The Italians

Some of the most interesting artisanal brands I’ve recently discovered come from Italy. I won’t venture to generalize about this trend, if it can be called so, although what strikes me about the new Italian creations is the freshness of their approach. They pay tribute to classics, but not self-consciously so, and they stay au courant while avoiding the pitfalls of style versus substance. In my new FT column, Italian Perfumes, I focus on two fairly new niche houses, Antonio Alessandria Parfums and Rubini Profumi, and explain what makes them stand out.

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Wearing their perfumes reminded me why I love the Italian take on elegance. It has a sense of humor.

“Classic Italian perfumery has a reputation for flamboyance – embodied by the Cinecittà glamour of Sophia Loren, as well as the gold tan and bleached-blonde aesthetic of Donatella Versace. It may be a cliché, but one need not be a marketing specialist to notice that Italians wear scents differently from the French or Germans. Women enjoy lush white florals with a touch of powder for an enveloping, lingering effect. Men aren’t shy about donning sweet perfumes and using them to make a statement. Encounter such a fragranced denizen cutting la bella figura at an outdoor café some place in Rome or Palermo, and you’ll understand better Italy’s penchant for the baroque. To continue, please click here.”

Do you have any favorite Italian fragrances? Apart from the bottled sort, mine would be the wet vetiver and iris smell of Milan, freshly baked pizza bianca with rosemary, lemon groves off the Amalfi coast, and the shamelessly lush Sicilian jasmine.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, all rights reserved

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105 Comments

  • Allison: Would you consider Gucci an Italian brand? For perfumes, I mean. August 18, 2016 at 8:40am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, definitely, although their fragrances are made by a very international team. Not sure how quintessentially Italian they really are. August 18, 2016 at 1:02pm Reply

  • Sandra: I am intrigued by Antonio Alessandria’s scents..what did you make of them?
    Wonderful article as usual- August 18, 2016 at 9:02am Reply

    • Victoria: I loved all three perfumes I described in the article. Fleurs et Flammes is one of those over the top glamorous perfumes that call to mind the Cinecitta dazzle I mentioned in the intro–and most certainly not Donatella Versace! And Nacre Blanche I imagine on Brigitte Bardot in The Contempt. Its location shooting was at the Cinecittà studios, which is probably why I have this image. But it’s alluring and complex, just like her character in the film. August 18, 2016 at 1:05pm Reply

      • Sandra: Brigitte Bardot..gorgeous. August 18, 2016 at 1:55pm Reply

        • Victoria: That still is one of my favorite films. August 18, 2016 at 2:27pm Reply

          • Aurora: Oh, it’s one of my very favorites too (haven’t seen it in a long time), wonderful study of jealousy and estrangement (I liked the Moravia book too), beautiful cinematography, and the casting by Godard of the wonderful master of cinema Fritz Lang, such a wonderful homage to the master who was not enjoying all the recognition he deserved. And BB, our only French star. August 19, 2016 at 9:49am Reply

            • Victoria: There are few films I have watched more than several times and still want to see again, but Le Mepris/The Contempt is one of them. I realized reading your comment that I have never read Moravia’s novel, but since I’m a little bit in the Italian mood right, I should.

              Even the trailer is beautiful:
              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rF0Ju0ONwGU August 19, 2016 at 1:51pm Reply

              • Aurora: Thank you for the link! I had forgotten the music was so beautiful. I think you would like the novel too. August 21, 2016 at 1:14pm Reply

                • Victoria: I didn’t realize until I checked how many of Moravia’s novels have been adapted into films! La Noia even had two adaptations. That novel I do have in my library. August 23, 2016 at 5:29am Reply

                  • Aurora: Oh, I’ve just had a look, you’re right and good films too. I would also like to draw your attention to Elsa Morante, his wife, perhaps you are familiar with her already. I read a novel in French (my Italian is of the ‘holidays’ variety) and was bowled over. The stupid thing is that I am unable to say what novel, it’s thanks to our discussion that I suddenly remembered. August 23, 2016 at 10:35am Reply

                    • Victoria: I’m not familiar with her work, but I’m going to find La Storia. Thank you for your mention.

