Florentine perfumer Lorenzo Villoresi came to the fragrance business in a rather round-about way. After studying psychology at the University of Florence, he spent a year in New York before returning to Italy to complete degrees in philosophy and religion. Subsequent travels in North Africa and the Middle East sparked an interest in spices and other fragrant materials, and eventually he was asked to create fragrances for friends, and then scented candles for Fendi.
He officially launched his own business in 1990, and continues to create custom perfumes in addition to his ready-made line. His next fragrance release will be Alamut, an oriental scent that should launch in February or March of next year.
I understand that you have a degree in philosophy, and I am wondering what career you would have pursued if you had not become a perfumer?
Theoretically I would have become a kind of Academic, a researcher in Ancient Philosophy or perhaps I would have moved rather towards the Ancient past: Sumerian or Acadian culture, Semitics, Ancient Minor Asian Thought or even Anthropology.
And do you think your studies in philosophy have influenced the way you work with fragrance?
Not directly those in Philosophy: much more the Ancient Greek and Mesopotamian culture and mythology, and only with regard to the choice of suggestive names for our fragrances (like Dilmun — a Mesopotamian Paradise or Alamut — a legendary place).They do not necessarily affect the way I work with fragrances. Perhaps they influenced the pleasure in using certain ancient resins, like opoponax, galbanum, styrax, myrrh and frankincense: the fragrance Incensi, for instance, is almost entirely based upon the resins of Ancient times.
Do you think there is an Italian style of perfumery that is distinct from the French style?
Unfortunately I do not think that at the moment there is an “Italian style” of perfumery — distinct from the French or from other styles — as much as I don’t think there is an Italian tradition in perfumery.
There used to be an Italian tradition during the Renaissance, starting at the end of the XVI c. till the end of the XVIII c. I am thinking about the tradition of Italian courts like the Medici, the Este and the Borgia families, to name but a few.
Modern perfumery is deeply influenced by the French style. Also the so called English style has been (and still is) very important, particularly in the world of Artistic perfumery, which represents somehow the continuation of the important tradition of the Art of perfumery which touched its apogee in France between 1890 and 1930 (the Golden Years of Lalique, Baccarat, Gallet – Coty, Guerlain, Chanel, etc).
Perfumery Houses like Penhaligon’s, Floris, Czech & Speake or the various “Tailors” of England for the English style and L’Artisan Parfumeur, Creed and Annick Goutal for the French style, represent at the same time the inheritance of the ancient Art of Perfumery and a very strong influence on contemporary Artistic perfumery .
In my opinion, in contemporary perfumery, a revolutionary event was Jean Laporte’s L’Artisan Parfumeur, where the concept is that behind the “Maison” there is an Artisan, a Master Perfumer, that creates the scents, as opposed to the industrial perfumery linked to fashion brands and multinational companies that we are all too familiar with.
In this context even if it is not possible to talk about an Italian style or tradition, the new development of the activity of Santa Maria Novella in Florence (almost 800 years of tradition), and the beginning and quick development of our own activity starting from the beginning of the 1990s, do indeed represent a different approach to perfumery, in comparison with the French and English styles.
Santa Maria Novella represents the precious medicinal, pharmaceutical and convent inheritance, transmitted along the centuries for a variety of cosmetic and perfumery products, from soaps to creams, from Eau de Toilettes to essences, extending its offer to alimentary products, liquors and elixirs of medieval origin. In this sense its approach is original and substantially different from the one of the English and French Houses.
As far as Lorenzo Villoresi is concerned, it is perhaps possible to talk of Italian style with regard to the large use of raw materials typical of the Florentine and Tuscan tradition which made "Made in Italy" famous in the world. These materials are mainly used for the containers — leather, silver, and crystal for the bottles, caps, cases — and for the accessories: porcelain, Carrara marble, travertine marble, alabaster and olive-wood for accessories, to contain potpourris and scented waxes.
As to the heart of Lorenzo Villoresi’s activity, this is mainly represented by fragrances, the Eau de Toilettes, which are not particularly influenced by the Italian tradition, not even the Ancient one, neither for what concerns the source of inspiration and the names, nor for what concerns the contents and the choice of the ingredients.
The fragrances of the Eau de Toilettes are influenced, on one side by the great Classics in Perfumery, especially the single-theme fragrances such as Sandalo, Patchouli, Vetiver, Garofano, Wild Lavender, Musk; and on the other side by subjects and inspirations of different cultures and different times. Teint de Neige, the sophisticated beauty and the atmospheres of the French Belle Epoque; Dilmun, a Mesopotamian Paradise; Yerbamate, with the wild nature and old rituals of South America; Piper Nigrum, with African markets of spices. Alamut, the new fragrance appearing soon, is inspired by legendary place in Middle East.
Anyhow, all we just said for both Santa Maria Novella and ourselves, even considering the importance of brands like Etro in Artistic Perfumery, is not enough to allow to talk about an Italian style or tradition. Nevertheless, the important echo which Acqua di Parma had in the whole world in recent years, allowed the creation of a new image of Italy in perfumery, that is the idea that it is possible for an Italian House of Perfumery to exist and also become fairly important. Anyway I still think this is not enough to really talk about an Italian style and Italian tradition, not even after the birth of several new Italian perfumery brands, most of which cannot yet be considered as real Maisons.
How do you think your own approach to perfumery fits in? Or would you say that the Middle Eastern tradition has been a more important influence on your work?
