Scent Adventure: Rome, Italy
Arguably the most beautiful ancient city in the world, Rome’s history spans 2800 years. Built on pastoral lands around Palatine Hill the small village grew into a sophisticated city and for centuries was the centre of the civilised world. It is easy to feel like a time traveller as you walk the city streets; its towering monuments and structures remind you of the power held by the former empire and the creative capability of man.
During my stay I was interested in learning more about the culture of bathing. In ancient Rome bathing was part of day-to-day life however as times have changed modern Romans no longer enjoy this simple ritual their ancestors once did. The public bath was another feat of Roman engineering as tons of water was syphoned into the bathing area and temperature controlled. Following a workout in the gymnasium men would pay a small fee and proceed to spend time relaxing in a series of baths. Most complexes had a frigidarium (cold bath), tepidarium (warm bath) and calarium (hot bath). Depending on their wealth they would pay to have servants rub their bodies with scented oils, which was scrapped off with a strigil. Roman baths became a social affair where men and later women would gather to relax, gossip and sometimes talk politics. After a tour of the Colosseum I walked through the Roman Forum, the political and social centre of ancient Rome. Finding a quiet spot amongst the ruins I took in the scent of the surrounding honeysuckle. Walking up Palatine Hill I tried to locate the cypress trees my guide mentioned grew in the surrounding gardens. Overlooking Caesar’s funeral pyre is the temple where his ashes lie. To this day fresh flowers are laid to pay respect to one of history’s most famous men.
Visiting the Vatican is on the checklist of most tourists regardless of their level of interest in Catholicism. The Vatican Museums are an amazing archive of history and art. Although I am not Catholic, my parents had me attend a Catholic primary school. They felt the education there was better. I always enjoyed mass. The ceremonial aspect of religion is always fascinating. I was hoping to find some information on the history of scent in Roman Catholicism but found the use of perfume, as a religious tool is entirely absent within the church. Most likely due to the sensitive nature of the artworks inside and the fact it took a team of restorers more time to clean the Sistine Chapel frescoes than it did for Michelangelo to paint them, there was no presence of candles or incense.
Following two days of tourism I was inspired to find a Roman perfume. My search started near the Piazza Navona. I had heard of a small monastery producing colognes and toiletries: a hard act to follow after visiting the Officina Profumo di Santa Maria Novella in Florence. Ai Monasteri is a quaint set up on the edge of the Piazza as you walk towards the Pantheon. The store carries a line of colognes and traditional toiletries.
Corso Rinascimento 72, Rome
Near the Piazza del Popolo there are a number of small boutiques that make for great treasure hunting. There is an element of discovery when shopping here, a nice contrast to the larger high-end stores on Via Condotti. Cutting across Via Ripetti I discovered B Store, a modern retail space specialising in selective perfume, cosmetics and make-up. Here you will find perfumes by Annick Goutal, Huitieme Art, Tauer and Histoires de Parfums. The boutique’s owner is renowned hair and make-up artist Stefano Bongarzone. I enter as two young policemen complete their purchase of a new fragrance. I laugh to myself and wonder why Roman policemen look like they have come from a Dolce & Gabbana photoshoot and Australian policemen look like they have been shooting for Target. As they depart I greet the store’s director, Leonardo, a Florentine man who is fluent in English. So much so he can describe fragrance better than most native English speakers. I ask him if he can help me find an Italian fragrance as a souvenir of my time in Rome. His response is interesting as he gives me a brief skin consultation. He wants to propose a fragrance based on my skin type, matching the raw materials of the perfume to my constitution, as one would do with skincare. His first proposal is an herbaceous cologne by Eau d’Italie. I think it is nice to which Leonardo replies “we have to do better than nice”. This leads to an hour of discussion and exploration. I enjoy the theatrical aspect of the way clients are invited to sample their fragrances. Paper blotters have been replaced by purified white feathers. Leonardo explains that paper also has a scent. These feathers, which look like soft duck down have been bleached and purified to become scentless. They really are great conductors of perfume. As I leave Leonardo has packed a number of feathers into clear plastic sleeves, each individually labelled. Three weeks on and these scented feathers are perfectly in tact, top notes and all. My two discoveries are Predateur ou Proie, a fragrance by Loris Rubino. It is an aromatic fougere with tobacco and leather notes. It is presented in a wooden cork box that is made to resemble an antique book. Lined with silk the bottle is accompanied by a feather quill and ink written note. Leonardo has also introduced me to Vohina from the Huitieme Art range and we discuss other perfumes to use for layering that will compliment Vohina’s peachy aldehydes. Having lost track of time I bid Leonardo farewell and continue on my way. This has been a great experience.
Via del Vantaggio 28, Rome
Further down the street on Via Ripetti is Olfattorio, which is a more intimate space, compared to the Florence Boutique. It has a similar product offer with very friendly staff.
Via Ripetti 34, Rome
Near the edge of the Piazza del Popolo Pro-fvmvm Dvrante offers an impressive collection of twenty-five scents that have come into being since the company’s inception in 1996. From humble beginnings the Durantes are three brothers and one sister. They have continued the family business of selling colognes and soaps, which was inherited from their grandparents who moved to Rome from Sant’ Elena Sannita following the end of World War II. Not only does the Via Ripetti boutique offer their own line of fragrances, but also those by Frederic Malle, Miller Harris and Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier. For Australians away from home, you can also restock your Aesop skincare here. The collection of Pro-fvmvm scents is presented in sleek square glass. Black and red text, simple clean lines and use of the Latin alphabet make for an attractive design. The bottle feels solid in your hand as if unearthed from an excavation site in the Roman Forum. Each scent is remarkably simple often featuring less than four major notes. The simplicity of these fragrances is refreshing and the ingredients are unique. Couscous root, seaweed, grapes and volcano broom are just some of the notes that capture my imagination. I am introduced to Acqua di Sale, the houses first release. It is a light eau de cologne and has been one of the brands biggest successes. The collection is transparent, fresh with a natural element that would be appreciated by men and women who live by the motto ‘less is more’. Olibanum a fragrance launched in 2006 has my interest. It contains incense, myrrh, orange flower and sandalwood. After some consideration and a walk around the piazza I decide I would like my Roman fragrance to be Santalvm. One of my favourite perfume notes I am partial to a sandalwood scent. Santalvm is made from sandal absolute, myrrh and spices. It is a simple linear fragrance that smells great on skin. The silage it creates makes for a good walking companion as I take an evening stroll through the Borghese gardens.
Via Ripetti 10, Rome
Three blocks from the Fontana di Trevi is Profumeria Muzio di Mario Muzio E C. It is everything you would expect from an Italian style perfumery. Floor to ceiling perfumes from every era and country you could imagine. Complete with an Italian nonna who does not speak a word of English. The perfumery also specialises in a large range of men’s grooming products from ornate manicure sets to nickel shaving bowls and badger brushes. This is really a ‘if it smells we will sell it’ approach to perfume retailing. Here you will find the likes of Creed and Diptyque next to Old Spice and a nice selection of Italian colognes from the 1960s-80s. I highly recommend a visit if you have a list of discontinued items you wish to purchase. Chances are you will find it here at an uninflated price.
Via del Tritone 50, Rome