Chocolate, cinnamon and a hint of vanilla are some of the aromas that waft towards you when mounting a crooked staircase to perfumer Lorenzo Villoresi’s atelier in central Florence.
Step into the oak-beamed workshop — part of a 15th century former palazzo — and you are greeted by walls lined with small bottles of every oil you can imagine and many you cannot. Musk, rose and precious orris root sit next to vials of patchouli, cyclamen and mimosa.
Villoresi has been making perfumes for more than 30 years. His first men’s fragrance, Uomo, created in 1992, was a hit and established him as a leading independent perfumer. Villoresi now counts Ridley Scott and Madonna among his many well-known clients.
When he is not creating new fragrances (his latest perfume is Aura Maris, for his Mare Nostrum collection), Villoresi is busy working on high-profile commissions. Last year, Gucci launched Forever Now, a fragrance for men and women, which Villoresi created with and for the fashion house. Any remaining time is spent on a new project: a ‘Museum of Scent’, an education centre for perfume that will open in 2014.
Villoresi’s passion for perfume is almost as intoxicating as the scents he creates. Part of the pleasure of visiting his “sorcerer’s den” is to have him magic up one’s own unique aroma: a custom-made fragrance that Villoresi creates ingredient by ingredient.
“People come here to have fun and to enjoy creating a perfume,” he says. “It starts an elaborate process. Thinking about the past brings back — usually — good memories. It’s my task to pick the scents related to good memories and blend them into a special and unique perfume.”
Some of the most successful perfumes, Villoresi explains, are those that recapture and evoke a happy childhood. He has worked with customers for whom notes of alfa grass can summon up the Irish countryside; and for whom an accent of orange blossom triggers memories of a Sicilian childhood. Such ingredients become part of a personal identity, according to Villoresi. “It can touch a person deeply,” he adds.
However, although every ingredient is tested and discussed before being included, not every memory is necessarily positive. “Sometimes people revive all sorts of emotions, including the more difficult ones,” says Villoresi. “Our aim is to accompany people ‘from hell to paradise’ towards the creation of a wonderful precious fragrance.”
The whole process takes between two and three hours with the first session costing €3,600 for a set of five crystal bottles of eau de toilette or eau de parfum. “We take every detail. The people leave with their fragrance compounded step by step,” says Villoresi. Repeat orders cost €1,600.
Villoresi’s first interest in perfume was triggered when a guest left a bottle of Eau de Rochas in the family bathroom when he was a child. “I was very impressed by the bottle, which was very natural with a fragrance that was fresh and radiant,” he says. This love of scent, in this case an accent of citrus and floral notes, continued and found expression when he was a student visiting the Middle East. Villoresi found himself wandering around the bazaars of Egypt and Morocco. “The perfumery stores in Egypt were very different. The spices and herbs were part of everyday life. They were everywhere and you would see everything: piles of incense, mint, coffee with cardamom and even cigarettes with amber,” he says.
Villoresi brought some of those spices and herbs home with him and started creating his own elixirs, making presents of his perfumes to family and friends. It proved to be an invaluable apprenticeship.
When the Fendi fashion house asked him to make some scented candles and potpourri for its Home collection, Villoresi realised his passion was more than just a hobby. “I had to become a firm,” he says. And in 1990 he opened his own perfume house.
“I think a great perfume for many people is something that touches a latent need or desire,” says Villoresi. “It could be a need for protection or childhood memories. It’s the right fragrance at the right moment.”
There are no rules for a best-selling perfumes, although Villoresi agrees that some “notes” are more in demand than others. Green notes, denoting cut grass, or woody notes, such as cedar, are always popular, although moderation is all. “If [a blend has] too much citrus, people say it’s too masculine,” says Villoresi, who tries to use as many natural ingredients as possible, although he does not rule out chemical ones. “The goal is not to use natural or chemical ingredients, but to represent a certain idea with certain emotions,” he adds. “Perfumery is an art.”