIIIth century BC, we find a list of ingredients used in the process of making perfume.
However, like many other things, more information about the fragrances used by the ancients can be found in relics that come from Egyptian tombs and paintings that are found on Greek and Roman pottery. In fact, the Museum of Andorra holds a box with samples of Egyptian Khöl, the black paint used around the eyes which also has antibiotic properties. It seems that it comes from the seventh century BC, being used even today due to its qualities.
Egyptians paid great attention and care to their body image, but this luxury could be afforded only by the upper classes of society. The Greeks and Romans had a ritual: after they took a bath, they had their bodies massaged with aromatic oils, seeking the “maigc” properties of these odors. All this aromatic culture was passed from the Greeks to the Romans.
The disintegration of the Roman Empire and the emergence of various European countries, with the prevalence of the Christian Church, has led to the stigmatization of perfumery. So the next ones to witness the evolution of fragrances were the Arabs, whose thinkers were committed to developing new formulas. “The key” for making perfume is attributed to a philosopher and Arab doctor from the first century named Avicena. Arriving on the Iberian Peninsula, the Arabs brought with them the fragrances that once again returned to Europe.
It started in France, which became the jewel of this industry. Granada and Sevilla become the centers of perfumery which are as important as Baghdad (Iraq) and Damascus (Syria). In the XVth century, Arab perfumers are allowed to stay in Spain. Here the climate was favorable for planting jasmine, citrus, lavender and other herbs that were part of the final products.
French King Philip II Augustus approved the profession of perfumer in 1190. France became a decisive factor in the world of fragrances.
Essences from all over the world
Fragrances are used in different ways from one continent to another. For example in India, the sacred books mention 700 products for manufacturing essences, including: cinnamon, nard, sandalwood, tuberose and ginger. The scent becomes mandatory in certain situations and occupations. On the other hand, the Chinese used perfume in ceremonies and thought that a natural garden was piece of art. Introduced in Japan by the Chinese, the perfume has become a fundamental element in romantic literature.
Bottles and Design
In the perfume industry not only the essences used are important, but also the design of the containers they come in. Andorra Museum has a complete collection of containers coming from the first centuries of the Christian era to the latest innovations in contemporary design.
Egyptians manufactured and exported containers made of diorite and alabaster. The Greeks and Romans used decorated ceramic, until crystal was discovered during the first century BC. The Romans invented pomander, a circular container of gold and silver, inlaid with precious stones containing scented ointments. It is worn with a chain around the neck or waist. And from here to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the perfume container turned into a wonderful piece of art.
Alcohol or oil?
This is the secret. One of the most important milestones in the history of perfume was introducing alcohol. In the Middle Ages perfume consisted of oils. However, the properties of alcohol as a solvent and the capacity of absorption and fixing the aroma, resins and essential oils, have not gone unnoticed. It is uncertain whether the first people who used alcohol were the nuns at the monastery of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, or Queen Elizabeth of Hungary, who in the XIV century created her famous Hungary Water with cedar, turpentine, rosemary and alcohol. Since then, alcohol is one of the main components of any perfume.
With the decline of Italy and Spain as political and economic powers in Europe, other countries started to become wealthy: England, France and Germany. The perfume industry also follows this path. The first perfume brands appear in France: Piver and Houbigant, who opened their doors in 1774, then Pierre-François Lubin. The creator of the famous Eau de Lubin combined bergamot, lemon, geranium, lavender, myrtle, neroli, benzoin and musk.
In addition to the permanent exhibition of bottles and essences, the museum has a great amount of documents from which you can learn the history of perfume. The museum also has various interactive spaces to experience and enjoy the wonderful scents.
“Perfume is the unseen, unforgettable, ultimate accessory of fashion that heralds your arrival and prolongs your departure.” – Coco Chanel