Stepping into Les Topettes feels like you’re entering a secret place, one that feels like something from another time. A time when things were handcrafted and there were only one or two degrees of separation between the artists/artisans and ourselves.
When I was in Barcelona last February, I made multiple trips to this very special shop full of niche perfumes made by local perfumers and other European noses. I picked up a handful of samples (so many delicious choices!) and finally decided on a perfume made by a local perfumer, Pygmalion, with the patient and excellent guidance from the owner, Oriol Montañes. A former chef, Oriol and his partner Lucía opened Les Topettes in 2012 in the colorful and vibrant neighborhood, El Raval. El Raval is made up of narrow streets with lots of character—full of stimuli for all the senses. Les Topettes fits in perfectly and, at the same time, offers a lovely, peaceful respite from the streets.
Here, Oriol speaks about what inspired him to open the shop and what’s on the horizon for this treasure trove and resource for all things related to perfume.
Why did you name your shop Les Topettes?
We liked the phonetics of the word. Once we traveled with friends to the south of France, and we were in an antiquary, an antiques place. They had a small glass bottle, something like that (gesturing to a bottle on a shelf) and the owner said it was called la topette. It is a small bottle and it was used to mix some things and sometimes was used to serve absinthe. But we liked the phonetics of the word and the small pot.
And you have some here. Did these come from France?
No—these are gifts from a customer, because he found a lot.
Nice. They’re perfect for the shop. What inspired you to open Les Topettes?
We like these kinds of perfumers and perfumes but we couldn’t find them here so we decided to open the shop. And now you can find more places but I think this [shop] is different.
Yes and also the location…
You know, at the beginning people would say it’s rare; it’s not usual to have a shop like this here. But we love this area so we like being here.
Also, if you come from the CCCB (Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona—an art center focused on urban culture and the city) you could end up right in front of the shop.
Yes, if you turn there (pointing to street).
You can discover it.
Yes, it’s true.
Do you think your background as a chef has some relevance to this shop?
Yes, of course. I discovered this kind of perfume in a kitchen. I love the spicy notes, and I like the woody notes and the citrus notes as well. But the first notes that I recognize in a perfume are the spicy notes, and I like them.
It makes sense that the savory spicy notes are the ones that stand out to you. Can you tell me about the first fragrance you’ve developed for the shop?
The first perfume we made is called Lápiz. It’s called lápiz in Spanish, in English it’s ‘pencil.’ [We named it this] because we wanted to reproduce the smell of when you bite a pencil or sharpen it and we love the smell of cedar wood. We made two perfumes and then gave them to our customers. They preferred this one, so we started with this one.
Great, then the shop acts like a lab, a test kitchen, actually.
Yes, you can try them on and say, ‘I prefer this.’ The other perfume we created was made with anise. It was softer with pine, vetiver, and bitter orange. It was very nice. We kept it so maybe there’s enough to develop further, because we want to make more perfumes.
photos: Adrià Piferrer
When did you release Lápiz?
Just three months ago, around Christmas (2018). We’ve been working on this for almost two years and now all the customers are asking, ‘Have you got it yet?’ It’s nice. And we had a party on the day of the launch.
Are you developing any fragrances at the moment?
We are making one, with more citrus and fresh notes. We already know with which artist we will collaborate. I think this combination of the artist and the perfume is nice because it’s fresh, and it’s perfect for the summertime—something fresh.
Do you know the name?
No, not yet.
So you’re working with a different perfumer?
No, it’s the same perfumer but a different visual artist because [each time], we want to collaborate with a different local artist or artist from Spain.
Who’s the artist for Lápiz?
The artist is Sergio Rodriguez. He’s a graphic designer but he makes a lot of collages. He is a customer here and we didn’t know that we have friends in common—then we made this. We told him that we wanted him to be the first to collaborate with the perfume and he loved it. He loves perfumes so it was very easy.
How did you find the second artist?
It’s a customer as well and we love each other’s work. We’ve started to collaborate. He has a lot of ideas; he really wants to make it [happen].
It seems like you have a very active relationship with your customers here.
I think it’s a good thing for the shop because we are very close to the customer.
Fragrance is such a personal thing—which is why it’s so lovely to shop in a place like this. Everything is made with love and intention and there’s someone present who is very knowledgeable and passionate about the perfumes.
Yes, now we have a lot of customers, and we know their taste. When they want to change [their signature fragrance], I can say, ‘I think I have something you’ll like.’ Or maybe I’m looking for another brand to introduce in the shop and I [already] know if this customer can use this brand, if they’ll like it.
Do you rotate your brands?
Usually we introduce one or two new brands every year and if there is one that doesn’t work, we change it.
How long has the shop been open?
It’s six years and two months now (2018), about six years.
As this is a venture of you and Lucía, what is her input?
In the beginning she was more involved, now she has [other] work so it’s me who makes the decisions. I can consult her but she has a lot of work so it’s more my business.
Did you develop the fragrance Lápiz together?
No, it was more my decision. I showed her definitely—but now it’s me who is running the show.
Are those fragrances there (along the back wall on shelves)?
This is more for the customers, to show them the raw material. For example, sometimes you show something like a fragrance that has more vetiver in it. They might say, ‘I don’t know what vetiver is,’ so I have the raw material. ‘It’s an herb or a root and it smells like this,’ then I can show them the raw material from the plant. It’s to play with a bit. The customers like it; it’s nice.
Maybe it’s easier for the nose to pick up when you smell the plants.
And then people realize that we’re not accustomed to using the nose. People don’t use the sense of the smell. In a way, we forgot this sense and we use more the visual sense—our eyes.
So they start to play with this, they like it, and they want to know more. It’s fun.
Do you host workshops?
This Friday, we have a presentation from AromAtom, a brand from Marina Barcenilla—who was born in Spain but lives in the UK. It’s one of our new brands. They’re bringing some raw materials.
We really want to have some workshops in the future.
Do you think there are any trends in Barcelona or Spain in terms of fragrance?
Like something new?
Have you seen any changes over the six years?
Yes, a lot. Now there are a lot of local perfumers. In the beginning we just had this one brand Oliver and Co. from here in Spain and now there are a lot of people starting to make perfumes. Now we have eight brands from here, in the beginning we just had one.
Do you think about representing more local brands?
I prefer this. I like a lot of other brands, but it’s nice to have something from here, something local. Sometimes they are a small business like us so we have to help support each other.
Have you released any new fragrances in the past year, since we last spoke?
We’re waiting to make a couple of new fragrances.
Has developing your own perfume for the shop, Lápiz, taught you anything new about perfumes? Do you have a different perspective since you not only select and sell brands, you also develop perfumes now?
Yes, now I’ve started to create perfumes as an amateur perfumer. And we offer workshops with different perfumers here once a month.
What are you working on at the moment?
Right now I am working on a jasmine perfume that I will send to a contest here in Barcelona.
Is there a particular brand or fragrance that you are very excited about presently?
Yes. I will let part of the shop to a Spanish perfumer to make a corner for his brand, Oliver & Co. from Madrid. We had the brand before and I love it—it has a lot of personality.
What particular note or element are you into at the moment?
Right now, that would be benzyl acetate, ylang ylang, and amyl cinnamal to create an accord for the perfume for the contest. This is nice because I’m not a big fan of the smell of white florals (such as gardenia, tuberose, jasmine, and ylang ylang). But I am really enjoying these days making this perfume and now I smell these notes with more interest.