October 15, 2012

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Fragrant Florence:
Scented Discoveries in the Heart of Tuscany
By Mark David Boberick
Managing Editor

There can be no better feeling while traveling abroad than happening on something truly extraordinary. In Florence, one need only walk a few steps down ancient alleyways and something is sure to catch the eye. The visual: no doubt, what Florence does best. Stroll the halls of the Uffizi Museum and witness the many wonders of the Renaissance - Botticelli, Da Vinci, and Verrochio. Climb the hundreds (trust me, an understatement) of steps to the top of the masonry tower of the Palazzo Vecchio and get a birds eye view of one of the most glorious sights: Brunelleschi's Duomo. There really isn't a single detail that has been overlooked in Florence, I'm convinced that everything is crafted to be perfect. Even the doorbells! With such a focus on art and a philosophy for details, it is no wonder why for ten years running, Florence has hosted Pitti Immagine Fragranze, the most important event on the artistic and niche perfume calendar. A veritable olfactory celebration. I boarded the plane in New York City expecting to be on sensory overload for the next week. I wasn't disappointed.

At the Pitti show, one of the first things to capture my attention was, incredibly, not perfume. Well, perfume was a part of it, but first, there was the visual. Nu_Be, which stands for "New Beginning," is a highly conceptual new fragrance line founded by Alberto Borri. The concept draws inspiration from the creation of the earth and the five elements that science has identified to be the first used in the creation. Perfect, I know. But before I knew anything about the story, and well before I sampled anything from the line, I saw the packaging. A grey Styrofoam rectangle that fully encapsulates the bottle of fragrance; there is no flap to pull back, no seam to pry open. So how does one get the bottle out? 

Before I answer that, let me just tell you that I have in my garage, every blessed box of every single bottle of perfume that I own - over 500. I don't know why, except that for some reason, I don't want to get rid of them. In fact, I have moved with them six times in 5 years. I have an unexplainable (and needless) attachment to packaging. I also hate to damage a box, even though I know I will probably never use it again, so I open it very carefully.

Alberto Borri has made it impossible for me to look at opening packaging the same way ever again. Because the answer to that question, how does one get the perfume out of the box? Well, one twists it until the styrofoam breaks open, destroying the perfect package. I am obsessed. I am part of a group of people who spend a lot of money on perfume, what many deem an unnecessary luxury (of course, I've spent the better part of 14 years disagreeing with those people). Perfume is expensive, and once we've shelled out for the perfect scent, the idea that we have to then destroy a part of what we've just purchased is so... Amazing. Alberto Borri has turned perfume packaging into performance art and I am ever grateful. If Marcel Duchamp was a product designer, Nu_Be would be his perfect client. With a range of incredible scents created by perfumers Antoine Lie and Francoise Caron, this line is one to pay very close attention to. (And we will in the next issue with a full interview.)

My second favorite discovery at Pitti came in the final hours of the last day when I found myself in front of Naomi Goodsir, an Australian milliner now entering the world of niche perfumery, whose fragrances were so new, I think the ink was still drying on the labels. Her first two entries, both created by perfumer Julien Rasquinet, are fragrances of such extreme parallels of beauty that they instantly stirred my soul. The enormous Bois d'Ascese is the finest incense fragrance released since Duchaufour's landmark Avignon for Comme des Garcons. But where Avignon might leave some very cold, Bois d'Ascese, with its burning, smoking embers will surely warm your senses. 

However, I am more partial to Goodsir's second fragrance, Cuirs Velours. It retains most of the smoky incense facets of Bois d'Ascese, but delivers it over a feast of smooth resins, which soften it ever so slightly and add a subtle tinge of balsamic sweetness to the composition. I cannot get enough. Nuit de Bakelite, a third fragrance, created by Isabelle Doyen is in the works for an upcoming release.
A casual stroll down Via Pietrapiana with Raphaella afforded me an opportunity to visit L'O Profumo, a fantastic perfume boutique featuring niche brands such as Humiecki and Graef, Olfactive Studio, and Laura Tonatto, among many others. Exclusive to L'O is their own line of fragrances, sold nowhere else in the world. These are, perhaps, the rarest perfume finds in Tuscany - and they are beautifully executed fragrances. 

I was especially taken with Il Logico, an unusual fragrance of tuberose and walnut that is masterfully blended. I immediately smelled coconut, but L'O's owner, Rosella, swore there was no coconut in it. The note is achieved through a sort of olfactory "smoke and mirrors" - other notes blend together to give the impression of a note that is truly absent. I wore it out of the shop and several hours later, the ghost of coconut lingered on. 

L'O Profumo is a charming shop run by truly charming people. And from one who was in every perfume shop in Florence, I can honestly say - L'O is the best of the best. An absolute must-see!

At L'O, Raphaella and I discovered what has been hailed as the "Rolls Royce of refillable travel atomizers," sen7. Built like a Zippo lighter (and roughly the same size), the sen7 atomizer is crafted out of metal and is finished in a selection of colors, rubbers, and metals. The colors are applied with a paint and finish similar to auto paint, so there should be no instances of chipping. It is built to last and comes in two different versions. One is refillable from the stem of a perfume bottle's atomizer. The other comes with a matching funnel and is perfect for your splash fragrances or extraits that do not come with atomizers. Once again – the visual: sen7 is a perfect marvel of ingenius product design. I wish these were available state-side, but I am told that there are a few patent disputes standing in their way. Have no fear America, sen7 ships internationally! (from $39.)

Discoveries: from as large as the Duomo, to as small as a travel atomizer. I set out on a reconnaissance mission to breathe in as much of this marvelous city as possible – from the warm stones in the streets to the perfect smell that greets you when opening the door to a perfume boutique. I had to stop every so often to process my surroundings; otherwise I might have missed the many gifts that Florence was offering. And there were many. Michelangelo said, “A beautiful thing never gives so much pain as does failing to hear and see it.” And to the great master’s quote, I will add: Or smell it!


For more information:





Naomi Goodsir Parfums
Rosella and Mark David at L'O Profumo.
sen7 refillable travel atomizers.