A Florentine Adventure – Part Three

Of sights, sounds and Stendhal Syndrome

If it should ever transpire that you attend a trade show as a reporter in a glamorous European city you have never visited before, do you think you would be glued to the show for all the twenty-four hours it runs?

If you answer ‘yes’, then you are a far better person than I, because in my time in Florence, wild horses couldn’t keep me away from the rest of it. Between olfactory fatigue, pretention and amped-up sales pitches, I could only bear it all for so long.

The very first thing I did upon arriving early Thursday evening was to get spectacularly lost…

Lost and Found

I had arranged to meet with a dear friend downtown in the lobby of her hotel, and after asking at my hotel and being equipped with a city map (that hangs on my wall today), I thought…How hard could it be? I dumped my suitcase, changed my shoes and flew downtown with all the ardent fervor of the Newly Arrived. Only to find Centro Storico was quite a bit more convoluted than even I imagined. Somewhere in the twists and turns (phone calls from my friend asking ‘Where are you?’), I rounded a corner and was not prepared for what I found…

The Duomo of Florence by night.

No travelogue I could have read, no photo gallery I saw could have prepared me for the Duomo. It had all the visual impact of a kick in the consciousness, because suddenly, it was just…there! (and less than two minutes away from my friend’s hotel, as it happened). There are no words. And this is just the exterior…

The good news was, thanks to her hotel’s concierge directing me down the right street, my friend and I did find each other. We celebrated with bear hugs, conversation and Prosecco. The better news was, thanks to that first frantic Thursday night, I mapped out Florence in my head and never got lost again.

A Small World

Friday morning was an exercise in serendipity. Around the corner from my hotel and on the way to Stazione Leopolda, I discovered that great Italian institution, the pasticcheria. A combination bakery, café, sandwich shop and cakeoholic paradise, they were almost as common as gelato artigianale. I ventured in, swooned at the display cases, and haltingly made my selection in my execrable Italian. The elder gentleman behind the counter rightly determined I was a tourist, switched to English and discovered a) I was Danish and b) it just so happened that his cousin Claudio ran my favorite Italian restaurant in Copenhagen, where I had been a regular for years. From that moment on, Angelo fed me breakfast and cappuccino every morning with Florentine élan and calories. Don’t get me started on those crema alla mandorle-filled croissants. They were Petrarch poetry in pastry.

Pizzetta, a miniature-sized ‘pizza’ of puff pastry, tomato sauce, Fontina and grilled aubergine. Highly addictive. You have been warned.

Pizzetta, a miniature-sized ‘pizza’ of puff pastry, tomato sauce, Fontina and grilled aubergine. Highly addictive. You have been warned.

In Honor Of My Art

Those twisting, narrow streets are stuffed to the brim with antiques dealers, bookshops and touristy bric-à-brac you can find much cheaper on the Piazza San Lorenzo. But look only slightly further, and you will find many versions of that uniquely Italian expression: “In onore della mi’ arte”. Artisanal craftsmanship of the highest order, in other words, arguing that even such utilitarian objects as The Perfect Handbag can be just as much a statement of artistry as any perfume, whatever anyone might argue to the contrary. The Florentine aesthetic – as opposed to, say, the French – is one of supremely delineated moderation. Not only that, those shops will allow you to peruse their wares to your heart’s content even when you’re blatantly unable to afford it (yet) and treat you as an honored customer as you do. While I can appreciate Italian designers as much as anyone, my own inclinations tend toward those artisans who are so flawless, they don’t need international brand recognition to be perfect.

In a perfect world, I would have brought this back home with me. And used it for the rest of my unnatural life span.

In a perfect world, I would have brought this back home with me. And used it for the rest of my unnatural life span.

The Celebrated Stendhal Syndrome

The story goes that the French writer Stendhal was so overcome by the beauty of Florence, he suffered a fit of nervous exhaustion and had to leave town. Even today, there are stories circulating of tourists suffering a surfeit of aesthetic overload and heart palpitations amidst the glories of the Uffizi. While I already knew I wouldn’t be able to do the Uffizi any justice whatsoever in a few stolen hours, I also knew this time, I would have to pass on those glories. And tried not to think too much about those Botticellis…

A Florentine gentleman, caught in an antiques shop window.

A Florentine gentleman, caught in an antiques shop window.

Which is not at all the same as saying that beauty didn’t ambush me all the same. For it was everywhere and both old and new, and like all beauty that sears itself into memory, it found me at nearly every twist and turn.

