Perfume Review: Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Pamplelune, with a side order of cats

Pamplelune was composed in 1999 by then-in-house perfumer Mathilde Laurent (also responsible for one of my favorite comfort fragrances, Shalimar Light), as part of the simple and lovely first round of Aqua Allegoria fragrances. Pamplelune and Herba Fresca are the only fragrances that remain in production from that first release of these Guerlains With Training Wheels, both deservedly so. Pamplelune, despite having lost that first blush of newness, is still getting press – and wear – among fragrance fans.

Here, in part, is what Luca Turin of Perfumes: The Guide had to say about it:

“… without question the best grapefruit fragrance ever, and has that magical quality, typical of perfectly conceived and executed fragrances, of being much more than the sum of its parts… Laurent married grapefruit… with an intensely pink floral accord and somehow gave it durability and that elusive quality of radiance: the ability to project an accurate image of itself at a distance. A sunny masterpiece.”

I ran across this description in P:TG and promptly dismissed it. I don’t really care for citrus scents. They smell fine, but they tend to bore me to tears, and the phrase “a good citrus,” strikes me as having the same appeal as “a good car chase film.” Sure, there are people that like that sort of thing, but I am not one of them.  It turns out, though, that grapefruit might be an exception for me, as in Pamplelune and in Moschino Funny!

I first smelled Pamplelune at the Duty Free shop in the Rome airport. I was already covered in Lolita Lempicka Si Lolita and Chanel No. 19 EdP, so I figured that if it bored me I’d still have other things to smell. However, Pamplelune surprised me: I was pleased that, first, I’d found a citrus fragrance that didn’t for once bore me silly, and second, that didn’t disappear at Minute 34. I had already bought a set of four Aqua Allegoria minis in Malta intending to bring them back home as souvenirs for various relatives: Flora Nymphea to my mother, who likes soapy-clean scents; Bouquet Numero 1, a citrus-fresh floral, to The CEO’s mother; Herba Fresca to The CEO’s sister J who loves fresh gardeny unisex smells, and Pamplelune to his other sister E, who used to wear Dune and had been looking for some lighter summer fragrances. E reported to me later that she really enjoys the happy, light-hearted cast of Pamplelune.

If you go to Basenotes or Makeup Alley or Fragrantica and read what’s written about Pamplelune, you will find widely divergent reviews. Some of them are as enthusiastic as the encomium written by Luca Turin in P:TG, and some of them condemn Pamplelune as being quite possibly the worst thing the reviewer has ever smelled, ever. The aromachemical making the difference seems to be the sulfur compound in grapefruit: to some people it smells quite strongly of sweaty body odor, and to some it smells unmistakeably of cat urine.

I had warned E about Pamplelune before she put it on. “Try it before you take the bottle with you,” I said. “Some people say it smells unpleasant, and if you don’t like it I’ll give you something else. I like it, but your nose might perceive it quite differently.” To her it smells of lemons, oranges and flowers. No locker room, and no incontinent cats.

I have lived with a cat in my house for most of my 43 years, excluding only my college years and the year I lived in my own apartment. Mr. Deedee, an orange cat, was succeeded by Smoky, the gray one. Then Midnight, who was exceedingly grouchy with everyone except my mom (who fed him) and my sister (who was a baby). Then Mittens, a tall tabby cat, came to live with us, and he was mostly my sister’s cat – she could hold him and ask for a kiss, and he’d lick her cheek. I found Callie, the stray calico, when I was a teenager and brought her home. Mittens and Callie were still with my parents when I moved out, Mittens living to the age of 14 before developing a brain tumor and Callie finally succumbing to old age when she was 17. Meanwhile, my brother brought home Buju, a chunky gray girl; when my grandmother’s beloved dog died, I brought her Herschel, a white-and-gray kitten from the litter that was born in the backseat of our neighbor’s car. Later, my parents took in Rosie, an enormous calico that I like to call “Meatloaf,” when her owner had to move into an apartment. And during the year that E lived with The CEO and me after we were married, her cat Tiger lived with us too.

The CEO, who had grown up with cats like Smoky and Morris and Dwayne (so named because he’d been found as a kitten in, yes, a dwainpipe), brought home two kittens he’d found starving and crying their heads off in a barn, with no sign of a mama cat anywhere. The black one he called Lucky, as a sort of joke that turned out not to be so funny when she crossed the street unwisely and was hit by a car. The small fluffy tabby with a bottlebrush tail we named Silvia, after a delicately feminine character in a Scott Turow novel. Silvia would place one tiny white paw on the side of the bowl of kitten chow and eat one kibble at a time, while Lucky planted both front feet right in the bowl and plowed in. Silvia, now old enough to vote and rather thin, is still with us.

So. I know the smell of cat pee, yes? Yes, indeed. I do. And despite the fact that an open cup of peach-flavored yogurt abandoned on the kitchen table often causes me to sniff suspiciously and check the litter box, I don’t smell any cat pee in Pamplelune.

