Scent of a Woman

The movie with Al Pacino was based on a 1974 Italian film (Profumo di Donna) with Vittorio Gassman in the role of the blind army officer who could tell exactly what every woman in a ten foot radius of him was wearing. Smelling women was all that was left for a man no longer able to pursue them, except through the ghostly passage of their sillages.

It’s an irresistibly romantic idea, but also an increasingly difficult one  to believe in an over-scented world.  Now you have to disentangle how people smell, separate their scent from how their deodorant, face cream, sun block, shampoo, conditioner, lipstick and fabric softener, and the whole thing is just confusing as heck.  Unless they’ve sprayed on something with reckless abandon, it can be hard to tell what they’re wearing. Continue reading

Bella Figura

Bella Figura, if you have never been to Italy, is the social compact that all Italians share with one another by the terms of which no Italian shall knowingly mortify another Italian with uncouthness, especially not sartorially.  Trendy clothes may be worn, but they must be worn with care.  When jeans came in back in the seventies (for instance), many Italians had them dry cleaned.  The same over elaborate care was taken of cargo pants, I’m told, ditto the endless parade of tiny fashions: wearing watches on the cuff of your shirt, trilby hats and so forth and so on.

Basically, anything that Lapo Elkann has done for five minutes, the rest of the peninsula must try also.*  But without, above all else, looking foolish, or for that matter, smelling foolish. Continue reading

Rice Flowers

Funny thing, although rice is a mainstay of the Italian diet, you tend not to think about it in that light.  We hear: Italian, we think: Pasta. But in fact, in northern Italy pastascuita is less frequent than some very ancient grains like polenta (which to an American Southerner is grits, though the corn is yellow and invariably cooked into solid blocks) and rice.

The whole of the Po Valley is simply ideal for growing rice – flat and marshy,  like one big rice paddy and in parts it actually is one.  So Italians like rice and eat a good deal of it in the form of risotto.

When Guts and I were younger, and in much lower water than we are now, I plugged in that whole rice cuisine to make ends meet. Risotto was my way out of a tight budgetary corner.  It worked too.  Risotto ai Funghi was for the months when mushrooms came, in the fall, with beef broth, primavera for the spring vegetables, with chicken broth, and so on.

Rice has never tipped over the edge with me into dislike, despite the frequency with which we ate it.  And so when I ran into a perfume that was actually called Fiore di Riso (Rice Flower or Flower of Rice) it was an attractive concept to me.  Rice notes have been in perfumery in the last few years, there’s at least one Kenzo which features the note and when I had Kenzo Le Parfum, I could have sworn that I smelled a bit of rice in the dry down.  Be that as it may, Fiore di Riso is one of those creamy comforting gourmand scents that border the territory of the white floral.

If it were a bit more floral, and there is something in it which smells vaguely like gardenia, then it would really be a floral, and if it were just a tad more like a very nice rice pudding, then it would be a gourmand, but as it is, to my nose it straddles the line.

Fiore is vanillic, but not crassly so, floral but not cloyingly so, and sweet but not tooth achingly sweet.  It is an extremely pretty little thing, and as the stuff is in perfume concentration here, the tenacity of the scent is really pretty good.  This one will last on me for upwards of five hours, though it does not project very far.

Farmacia SSAnnunziata, which makes Fiore, is one of those apothecary brands the Italians seem to be so fond of, and as far as I can tell, the farmacia favors gourmands for women.  There are the usual almond and vanilla scents in this line, but this one, by reason of its rice note, manages to put a new spin on an old concept.  It reminds me of wedding trousseaus back in the day, with all the sheets laid out and pressed with homemade lace crocheted for the edges usually lightly starched.  That’s what Fiore di Riso reminds me of, those trousseaus, with the smell of starch and the white thick lace of which I have an example.

Imagine crocheting your own. Well, that’s the best mental image for this perfume, something sturdy, something interconnected, something slightly old fashioned – matrimony at a guess.

Can Grownups Wear Candy?

Sounds like a Project Runway challenge, no?   The gourmand scent category has been so successful of recent years that it has branched out into all sorts of unexpected directions.  Those with more sophisticated tastes may deplore it, but then, the perfume conventions of previous decades were just as hard to understand later, e.g. the 70’s musks and the 90’s non-perfume perfumes.