Florence is an immensely proud city and always has been. Proud of its history, proud of its reputation, proud of the beauty its inhabitants pull from the aether and magnanimously pass on to a hungry world. If ever a statue somehow embodied all that pride, it would be Neptune (from the Fountain of Neptune by Bartolomeo Ammannati) on the Piazza della Signoria. Hundreds of miles from any ocean, he looks toward the Uffizi with Cosimo I de Medici’s famous visage, as if to say…

“I’m perfect and I know it. You, on the other hand, need to know this: Attitude is at least half the battle.”

“I’m perfect and I know it. You, on the other hand, need to know this: Attitude is at least half the battle.”

As I drank in Palazzo Vecchio, the piazza, the constant ebb and flow of humanity, the horse carriages waiting for customers and conversations in many languages, random facts floated to the surface of my brain. This peaceful scene was once the very heartbeat of the Florentine republic, and is still the city’s heart today. History, reputations, collaborations, assassinations, assignations, ideas, concepts – everything began here. One famous Renaissance Rebel With A Cause even ended his life here.

Where Savonarola was burned as a heretic.

Where Savonarola was burned as a heretic.

I came across this shop window display and was instantly stopped in my tracks. Since the photo was shot through glass, it might be hard to distinguish the level of embroidery and beaded detailing, but take my word for it – it was exquisite in such a seemingly simple gown, worn according to the card at a court ball in Lucca in 1802. Who wouldn’t feel fabulous wearing this?

Wearable beauty applies in 1802 as much as in 2013.

Wearable beauty applies in 1802 as much as in 2013.

But if velvet and silk are too tame for your inner animale, Florence can supply that, too. I have a dear friend in New York who absolutely adores animal print. I saw this shop window and instantly thought of her. (She would wear it all with flawless aplomb, too!) My own inner Goth/punk sensibilities were also more than a little thrilled.

Change your spots or show your stripes, so long as you make ‘em growl…

Change your spots or show your stripes, so long as you make ‘em growl…

Amicizia istante

We humans get so cynical with age. Once upon a time in our childhoods, instant friendships were forged in a manner of seconds and locked eyes across the sandbox. That level of trust seems to get so much harder as we grow older, or else our demands shift and change with our experiences good and bad.

What follows is a (very) true story about social networking and media, common interests that span the globe and yet another manifestation of sheer serendipity.

My fellow perfume writer and dear friend Lucy of Indieperfumes is also, just as yours truly, a great art aficionado. One day on Twitter, she piqued my curiosity about another blogger, this an acute Australian researcher who writes on the Renaissance, Raphael and all things art blog Three Pipe Problem. Over the course of a few months and interaction on Twitter followed by Facebook, we became great friends who have never met. When he read via my Facebook page I was going to Florence, he offered to introduce me to a friend of his, a Venezuelan firebrand named Sandra, who works in Florence as a certified tour guide. Numbers and text messages were exchanged along with my abject gratitude, and on Saturday afternoon, Sandra and I arranged to meet by Giotto’s campanile on the Piazza del Duomo.

9. This picture was taken about 30 seconds after we met. Yours truly on the left (looking rather the worse for wear), Sandra on the right.

9. This picture was taken about 30 seconds after we met. Yours truly on the left (looking rather the worse for wear), Sandra on the right.

It was a case of instant, mutual, lightning-fast friendship. Over the course of lattes at Scudieri and a conversation that never once stopped except for breath, we found we had more common ground than a public park. We’re both extremely enthusiastic and not afraid to show it in public. Sandra was also a lover of perfumes, her favorite being L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Fou d’Absinthe. So naturally, she took me to her own pit of perfumed perdition, a jewelbox store of marvels named Olfattorio, and just like that, I was no longer a niche store virgin. Every single L’Artisan! LeClerc cosmetics! Diptyque candles! All of it combined to equal Heaven On Earth. This is yet another reason I have to become a bestselling writer.

Somewhere between a conversation that spanned the range of art, feminism, motherhood, perfumes, history, food, Florentine quirks, men, love, singlehood, fashion, age and the pathetic state of Literature Real Women Want To Read, she also took me to another shop she loved, this an English apothecary and herbal store, Antica Erboristeria Inglese, which also carried Frèdéric Malle’s Editions de Parfums (so I introduced her to instant love Carnal Flower, because I’m Evil Incarnate), and lo and behold, Serge Lutens’ export line. After nearly three days of New, Strange and Wonderful, between Sandra’s sublime company and the welcoming warm ambience of the non-English speaking shopkeeper and a familiar, much-beloved logo, I suddenly felt… home. The shopkeeper asked me which Lutens’ were my favorites. And wouldn’t let me leave until she gave me samples of all of them. I felt like I had received a bear hug from a favorite uncle, but then again – maybe I had?

