I've occasionally paused in a high-end department store — usually on the way to the fragrance department — to admire the creations of Fornasetti. It would be easy, I think, to become addicted to Fornasetti's world of ceramics and other home décor items, all embellished with witty designs that draw on a vocabulary of classical architecture, celestial bodies, playing cards, keyholes, and (most famously) the face of opera singer Lina Cavalieri, featured in hundreds of "themes and variations." It's a whimsical, almost Surrealist, visual style that filters Victorian imagery through a 1960s sensibility.
Fornasetti licensed the Fornasetti Profumi line just a year ago, and this venture seems like a smart fit for the brand. This collection encompasses various home-fragrance devices: scented candles, incense sticks, room spray, and ingenious three-way ceramic diffusers that can be adjusted to hold incense, perfumed oil, or scented crystals. It also has an impressive pedigree. The actual fragrance, named Otto, was developed by perfumer Olivier Polge. The candles, housed in Italian-crafted ceramic containers, are a wax blend manufactured by Cire Trudon, and the incense (the main subject of this review) is made by Nippon Kodo.
Otto was given its name because it was the eighth version tested by Polge and Barnaba Fornasetti (son of the company's founder, Piero Fornasetti). It was partially inspired by the gardens surrounding the Fornasetti home and by the various woods used in the house's interior and furnishings, and its composition includes top notes of thyme and lavender, middle notes of orris and cedarwood, and base notes of tolu balsam, incense, birch/styrax and labdanum. I've only tried the Otto incense so far, and I've enjoyed it thoroughly. Each small stick burns for a half-hour, with the fragrance remaining consistent throughout. It's a smooth, good-quality blend, in which the wood (cedar!) and resin notes dominate; there might also be hints of sandalwood and patchouli in the mix. It's an incense-y incense, but not a spices-and-myrrh church incense; it feels "secular" instead. It smells timeless and just rich enough, without being overwhelming, and it would suit a range of occasions and décors, just like a well-made piece of mid-century modern furniture.
More than anything, this incense reminds me of a stylish man or, more specifically, a stylish man wearing an woodsy-incense fragrance from L'Artisan Parfumeur or Le Labo. It's a far cry from the cheapie incense sticks that I used to burn in my college dorm room or my grad-school apartment. Even more than the incense itself, I covet the incense burners. Each one is a finely polished wooden box (to hold the sticks!) topped with a ceramic cover, and many of the designs incorporate the burning incense stick into their imagery. If I were going to splurge, I'd have a hard time deciding between the trompe l'oeil "Bacio," where the stick is inserted into a lipsticked "mouth" like a cigarette, or the romantic "Pensée," which shows a hand holding a purple pansy. I wouldn't mind owning, or at least smelling, one of the candles, either.
Fornasetti Profumi's Incense Box (including forty incense sticks) sells for $220 at Barneys and Ron Robinson (Apothia). Refill sets of incense sticks are also available; however, I haven't been able to locate any online ordering information for them.