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Viva Italia: Your Guide to Italian Fragrances

Viva Italia: Your guide to Italian fragrances

Italy's Amalfi Coast
Italy’s Amalfi Coast

France may lay claim to being the ‘birthplace of modern perfumery’, but Italian perfumers in Venice were blending and formulating eaux de cologne much earlier likely because the northern city was the gateway to the Spice Route from Asia. Ships laden with exotic spices and essential oils would sail into the bustling port where merchants would buy and ship the precious cargos throughout Europe. Italian perfumers had first access to a myriad of ingredients along with a wealthy population who could afford to buy their creations. Perfume became an important industry in Venice.

“So many associate classical perfumery with France but the Italians are always, for me anyway, what first come to mind,” explains style journalist Nathalie Atkinson.  “As a cradle of civilization they have a long history of fragrance, used in the Greco-Roman antiquity like many cultures in both grooming and religious ceremony. And later to perfume gloves (and cover the lingering scent of leather tanning) which is sort of how perfumery extended into the south of France and Grasse eventually.”

“I do think there is an Italian fragrance style. Some of it has to do with the innate taste for (and dexterity with) the raw materials the country is known for—like Tuscan orris root (iris) and Calabrian bergamot involved in the production of some of the most famous scents,” adds Atkinson.

“A French take on similar fragrance notes and families and compositions might have more luminosity and powder (the famous Guerlain ‘guerlinade’ drydown. But Italians, in my view, are more culturally acclimated and accustomed to bitterness not only in scent but also in their domestic spirits and liqueurs. Which ties back into the perfume industry’s apothecary curative roots. The bitter Italian amaro and aperitivo tradition so famous worldwide now (the Negroni, the Aperol spritz), be it herbaceous or have other vegetal or floral roots in its dimension, that all comes out of local bitter elixirs. So when left to its own devices, perhaps, Italian perfumery is drawn to its local ingredients/materials and comes out of that taste profile. Which in turn with scents I think begets what I think of as more expressively astringent, refreshing and crisp scents.”

Italian fashion designer Brunello Cucinelli, known for his sumptuous cashmere clothing, is leading a newfound appreciation for fragrance ingredients sourced in Italy. “The creation of fragrances stems from the same values underlying the creation of all our collections: respect for the land, care for elegance and beauty inspired by a harmonious relationship between man and nature, promotion of handcrafted creations and enhancement of natural materials of the highest quality, for a timeless style,” says the designer. He selected cypress as the key ingredient, a tree grown in Italy, for its resinous and balsamic tones. Bergamot citrus, sustainably sourced in Calabria, adds a fresh and distinctly Italian character. While juniper berry adds a spicy and vibrant tone. What makes these ingredients dance is how they are blended with an effortless elegance.  Brunello’s fragrances are refined, understated and respectful. Call it the new Italian fragrance elegance.

When asked why the finest menswear in the world is produced in Italy, Canadian retailer Harry Rosen used to say that Italy had the highest skilled tailors, the best fabrics and an effortless style. He said Italian tailors were able to combine colours and textures in a very sophisticated way – they were masters of colour theory. And they had the tradition of cutting and sewing jackets so they hid any body flaws while looking polished at all times. You could say Italian perfumers approach their craft in a similar way. There is a great pride in their craft and techniques.

Not surprisingly, geography plays a role in Italian fragrance. Italy is divided into 20 administrative regions, which correspond generally with historical traditional regions. The country is actually a collection of many different regions each with their own climates, traditions, industries and raw materials. The most general way of understanding Italy’s regions is in four parts: the north, the centre, the south and the islands.

Mine Perfume Lab founder Max
Mine Perfume Lab founder Max

Take niche perfume brand Mine Perfume Lab as an example. The buzzworthy label is headquartered in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius in Naples to the south. This is home to the Amalfi Coast and its oceanside orchards of bergamot, bitter orange and lemon trees, which thrive in the volcanic ash-rich soil. The citrus essential oils, cold-pressed from the rinds of the fruit, are considered the finest in the world and brand founder Max Annunziata understands this. He uses a artisanal approach hand-making each scent in small batches not unlike Napoli tailors sewing suits using techniques handed down from generation-to-generation. Alleria, an aromatic aquatic fragrance paints a fragrant picture of life on the Southern Italian coast – sea notes, homegrown citrus, aromatic herbs and a hint of soft musk.