Sandra and I said our reluctant goodbyes shortly after, and I meandered towards the Ponte Vecchio to honor a promise I’d made a friend – to throw coins in the Arno and make a wish that we too might meet up in Firenze. I had brought two DK 5-kr pieces expressly for that purpose, but first, there was…Ponte Vecchio, an onslaught of street merchants selling handbag copies and souvenirs and jewelry shops priced waaay out of my solar system if not my entire galaxy. Most of it a lot less exceptional than the exorbitant price tags, but just when you think you’ve sussed out the neighborhood, the very last shop does you in…

As this window display certainly did…

As this window display certainly did…

As for Sandra – if I thought before I would return to Florence for the Uffizi, the Ferragamo shoe museum or the cakes at Scudieri, never mind that Perfect Handbag (which is all true), now my most pressing reason to return as soon as I can is an instant friend and/or Soul Sister I never, ever want to lose.

The cakes at Scudieri. Damnation never looked so delicious.

The cakes at Scudieri. Damnation never looked so delicious.

Rooms With A View

On Sunday, I duly paid my morning respects at Pitti Fragranze before I decided to let profumi be profumi and meanwhile, there was Florence…

I decided to set out for the Belvedere and the Boboli Gardens, fortified by limoncello gelato and sheer determination.

A statue on the Ponte alle Grazie

A statue on the Ponte alle Grazie

In my four days in Florence, I must have, I discovered when I came home, managed to walk a good eight to ten miles a day. There’s an excellent and affordable city bus system – you bought bus tokens at newsstands – but I was much too impatient to wait for a bus when I could walk. Only to nearly kill myself walking the steep back road to the Belvedere, since the view – and the location – were worth it.


13. The breathtaking view from the very top of the Belvedere.

The internationally renowned Chinese artist Zhang Huan showed his artwork at the Belvedere and could hardly have found a more auspicious location than Florence – in artwork that celebrated the junction of spirit and matter, in the very city that turned that particular junction into its own celebrated art form. After Pitti Fragranze, it was the perfect antidote to trends and rampant hyper-luxury consumerism. For an hour or two on a Sunday afternoon, serenity returned, and there was nothing else but the rare art of dolce far niente, of breathing, of having every cell and fiber of your being entirely present…in the moment.

 I looked for enlightenment, and caught it looking back…

I looked for enlightenment, and caught it looking back…

Returning some hours later through the Uffizi courtyard and the usual long, long lines of tourists waiting to get in, two street performers played to the waiting crowds from across nearly three thousand years and two cultures, one of them this meticulously decked out character…

Of course the Egyptians knew all about Florence!

Of course the Egyptians knew all about Florence!

Yet the biggest crowd pleaser that afternoon was certainly this exuberant…cherub? Putto? Statue? Whatever the case, his charm and personality had the crowd in his white-gloved hand…

Cherub? Statue? Or Putto? You decide!

Cherub? Statue? Or Putto? You decide!

All too soon, Pitti Fragranze was over, it was Monday, and I would be departing in the late afternoon. Yet before I did, I had two things on my agenda – to say goodbye in style on the Piazza Santa Maria Novella – a favorite of American poet Henry Longfellow, and who was I to argue with my favorite Dante translator? – and to make a pilgrimage – there can be no other word – to L’Officina Santa Maria Novella.

The Last Latte. Alas.

The Last Latte. Alas.

I whiled away an hour or so over my latte, trying to phrase my impressions into words – the curse of a writer who can’t experience life without wanting to turn it into art! – and wondering what lay ahead. You see, so far as L’Officina Santa Maria Novella was concerned, I had heard such stories, and they couldn’t possibly be true – could they? Only one way to find out…

Down the Via Della Scala, in through a passageway, and what followed was…well, a retail experience unlike any other I have ever had.

Once through that passageway, you are quite literally… in another world. A Baroque edifice of splendor so stupefying, hardly anyone dared speak above a whisper. Beautiful salla followed beautiful salla… and then.

I. Was. There.

A shot of the ceiling in the anteroom at L’Officina Santa Maria Novella. Sadly, I was far too intimidated for more photos.

A shot of the ceiling in the anteroom at L’Officina Santa Maria Novella. Sadly, I was far too intimidated for more photos.

