This month I met with Italian perfumer, Lorenzo Villoresi in his native Florence, a city rich in artisanal culture. Florentine arts flourished under the patronage of the Medici family in the 15th century and this tradition of fatto a mano has passed from one generation to the next. Today Florence contains many esteemed artisans who are expert in a variety of creative expressions. My first encounter with Lorenzo’s work was in 2004. I was looking for a new scent and using the newly arrived summer heat as an excuse to add to my collection of fragrances. Sandalo became my summer fragrance that year and is still one of my favourite perfumes to feature this exquisite wood as its main ingredient. Blending Mysore sandalwood with lavender, Bulgarian rose, resins and oak moss, Sandalo is a rich and warm experience compared to other more austere, transparent woody fragrances.
I met Lorenzo at his atelier close to the historic Ponte Vecchio, overlooking the Arno River. The taxi driver questioned me to ensure I had the correct address as we arrive at the discreet entrance guarded by large wooden doors located away from the tourist hum further down river. I find the buzzer, pass through these grand doors and scale the stone stairwell. A smiling face greets me at the top of the stairs. It is Angela, part of Lorenzo’s team. His team is small, like a family. If you ask any of them about their job descriptions, they simply give a smile. You soon begin to understand that everyone is highly involved in the many aspects of the business; placing orders, sourcing raw materials, greeting media and of course looking after clients. Ilaria, who primarily looks after Lorenzo’s PR spends some time with me, taking me through the collection and sharing some of her own personal stories with the fragrances. I mention to her my history with Sandalo and we discuss the sandalwood being grown in Australia and the difficulty of obtaining Indian sandalwood in the quality they need to produce Sandalo. The price of sandalwood oil continues to rise yet the quality is dropping. The sap is being taken from younger trees in an attempt to maintain the global demand for this precious oil.
The showroom is full of artworks, curiosities and books that I am scanning to better understand Lorenzo in preparation for his arrival. Upon arrival we greet each other and Lorenzo invites me to join him at his desk where we chat. He is an intelligent and profound man and is open to my questions. Having read other interviews he has given I know something of his background and I am interested in the creative process he uses to communicate an idea through scent especially when creating a bespoke fragrance for an individual. It is becoming less common for perfume houses to offer this rare and exceptional service. Some houses offer a pseudo bespoke service where a perfumer will construct a fragrance from a range of pre-made bases. To have Lorenzo create a personal fragrance, the client usually would travel to Florence and spend a day with him for an intensive consultation. In contrast to the way he would approach the creation of a fragrance for his collection, Lorenzo is careful not to impose his own creative ideas onto the client’s desires. The psychology graduate asks a series of questions to better understand the client, a task I am sure is not always easy if the client does not have a developed olfactive vocabulary. Through this questioning technique Lorenzo assists the client in identifying what their expectations are for their personal scent and what raw materials the client reacts positively to that will go on to make up the fragrance. It is really collaboration between two people rather than Lorenzo creating a fragrance he thinks the client may like. The client leaves with their new scent that must rest, giving time to macerate. The formula can be adapted to other products such as soaps, creams, and men’s shaving products. Almost anything is possible.
When Lorenzo is working to create a fragrance for the collection that bares his name, I sense it is much more of an internal dialogue. Although travel is a reoccurring theme in his work, most of his creation takes place behind the desk from where I am now talking to him. He explains his work is often inspired by ancient myths and legends. In this way his perfumes travel not only geographical lines, but also through time. A voyage following the ancient spice routes his ancestors travelled to collect exotic spices for the Medici court. A mythical garden of ancient Mesopotamia or scent-laden markets along the shores of the Mediterranean, each of his creations is an ethereal journey. Housed in blue glass, Lorenzo’s classic fragrances focus more on one particular ingredient and explore some of perfumes most revered ingredients. Tuscan herbs, sandalwood, musk, carnation and lavender are some of the raw materials Lorenzo has explored. Not simply a soliflore or traditional cologne, these classic fragrances also have an ability to tell fantastic stories to their wearer. I ask Lorenzo about the materials he likes to work with and if he feels it is possible to generalise an Italian style in perfume. He believes there isn’t an Italian style. Sure, Italy has a rich history in perfume, even here in Florence; La Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is a major contributor to the history of Florentine perfume having existed for over 400 years. Perhaps a loose connection can be made in terms of the raw materials produced in Italy, Calabrian bergamot, Florentine iris and Parma violets. But in general there has been no Italian school or collective of perfumers that has shaped the Italian approach to perfume creation. Lorenzo draws inspiration from his own personal travels, myths and legends of the ancient world.
The perfumer works with only the best ingredients from natural raw materials to the latest in designer molecules. In this moment on his desk he has a bottle of castoreum absolute. He passes it over to me to sample. I have a synthetic version but have never sampled the natural absolute. In the small vial it looks like a dark chocolate paste and is surprisingly pleasant given its origin. Lorenzo is also in the process of creating a perfume academy here in Florence. The centre will be an access point for both professionals and enthusiasts to discuss and learn about perfume.
If you do find yourself in Florence, I recommend a visit to the atelier. It is one thing to buy a Lorenzo Villoresi fragrance online or at a perfume counter. It is an entirely different experience to buy a fragrance directly from the atelier. To see the context within which the fragrances are made and possibly meet the man behind these creations is a ‘money can’t buy’ experience. The entire team is welcoming and friendly. After this visit I added two Lorenzo Villoresi fragrances to my collection. Alumut, a stunning soft floral that melts away to rich amber and musk, inspired by a journey to the orient. And Iperborea, a fresh breeze of coastal spring blossoms: magnolia, jasmine and cyclamen.
Private appointments can be made by emailing the atelier directly from the Lorenzo Villoresi website www.lorenzovilloresi.it