                      Another Italian writer I like is Cesare Pavese. August 23, 2016 at 12:04pm

                    • Aurora: I studied Lavorare Stanca at university and liked it very much. Now you are reminding me that I never read his novels and short stories, they go on my list. August 26, 2016 at 5:42am

  • Jake: I was interested to try Fundamental even before I read your article. Is the grape note as pronounced as the copy says? August 18, 2016 at 9:50am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, the fruity note is very prominent at first to my nose, but then it becomes a seamless part of the accord. August 18, 2016 at 1:09pm Reply

  • Jake: Forgot..My favorite Italian perfume would be Baldessarini. Dried fruit and woods. August 18, 2016 at 9:52am Reply

  • Allison C.: Etro’s Vicolo Fiori is one of my all time favorite scents, and my husband loves the original Acqua di Parma. August 18, 2016 at 9:56am Reply

    • Victoria: I used to love Vicolo Fiori. Perhaps, it’s time to revisit it. August 18, 2016 at 1:09pm Reply

  • Iuliana: Hi Victoria, what sprang to mind in addition to your non-bottled suggestions, is the heavenly linden blossom smell of Bologna in spring. August 18, 2016 at 10:01am Reply

    • Victoria: I can just imagine! I used to spend a lot of time in Bologna, but now I realize that I was never there in the spring. August 18, 2016 at 1:10pm Reply

  • Gina Tabasso: Santa Maria Novella’s Melograno, Garafano and Iris and i Profumi di Firenzi’s Tulipano Nero August 18, 2016 at 10:31am Reply

    • Victoria: SMN’s Iris soap are among my top favorites. August 18, 2016 at 1:10pm Reply

      • Gina Tabasso: Never tried the soap! August 18, 2016 at 1:33pm Reply

        • Victoria: They are also good to use for perfuming linens. August 18, 2016 at 2:28pm Reply

          • AndreaR: I love using scented soaps in the linen closet. My mother and aunt would tuck bars of Yardly’s lavender soap among the sheets and towels, a scent I still associate with fresh, clean linens. August 18, 2016 at 4:27pm Reply

            • Victoria: Two uses for one bar. 🙂 August 19, 2016 at 1:44pm Reply

  • Bastet: Very interesting article Victoria, thanks. My current favorite Italian perfumer is Maria Candida Gentile. Her scents are wonderful (my favorites are Sideris and Cinabre, although I haven’t tried them all), and I also appreciate the small bottles. August 18, 2016 at 10:32am Reply

    • Victoria: I haven’t tried them enough yet, but I’m going to make a note.

      More brands should make small bottles. Fresh perfume is always so much better. August 18, 2016 at 1:11pm Reply

    • Ninon: I agree! Lady Day is my favorite and I also enjoy Exultat. August 20, 2016 at 1:18am Reply

  • Phyllis Iervello: Acqua di Parma’s “Profumo” is my favorite Italian perfume. (I have a back-up bottle as well, both bottles purchased in Italy much cheaper than they cost here.) I also love the Carthusia, Santa Maria Novella, and I Profumi di Firenzi lines, among others. I also have many bottles that one could not find here or on line that I purchased in small towns in Italy. I haven’t been to Italy for more than 8 years, but all the perfumes (some of which are even older) all are still perfect. August 18, 2016 at 10:38am Reply

    • Victoria: If I can generalize about Italian perfumery–and it’s not easy to do, I’d say that the Italian brands have some of the most interesting colognes. They’re not just the usual citrusy blends and there is often some interesting twist. August 18, 2016 at 1:12pm Reply

  • epapsiou: I have been saying this for a while. France has lost its fragrance dominance. In fact, it has been a laggard for some years now. Italy, USA, England, Spain, Mid East, Malaysia are doing better stuff than France. I now avoid French perfumes with the exception of vintages and old houses like Chanel. August 18, 2016 at 10:44am Reply