In a large, gray marble room as you enter, an elegant woman behind a perfume bar on your right will hand you samples of their perfumes sprayed on paper sample strips. You can’t simply douse yourself – you have to ask which of these perfumes you would like to try.

On your left, a long, marble countertop with long, crypt-like closed marble shelving behind it, where you are served by more deathly intimidating, elegant shop assistants. There is a list of L’Officina wares by a flower-laden table, even in English. (This is also on my wall now)

One glance at the price list, and it was clear that the only thing I could afford for my loved ones was bath soap (so much for my dreams of Melagrano!) but no matter – if the cherubim didn’t sing when I used it, I would never dare ask for a refund!

So I approached the black-clad, red-headed shop assistant – who eyed me with chilly hauteur – and informed her of my choices. These were transferred via magic,telepathy or computer to a chip card before an imperious hand pointed to the innermost sanctum behind the main room.

More cream-colored walls, more gray marble and very high counters, more occult merchandise hidden behind who knew what Florentine mojo and marble, and I waited my turn, handed the card to yet another Signora Frigidaire and was rewarded this time with my pathetic four bath soaps in a L’Officina bag before departing with my filthy lucre, now with prospects of being slightly less filthy with L’Officina soap!

Goodness! It was all true! Everything I had heard! Then again, it was an experience – and a carnation soap – I’m not likely to forget in a hurry!

I had just enough time to hasten back for a quick pizzetta with Angelo and a hurried goodbye before collecting my suitcase (who had piled on a few pounds in the meantime) and calling a taxi back to Peretola airport.

I can’t get back fast enough.

And reflected – on Pitti Fragranze, on all things Florentine, on the many people I’ve finally met at long last, on the perfumes I’ve smelled and the places I went and the magnificent friend I’ve made, when this forgotten quote by a forgotten British writer popped up in my mind. Fanny Burney had this to say on Italy and on travel:

‘Travelling is the ruin of all happiness! There’s no looking at a building here after seeing Italy.’

All this time later, now the dust has settled and my quotidian life has returned full force, as I look outside on a cool, windy, rainy autumn day – it’s all true.

After seeing Italy, everything… changes!

The view from Ponte Vecchio. Picture Perfect.

The view from Ponte Vecchio. Picture Perfect.


Note to my readers: Although this final installment of my Florentine Adventures is not strictly speaking perfume related, I thought you might like to live a little vicariously…;-) I’ll be back to more perfumes in a few short days, and would also like to point out that October and part of November have a theme: Gothick! Stay tuned!

A Florentine Adventure – Part Two


Of sales pitches, scents & sensory overload at Pitti Fragranze 2013

Imagine…a huge, old, mid-19th century red brick edifice, with soaring arches high above your heads, with bricks that resonate with the ghosts of a million hellos and goodbyes, joy, sorrow and anticipation somehow swirling invisible above the throng in this vast space. Once upon a storied time, this was the gateway to all things Florentine – the history, the heritage, the ever-present art that somehow elevates all in this city to myth and impossible dream. Such beauty, such stories, such history cannot be, and yet… it did and it does, even here and even now.

Welcome to the Stazione Leopolda in Florence, home for three frenetic days to Pitti Fragranze 2013.

For three days, this is the epicenter of the highest expressions of European perfumers’ and perfume companies’ alchemical art, this is where burgeoning reputations and successes are built, cemented and sometimes destroyed. Distributors are found, deals are made, agreements made, epiphanies are sniffed, discussed and sometimes felt in visceral, fatal ways.

Because presentation matters.

It’s important to understand one thing about my own idiosyncratic perspective on Pitti Fragranze: I have not one niche store anywhere near me, very, very rarely buy full bottles and I don’t own a credit card. My samples are either sent by brands for review (for which I’m far more grateful than they know) or sent by perfumista friends. (Ditto.)

So you can well imagine I wasn’t about to waste a chance in sniffing what I could while and as I could! Only to find that no matter how I tried – I couldn’t. Sooner or later, in spite of coffee beans and a scrap of wool in my handbag, olfactory fatigue would set in. This was a lesson I learned on my first day, which explains why I came home with so many samples and promises of emails for more… samples. Yet very many sample strips still found their way under my nose, and even a few sprays on my person, because having something applied by the mind that conceived it is its own certain thrill.


The Agonist display at Intertrade

And the displays! Bottles glowing like jewels (Intertrade’s section displayed under black lights), bottles in a swoon on transparent shelves and pedestals, bottles set up as epic tales of transport in library settings, bottles lined up as transcendental idols on flower-laden altars…

Presentation was – and is! – everything.

