The National Unity of Italy, celebrated in this period in a thousand different ways, constitutes a relatively recent historical fact, about which we have a vast amount of documentation testifying Italy’s immense social, cultural and artistic heritage. Famous people such as Cavour, Mazzini, Garibaldi who dedicated their whole lives to the creation of National Unity, have indicated through their own examples the pathway for future generations of Italians.
Perhaps lesser known, but which has nonetheless accompanied the daily evolution of Italian customs and society, is that of fragrance, which has also been influenced by the territorial and political divisions of Italy. During the passing of the centuries, in each region, and almost in each city, some illuminated men and women knew how to exploit the local riches and resources, making fragrances and essences whose fame has reached today’s times and which constitute the forefathers of the Italian perfumery.
But who was on the scene during the years in which Italy was born?
Exactly at the dawn of National Unity, six centuries after its birth, in 1866 the top management position of the Santa Maria Novella
workshop is taken over for the first time by a layman, Cesare Augusto Stefani. In this workshop which was founded in 1221, the Dominican monks extracted medicaments and perfume from aromatic and medicinal herbs from their kitchen garden.
The recipes were secret and jealously guarded: some were reserved for the exclusive use of Princes and Grand Dukes, such as “Acqua della Regina” (Queen’s Water), specially created for Catherine de’ Medici.
Constructed in 1556 together with the Church of Annunziata in Parma, as was usual at the time the Monk’s Convent had its own workshop for the preparation of both medicinal and perfumed ointments. Their most famous client was, in the middle of the 1800s, Maria Luigia Duchess of Parma, for whom the monks managed to create a fragrance based on violet flowers and leaves, the famous Violetta di Parma
. In 1870 the recipe was taken and elaborated by Borsari, who turned it into a major success.
It was for Vittorio Emanuele II that Stefano Frecceri created Acqua di Genova in 1853. The King liked it very much, also because it was the preferred fragrance of Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione, one of the most beautiful and elegant women in Europe (and his favourite). It can be said that Acqua di Genova (Genoa Water) was one of the first “Italian” fragrances.
A large number of creation Companies developed in Italy, around the mid 1800s, almost all of them starting from small barbers shops, where initially personal hygiene products were created: Bertelli (Milan), Migone, Ai Colli Fioriti (Milan)...In order to advertise their fragrances they used perfumed calendars: but the calendars also contained news about sport, music, history and literature. In some cases they were illustrated by famous artists: today they are much sought after objects by collectors.
Again in this period Bortolotti (Bologna), Puglisi & Manara (Palermo), the already mentioned Borsari (Parma), Valsecchi & Morsetti (Milan) were founded and in Alessandria...
1876: Lodovico Paglieri inherited a small perfumery which sold wigs, cosmetic products and fragrances. Following his intuition he created a small laboratory, where he made products under the name of Paglieri and, over a period of time, acquired a small but very demanding clientele. After the First World War, in 1923, the Eau de Cologne Felce Azzurra was created, followed in '26 by the same-named Talc. This product turned out to be such a success that even today it represents one of the pillars of the Italian industry.
Whilst in Milan, Lorenzo Usellini founded the company Satinine in 1883, for the import and distribution of personal hygiene items. After the First World War he undertook the parallel activity of fragrance composition (Satinine Officina Odoraria) which was further developed thanks to the artistic and creative talents of his three sons. During the 30s fragrances such as Orchidea Nera (Black Orchid) and Caccia alla volpe (Fox Hunting) are produced, enclosed in precious bottles bearing the famous Bormioli glassmakers signature. With the outbreak of the Second World War, with the fact that raw materials were hard to find, on his bottles the words “return when empty”appear: once the fragrance had been used, it was possible to re-fill the bottle in the perfumery, a concept which is in revival today.
These pioneers of the perfumery have left their successors an important and substantial inheritance, not only of artistic talent, but also a genial mix of artisan skill and entrepreneurial spirit. From these first realities, many other companies have taken on the challenge and today represent the pride of the Italian perfumery: Acqua di Parma, Bois 1920, Panama, Nobile 1942, Carthusia, Morris, Euroitalia, ITF, Ferragamo…