    • Victoria: There are still many excellent French brands, but what makes the Italian lines stand out is that they approach perfumery in a very fresh way. I suppose that as a French brand you’re standing on the shoulders of giants and it makes for a very difficult creative process. How do you create something innovative but still in line with the French Perfumery heritage? So many brands choose to be conservative. High quality but conservative. By contrast, in Italy, while there is its own perfumery tradition, the room for experimentation is wider, and the expectations are different. August 18, 2016 at 1:16pm Reply

  • Phyllis: I love Hilde Soliani, especially Bambolina. August 18, 2016 at 11:02am Reply

  • Hamamelis: It’s been too long since I was in Italy to have any not bottled scent favourites, but I am wearing an Italian perfume today which I love: Acqua di Parma Iris Nobile EdP. August 18, 2016 at 11:07am Reply

    • Victoria: You know, I wore it so much this summer, since my grandmother had a bottle. Wearing it so often reminded me what a beautiful perfume it is. August 18, 2016 at 1:18pm Reply

  • Alicia: Acqua di Parma Colonia is one of my summer staples, Prada Infusion d’Iris all the year long, Bulgari Eau Perfumée au Thé Vert delights me, and for the colder months, Black is wonderful. I was quite fond of Fendi Theorema, and still have a little bit left. Otherwise I haven’t explored the smaller Italian houses, except for a wonderful Giardini Segreti di Venezia, a superb jasmine, but all too fleeting. Other gone beauties are L’Arte de Gucci and Gucci Envy. I still have some Rush. August 18, 2016 at 11:12am Reply

    • Victoria: There was also the much lamented Krazy Krizia. It must have been one of the first perfumes I wanted to buy for myself, and I still love it. August 18, 2016 at 1:19pm Reply

      • Alicia: There is only a Krizia perfume I know: Teatro alla Scala, I remember it as opulent, with the charm of carnation and a faint rose which reminded me somewhat of Diva’s. In my memory it stands together with Opium and Coco as one of those powerful scents which I have enjoyed without blushes or doubts. I don’t know if Teatro is still available; my Opium is gone, but Coco perseveres in my longlasting love, August 21, 2016 at 12:23am Reply

        • Victoria: Teatro alla Scala is easily one of the best spicy carnations. August 23, 2016 at 5:23am Reply

      • Alicia: I forgot to add to my list a dark rose I wear in the colder months, from Eau d’Italie, Paestum Rose. I also like Bottega Veneta, very much. August 21, 2016 at 12:31am Reply

        • Victoria: Paestum Rose is such a beauty. August 23, 2016 at 5:24am Reply

  • spe: As someone who doesn’t believe that gender divisions are arbitrary and who doesn’t care for unisex fragrances, I’ll pass. Your article had me interested until that last clever comment, so thank you for saving me time and money! It would be interesting to read about a comparison between French, Italian, and German scent trends. August 18, 2016 at 11:56am Reply

    • Victoria: The NPD marketing agency has a blog on which they post such comparisons time to time. August 18, 2016 at 1:20pm Reply

    • Annikky: The last sentence in no way changes the fact that Nacre Blanche is a beautiful tuberose and Fundamental an intriguing woody leather. August 23, 2016 at 7:04am Reply

      • Victoria: Mitsouko is a perfectly unisex perfume to me, by the way. As is Shalimar and No 19, to give a couple of other examples. But that’s irrelevant. In the end, beauty exists beyond all of these artificial concepts. We create the divisions ourselves, but it also means that we might as well cast them aside. August 23, 2016 at 7:35am Reply

  • rainboweyes: La bella figura is the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of my Italian friends and business partners. Always very well-dressed, in a nice, understated way. There are many Italian scents among my favourites – Xerjoff Irisss being the obvious number one – Mendittorosa Omega, Eau d’Italie Sienne l’Hiver, Profumi di Pantelleria Passum and Pontevecchio W by Nobile 1942, just to name a few…
    Also many Italian beauty products often have a quite strong fragrance, which distinguishes them from many other European brands. August 18, 2016 at 12:50pm Reply