What all discerning pooches and pussycats will be wanting for Christmas.

What all discerning pooches and pussycats will be wanting for Christmas.

Amouage went all out for their presentation of Fate Man & Woman and had an entire booth devoted to them. I had never seen, never mind held a full bottle of any Amouage, and they took my breath away. Should I ever (I can dream!) get my hands on one of those factices, it’s getting its own display case.

Amouage Fate display.

Amouage Fate display.

Temptations in white and blacklight

By far the most unusual display of brands came from Intertrade, who distributes Boadicea the Victorious, Bond no. 9, Byredo, Blood Concept, Agonist, Czech & Speake, Nasomatto and the perfumes of the Icelandic artist Andrea Maack. In three separate rooms off the main hall of Stazione Leopolda, a luxe lounge lizard cave beckoned the curious closer. After wafting and wending my way through the Byredos, the Bonds and Czech & Speake, including happy reunions with old favorites Baudelaire and no. 88, I was stopped in the inner sanctum by this riveting sight:

Who says perfume can’t be its very own drug?

Who says perfume can’t be its very own drug?

Poor taste or effective marketing – you be the judge of that one!

A tall, striking blonde in a floppy black hat walked the innermost room, and with that strange Norse mojo that seems to apply wherever we congregate abroad, I knew precisely who she was – artist Andrea Maack. She and I had a long involved conversation that circled around themes of darkness and congregations prompted by her latest release, “Coven.” Fans of the Devilscent Project take note – “Coven” is a definite relation and variation on that theme of erotic darkness.

The Really Bad Case of Iwannas

Another variation on the theme, namely perfume, came from Panpuri, whose luxurious spa and skincare line has now branched out into perfumes (very good) and home ambience with a series of scented candles inspired by legendary women of history and literature. It was the Panpuri display that caught me (it was beautiful, and I was so enthralled I completely forgot to take photos), but those candles were breathtaking even before they were lit and smelled as divine as they looked. I came away wanting one of everything Panpuri. Fat chance. In the meantime, I can dream of having a candle inspired by Scarlett O’Hara, a favorite literary heroine of mine.


I’ll take one of each, please.

Pitti is also the location for Really Big Releases, and one of the biggest was certainly Neela Vermeire’s ‘Ashoka’, which was such a deserved hot topic at Pitti, Neela was in the spotlight and often on camera every day of the event. I am here to tell you that everything you might have read of Neela in person in absolutely true – she is so wonderful, even my purple prose fails me. She was also sweet enough to let me try her new Mohur Esprit de Parfum, which is so incredibly special, it will be especially reviewed.


Perfume displayed as idols on altars of transport…

The likewise very darling Vero Kern has been a very busy gal, releasing both last year’s Mito in a sumptuous liquid-velvet extrait and all four perfumes of her line in ‘voiles de parfum’ – which are evolutions of their original ideas because that’s how Vero works, bless her heart. They are neither diluted extraits nor amped-up eaux de parfum, but entities unto themselves which have to be felt to be properly experienced.

I was hijacked in the middle of a conversation with Vero by the very charming and persuasive Italian perfumer Lorenzo Dante Ferro, who is behind the Amorvero line of perfumes created for the Hotel Hassler in Rome and also his own line, Profumi d’Autore. Signor Ferro invited me to a cocktail party at the new Café Florian (an offshoot of the famous Café Florian in Venice) in Florence, for the launch of a line of ambient room sprays evoking the ambience of the original four salle, or rooms in Venice, and of course a series of supremely sumptuous perfumes to wear. It was an evening I won’t forget in a hurry – beautiful people in a beautiful café with a storied, centuries-old name, scintillating conversations about perfumes and people, introductions and hellos and promises of emails, and prosecco flowing like the Arno throughout. I left a good many hours later with samples galore and floated all the way back to my Porta al Prato hotel on perfumed prosecco bubbles…

I was certainly thrilled to find San Francisco-based perfumer Ineke Rühland among the exhibitors, since shortly before Pitti I had received her stunningly presented “Floral Curiosities’ collection of soliflores to try. Not only could she remember me, it also happened we knew quite a few people in common. Watch this space.