What I smell in Pamplelune is bright citruses, mostly grapefruit but also an intense orange peel, followed by a floral note that I thought at first was orange blossom but now think must be neroli, because it does not go soapy and flat on me the way orange blossom usually does. Rather, it’s sparkling and has a happy feeling to it. The citrus phase by itself lasts almost twenty minutes on me, which is remarkably long for citrus, in my experience. The citrus+floral phase lasts a much longer time, perhaps an hour, before the citrus drops out altogether and the florals take over. I smell quite a lot of rose in Pamplelune along with the neroli (orange blossom?), and it is a classic, perfumey scent at this stage. Eventually, I smell the quiet woody base, which includes a faint, unsweetened hint of vanilla as well as a dry, herbal patchouli that does not send me screaming the way patchouli can. The whole fragrance is attractive and pleasant, shifting gears without a hitch throughout. My mini bottle is a dabber, and when I dab, the scent lasts about three and a half to four hours – extraordinarily long for an eau de toilette on my skin – while sprayed, it lasts about five or five and a half hours. It is not particularly loud, but it does have rather a nice gentle waft, well within my three-foot radius preferred wafting distance.

The notes for Pamplelune, according to Fragrantica, include lemon, orange, bergamot, blackcurrant, petitgrain, sandalwood, patchouli, and vanilla. There is no orange blossom or neroli listed, nor rose, but neither is grapefruit specifically listed. (I’d swear there’s rose.) Also, I think there might be just a little bit of musk, as a longevity extender.  The entire fragrance has a cheerful, smiling face without that relentlessly perky clenched-teeth airline hostess perma-grin, and I find it both uplifting and easy to relax in.

It might be that the blackcurrant+citrus combination creates the grapefruit effect, and since these are topnotes that might be affected by skin acidity, I do recommend that anyone interested in Pamplelune try it before buying it. But do try it, won’t you? If it works on you, you won’t regret it.

Bottle image and notes list from Fragrantica.  I note that Fragrantica also claims Jean-Paul Guerlain to be the nose for this fragrance, but I don’t think I’m buying that.  Cat image is from (because Silvia is camera-shy!)  Grapefruit image from Wikipedia.


23 thoughts on “Perfume Review: Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Pamplelune, with a side order of cats”

    1. It is so pretty, isn’t it?? Sorry that the Moth doesn’t love it.

      Now I want some ruby red grapefruit… I know it isn’t in season, but I want some anyway.

  1. I love this one, too…unfortunately, it was nixed by my DH. When I asked him what he thought of it, he said, “it smells like BO.” That was the end of my love affair with Pamplelune. I reluctantly gave my bottle away to a friend. But I don’t want to be wafting BO and offending everyone around me if that’s what comes across…

    1. BTW, I did not lead him on by saying anything about BO. He came up with it all on his own, without any knowledge of the scent!

    2. Oh and (sorry…too many posts) I now have a large bottle of Eau de Sisley 3, which smells a lot like cat pee. Not sure what he thinks of that one. I haven’t asked cause I don’t want to hear anything negative. I love EdS 3. 😉

    3. There MUST be something to the perception of BO or cat pee – so many people come up with it, the difference must be in the way that different noses perceive the smell.

      I did ask everybody in my family whether they liked Pamplelune or not – whether there was anything unpleasant in it. Everyone said “No, it’s orange peel.” I double checked: “Any sweaty smell? Cat pee?” They all looked at me like I had three heads and insisted not.

      Which makes me wonder if there’s something genetic in the odor receptors that would make certain people smell BO. (Or cat pee.)

      (I have yet to smell Eau de Sisley. I know a lot of people say that boxwood smells like cat pee to them, but I actually love that smell. It doesn’t smell like cat pee to me, but it is distinctive.)

    Bought this @ Marshalls about 8 years ago for $19.99 100ml.
    Put it on and it was unreal. It smelled exactly like my armpit after
    a LONG bike ride.
    Gave it to my niece and she loves it. On her it smells like tangy
    grapefruit, but grapefruit nonetheless.
    And when I bought it, I had no preconceived notions from reading about it.
    After I read other reviews was glad to note that I wasn’t the only one
    who smelled sulfur.

    1. So, just checking: no BO on your niece?

      But total BO on you?

      I think skin really does matter for this one. And maybe odor receptors, too – I mean, nobody is saying this smells like, say, licorice. Or doggy toes, or hot pavement. Nope, it’s one of three things: BO, cat pee, or grapefruit.

      Which is completely fascinating to me. Is it noses? or skins? or a little of both?

      1. No BO on my niece, just a sour soli-fruit Grapefruit, but not sour in a negative way, just sour grapefruit.
        I think it is a nose situation, she and I are 180 degree scent opposites.
        I gave her DKNY Be Delicious for Christmas (she asked for it) and it smelled awful to me, she loves it.
        I don’t think all people perceive scents the same way, kind of like when you see something purple and another person sees blue.