    • Victoria: Now you’re touching upon our other favorite topic–skincare. I’d love to know which Italian beauty products have you tried and liked. I don’t think that I see that many in Brussels. August 18, 2016 at 1:25pm Reply

      • Sandra: Me too, I would love to know. I also don’t see many Italian beauty products August 18, 2016 at 2:42pm Reply

      • rainboweyes: Since I prefer lightly scented (or unscented) face products, most of the Italian brands I buy are either body or hair cosmetics. My favourites are Agronauti, Biofficina Toscana, Domus Olea, Tea Natura, Bio Marina and Bioearth. I don’t know if they are available in Belgium, I always order from the Italian online-retailer Ecco Verde (they have a French shop too). August 18, 2016 at 4:16pm Reply

        • Victoria: I usually don’t buy skincare online, especially if I can’t smell it, so your warning is appreciated. On the other hand, a nice body lotion or shower gel is a less risky bet. August 19, 2016 at 1:41pm Reply

          • rainboweyes: That’s true, buying skincare without smelling it can be risky but since I love niche organic brands not available at regular stores, I often have no other choice. Most of the online retailers (or the manufacturers) provide samples, though, so I seldom buy products untested.
            And there are many ways to use up a blind buy that went wrong – face creams can be used as body lotions or foot creams 😉 and unloved shower gels or shampoos make great silk or wool laundry detergents… August 20, 2016 at 12:00pm Reply

            • Victoria: That’s a good point. 🙂 August 23, 2016 at 5:21am Reply

  • Silvana: Thank you for an interesting article! I also believe that beauty should be open to all. 🙂 August 18, 2016 at 1:22pm Reply

    • Victoria: Glad that you liked it! I admire passionate and talented people, and when they create something that touches me, sharing my discoveries is especially satisfying. August 18, 2016 at 1:27pm Reply

  • Erin T: I just wore Fundamental yesterday — a beautiful, complex perfume. The grape in it reminds me very much of Diptyque Oyedo, but the whole spirit of the thing is so different. A bottle may be in my future… Otherwise, my favourite Italian niche scent is probably Carthusia Aria di Capri.

    I like the Alessandria scents I’ve tried, as well, and particularly Nacre Blanche. I wish Luckyscent had Fleurs et Flammes to sample. (My mind goes relentlessly to flammekueche every time I read that name, though, for some bizarre reason.) August 18, 2016 at 3:14pm Reply

    • Victoria: Oyedo is a good comparison, and yes, you’re right, its character is very different. Such an interesting thing how similar notes can produce a completely different effect in different accords. August 19, 2016 at 1:38pm Reply

  • Rita: Aqua de parma is what i would be thinking of but to be hobest when i think of authentic perfumes France comes to mind. I know that there are wonderful pwrfumes out there but that is all i can think of! I like the article though and next time i am in tuscany i might hive their perfumes a gander. August 18, 2016 at 3:45pm Reply

    • Victoria: I know what you mean, but at the same time, the tradition of perfumery came to France from Italy with Catherine de Medici, but they evolved differently in both countries. August 19, 2016 at 1:40pm Reply

      • Rita: Thats also true and i am looking forward to hunting for more perfumes when i visit italy again. Thank you. Loving your articles by the way,very inciteful and informative. 😄😄 August 19, 2016 at 4:15pm Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you very much, Rita! 🙂 August 20, 2016 at 4:37am Reply

  • Mary: Another vote for Maria Candida Gentile. My favourites are Exultat, Sideris and Barry Lyndon, but there are others that are very interesting too. August 18, 2016 at 4:12pm Reply

    • rainboweyes: Another MCG lover here! My favourite is Burlesque. August 18, 2016 at 4:21pm Reply

    • Victoria: Writing these down! August 19, 2016 at 1:40pm Reply

  • Austenfan: After I read your article I realised that Italy in my mind is very much associated with images, not smells. I haven’t visited in over 15 years, I think.

    The perfumes sound wonderful, and I’ll try and figure out where to find some samples. August 18, 2016 at 4:17pm Reply

    • Victoria: Luckyscent has them. I’m not sure if Ausliebedumzuft does too.