Another unparalleled pleasure was confusing the heck out of one of the Genie’s very favorite perfumers – and people. Andy Tauer was also in Florence to present his perfumes and also his new customizable collection of decants (something I wish far more brands would do), and just as Neela, Olivier Durbano and Pierre Guillaume, the poor man was mobbed with fans and admirers from morning till night. So I made a habit of sliding by and winking at him a few times a day before moving on through the crush on Friday and Saturday, until on Sunday, I finally grabbed my chance and waited out the throng. Andy has been an ardent supporter of TAG for quite some time, and it certainly meant the world to this perfume writer finally to be able to thank him personally for all his encouragement. I left some time, big hugs and a great conversation later with devious plans to get my greedy hands on Carillon Pour Un Ange (a huge surprise since I’m not the world’s biggest fan of lily-of-the-valley) and Noontide Petals (it really IS all that!) as soon as I possibly can. I foresee a decant set  – or three – in my future…

With so many brands competing for distribution, space, words and sometimes notoriety, it will inevitably happen that a gimmick or quirk will settle in your mind and refuse to leave. The Most Outrageous Gimmick award of Pitti 2013 (although my inner punk applauds the artist’s, shall we say, twisted sense of humor, my outer Taurus knows quite well I’ve Been Thoroughly Had) goes to O’Driù’s Angelo Pregoni for the sheer chutzpah of his latest creation, ‘Peety’. As for the perfume itself, what can I say? Except that if you want to accent one decidedly human aspect in perfume, your idea has been executed with far more flair, elegance and wearable finesse already, my sorrow to say. It was made by Neil Morris for the Devilscent Project and is called ‘Dev #1’.

Among the new brands and discoveries from Florence you can expect to see reviewed on TAG in the months to come are: Bruno Acampora, Parfums de Marly, Schwarzlose, Eau d’Italie, Maria Candida Gentile, Oliver & Co., Peccato Originale, Laborattorio Olfattivo, Phaedon (of which I’ve already reviewed Rouge Avignon), Lorenzo Dante Ferro, Ulrich Lang, Panpuri and a few more big surprises I’ll keep close a while longer. J

That Fragrant Malaise

But some time late Sunday afternoon, as I paced the Stazione Leopolda’s halls again, looking for brands I missed (there were a few) intentionally or otherwise, a certain malaise crept in. I wondered at the machinations of the European hyperluxe end of Planet Perfume, and had to confess to a definite bias I didn’t even know I had. For every Andy Tauer, Vero Kern, or Neela Vermeire, all three of whom show a degree of unparalleled dedication to their artistic vision and uncompromising quality, there are four brands who want a piece of that action – and fail. Not for a lack of trying, not for a lack of understanding their markets, but something far more fatal – a lack of vision. Put simply, they underestimate the customer base that is supposed to validate their existence as perfume brands. “They want fruity-figgy-green? Oud? Oud is hot, let’s make an oud. Call Givaudan/IFF/Mane and have them cook something up…”

If anything, the success I sniffed at the Pitti exists precisely because the brands that will be around five or ten years from now refuse to stoop so low. They know that niche and indie perfume connoisseurs are far more discerning than they’re given credit for, and will know a shortcut when they smell it. But above all in the Sunday afternoon miasma, what I missed most of all from all those emerging brands was originality. I missed the chances taken by American indie perfumers – the all-out sensuality of a Mandy Aftel, the exquisite restraint of a Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, the playfulness exhibited all over the Pacific Northwest by brands such as House of Matriarch, Olympic Orchids, Imaginary Authors, Slumberhouse, or the elegance of Envoyage Perfumes. I missed a sense of humor and risk-taking, the kind you’ll find with Opus Oils in Hollywood or East Coast brands like Neil Morris and House of Cherry Bomb.

There were plenty of fragrant revelations, but most came from the usual, consistent suspects, and not nearly enough from all these emerging brands. It all somehow melded into Eau de Pitti…expensive, expansive and yet not nearly distinctive enough.

How to feel fabulous in Florence: Sit among all the fabulous people.

How to feel fabulous in Florence: Sit among all the fabulous people.

Towards the end of Sunday afternoon, as brands began to dismantle displays and pack up, I left the fug and the fumes behind and went to sit outside, trying to sort all my impressions, trying to find a place for all the happiness I felt in finally meeting those who have meant so very much in my own perfumed journey.

Not long after, I was approached by a woman who sat down beside me with a sigh of relief.

It seems such an insult to call her “old”, although she was nowhere young, since I could tell from that twinkle in her eyes she had long since transcended all such adjectives, was far beyond all such judgment and opinion. Such women are rare, and intriguing when you find them. She was eccentrically dressed in violently clashing colors and floral patterns, with her white hair braided and finished with two periwinkle blue flowers that danced on her chest. She smiled at me, I smiled back, and was greeted with a torrent of Italian. I shrugged in apology, mentioned I spoke Inglese, and at that confession, she seemed to beam wider, as if the very word ‘English’ brought back memories of happy, distant times.