A few hours north of Naples is Rome, the headquarters of one of Italy’s most famous jewellers, Bvlgari. Here, you find perfumers blending premium fragrances that express Italian emotions. The Allegra women’s collection is built around iconic Italian experiences. “Infused with the radiant vitality of Italy, each of the women’s perfumes from the Allegra fragrance collection wraps you in the irresistible delight and excitement of an Italian escape.” Whether it is riding on the crystal blue waters of Lake Como or sipping cocktails on a rooftop bar in Rome, each scent is designed and crafted to give you an olfactory experience. We particularly like Baciami, which translates to ‘kiss me’, with creamy gardenia, sweet vanilla and warm amber.

Milano, the heart of Italy’s fashion industry is situated in the northernmost part of the country, almost at the border to Switzerland. There, you will find fashion house Versace, known for its jet-set style and flashy aesthetic beloved around the world. Donatella Versace oversees fashion and accessory ateliers that mine Greek imagery, Italian sex appeal and an appreciation for maximalist luxury. The multi-tasking executive and Instagram favourite is involved in every aspect of the fragrance creation process. “Versace stands for sex, glamour and beauty,” she says and her scents are meant to appeal to a global audience who wants to feel sexy and attractive. These are scents designed to get you noticed. Bright Crystal with its notes of peony, lotus, magnolia, musk, mahogany and amber is that rare scent that creates a mood of confidence.

Missoni Parfum pour Homme
Missoni Parfum pour Homme

Fellow fashion brand Missoni also plays for attention with its famous zig-zag pattern and contrasting colours. The Varese-based label, founded in 1953 by Ottavio and Rosita Missoni launched a small knitwear workshop when famous fashion editor Anna Piaggi started profiling Missoni fashions in Arianna Magazine. The brand also pays homage to the Italian landscape through its scents. “The captivating freshness of the Missoni Parfum pour Homme is inspired by the Mediterranean landscape warmed by the sun,” explains the brand. “A woody fragrance both fresh and luminous, full of contrasts, a precious scent reflecting the colours of the Mediterranean Sea. Leaves and pulp of green lemon and ginger, together with pink pomelo mix the timeless, aromatic notes of Lavande Espic, fruity pomarose and a light touch of jasmine petals. The dry-down contains sandalwood, as enveloping as a precious Missoni cardigan, with the passionate, sensual and masculine touches of oakwood, birch, patchouli and vibrant musks.” It’s like a love letter to Italy.

Trussardi Uomo
Trussardi Uomo

In keeping with the masculine elegance of Italy men’s scents, Trussardi blended one of the truly great men’s colognes in 1983 called Trussardi Uomo. The leather-themed fragrance blended notes of bergamot, lavender, basil, juniper, caraway, marjoram, cedar, vetiver, orris root, oakmoss and leather. This is a fragrance you will often smell in bars and restaurants in Rome’s business district. It’s confident, stylish and unabashedly masculine.

Whatever Italian fragrance you decide to try, you’ll find an appreciation for craftsmanship, local ingredients and a sense of flare. Expect to smell the glorious Italian citrus in the top notes and woody cypress in the drydown. It’s why we love Italian fragrances so much.

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  • Linda L
    April 2, 2024 at 2:29 pm

    An informative piece which definitely reaffirms my love of Italian fragrances. I have learned to ‘appreciate the craftsmanship, the local ingredients and sense of flare’ which all Italian fragrances possess. Thank you #scentlodgeedit for keeping me well informed.

  • Brenda Elkins
    April 2, 2024 at 9:10 am

    Dave, I thoroughly enjoy your style of writing. You take your readers on an educational journey of history, geography, style and perfumery.
    We, your readers learn so much from your enthusiastic articles.

  • Andie Ciparis
    April 1, 2024 at 11:35 pm

    Love the background and history on Italian fragrances. Had no idea how far it went back. I’m such a fan of Italian fragrances over the last years. It just gets better and better.

  • Colleen C
    April 1, 2024 at 1:28 pm

    What a fascinating article. I do tend to think of France when I think of fragrance – even though I knew the history of fragrance in Italy was longer and deeper. I just love the smell of Bergamot! I will be looking for bergamot in Italian fragrances moving forward.

  • September Dee
    April 1, 2024 at 10:31 am

    Cheers to Italy for fashion, fragrance and culinary adventures! It is a joy to appreciate the history, culture, tradition and excellence of this country.