      What are your Italian images? August 19, 2016 at 1:44pm Reply

      • Austenfan: The hills south of Siena, the Amalfi coast, various Duomo’s, the view across Florence from the piazzale Michelangelo, Cypresses, Fresco’s…
        But no smells. Isn’t that strange? August 19, 2016 at 3:18pm Reply

        • Victoria: The sights were so splendid, they took over everything else. When I returned to Florence not long ago, I couldn’t believe how beautiful the city was. Anyone growing up in a such a place has to have an innate sense of style. August 20, 2016 at 4:40am Reply

  • Brenda: I enjoy wearing Roma by Laura Biagiotti – it is heavily scented / definitely a fall to winter perfume. August 18, 2016 at 4:34pm Reply

    • Victoria: Laura Biagiotti is a wonderful line. I used to love her Venezia and Sotto Voce. August 19, 2016 at 1:45pm Reply

  • AngelaB: Ragazze! Don’t forget BottegaVeneta August 18, 2016 at 4:34pm Reply

  • Neva: Since I grew up close to Italy, we mostly wore Italian perfumes in the eighties: the first perfumes by Armani, Versace, Valentino, Trussardi, Krizia, Missoni, Cerruti, then there were Roberta di Camerino, Schiaparelli, Laura Biagiotti, Fendi…to me they are generally more interesting than the classic French perfumes. August 18, 2016 at 6:32pm Reply

    • Victoria: Especially if you look at their classical offerings. Yes, very original and less conventional in all respects. August 19, 2016 at 1:46pm Reply

  • Briony: So many lovely recommendations! My Italian staple is Lorenzo Villoressi’s Teint de Neige. It’s my go-to calming fragrance. It has that perfect combination of gentleness and power soft baby powderiness – and amazing longevity. August 18, 2016 at 11:14pm Reply

    • Victoria: I have a friend who wears it, and it always smells so alluring on her. August 19, 2016 at 1:47pm Reply

  • Cathy: There’s an edible quality to Italian perfumes – they are delicious. Mum and Nana used to wear Schiaparelli’s Shocking. Such glamour, set the stage for the Gucci bombshells.
    All time fave is Theorema. How could this disappear?! Bravo to the Bulgari range, Omnia Profumum’s (sp?) Madera is the best caramel, and the brightest citrus is to be found in the Italian colognes. Optimistic, cheerful, rich and seductive, sunshine in bottles. August 19, 2016 at 5:02am Reply

    • Victoria: Theorema is one of the gems, and I still, after all of these years, can’t forget it. August 19, 2016 at 1:47pm Reply

  • Alice: I like Antonio work. Fragrances, bottles and packaging all is so precious. And he was trained by Cinquieme Sens. August 19, 2016 at 6:24am Reply

    • Victoria: Very stylish, with a nod to the Art Noveau! August 19, 2016 at 1:48pm Reply

  • Aurora: I enjoyed this study of Italian perfumery so much, what an original subject and interesting observations. I feel there is also more ‘insouciance’ and spontaneity in the Italian approach to fragrance.

    I would like to nominate Romeo Gigli perfumes, they never seem to get mentioned. I have Romeo, a delicate floral (discontinued alas), I discovered it in the late nineties, I still have a bottle and wear it with great pleasure, and Di Romeo Gigli (these names don’t make much sense to me) a pine and balsam rich woody scent, still in production I think. Do you know them, Victoria. Apart from those two I like the perfumes from Etro, Messe de Minuit and Dianthus. August 19, 2016 at 10:01am Reply

    • Victoria: I really like Romeo Gigli perfumes, apart from their dull names–G Gigli, Romeo di Romeo Gigli, Romeo Gigli, etc. How many variations on the same two words can you have? Apparently, plenty. That being said, the combination of frangipani, black currant, iris and creamy amber in Di Romeo Gigli is genius. Whoever thought of discontinuing it? August 19, 2016 at 1:55pm Reply

  • Tamara: Glamour, by Moschino. August 19, 2016 at 7:19pm Reply

    • Victoria: Yes! The whole Moschino collection is worth trying, including their fruity-florals. August 20, 2016 at 4:35am Reply

