Scent Sample Sunday: Profumo di Pioggia

Scent Sample Sunday: Profumo di Pioggia

Our recent trip to Italy included a few days in Florence, our first visit ever to that beautiful city filled with art. In addition to its essential role in all facets of the Renaissance, Florence also became a center for perfume-making, together with Venice — a craft that notably was imported to France by the Florentine princess who became Queen of France, Catherine de Medici. The world-renowned perfumeries of Grasse, France, have their origin in the fashion she inspired for leather gloves scented with perfumes to mask the odor of the animalic substances used to tan the leather. She brought that fashion with her from Florence.

A small perfumery in Florence, Spezierie Palazzo Vecchio, continues the tradition with what it describes as original formulas from the perfumers who served Catherine de Medici, rediscovered after the catastrophic 1966 flood of the River Arno that wreaked havoc in Florence, in a line called “I Profumi di Firenze.” I can’t speak to the foundations of that claim, but some of the magnificent places we visited, like the church of Santa Maria Novella, suffered extensive damage to the priceless works of art they housed as well as their structures, and their restorations include markers showing how destructively high the floodwaters rose. (A famous series of photographs of the flood can be viewed here).

Although the store in Piazza Signoria (location of the famous scene in the film “A Room With A View” where Lucy Honeychurch faints into the arms of George Emerson, setting in motion the rest of the film’s events) was closed when we first stopped by, I was lucky enough to find it open on our last afternoon in Florence.

Even better — they were having a sale! So of course I came home with several bottles; one scent in particular is quite special, as it won first place in a fragrance competition called “I Profumi di Boboli.” The fragrance is called Profumo di Pioggia, created by Luciana Liberati. The assigned theme for the 2018 contest was “the scent of rain”; the winning fragrance was produced in a limited edition of only 60 bottles, one of which, happily, now belongs to me.

Before anyone gasps at any assumed extravagance, however, I note that the prices of I Profumi di Firenze are much more reasonable in their home boutique than they are in the US, especially during their sale. The most I spent for any single bottle, including a 50 ml bottle of eau de parfum and a 12 ml bottle of extrait, was 25 euros. The others were 20 euros or less. On the other hand, you have to get yourself to Florence to take advantage of that — not exactly the worst option, but not inexpensive either!

Profumo di Pioggia is meant to evoke the smell of a gentle summer rain in the wooded hills above Florence. It includes notes of fig leaf, pomegranate, dew, jasmine, lavender, oud, violet leaf, cedar, and white musk. The perfumer describes it (English translation): “A delicate summer rain enlivens pomegranate flowers. I take refuge under the branches of a fig tree to smell the arrival of summer. The scent of violets and woods from the undergrowth returns to my mind.”

It opens with a gentle green note, which I think is a combination of the fig leaf and violet leaf. Given how much I love green fragrances, this immediately won me over! The floral notes emerge; I definitely smell the jasmine and lavender; I don’t know that I would recognize the smell of pomegranate flowers, so I can’t identify that. The dominant note in the heart phase, though, is rain, or “petrichor.” I love it! So what is petrichor?

The word petrichor was invented by two Australian scientists who introduced it in a 1964 paper on the Nature of Argillaceous Odor (pdf), an investigation into the scent of moistened clay, rock, and sediment. They combined the Greek word for stone, “petra,” and “ichor,” which means “the blood of gods”, to coin a name for the scent of rain.

The mineralogists posited that the scent released by rain isn’t that of water, which itself has no odor, but is actually the aroma of organic compounds accumulated in the atmosphere and on surfaces; these are released when rain falls. The compounds include bacteria called geosmin. These bacteria gives beets their earthy flavor and help make digging up soil in a garden so satisfying and soothing.

Rain also releases aromatic terpenes secreted by plants. Terpenes are hydrocarbons found in the essential oils of plants. They’re what makes a walk in greenery both fragrant and healing.

And when rain falls, geosmin and terpenes fly—or more precisely, they fizz.