My own approach to perfumery, besides what stated above, is very free: we are not inspired by any style: we do not wish to belong to any kind of tradition, we feel ourselves as being part of the Art of perfumery, of the important tradition of the Maisons of the beginning of the 1900, who were studying each part of their products, from the bottle to the cap, from the box to the trademark, to the accessories; and especially with a Perfumer really inside the Maison. My approach is the freedom of an artist who does not particularly care about trends, who works trying to develop “smelling visions” out of his desires, no matter what they are, theoretically in every possible way and with no regard to their cost. For example, if to obtain a specific fragrance one should take a handful of ground, or break a stone, or press ice or distill sand, I would certainly do it.
Sometimes it is possible that a hidden desire or vision represents a totally personal matter or something belonging to a small number of people: but it may also happen that some kind of “immaterial link” suddenly creates a connection between the perfumer’s hidden world and the one of many other people. In the past I sometimes couldn’t, or felt I wasn’t in time, to seize these intuitions and translate them into something real. Some other times though, more recently, I felt I managed; in the future I hope to be more organized in order to be able to realize the hidden desires — mine or of many people — which I happen to perceive here and there, not only in terms of fragrance but also, for example, in terms of new ways and means to conceive, use and “live” the fragrances.
We feel particularly international and multicultural, not only in the choice of names for the fragrances, but also in the selection of the ingredients and in the choice of the materials for the accessories. It is true though that we have a Middle Eastern part, not only cultural, that is related to the inspirations of A Thousand and One Nights, the Arabia Felix and the mythical ingredients of the Middle Eastern tradition, but also in the choice, for instance, of offering perfumes in oil among our regular products; the love for incenses and incense-diffusers made in different materials; the desire that we have for the future to develop solid perfumes and special balms to enrich our collections and of course some new fragrances like Alamut and others to come, again inspired by Middle Eastern tradition. So besides the Middle Eastern tradition it is more a Middle Eastern way of doing things that influenced and inspired me: the way to take care of the single person, the sense of hospitality, the desire to personalize as much as possible the fragrance for a person; the warm and welcoming atmospheres, totally opposed to the cold and impersonal atmospheres typical of most Western countries’ perfumery stores. The tradition of perfuming even cigarettes (like amber cigarettes) and tobacco, and even the water for the narghiles: the sensuality of using raw aromatic ingredients, whatever they are, from sandalwood to jasmine, without taking into consideration if they are for men or women; the strong presence, importance and richness of spices and herbs — from mint in tea to cardamom seeds in the coffee etc. All those spices I started to use at the same time for cooking, for potpourris and for distillation.
Are there any notes or smells that you are particularly drawn to, and are there any that you dislike intensely?
Yes, I am particularly drawn to woods and woody notes (like patchouli, sandalwood, cedarwood and vetiver), citrus and spicy notes. I like much less conifers (pine, fir, spruce), anise-like essences (estragon, anise, fennel, etc.) and fruity notes. On the contrary I particularly like the smell of galbanum — a green note which reminds me of the smell of freshly crushed poppies — and of fresh laurel leaves (not bay leaf); I adore the smell of tomato leaves and of freshly pressed olive oil, of osmanthus flowers and cardamom oil. I use all these ingredients and many more in different fragrances. I intensely dislike citronella, eucalyptus and spearmint. Anyway, my level of appreciation of an ingredient has a lot to do with its quality: whenever an essence or a substance is of good quality, I like it, even the strangest ones such as chaulmoogra, atractilis or certain animal notes.
You have said of your custom work: "I am merely an interpreter, the person who knows the alphabet of smells. I translate words into scents; I serve as a mediator between their desires and the fragrance phial." I am curious to know if you are ever surprised by what you develop for a client, that is, do you ever create something wonderful that you would not have thought of on your own?
It happens sometimes. For example last year I made a personalized fragrance in an unusual way: it was for a lady who was on the phone with me from Argentina, while her husband was in front of me in our studio in Florence. She asked for a violet fragrance and we all know that violet is a classic note, sometimes particularly sweet and powdery, like the Parma violet. But then the lady specified, speaking French, that it shouldn’t be for a woman, but “pour un etre” (“for a being”)…After the phone conversation I made the first violet, a rather classic one, using traditional ingredients with touches of green leaves and powdery notes. But I was not satisfied. So I started again and the second violet was made using the absolute of violet leaves, the absolute of wild violet, some special notes recalling the green undergrowth of the woods were violets thrive and others ingredients used to obtain a less “cosmetic” effect, that is more natural, more herbal-floral-“transparent”, not sweet and powdery, but rather deep floral-green- herbaceous– and not “embellished”, as violets are. The result of this second compound was quite impressive even for us: both violets were sent to the lady but the latter was the chosen one.
Or something that you find unpleasant but that suits the client?
Not exactly but sometimes it happened that the request of something that I personally find banal (for example lily of the valley or honeysuckle) was quite the right ingredient to suit the person in front on me.
Which of the perfumes in your ready-made line is your own personal favourite, and why?
My own personal favourite is Uomo, our first Man fragrance made in 1992.
Can you tell me a few perfumes from other lines that you particularly admire or like to wear?
I like to wear almost exclusively my fragrance Uomo. “Almost” in the sense that often — and without intention — I wear many other fragrances, for the simple reason that I use them all the time! But years ago I particularly admired Eau de Rochas, that I think was made by the renowned French perfumer Edmond Roudnitska. I was also impressed by Jean Laporte’s Mure et Musc and by Calèche, Madame Rochas, Dioressence, Amouage, Equipage, all made by the famous French perfumer Guy Robert. Generally speaking I like “daring” fragrances and I am often disappointed by the many, dubious, dull and scarcely significant existing fragrances.
Bonus reading: You can read a synopsis of Lorenzo Villoresi's first book on basenotes. Much of the background information in the first two paragraphs is based on an article which appeared in Departures magazine.