  • Qwendy: Lorenzo Villoresi makes some wonderful scents, I always think of him as a quintessential Italian Perfumer …. Yes there is definitely an Italian Perfume Vibe that is very particular. Kind of unapologetically bold and playing by rather different olfactory rules. Which Baldessarinis do you like? This post comes at a perfect time for me, searching for rich and bright scents! August 20, 2016 at 3:21am Reply

    • Victoria: I like the one called Baldessarini which was launched in 2002-2003. It’s a chypre with tobacco and patchouli. August 20, 2016 at 4:33am Reply

      • Qwendy: Thanks! A lot of interesting suggestions here! August 21, 2016 at 4:19am Reply

  • Catherine: Bottega veneta is my favorite, but I only use it in the Fall/ Winter. Although can we say “italian” as LVMH owns that company? August 20, 2016 at 8:16am Reply

    • Victoria: Bottega Veneta is an Italian company from its inception, although at this point, I’m not sure how “Italian” any of the big brands are. They are owned by the multinationals and their marketing strategies are global. For this reason, in my article I chose to highlight the indie/artisanal houses.

      That being said, Bottega Veneta’s Knot captured so well the scents of the Mediterranean coast for me with its orange blossom and sunwarmed grasses that I think of it as my Italian summer perfume. August 20, 2016 at 8:30am Reply

      • Catherine: Yes, love both Knot and eau de parfum. Thanks for the clarification on the brand owner. August 20, 2016 at 8:48am Reply

        • Victoria: Me too. I also like Bottega Veneta Eau Legere. August 23, 2016 at 5:20am Reply

    • Victoria: But to clarify, Bottega Veneta is not owned by LVMH. It’s part of the Gucci Group that falls under Kering’s holdings. Kering is a French luxury conglomerate, LVMH’s direct competitor. August 20, 2016 at 8:34am Reply

  • Ayesha: Enjoy Aqua di Parma’s citrus florals. They just brighten up the day August 20, 2016 at 9:27am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m wearing Ginepro di Sardegna right now, and it’s another great cologne. August 23, 2016 at 5:21am Reply

  • rainboweyes: Does anybody know if Gianfranco Ferré is still available (the one in the rectangular bottle with a golden cap that’s similar to Iris Poudré)? August 20, 2016 at 12:18pm Reply

    • Victoria: I checked, and unfortunately, it has been discontinued. August 23, 2016 at 5:22am Reply

  • Tijana: Great article Victoria, thanks!

    I used to love Italian houses when I was younger! Laura Biagotti’s Roma was my signature for many years, along with Armani’s classic and also the original Nino Cerrutti. Although, to your point earlier, not sure how Italian any of these houses are anymore.

    These days I tend to wear less Italian and more French houses, but love the smell of Carthusia’s Numero Uno as well as SMN’s Melograno on my husband.

    <3 August 21, 2016 at 9:02am Reply

    • Victoria: For me, it’s also a mix. I also like Violetta di Parma for days when I crave something retro and delicate. August 23, 2016 at 5:26am Reply

      • Tijana: That’s a great point! As a lover of violet fragrances I should really try Violetta di Parma! August 23, 2016 at 6:25am Reply

        • Victoria: It’s dainty and precious, but if you like sweet violets, it’s worth trying. Sweet but not cloying, I should add. August 23, 2016 at 8:28am Reply

          • Tijana: I LOVE sweet violets! Thanks Victoria, will try! August 23, 2016 at 8:34am Reply

  • Tati: Sorry to be late to comment, but I LOVE the Italian perfumes. No one has mentioned Fendi, the original was my first perfume. A later one that I reserved for special, nighttime occasions, Asja.
    Another line that I enjoy sampling, Profumum Roma. I enjoy the Patchouli and Neroli.
    Another all-time favorite, Eau d’italia, Paestum Rose. August 28, 2016 at 2:50am Reply

    • Victoria: Asja, Theorema, Life Essence… Fendi had so many great perfumes. August 29, 2016 at 11:04am Reply

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