“Ah, signora,” she said. “Sei Americana?”

“Scusi, no. Danesa. I thought for a moment. “Io sono una scrittora.” And thought, not for the last time, that everything sounds so much better in Italian.

“Ah! Danesa! È una scrittora. A writer…” She looked me up and down, still with that devastating twinkle in her eyes. Then, with all the authority of what must have been at least eighty well-lived years, she straightened her shoulders, sat taller and demanded:

“Dammi la mano. Your hand.” She pointed to my right hand.

I handed it over. She traced the lines in my palm, bent and flexed my fingers this way and that, as she muttered sotto voce in Italian.

“Sei famosa. Or you will be. Molto famosa. You know l’amore, si?”

I was too flabbergasted to be anything but honest. “Yes. I do.”

“You will know more. This one-” she traced a line, “will leave, but there is another waiting. For you, signora. You will see. And fame. You will see.” She dropped my hand with a bawdy laugh and tilted her head back, towards Stazione Leopolda. “What you think? Of tutti… in there?”

A universe of implication in those few words and in her tone.

“So many perfumes,” I replied.

“Troppi profumi! That is their problem. Some great, some… not so much.” She shrugged, eyes twinkling. “For you, signora – fame! And l’amore, si? Un grande amore! But there…” Again, that eloquent backwards tilt of her head, the flowers dancing on her braids, a disbelieving shake of her head.

“Too many perfumes!”

She took my hand, gave it a squeeze, walked to the exit with a wave and a laugh, and was swallowed by the crowd outside Stazione Leopolda.

Even today, as the sun shines cold outside my window and I’m battling some sort of flu bug as I type, I’m still not convinced she wasn’t an angel.

Yet there were indeed…  troppi profumi!

With special thanks to all at Pitti Fragranze who made me so welcome; Neela Vermeire, Andy Tauer, Vero Kern, Lisa of Campomarzio70, Sonia Acampora, Andrea Maack, Marillene of Parfums de Marly, Tamas and Veronika of Schwarzlose, Ineke Rühland, and of course Lorenzo and Cindy Ferro.

Also one very large thank you to Sandra Perrone of Florence, human firebrand and an instant friend who opened up Firenze for me, and to Hasan, who introduced us.

Thanks no less to my fabulous readers, who made these words possible.

Note: With apologies for the (near interminable) delay in posting this, but September has been so mad/hectic, I didn’t even have time to change my mind! And when I did, I was felled – by the flu.

All photos: My iPhone.

A Florentine Adventure – Part One


–  some overall impressions on Pitti Fragranze 11

I’ve been struggling to write this post for five days. How best to frame what was such an overwhelming (in all senses of the word) experience, how best to recapitulate what I saw, sniffed, and sensed in Florence?

I still don’t know the answer to that all-important question.

Yet for the past five days, ever since my return home to autumnal, chilly Denmark after four days in sunny, warm Tuscany, my dreams have been Florentine. My soul returns to Florence nightly, because no matter how I try to grasp or define it, this is what I know and both Ms. Hare and the Memoir Man have confirmed:

Something happened in Florence.

I sniffed so many marvels and met so many people, people I’d known only online before. I finally said hello and bear-hugged some of the people I adore so much, and eyed others with a great deal of interest. (Olivier Durbano, you’re a dish!) I made connections, networked, practiced that Southern European art of the three-kisses-on-the-cheek greeting.

(Note to Nordic, here-we-handshake self: You Really Need To Practice That One.)

I laughed, hugged, cried, practiced my questionable Italian, ate gelato, drank a lot of prosecco, eyed my ever-growing pile of acquired samples with ever-growing dismay (at this rate, I’ll make it through that pile in 2017), and as for the perfumes…

There were more marvels than I knew existed. Not a few were astonishing, ground-breaking, thought-provoking and evocative. The sharp thrill of discovery awaited at every turn and everywhere I looked.

There were also many more duds than I expected. When you’re literally sniffing your way around the world in a day, very few new marvels are tried on skin. (I stuck to a few tried-and-true favorites in discreet doses for obvious reasons). This meant that when I returned home, a huge pile of sample strips with and without fancy logos (I couldn’t tell you their names if my life depended upon it) had all somehow disintegrated into … let’s call it Eau de High End Niche.