One village in India famously has a long tradition of capturing the fragrance of monsoon rains in “mitti attar”, or “the perfume of the earth.” As noted by the author of the New York Times article about it, the scent of rain differs widely from place to place and from climate to climate; the remembered smell of rainfall in the woods of Maine will be very different from that of the rain in India, or the American South, or the hills of Tuscany, but they are equally pleasing. Profumo di Pioggia is a gentle green cross between an aromatic and a floral fragrance, with a softly woody drydown. The wood notes in the base are very subtle; I probably wouldn’t be able to detect oud if it hadn’t been listed among the notes. The cedar and white musk notes are very well blended, so that neither one dominates or “hits” my nose. I do smell something reminiscent of beets, which are rich in the geosmin that is known to be a major component of petrichor scents — a delicate, sweetly earthy smell that fits well with the fig leaf.

I feel very lucky to have visited Spezierie Palazzo Vecchio, where the staff were also delightful, helpful, knowledgeable, and kind. If you get a chance to go to Florence, I recommend a visit! The perfumery is on a side street right off the Piazza Signoria, facing the Palazzo Vecchio, and you won’t want to miss those landmarks or the nearby Uffizi Gallery and its priceless masterpieces.

The non-profit organization that sponsors the contest “I Profumi di Boboli” also offers a multi-month perfume-making course that sounds fascinating if you can return to Florence seven times for its regularly scheduled classes. What a great reason to do that!

Have you tried any Florentine perfumes? Many enthusiasts know and love the fragrances of Santa Maria Novella, which I also visited — to be shared in a future blog post! If you know them, which are your favorites?

Scent Sample Sunday: Florence!

Scent Sample Sunday: Florence!

Hello, friends, I’m sorry for having been slightly AWOL recently. I’ve been in Florence, Italy, for my first visit ever, and I am in heaven. I think Tuscany is where good Americans go after they die, which was once said about Paris.

I’ve been able to visit the mothership of Santa Maria Novella fragrances, in its original location next to the cloister of Santa Maria Novella church. I’ve been to AquaFlor. I’ve been to Farmacia SS. Annunziata dal 1561. I have smelled many wonderful smells and I have eaten many wonderful meals! I’ll be writing about some of these once my life returns to a normal schedule!

Have you been to Florence? What was your favorite thing you did or smelled or ate?

Fragrance Friday: Future Perfume Tourism

Fragrance Friday: Future Perfume Tourism

I am so eager to visit Florence! Very few of my European trips have been to Italy, which is surprising as Italy has so much of what I love: gardens, gorgeous landscapes, art, museums, history, language, wonderful food …

And now yet another article to whet my appetite: Perfume, Power and God. Author Arabelle Sicardi describes her visits to perfume palaces such as the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica of Santa Maria Novella, where Catherine de Medici bought her famous perfumes, and the perfumery of Aquaflor, housed in an actual former palace. The photographs of the flower room at Aquaflor are stunning! Of the Officina Profumo, she writes:

If any single place stood at the intersection between politics, god, and perfume, it is this church-turned-monastery-turned-store. From the outside it looks unremarkable for Florence — no baroque detailing, just the crest of Santa Maria on the front. It is all it needs to mark its history. And then you walk inside, and the frescoes summon your eyes up-up-up, maybe sixty feet above you. A fresco of perfumed angels are framed in dark, stained wood. The building and art above you is more than 600 years old. In existence since the 13th century, it still sells many of the same products the Dominican friars once made by hand in the back room.

She traces the connection of the Medici family, through Catherine’s French marriage and patronage, to the very start of the perfume industry in France, specifically in Grasse. I visited Grasse many years ago with my husband, on our honeymoon, and the whole area is fascinating. We visited a couple of perfumeries (Molinard and Fragonard, I think) and were shown the older methods of perfume-making and the extraction of essential oils. However, Grasse is not also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, packed with priceless art. Florence is. And I can’t wait to go there.

