AS­CENT OF A SCENT

WHEN BARON CARLO MAGNANI AND A FRIEND DE­SIGNED A FRA­GRANCE IN A MAKESHIFT LAB­O­RA­TORY, HE DIDN’T PLAN FOR IT TO GO ANY FUR­THER THAN HIS OWN POCKET SQUARE – BUT HE COULDN’T KEEP IT TO HIM­SELF FOR LONG.

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - MOTORING - STORY JONATHAN LOB­BAN

If you want to catch the aroma that has de­fined 100 years of un­der­stated Ital­ian men’s style – the orig­i­nal tai­lor­ing ac­ces­sory – walk down Mi­lan’s Via Monte Napoleone to­wards Via Man­zoni and take a sharp right on Via Gesù. From here on the street you’ll waft a no­ble-smelling scent that starts off with a curt cit­rus snap then re­laxes into sub­tle le­mon and floral un­der­tones. There im­me­di­ately on the left, next to Bri­oni and within a cuff­link’s throw of the Four Sea­sons Ho­tel, is its source: the el­e­gant bou­tique of Ac­qua di Parma. Cel­e­brat­ing its cen­te­nary this year, Ac­qua di Parma and its sig­na­ture scent, Colo­nia, has been the pro­fumo uomo for most Ital­ian gen­tle­men since their first visit to a tai­lor, when the fra­grance was lightly ap­plied to the woollen fab­ric of a be­spoke suit be­fore col­lec­tion.

This sub­tle ap­pli­ca­tion was al­ways the in­ten­tion of Colo­nia’s founder, Baron Carlo Magnani, an aris­to­crat from Parma who cre­ated the fra­grance just to be sur­rep­ti­tiously ap­plied to his pocket square. Baron Magnani wasn’t out to make lire. The grand­son of Giro­lamo Magnani, painter and scenog­ra­pher of Parma’s Teatro Re­gio, dubbed by Verdi as “Italy’s great­est set de­signer”, Magnani sim­ply wanted to cre­ate a scent for him­self, a fra­grance that was light and crisp – some­thing dif­fer­ent from the dense French and Ger­man per­fumes of the time.

The Baron’s fam­ily had lived in a palazzo in the heart of Parma since 1652 and it was here, in Borgo San Vi­tale, in 1916 that Magnani called in a chemist friend to set up a makeshift lab­o­ra­tory. They com­bined le­mon and sweet Si­cil­ian or­ange with Cal­abrian berg­amot, laven­der, damask rose, ver­bena and rose­mary with woody base notes of ve­tiver, san­dal­wood and patchouli.

Magnani’s scent didn’t stay in­di­vid­ual for long. Friends of the Baron soon hit him up for their own batch of Colo­nia, fol­lowed by the lo­cal tai­lors of Parma, then Mi­lan, Florence and Rome. By the 1930s de­mand was so high that Magnani called on lo­cal ar­ti­sans to cre­ate for Colo­nia a thick art deco-style bot­tle and black cap made of Bake­lite. The colour­ing of the la­bel was yel­low – the hue of the an­cient palazzi of Parma – and on it sat the grand coat of arms of the Duchy of Parma.

From then un­til the early 1990s Ac­qua di Parma’s Colo­nia was sold ex­clu­sively in tai­lor­ing shops. It was re­garded as the essence of Ital­ian mas­culin­ity, the male equiv­a­lent to Chanel No 5. How­ever, the rise of ready- to-wear dur­ing the 60s and 70s and sub­se­quent lack of de­mand for be­spoke suit­ing led to the mass clo­sure of Ital­ian tai­lor­ing shops. As a re­sult, Colo­nia’s dis­tri­bu­tion dwin­dled, and the fra­grance was al­most for­got­ten un­til it was res­cued in 1993 by then Fer­rari pres­i­dent, Luca di Mon­teze­molo. Colo­nia had been the pre­ferred scent of Mon­teze­molo’s fa­ther, and the nos­tal­gic busi­ness­man re­cruited his high-pro­file friends, Tod’s owner Diego Della Valle, and Paolo Bor­go­manero from La Perla, to buy Ac­qua di Parma. The trio added a new uni­sex scent, Blu Mediter­ra­neo, and sold the fra­grances into clas­sic Ital­ian men’s cloth­iers and over­seas depart­ment stores like Bergdorf Good­man and Har­vey Ni­chols.

Ac­quired by LVMH in 2001, Ac­qua di Parma’s new pres­i­dent, Gabriella Scarpa, a long­time fan of Colo­nia, knew the brand had legs to evolve. “It was the cus­tomers, the cus­tomers were ask­ing for more,” she tells WISH from Mi­lan. “The men were ask­ing, ‘Why don’t you have an­other type of Colo­nia?’ The women were say­ing, ‘Ah, but I love Ac­qua Di Parma, I use Colo­nia ... Why don’t you have fem­i­nine fra­grances?’ Ho­tels like the Four Sea­sons were ask­ing for ameni­ties, be­cause their cus­tomers were so fond of Ac­qua di Parma.”

While “still re­spect­ing Colo­nia’s val­ues”, Scarpa be­gan by cre­at­ing a range of fem­i­nine fra­grances called Le No­bili (the aris­to­crats), in­spired by the flow­ers and gar­dens of Italy. She launched Iris No­bile in 2003, fol­lowed by edi­tions ref­er­enc­ing mag­no­lias, jas­mine, roses and pe­onies. She boosted the men’s line, ad­ding silky and rich new riffs on the orig­i­nal Colo­nia – As­so­luta, In­tensa, Oud, Leather, Quer­cus, Ambra and Club – rea­son­ing that men will want dif­fer­ent scents for dif­fer­ent times of the day. The brand added new skin­care lines, bar­ber col­lec­tions, leather ac­ces­sories, pens and high-end spas in Venice, Sar­dinia and Lake Garda, all de­signed to take the old world val­ues of Ac­qua di Parma and adapt them for a modern life­style.

What hasn’t changed are the brand’s Made in Italy cre­den­tials. Af­ter 100 years Colo­nia is still crafted in Parma, as are the Bake­lite caps, pack­ag­ing and can­dles. The fra­grance in­gre­di­ents all come from the south of Italy, save for patchouli and some woods. “This process is more ex­pen­sive, ob­vi­ously,” Scarpa ad­mits. “Es­pe­cially be­cause ev­ery­thing is handmade. [But] We Ital­ians have style as an ori­gin. We have a link of beauty be­tween the past, the present and the fu­ture. And Ital­ian style will al­ways, al­ways be linked to high-end qual­ity and ar­ti­sanal made.” Ac­qua di Parma is avail­able in se­lected David Jones stores.

What started as a sin­gle fra­grance 100 years ago in Parma was res­cued from obliv­ion in the 90s and has grown into a range of scents, can­dles and skin­care for men and women.

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