  3. And a lemming is born.

    I never get the dreaded “cat-pee” note with grapefruit scents (and I have a history with cats very similar to yours, & I volunteer at our Humane Society, so I know my cat-pee smells!). Is boxwood related to juniper? Because juniper definitely smells like a cat box to me.

    I love citrus scents. There’s something lively, or fizzy, or sharp or something that makes me feel sprightly. Probably explains why I like citrus scented body washes – they’re a great way to really wake up if you’re not a morning person.

    1. I don’t know why I’m not a big citrus fan. I’m just… not. I do love Bath & Body Works Orange Ginger body products from the Aromatherapy line (hope they haven’t discontinued it – forgot to check last time I was there, because I’m kind of stocked up).

      I have had juniper bushes in the yard and not noticed a cat pee smell with them. Hm. I remember somebody claiming that boxwood smells like tomcats marking the area; might have been on a review of Byredo Green, which purportedly contains boxwood.

  4. I tried this one after reading a review at This Blog Really Stinks. I didn’t smell any BO or other unpleasant O’s but it wasn’t interesting enough to pass a credit card test (it didn’t even move in my wallet).
    Over the years I found that cats complement nicely almost any dish (strike that) post.

    1. Hi, Undina! I don’t know that I’d need a full bottle of this, either – I like my Funny! better, and it’s quite a bit cheaper anyway. But I think I’ll use up the miniature. I do like how it goes classic-floral rather than citrus-woody, which is probably my problem with most other citruses.

      You’re right about the cats.

  5. Malls, I love your kitty resume! It warms my heart to think of the cats I’ve known through life 🙂

    I haven’t sniffed this one, though I have liked this line in general. I wore a grapefruit scent for a while in my early twenties, so now I tend to shy away from them. However, if I’m ever in a Sephora, I’ll be sure to give a spray! 🙂

    1. I’ve been lucky in my kitty friends. I just noticed, I left my in-laws’ current cat, Fidel Catstro, off the list. Fidel is declawed and should definitely be inside all the time, but he’s an escape artist who probably could have broken out of Alcatraz. (Al-CAT-raz, ha!) Fidel was Bill’s cat, and I think he misses Bill.

      I haven’t smelled many of the AAs – just the four I mentioned, as well as Flora Nymphea, which was total soap on me. Which was to be expected, since it’s focused on orange blossom. There was one I wanted to smell… what was it? Anyway, it’s D/C and long gone, so it’s not really an issue. I did like Bouquet Numero 1 very much, though.

      * it was Winter Delice, I think.

  6. I’ve always had cats, so I guess I should know what cat pee smells like: blackcurrant bud. I have a bit of the natural EO and the synthesized one and let me tell ya they’re about as close as it gets. I think BCB is responsible for the dreaded “cat pee” note in lots of perfumes.

    I’ve read that natural grapefruit extractions tend to go “sulphurous” on some skins, so the aromachemicals are usually used instead. Maybe, but the ones I’ve smelled don’t float the boat much. I wish I knew how Ellena got that grapefruit note so perfect in “Une Jardin sur le Nil.”

    1. You know, I do get a bit of cat pee in L’Arte di Gucci, which I love, and that’s definitely cassis (blackcurrant) bud. I just don’t care that it’s cat pee, because there’s so much else going on at the same time.

      I wonder if there’s just not enough of it in Pamplelune to even register to me. I sorta kinda liked UJslNil, but the longer I had the mini bottle, the less I wore it. It, um… okay, I’ll say it… it bored me, particularly once the topnotes were gone. I found it a new home.

  7. Early on in his trajectory towards becoming a perfumista – which for some reason has suddenly reminded me of of those wannabe models who are “still in the running towards becoming America’s Next Top Model” – my brother bought a bottle of this, and though his collection must have grown to about 10 FBs by now, this remains a favourite staple. I don’t normally like grapefruit, but as there is none listed, I am going to give it a go when I am next in a department store. And as a lifelong cat owner, I will also know the cat pee note if it does it on me!

    1. Oh, do try it, V! (What, you can’t hit your brother up for some? Or does he just live too far away?)

      So you don’t like eating grapefruit? Never mind, it’s easily findable if you have access to a good store. Hope that it keeps its claws in for you.

  8. Hi Mals. I have a bottle of Hermes Pamplemousse Rose which I got expressly for wearing on hot, humid, sticky days – and that’s when I really enjoy it. Other times, there just isn’t enough going on for me. There is a brief stint with something vaguely cat pee-ish or something of the sort, but it’s fleeting. Have you tried this one and if so, how do you think it compares with the Guerlain? I’m a fan in general of Guerlain fragrances, but I’m not familiar with the AA’s except for Mandarine Basillic [which I like].
    What sweet recollections of your kitties through the years. 🙂

    1. (holy moly, it’s nearly a year later when I find this comment!!! So sorry, V!)

      Re the Hermes: it is much more of a classic-cologne thing with a grapefruit topnote, so of course I didn’t care much for it. I did LIKE the topnote, but then it turned into a nice cologne, which bores me stupid. Pamplelune is much more floral, and that suits me very well.

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