 

Fragrance Friday: Terre d’Iris

Fragrance Friday: Terre d’Iris

Another bottle from my Collection Voyage of Miller Harris fragrances is Terre d’Iris.  I like it very much but I don’t feel I fully understand it yet. Fragrantica says it “represents a fragrant journey around the Mediterranean. Calabria bergamot and Sicilian bitter orange open the composition leading to the heart of delicious southern herbs such as rosemary from Dalmatia and clary sage, followed by orange blossom and roses from Tunis and Turkey. The base is composed of patchouli, moss, French fir balsam and Florentine iris.”

I definitely get the opening citrus notes, bergamot and bitter orange. The bitter orange in particular is pleasant and strangely compelling. I generally like green fragrances, with their herbal notes, and although I wouldn’t describe Terre d’Iris as a green fragrance, it is certainly aromatic, with a little bite to its opening. Here is its “scent mosaic”, from the Miller Harris website:

Scent mosaic by Miller Harris perfumes, for Terre d'Iris

Scent mosaic for Terre d’Iris, http://www.millerharris.com

It is important that one of the key notes is not just iris, but “Florentine iris.” Florentine iris is one of the few irises that is considered to be an herb, not just a beautiful flower. Rachel McLeod writes in NaturalLife:  “The most important herbal use for irises to day is the use of the rhizomes from certain species to make orris root for use in perfumery and pot-pourri. Orris root has been one of the most important ingredients in any scent industry from as far back as the 15th century. The scent is rather like sweet violets but its real value is in its ability to fix other scents…. Orris root comes from three closely related irises – Iris germanica, Iris florentina and Iris pallida.”

Iris florentina is now known to be an ancient hybrid of iris germanica, or bearded iris. It has white flowers flushed with mauve. The flower itself is scented although the main value of this iris to perfumery is as a source of orris root and iris butter, which is painstakingly extracted over a period of years from the plant’s rhizomes. Iris florentina is grown mainly in Italy and southern France, but also throughout the Mediterranean, which is truly the “land of iris”, going back to the Egyptians whose use of iris can be documented. Van Gogh often painted iris flowers in Provence, such as the lovely “Field with Irises near Arles”, above, whose vibrant colors were restored in 2015 by stripping off old, yellowed varnish. Isn’t it clever, how the Miller Harris scent mosaic echoes the colors of the Van Gogh painting? You can still see fields of iris, both in Provence and in the Giardino dell’Iris in Florence, the city for which the iris flower has long been a symbol.

Fields of light purple, mauve and white bearded iris flowers in Provence, southern France

Fields of iris in Provence; image from http://www.luxe-provence.com.

As Terre d’Iris dries down, what I smell is the sweetly carroty note that is supposed to be characteristic of orris root. It is not sugary at all; rather, it is the scent of a freshly dug and washed carrot after you bite into it, maybe even with a little dirt still clinging to it (I’m looking at you, oak moss!). I do not smell powder at all in Terre d’Iris, if you think of powdery as the cosmetic. Instead, there are more dry, earthy, woody, herbal tones that contrast with the citrus opening. If I had to describe the iris heart note using non-flowery words, I would say it is smooth and buttery.

Although my bottle came in a Collection Voyage “Pour Elle” set, Terre d’Iris is clearly a unisex scent, as it is described elsewhere. It may even lean a bit more toward masculine than feminine; it would smell marvelous on a man (really, I’m going to have to start experimenting with some of my fragrances on my husband!) while also smelling lovely on a woman.  This is not a girlish fragrance. Very few floral notes, and the ones it has are not strongly present other than the subtle iris. They lend a smoothness and gentleness to the overall experience but I wouldn’t be able to tell that there was any rose in Terre d’Iris if it weren’t listed among the notes. The only fruit notes are in the astringent opening of bergamot and bitter orange.

Will Terre d’Iris become a go-to fragrance for me? Probably not, as I do love my flowers and floral notes. But this is a well-crafted and lovely fragrance that doesn’t smell like anything else out there. It becomes a skin scent pretty soon but I can still smell lingering traces of it on my wrist ten hours after application.  I’m so glad to have this small bottle of it!

iris_florentina_sydenham_edwards

Iris florentina; illustration by Sydenham Edwards.