At least candy cannot be confused with BO as in the former case, and you can tell that someone has made an effort to wear perfume in the first place, something you can’t tell in the latter one. Continue reading

Borghesia

The gardens of the Villa Borghese in Rome used to be full of magnolias.  Huge old things that towered above the walkways with the distinctive oversized leaves a shining malachite on the topside and a fuzzy felted brown on every underside.  The attraction though really was the flowers.

If you live in the US South you know these plants very well.  They’re either the old Bull Bays (Magnolia Grandiflora) that grow to be 90 feet at maturity, or else the smaller  Sweet Bay (Magnolia Virginiana).  We collect the leaves to make door wreaths, often ornamented with the brown seed heads hiding scarlet seeds inside.  They’re naturally elegant. Continue reading

National Floral?

Is there such a thing?  In considering all things Italian in the scented world, I tend to bump over and over again into the orange blossom.  Italians love their orange blossom scents.  Anyone who was raised in or near places where oranges are grown tends to love the smell.  Italians are no different.

There is hardly a perfume house in Italy that does not offer an orange blossom scent, usually called a Zagara*.  Santa Maria Novella does, and so do I Profumi di Firenze and the whole notion of the Aqua di Parma’s is predicated upon the orange flower and back in the day when I had a complete set of the Borsari perfumes and of the (French) Rances , they had their Zagaras too. Continue reading

The Edible World of Hilde Soliani Part Two

Once I listened to two Italian gentlemen of a certain age debating the exact recipe for  Spaghetti alla Carbonara for two solid hours on a train trip down to Naples.  That is the level of seriousness with which Italians take the subject of food, and by the way, neither of these two imposingly tubby men were on speaking terms by the time we pulled in.  The reason?  One had advocated the use of spaghetti (Romans do not believe spaghetti should ever be used in the preparation of carbonara) and the other one advocated mixing the pancetta fat with the olive oil, which was simply overkill to the first gentleman.  If there had been a third one present, no doubt the complexities of the argument would have exceeded anybody’s ability to follow it – sort of like Theoretical Physics. Continue reading

The Edible World of Hilde Soliani Part One

Recently I saw a video clip from one of the Italian scent fairs in Florence featuring an interview with Hilde Soliani, the proprietress of her own line of perfumes.  She was asked if she ever took the tastes and preferences of her probable customers into account when creating a new perfume?

No never, she said.

Really?   In the test marketed universe of the twenty first century, she never paid attention to what perfume buyers want?  Well, having smelled about three of her perfumes now, I am inclined to believe her.  Continue reading

Profumo

Italian perfume takes it on the chin.  It doesn’t have the clout of the French stuff, and it doesn’t have the powerful professional one-two punch of US perfume, nor does it have the romantic Silk Road associations that Middle Eastern perfumery deploys to sweep all opponents out of the ring.  Until recently Italian perfume was, well… it was second draft, liable to get KO’d in the first few rounds of any bout. All the crowd had to do was start shouting,”It’s Italian!”

Not exactly the Rocky Balboa of the perfume world.

This wasn’t always the case.  The habit of perfume was brought to the French court by the Florentine Catherina dei Medici when in 1533 she married Henri II of France.  Rather more specifically, she brought her perfumer with her, a man named Renato Bianco.

Continue reading

Can’t Catch Me…

“I’m the gingerbread man”, is of course, is the end of the line.  Just what is it about gingerbread that makes it such an enduring recipe?  Is it the zippy flavor, is it the once upon a time priciness of its components?  Considering the origins of things like mace and cloves the shipping costs of spices alone were, long ago, tremendous.  Eating gingerbread before the clipperships was tantamount to eating gold.  So was spice a class marker?

It’s hard to say.  But spiciness remains a large tranche of the perfumer’s palette.  The most recent spice monster I’ve encountered is CiocoSpezissimo, one of Hilde Soliani’s line of holographic Italian fragrances.

It’s a very strange scent. And although I like it, I wonder if the general public will? Continue reading