It seems a certain set of accords and aromachemicals are making the rounds in niche perfumery in a (sorely misguided) attempt to be the edgy, luxe, Next Big Thing.

Salty, green, fruity (with a focus on fig and apple), white-musky… by the time I came home with them all, they had by alchemical sleight of hand morphed into what I can only describe with not a little sorrow and far more snark as …Eau de Womanity, Womanity being an edgy, green-fruity-salty nightmare ‘perfume’ I absolutely and unequivocally loathe, detest and despise with a white-hot passion from the marrow of my bones on outward. For all the hundreds of perfumes I sniffed at Pitti Fragranze, this seemed to be a general theme of malaise. Too many smelled far too generic for their price points and presentation.

Happily, there were not a few exceptions. I’ll be getting back to those in Part Two.

The Pitti also presented me with a paradox as a perfume writer. I was sometimes eyed askance – and not a little skeptically – when I introduced my D-list perfume writer self to brands and said a) there are exceedingly few exclusively niche perfume boutiques in Denmark (I know of all of three that carry niche perfumes) and b) I can’t at the moment afford to buy anything I review. “But how then,” exclaimed one expertly maquillaged signora of a certain age in immaculate 5-inch heels, “do you ever manage to review anything?”

Well, as the Beatles once sang, I get by with a little (or a lot of) help from my friends…

I came to discover to my unholy glee that one way to strike terror in an emerging/wannabe brand was simply to introduce myself as a perfume blogger, and then stand back and watch them blanch. Of course, that tactic worked best on the first day…

I came to find that mentioning certain names of other perfume writers and dear friends opened metaphorical doors in otherwise glacial places, and I’m not usually given to name-dropping, but whatever it took…

I saw well-established, well-reputed and beloved brands (the plural is intentional) I had never tried before look down the extravagant length of their elegant Gallic noses with undisguised hauteur if not outright contempt at a diminutive blonde in Italian designer Birkenstock-alikes and Chanel Taboo nail polish.

I’m also ecstatic to say that I received a superstar reception by other brands and distributors that banished all memory of snobs in stilettos Who Shall Never Be Reviewed.

A large part of Pitti Fragranze – indeed, for me it was the very best part – was finally being able to meet so many of the people I’ve come to love and adore, and also to meet new people and make new friends.

You won’t find any ‘celebrity perfume name with D-list blogger’ pictures in these two posts about the Pitti, although I did indeed take lots of pictures. Partly because I hate having my picture taken, and partly because I simply didn’t think about it at the time. I was far too busy hugging, talking, laughing, discussing and sniffing.

I’m still sorting out my impressions – from the Pitti, from Florence, from a trip that possibly has changed my life in ways I’ve yet to realize – but stay tuned for the specifics in my next post – and this one will have LOTS of pictures, names and always…perfumes!

Watch this space!





Serendipity in action

IMG_7625 believed in serendipity with hearts watermarked-1

– Or the art of believing that ancient adage

You’ve heard those stories – sometimes, events will transpire in such a way that you will be where you need or want to be precisely at that moment you need (or want) to be there.

Well, let me tell you dear readers, it’s all true.

Back in the early spring this year, I threw out a sentence to a very dear friend and fellow perfumoholic I know in a phone conversation.

“Wouldn’t it be something if I could make it to Florence for Pitti Fragranze?”

And by implication, be among the first to experience the newest razzle-dazzle moments in the high art of perfume?

“It would, indeed, be… something,” she replied.

At the time, I thought I had a snowball’s chance in Hades, but hey…miracles have been known to occur!

Well, ladies and gentlemen, once again I’ll say it:

Be careful what you wish for!

Whether it was the alignment of the stars, whether wishing on all the full moons or a shooting star one enchanted evening with the Memoir Man, it happened. Also, I received such a great deal on my MacBook Pro, I had a little left over, and decided to put it where my readers are – I mean, c’mon…you’re curious, too, yes?

I have received press accreditation for the event, the tickets have been ordered, the hotel booked, and arrangements made to meet up with a few people I know and adore.

I’m so excited, I have no idea how I’l get through the next week, but I will, no worries! I have never been to Florence before. If I don’t make it to the Santa maria Novella pharmacy, I’ll die. This is far more exciting than you know!

So to the extent Florentine WiFi and Cassius Dio will allow, I shall be reporting to the best (or worst? 😉 ) of my meager abilities on everything planned to set Planet Perfume alight in the months to come.

Stay tuned! And I shall see for you there!