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Meet Your Maker with Marina Barcenilla

Meet Your Maker with Marina Barcenilla

We sat down to ask Marina Barcenilla, the nose behind AromAtom and Marina Barcenilla Parfums all of our burning questions...

You’ve been creating fragrances since 1999, and your work has been nominated for several accolades along the way. Which are you most proud of? 

I guess it would have to be my first Fragrance Foundation Award for best new independent fragrance in 2016. India, with its cheap bottle, cheap sticker, created by a nobody, and completely natural. It was the first 100% natural perfume to win this type of award.


What are some of your favourite materials to work with? And what are your least favourite?

My favourite materials to work with are rose absolute, orange blossom absolute, orris, bergamot and New Caledonia sandalwood. My least favourite are oxide notes and amber xtreme. I have a real dislike for rose oxide; I use it as part of my educational Mars-smells and whenever I do the AromAtom activities that’s all I can smell for days!

Your AromAtom collection explores the smells of space? Where do you find the basis for what these are meant to smell like?

The fragrance collection is inspired by the original space-smells that I created for the education and science outreach project, which is really at the heart of AromAtom. These space-smells are based on scientific data and my own research as a space scientist. By scientific data I mean the chemical molecules we have identified within gas and dust clouds in our galaxy, and on the surfaces and atmospheres of the planetary bodies of our solar system. They’re the same molecules that we have on Earth, so we know what they smell like. I’d like to quickly mention that Sarah McCartney and Harry Sherwood created a couple of accords for the educational smells, and Harry also designed a “gunpowder enfleurage” experiment to recreate the smell of moondust as described by Apollo astronauts. What I’ve done with the AromAtom fragrances is to create wearable and more perfume-like versions of the educational smells. 

We loved reading about how you aim to create an engaging and accessible environment for anyone to become curious about science. What have been some of the most surprising aspects of that journey for you?

There’s been quite a few, but something I didn’t expect is the interest of the space science community. I run some outreach activities for the Lunar and Planetary Science Institute in Houston as part of a conference a few years ago, and they became very interested in the idea. I had a good chat with their outreach officer and with the Houston Space Centre, who now run their own smell of space activities. To be honest, I’m surprised that it’s been so successful, I never expected it to go beyond the pilot event in 2017.


Are there any female perfumers - historic or present day - whose work you really admire and which of their perfumes would you suggest we try?

Yes, I really admire the natural perfumer Mandy Aftel who, without knowing it, helped me to believe in myself and in my stubborn idea of creating an all-natural perfume line, regardless of what other people said. One of my favourite perfumes of hers is, perhaps, one of the most challenging: Memento Mori. It’s not what most people imagine a perfume would smell like, no run of the mill “nice smell” and definitely not for everyone. It’s animalic, raw and hauntingly human. If you like challenging perfumes, you should at least try it.


What do you feel are the challenges faced by women in the scientific community, and what would you like to see change?

Ah, so many! But I guess it very much depends on the scientific discipline you’re part of. Huge pay gaps, having to work harder to achieve the same, not being taken seriously if you make an effort to look nice, or if you don’t, you just can’t win… and my pet hate “mansplaining”.

In my own field, I’ve seen an unwillingness to allow women with families to have any kind of work-home balance, blatant discrimination, bullying and harassment. Did you know that “conference sexual predators” are a thing? 

I’d like to see proper disciplinary action taken against perpetrators of bullying and harassment, and a compulsory training session on gender equality, for everybody.

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